Posted inKoans, Other Teachings

Going Back to the Source: A conversation with Stephen Batchelor and Henry Shukman

October 3, 2014

On June 4, 2014, Stephen Batchelor and Henry Shukman sat down for an engaging conversation at the Mountain Cloud Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico on “Going Back to the Source.”

Their dialogue covers : Eastern and Western thought, the great doubt, dismantling of knowing, ancient greeks and buddhism, zen and classical philosophy, seeing with clarity, humanist enlightenment in the west, roots of being human, Zen’s transitional phase, like mindedness, sharing an identity with everything that lives, and releasing our reactivity. In their view, we arrive at the single source from many paths.

UPDATE Nov 6, 2014: The entire talk’s video (1:03:15) can be viewed on our YouTube channel.


Here’s the opening dialogue :

Stephen Batchelor:Where should we start? Well the topic is “Going Back to the Source,” and I guess you know that I’ve trained as a Buddhist monk in different traditions, including the Zen tradition in Korea. And one of the reasons that I trained in Zen is because I wanted to really connect with the, you know, the source of my own questioning—you know, what it means to be human. And Buddhism as a historical, religious tradition is basically an extended answer to that question. But I think very often when you tease out the answer you sometimes lose the question and you become more interested in perpetuating a set of answers than actually reconnecting with the core of your own life, which is the fundamental koan, the fundamental question.

Henry Shukman:That’s exactly how we do it in Zen, as you know. One of the three essentials of Zen that were formulated by Hakuin in the 1000s is precisely what he called “The Great Doubt.” And he said, you know, “Where there’s great doubt, there’s great awakening.” You can’t miss it. And “The Great Doubt” means the great question; it means fundamentally sort of settling down within, looking within and asking “Who am I?” and “What is this?” What is this experience that I’m—that I am apparently having? And how is the “I” who’s having it? So that, I mean, I can totally relate to your view of Zen in that regard—that it’s much more about the question than about any answer. And one of the things we see again and again in Zen law, Zen history, and of course in the koan is a master offering a putative kind of an answer only to take it away again. And a classic case is Basho or Mazu who used to teach “Your very mind, that’s Buddha.” And he said, he was asked once, “Why do you teach that way?” And he said, “Well, it’s just something I say to stop babies from crying.”

Henry Shukman: And then he was asked, “Well, what do you say when they’ve stopped crying?” And then I say, “No mind. No Buddha.”
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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. Click here for his Full BIO.

Henry Shukman is head teacher at Mountain Cloud Zen Center. Click here for his full BIO.

Going Back to the Source : A conversation with Stephen Batchelor and Henry Shukman, Produced by Chris Hebard, Filmed by Luke Fitch (, copyright

This conversation, and the video, is presented by Stillness Speaks in association with Tricycle and Mountain Cloud Zen Center.

Full transcript of the conversation can be found at Tricycle by clicking here.

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