Stephen Batchelor’s book, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist is not a dull book; it is very interesting. For me it is an irreligious autobiography. From a Buddhist perspective, it is about a Westerner who can’t seem to understand what pure Mind is in Buddhism; who seems unwilling to even except the possibility that Mind is intuitable and transcendent. This is evinced in chapter 6, Great Doubt, when Batchelor goes off to South Korea to study Zen in a monastery called Sanggwangsa where a group of Western monks and nuns were studying under Zen master Kusan Sunim.
Batchelor, now a Zen monk, was given a simple koan, “What is this” referring to absolute Mind shorn of its disturbances. He had trouble with the aim of this koan and the underlying philosophy of Zen master Kusan Sunim who wanted the student to awaken to the transcendent Mind. For Zen monk Batchelor such a mind could only mean “disembodied spirit” something he could not agree with. Moreover, the Tibetan tradition he was previously associated with, Gelug, rejected the Mind-only teaching. To make a long story short, Mr. Batchelor ended his life as a Zen monk to enter the life of a lay Buddhist, still remaining totally clueless as to what Mind is and the fact that it is intuitable and transcendent.
Anyone who tries to frame this as the inscrutable East vs the rational and scientific West, as represented by Stephen Batchelor, doesn’t know that much about either the East or the West. Westerners I know are very open to the Buddhist notion of absolute Mind; who don’t think the notion came from another star system.
Stepping into our time machine going back to the 19th century, it was the English mathematician and philosopher William Kingdon Clifford (1845–1879) who coined the term "mind-stuff" in 1878. Clifford writes:
“The universe, then, consists entirely of mind-stuff. Some of this is woven into the complex form of human minds containing imperfect representations of the mind-stuff outside of them, and of themselves also, as a mirror reflects its own image in another mirror, ad infinitum. Such an imperfect representation is called a material universe. It is a picture in man's mind of the real universe of mind-stuff” (http://goo.gl/CEhocI).
This is pretty awesome stuff—and it is Western! A Buddhist like Dharmakirti whom Batchelor discusses in his book, would have enjoyed meeting with William, and so might many Zen masters.
Another Westerner I am sure Batchelor would probably think is suffering from the vapours is Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington who said:
"To put the conclusion crudely—the stuff of the world is mind-stuff...and the substratum of everything is of a mental character...Consciousness is not sharply defined, but fades into subconsciousness: and beyond that we must postulate something indefinite but yet continuous with our mental nature. This I take to be the world-stuff.”
Personally, I think Batchelor is suffering from a bad case of close-mindedness. His views on Zen are not shared by many Zennists especially by anyone who has read Zen literature, extensively. There is always mention of Mind is some form or other like unborn Mind or pure Mind. Speaking for myself, I have personally realized this pure Mind. I have also attained the light of Mahayana which was an extraordinary event in my life eclipsing everything I thought I understood about Buddhism. I know that Buddhism is truly a cosmic religion—one that Batchelor and those like him will never understand or eventually come to know. Such people are self-doomed by their close-mindedness.