Author Topic: Stephen Batchelor – 'Beyond Buddhism'  (Read 959 times)

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Stephen Batchelor – 'Beyond Buddhism'
« on: August 10, 2015, 11:05:12 am »
Stephen Batchelor is a great Pali scholar and Buddhist monk, having been ordained in both the Tibetan & Korean Zen traditions, he is a foremost interpreter of the Pali canon and is focussed on uncovering teachings that the Buddha actually gave rather than the embroidered product which comes to us through regular Buddhist channels.

Buddha’s original message

This work has revealed that the Buddha’s original message was one of therapy for current existence rather than one which promised something better in the next life.  In other words something that, if embraced, can help us today rather than at some indefinite time in the future.  It is rather a set of instructions to improve our lot now rather than an esoteric belief system.  If this proposition is accepted it will have a profound effect on the nature of one’s subsequent practice.

We are reminded of the Buddha’s metaphor of the arrow where a he pointed out the futility of wanting to know all about the arrow, the shooter & the poison before tackling the task of removing the arrow. 

Historical background

The Buddha lived in a time of great change where society was moving from a subsistence rural economy to urbanized living as a result of the society achieving food surpluses.  Brahmanism had not yet been fully established in NE India at the time of the Buddha’s birth although its teachings were known.  The population at that time were apparently, essentially sun worshippers which flavors the Buddha’s teaching.  He claimed to the king of an adjacent kingdom that he came from a country in the North on the edge of the snow mountains and that he was of the “sun lineage”.

Awakening & Self

Stephen Batchelor believes that the real interpretation of awakening is a radical switch in the perspective of current reality and not something that is new or esoteric.  The Buddha defined nirvana as an ending of hatred, greed & confusion and described it as “had to see but clearly visible” – which we think means current reality seen through new eyes – not necessarily a permanent condition. Achieving nirvana requires one to embrace dukkha which Stephen said meant embracing everything in life.  The term dukkha coming from the same Sanskrit word as “deathless”, “fully knowing” & “unconditioned”. This, to me, is a very important lesson and has been fundamental in providing the changes that I have brought to my practice.

The Buddha did not deny the existence of “self”  but used the term “not Self” in the context of greed, hatred, etc.  SB quoted a teaching :  “just as a fletcher forms an arrow, just as an expert turner makes a long turn etc.  ….. so does a wise person enhance the self”.  SB reinforced the notion of the “middle way”  - we should not be entirely self-focused which leads to “permanism” nor self denying which leads to “annihihilism” but rather take the middle path.


Letting go of attachments is an important part of the equation.  Attachments include not only bad habits but also the things that provide ones “place” in life like home, job, status and even (interestingly), strongly held beliefs.  Stephen thinks that the story of the Buddha leaving home was perhaps a metaphor for leaving his attachments behind.

4 Tasks (Truths)

Stephen spent some time on his reinterpretation of the 4 Noble Truths where he looked to the scholarship of KR Norman, a renowned British philologist and an expert on “mid Indo-Aryan Prakits”  - spoken Sanskrit – who believes that the word “noble truth” was not part of the original suttas but had been added in at a later date.  He quoted from a medieval Italian scholar – “when the word “truth” is uttered the shadow of violence is cast as well”.

In his recent publications, where he used the term “Buddhism 2.0” – a term which he has subsequently dropped following advice from his publishers who think the term is likely to become dated – he has rewritten the truths as “the Four”  or “the Four Tasks” as follows :

1. Embrace,
2. Let go,
3. Stop,
4. Act.

Which I have reinterpreted for my own purposes as:

 1. Recognise problems and identify the reaction that arises in me
 2. Analyse that reaction and see that it is not helpful, ultimately unnecessary and then work on letting it go
 3. Experience the peace that arises when that reaction dissipates
 4. Resume following the Eightfold Path


Stephen emphasised that the Buddha encouraged people to try things for themselves and embrace things that work for them. The aim of our practice is to see clearly, live an ethical life and let go of the hindrances and our attachments.

 It will:

 1. Be task based
 2. Recognise self
 3. Address the hindrances & attachments
 4. Follow the 8-fold path
 5. Embrace life

The outcome will be a new way of looking at the world – a view that will constantly change, full of wonder, amazement and delight.

I urge everyone to visit Stephen’s web-site for more information and particularly recommend his article entitled – “A Secular Buddhism” – which can be found at : – a vastly more explicit and articulate dissertation than this brief summary – but from Stephen we would expect nothing less.

Source: Cam Seccombe


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