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Tayler Moosa

Thomas Pynn
An Existential Approach to Buddhism
Alone With Others, written by Stephen Batchelor, discusses Buddhism through the lens
o Existentialism! Batchelor uses the preace to explain a crisis in Buddhist studies" #This
situation is characteri$ed on the surace by a polari$ation into two groups" one consisting o
those who ollow the approach o the traditional Buddhist schools and the other o those who
approach Buddhism rom the standpoint o the Western academic tradition!% Throughout the
boo&, Batchelor discusses a way to understand Buddhism that is between the unchanging nature
o Buddhism presented by the Buddhist schools and the ob'ectiying study o western scholars!
Batchelor discusses Buddhism rom an Existential perspecti(e, inding a balance between the
strict nature o eastern culture and the purely analytical nature o western culture!
Existentialism is a branch o philosophy that ocuses on the )uestions that deine the
indi(idual! While Existential thin&ers dier on many speciic points o ocus, the general theme
o Existential thought is that the indi(idual is ree to deine itsel! *ean+Paul Sartre, in Being and
,othingness, states that the indi(idual-s only ontological limitation is that one cannot choose to
be anything other than ree! Sartre urther states that con(incing onesel otherwise is an act o
bad aith! This ocus on the indi(idual-s ability to deine itsel and to grant (alue as it chooses to
phenomena is similar to the Buddhist understanding that all things are (oid o inherent (alue and
possess (alue only contingent upon how they are deined by the indi(idual! .n both Buddhism
and Existentialism, the (alue o all phenomena is understood to reside within the mind!
As Existentialism is a school o thought that ocuses on the indi(idual, Batchelor uses an
Existential approach to analy$e Buddhism to counter the two extreme (iews which distance
Buddhism rom the indi(idual! Batchelor describes the (iew held by eastern culture as
understanding Buddhism to be true independent o the indi(idual! This (iew held by eastern
culture contradicts the Buddhist teaching that e(erything is continent! The analysis o Buddhism
by the western culture analy$es Buddhism in such a way that the ob'ect o study is understood as
an unchanging ob'ect much as eastern culture understands Buddhism as an unchanging truth!
These two (iews o Buddhism do not account or the relationship between the indi(idual and the
philosophy and thus Batchelor uses Existentialism to analy$e Buddhism rom a perspecti(e that
ocuses on the interdependency o reality with speciic regard or reality-s dependency on the
indi(idual consciousness!
Batchelor discusses the dierence between ha(ing and being and uses the story o the
Buddha-s lie beore becoming the Buddha to show this distinction! Batchelor explains how the
Buddha let the castle where he had e(ery tangible possession that he could want so that he could
igure out a better way or him to be! Batchelor uses this story to discuss the distinction between
ha(ing and being, explaining how the Buddha was not satisied with possessions and let to ind
ulillment, but he also uses the story to discuss the archetypal process by which Buddhists
indi(idually ind themsel(es along the same path towards being! This understanding o the
Buddha-s story utili$es an existential approach as it outlines a process to which the indi(idual
Buddhist can relate! Opposed to (aluing the story only or the historical (alue it possesses, he
describes the story as such that it relates to the indi(idual! Batchelor uses this story to describe
both the situation in which e(ery indi(idual is thrown into the world and two general ways in
which the indi(idual may tra(el to shape themsel(es!
Batchelor discusses the misunderstanding that reality is a grouping o independent
ob'ects by using Existential terminology! Ater Batchelor discusses being-s pre(alence o(er
ha(ing, he speciically states that the mode o being is one o an interdependent nature and thus
the indi(idual is ne(er alone insoar as being alone implies that the indi(idual li(es in a state o
complete isolation!This argument, which builds itsel upon the interdependent nature o reality, is
understood in Buddhism, yet Batchelor uses the term being+in+the+world to (iew this dependent
nature o reality through the lens o Existentialism! Batchelor uses /eidegger-s terminology to
describe an interconnected world0 Batchelor uses this term to discuss being as only existing as
being+in+the+world! 1ontrasting this interconnected state o being, Batchelor discusses the
concept o inauthentic being+alone!
.nauthentic being+alone is a speciic orm o inauthentic being, and inauthentic being is
termed bad aith by *ean+Paul Sartre in Being and ,othingness! .n this speciic application o
bad aith, the indi(idual sees the world as consisting o many dierent, yet independently
existing, ob'ects! Buddhism states that all things are contingently existing with no inherent,
isolated existence and that attachment to phenomena due to a belie that they are permanent
causes suering! Batchelor states in the Being+Alone chapter"
This light rom our existential responsibility into absorption with particular entities is a
basic characteristic o inauthentic being+alone! .t illustrates a undamental trait o the
condition o samsara! The root o this condition is a state o ignorance in which we are
blind to being itsel and are only conscious o particular entities! Moreo(er, this state o
ignorance ascribes an inherent sel+suiciency to the entities with which it is concerned
and thus raises them to an illusory position o ultimacy!
This inauthentic way o (iewing the world and the indi(idual within the world is described as
bad aith by Sartre and as ignorance within Buddhist tradition!
While there is an inauthentic being+alone, there is also an authentic being+alone! 2eality
exists in an interconnected state and yet one will always remain the sole owner o the
consciousness to which the indi(idual alone possesses access! The indi(idual is related to the
world and the world is shaped by the indi(idual li(ing within and a part o the world, yet the
indi(idual possesses a certain le(el o distance insoar as the relating o one consciousness to
another is concerned! ,o matter how interconnected and interdependent the world is, the
indi(idual cannot use the phenomena within world to con(ey the consciousness to another! .n
this way, the indi(idual is alone! The indi(idual is thus both alone and not alone0 the indi(idual is
alone insoar as the indi(idual attempts to con(ey thought yet the indi(idual is not alone insoar
as the indi(idual is not existent without being dependent on the external world!
.n the ollowing chapter, Batchelor discusses the concept o being+with! Mahayana
Buddhism places more emphasis on the Bodhisatt(a, the enlightened indi(idual who has the goal
o helping others attain enlightenment, due to the concept o being+with! The Bodhisatt(a
understands that he is dependent on the world and those within it and subse)uently understands
that his liberation rom samsara is similarly dependent on the liberation o others! This
understanding is also seen within Existentialism! One such instance in which the liberation o the
other being necessary or the liberation o the indi(idual can be seen within Existential thought is
in Sartre-s discussion o reedom! Sartre states that, due to the interdependent nature o being,
one cannot be ree until all beings are ree! The reedom o the least ree indi(idual is the
reedom possessed by all other beings!
Batchelor discusses inauthentic being+with as an understanding that simultaneously
understands that the world is interconnected and yet also understands those within the world to
be ob'ects! .nauthentic being+with negates the (alue o the other indi(iduals as conscious beings
and reduces them to ob'ects with no more (alue than a table or boo&! Batchelor uses the example
o an indi(idual who is possessed by sel+concern to the point that the indi(idual uses others as a
means to ulill the needs o the indi(idual! Authentic being+with understands that the indi(idual
is essentially dependent on the others within the world and thus the indi(idual-s sel+concern is
interconnected with the well being o the others within the world! With the understanding that the
world is interconnected, the indi(idual has the option to (iew the world as one in which others
are ob'ects or as a world in which the others are considered as their own sub'ects 'ust as the
indi(idual percei(es itsel!
Batchelor concludes his boo& by explaining the concept o being alone with others! .n his
presentation o this speciic way o being, the indi(idual understands that he partially exists as an
independent entity! This entity, while isolated rom the world to a degree, is still dependent on
the world and thus the authentic understanding o being+alone is accepted! The indi(idual
understands that it exists within the world, yet the understanding that it exists with others who
are conscious beings 'ust as the indi(idual is an authentic understanding o being+with! With
these authentic (iews, the indi(idual inds itsel alone with others0 the indi(idual is alone with
others who are also alone, and these indi(iduals are understood to be ontologically
Throughout the boo&, Batchelor discusses Buddhism, through the lens o Existentialism,
as a phenomenological philosophy, a philosophy that ocuses on the relationship between the
indi(idual and the percei(ed phenomena! More than analy$ing Buddhism through a dierent
philosophical understanding, Batchelor shows how Buddhism and Existentialism are
undamentally the same! While there are clear distinctions between the two philosophies, these
dierences are only existent between subse)uent philosophical (iews that arise rom the core,
identical understanding that the indi(idual is alone with others! Batchelor-s explanation o
Buddhism wor&s well to explain Buddhist thought as the philosophy itsel states and his boo&
also enables the reader to understand the similarities that exist between western and eastern