This is one of those books that I had picked up at a used bookstore at some odd moment of my life when things just didn’t seem to make sense. During that time I had spent a lot of time searching in my late teens and early twenties, exploring Nietzsche, Taoism, Gnostic Christianity, and Heidegger with hope that these great thinkers and ways of thought would provide myself with some direction and help me identify what my moral identity was. Somewhere along the way I developed into the adult that I am but never got around to reading this particular book until now.
So, while on my mission this year to read all my unread books, I must admit and recognize that Batchelor’s Alone With Others served a different purpose than the original intent when I purchased it some 10 years ago. I do not identify myself as a Buddhist, however I do find that I align myself with many of the Buddhist concepts about one’s perception of reality and I do lean towards existential philosophy when framing my worldview concept, so this book did present a unique perspective that I found likable and readable. Batchelor does a great job of being concise to express the concepts he aims to communicate, and for that, this was an easily digestible read. The central argument is that each human being is essentially living a dichotomous life: one life is a life of interior thought and reflection on experiences that are essentially unknowable by anyone other than the self while the other life is a life of interaction and inter-reliance upon the peoples in our familial, social, and cultural influences. He expresses these concepts with great articulation in the following quotes:
“Every attitude we assume, every word we utter, and every act we undertake establishes us in relation to others. Our thoughts mold the images we have of ourselves in relation to others and our words and actions help suggest the impression that others have of us.” (77)
“Our emotional relation to the content of our experience does not interpret and classify but rather colors the world in shades of meaning that are only subsequently expressed in words. Thoughts and ideas enable us to construct multifaceted ‘dimensions’ that transcend the spatial and temporal limitations of particular concrete situations….In this confusion a conflict ensues between the world in the world as it is and the world we believe it to be.” (99-100)
I must say that this book isn’t a treatise simply promoting Buddhism, it is a well contrived explication of Buddhism’s relation to the difficulties of modern life. For that, it is notable read. Batchelor additionally includes some good thoughts on the necessity for any religion to be malleable with tradition in order to remain persistently relevant in an ever changing world.