Living With The Devil:A Meditation on Good and Evil by Stephen Batchelor
Riverhead Books (Penguin) 2004
Review by Noel Cheer
Stephen Batchelor, a former monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions, is a contributing editor for Tricycle magazine
, and the author of the national bestseller Buddhism Without Beliefs
. He was a Keynote Speaker at our Timaru Conference in 2002.
The dusk-jacket says “The devil need not appear with horns and a forked tail: he stands for everything that paralyzes our innate wisdom, freedom and empathy, thus blocking our paths in life.” The word ‘diabolos’’, Stephen told us at the book launch in Wellington, last December, invokes the image of an obstacle thrown across one’s path.
The point is picked up on page 53: "Existential flight is driven by fear ... [which] ... penetrates deep into the roots of human existence. It originates in that very feeling of being contingent: that deep intuitive fear that one need not have been born and will inevitably die."
In an interview Stephen said: "I find supernaturalism to be an enormous obstacle in communicating Buddhist ideas. Not only does it take us away from our direct experience of the world, but it also dehumanizes the Buddha. In being represented as perfect, the Buddha loses something of his humanity.”
This is a hopeful book about living with life's contradictions. Stephen Batchelor argues that freedom from the demonic is not achieved by suppressing it or projecting it onto others, but by calmly and clearly recognising and understanding those inhibiting and destructive powers as they well up from within us and assail us from without.
The soul of early modern man[kind] found itself split in two: detached Cartesian reason at odds with exhuberant Wordsworthian emotion. Since the rationalists believed in systematic human progress and the establishment of an ordered world, they demonized chaotic outbursts of unbridled emotion that threatened their goals.
The romantics, however, asserted the primacy of feeling and regarded any attempts to impose abstract rules, controls, or measurements as a form of demonic inhibition.
Stephen Batchelor, Living With The Devil p42