A contemporary guide to awakening. By Stephen Batchelor
This is a small book, deep and meaningful, packed with wonderful quotes and a story on each of the three sections of the book. These sections use the following as its point of reference:
- GROUND (Do not be satisfied with hearsay ……is from Kalama Sutta)
– Awakening as long as my vision was not fully clear….is from the Dhammacakkappavatana Sutta)
– Agnosticism (Suppose Malunkyaputta, a man….is abridged from the Culamalunkya Sutta)
– Anguish (No conditions are permanent….is a paraphrase of the Pali sabbe sankhara anicca meaning all phenomena are selfless)
– Death (Like a dream, whatever I enjoy is from Shantidevas Bodhicaryavatara)
– Rebirth (But if there is no other world….is from Kalama Sutta)
– Resolve (When crows find a dying snake…..Shantideva’s Bodyicaryavatara)
– Integrity (A monk asked yun men….is from the Blue cliff Record, a collection of koans)
– Friendship (Just as the dawn…annoynymous passage from Samyutta Nikaya).
- PATH (One day an old man was circumambulating….is from the door of liberation)
– Awareness (And further, a monk knows….is a rendition from Satipatthana Sutta)
– Becoming (Confusion conditions activity….is from the twelve links of dependent origination)
– Emptiness (Unborn emptiness has let go of ….is from Tsongkhapas commentary)
– Compassion (Even when I do things…Bodhicaryavatara).
- FRUITION (The way of the Buddha is to know yourself….Dogens Genjo Koan)
– Freedom (Therefore, we know that unawakened….is from The platform Sutra)
– Imagination (A talent for speaking differently ….is from Contingency, Irony and Solidarity)
– Culture (There is nothing not practiced …..Bodhicaryavatara).
I expect scientists and philosophers will particularly enjoy the challenging style of this book (like is Buddhism just a western term and is awakening close by or far away and why can’t it be both)? I’m sure my review doesn’t do the book justice because I concentrated on developing my understanding of the dharma as a technical practice, however, all these practices are bullet pointed below and relate to the above subjects.
Stephen says that despite the Buddha’s specific account of awakening, it has come to be represented even by Buddhists as something quite different. Today awakening is about a mystical experience ‘a moment of transcendent revelation of the absolute truth rather than an interwoven complexity of truths (understanding anguish, letting go of its origins, realising its cessation and cultivating the path) and so he challenges Buddhists today to simply be aware of the difference. Failing to act on these four ennobling truths means instead, we have four propositions of fact to be believed so, today, Buddhism has lapsed into a religion. He describes Buddhism as a culture of awakening.
The book explores the four Noble Truths then equates them to what dharma means in relation to them. Next it discusses in depth what predominately constitutes dharma practice. Stephen suggests dharma practice is a ‘course of action’ and lists the following as the key habits we need to put into practice as a process of awakening. What I took from this book is a greater understanding of what dharma means and live it. Here is my brief review of the key points regarding dharma. However, Stephen says an agnostic Buddhist is not religious because they look to the dharma for metaphors of existential confrontation rather than metaphors of existential consolation. He says dharma is not a belief; it’s a method to be tried out. It’s technical and needs to be practiced.
- Understanding dharma practice leads to ‘letting go’ which leads to realisation (cessation)
- Dharma is something you ‘do’ rather then believe
- Embracing the anguish experienced in an uncertain world is founded on resolve, a reflection of priorities, values and purpose (taking stock) then taking the next step and challenging our habit to hang on
- Dharma is the way we interact with the world (deeds, words, actions and thoughts)
- Dharma helps us cultivate integrity as a way of life
- Dharma eases our grip of self-centredness that constricts the body rather than proving or disproving theories of the self
- Having a calm, free, open, sensitive space is the very centre of dharma practice
- Mediation is a vital part to developing this practice
- We need to free ourselves from illusion of freedom and having a sound dharma practice leads us to freedom
- Dharma enables us to have a centred awareness, following which we can question things and move on
- Dharma allows us to let go of self centred cravings
- Dharma helps us to be receptive to awakening (when it happens)
- Dharma training helps us to be more mindful and focused
- Dharma activates our imagination to the self and the world.
His definition of mediation is to stop remembering (one of the most difficult thing to remember is to remember to remember because we keep forgetting i.e. that we are alive) and snapping out of craving so the aim is to be aware which in turn is about deep acceptance of the self. So mediation begins with awareness of the body starting with the breath. Using meditation as a tool, we can choose to question and challenge attitudes, feelings and perceptions of others. We are our own jailers. By meditating on death, we become more aware of life. Our aim must be to bring awareness to everything we do because it’s deepens the process of self-acceptance.
So, it’s not about choosing to engage in the world, it about how we engage. To practice dharma requires commitment, a life time of commitment, it is not a means to an end! Dharma practice is in danger of resisting creative interaction and becoming a marginalized subculture.
The book is also full of meditation exercises – some not unsimilar to the ones I’m studying right now on my 2 year Buddhist Foundation course i.e. the chapter on compassion which is the very heart of awakening and mediating on someone we love, someone we’re indifferent too, and someone who is a stranger until we can treat them equally. This book is well worth adding to our study process.