For some time I have been reading and listening to the teachings of Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, finding her wise words both challenging and instructive. Together with Jack Kornfield, Chdrön has been my main pathfinder into the world of buddhism. Last week I listened to Chödrön’s teachings on the Bodhisattva Mind, where she praises Stephen Batchelor’s translation of the Guide to Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, especially emphasizing his choice of ordinary, non-religious language. Being an atheist I (naturally) got curious about Batchelor and his own teaching & writing.
STEPHEN BATCHELOR is a contemporary Buddhist teacher and writer, best known for his secular or agnostic approach to Buddhism. Stephen considers Buddhism to be a constantly evolving culture of awakening rather than a religious system based on immutable dogmas and beliefs.
Today I’ve finished reading my first Batchelor book: Buddhism Without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening, and my mind is filled with new thoughts & ideas, and joy, joy for discovering Batchelor in the world of buddhism.
I’m not yet capable presenting any kind of interesting resume of the the book. But here are some excerpts from a text where Batchelor very interestingly points to the resemblance of making art and meditation:
The artist’s dilemma and the meditator’s are, in a deep sense, equivalent. Both are repeatedly willing to confront an unknown and to risk a response that they cannot predict or control. Both are disciplined in skills that allow them to remain focused on their task and to express their response in a way that will illuminate the dilemma they share with others.
And both are liable to similar outcomes. The artist’s work is prone to be derivative, a variation on the style of a great master or established school. The meditator’s response might tend to be dogmatic, a variation on the words of a hallowed tradition or revered teacher. There is nothing wrong with such responses. But we recognize their secondary nature, their failure to reach the peaks of primary imaginative creation. Great Art and Great Dharma both give rise to something that has never quite been imagined before. Artist and meditator alike ultimately aspire to an original creative act.
Like Great Dharma, Great Art begins in anguish. It is through knowing anguish, rather than evading or ignoring it, that the door to beauty is first opened. Contemplative experience is not merely cognitive and affective but aesthetic.
In fact, the practice of dharma is more truly akin to the practice of art. With the tools of ethics, meditation, and understanding, one works the clay of one’s confined and anguished existence into a bodhisattva. Practice is a process of self-creation.
If you’re interested in knowing more about Batchelor’s point of view, you can listen to his Dharma Talks at Dharma Seed