Stephen and Martine invite you to explore the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama as they apply to today's world, and explain how the course will unfold.
Welcome to Secular Dharma!
Secular Dharma is a novel way of rethinking Buddhist teachings—the dharma—in an age of global modernity. This online course sets forth a comprehensive philosophical, contemplative, and ethical way of life without reference to the Indian metaphysical framework common to the various schools of Buddhism. The aim of Secular Dharma is human flourishing rather than the attainment of “enlightenment.”
In six units, Martine and Stephen Batchelor will present their understanding of Secular Dharma as they have been practicing it themselves and teaching it at Bodhi College. In each unit they will offer meditations, talks, reflections and parables to illuminate their approach. This is the first time they have provided a systematic understanding of Secular Dharma online.
The purpose of the course is not to disparage traditional Buddhism but to provide a positive, constructive vision for a secular understanding of the dharma and meditation practice. The course will be addressed to committed Buddhists, mindfulness practitioners, and complete beginners alike.
This is a 6-unit course and you are invited to study at your own pace. You will retain access to the course for as long as you need. Each lesson will offer roughly 60 minutes of material to work with, including weekly video teachings, prompts for reflection, optional quizzes, and a communal discussion board. There will also be suggested take-home practices, including guided meditations, for you to explore.
Unit 1 | What is Secular Dharma?
Martine opens the course with a meditation on the question, "What is secular dharma?" Then Stephen builds on this attitude of open-mindedness and curiosity as we reflect on the need for a relatable, accessible understanding of the dharma. He proposes the ELSA acronym as a way to practice secular dharma. Martine then begins a series of reflections on the ten oxherding pictures as a secular description of the practice, beginning with the search for the ox. The session closes with a traditional parable hinting at the vast scope of possibility constituted by the dharma.
Unit 2 | E – Embrace the Suffering of the World
We settle our minds and hearts with a lovingkindness meditation before Stephen reflects on embracing the uncertainty and often unsatisfactoriness of life. It is in this embrace that we can find empathy, compassion, and care for ourselves and others, and move toward the kind of world in which all beings can flourish. Martine draws the connection between impermanence and the arising of compassion. We end with the parable of the raft, which illustrates the importance of not clinging to the dharma once its purpose is served.
Unit 3 | L – Let Go of Reactivity
What is it we react to? It is not the experience itself but the visceral feeling tone that accompanies it. We meditate on the nature of feeling tone to better understand and tolerate the causes of reactivity. There is nothing inherently wrong with reactivity, Stephen argues, it is simply a consequence of the kinds of beings we have evolved to be. However, reactivity is not conducive to human happiness, so there is great value in using mindfulness to overcome it. Martine reflects on the creative potential for letting go of reactivity. We close on the parable of Malunkyaputta, whose progress was blocked by metaphysical speculation.
Unit 4 | S – See the Stopping of Reactivity
Martine guides us in a listening meditation designed to foster broader awareness and an openness to insight. Stephen emphasizes the stopping of reactivity as a moment of nirvana – the cessation of suffering. It's important to notice these moments, just as it is important to be mindful of suffering. We can celebrate and enjoy this freedom, and develop it further. Martine's series of reflections on the oxherding pictures approach their culmination, as the seeker and the ox are both forgotten. Stephen reflects on the misuses of the dharma using the parable of a man who grasps a snake by its tail.
Unit 5 | A – Actualize a Path
Our meditation subject is appreciative joy. If we can find happiness in the success of others, we will rarely be short of reasons to be happy. Stephen speaks of the middle way as a capacity for balance and an ability to resist certainty in speculative areas of knowledge. This is a sociable path, and a comprehensive support for a fulfilled, ethical life.
Unit 6 | Secular Dharma is a Work in Progress
Our meditation instruction culminates with a breath practice that encompasses everything we have learned. Stephen recaps ELSA and shows each aspect of this practice supports and works in harmony with the others. He also reflects on the place of secular dharma within, or outside of, the history of Buddhism. Martine concludes her reflections on the ten oxherding pictures with the seeker's return to the marketplace. She also offers invaluable reflections on mindfulness in daily life and building a supportive community of practitioners. Our final parable is that of the gradual slope of the ocean as a metaphor for steady progression, and the ongoing potential to expand our self-understanding as human beings.