Stephen and Martine Batchelor offer a path beyond reactivity.
The Buddha's teachings—the dharma—arose in a very different world from the one we live in today. This pragmatic online course sets out an encompassing vision for understanding and practicing dharma in the contemporary world. At its heart is an easy acronym we can all learn to apply, ELSA: Embrace, Let go, See, and Act. Join Stephen and Martine Batchelor as they clarify the core elements of Buddhist thought and meditation practice for the way we live today.
Secular Dharma is a novel way of rethinking Buddhist wisdom 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.
Stephen and Martine are highly respected thinkers and teachers of Buddhism, and especially its transition to the modern-day context.
6 hours of video teachings
Immerse yourself in compelling, concise, video teachings.
Each unit begins with a meditation so you can start putting new skills into practice and feel the benefits immediately.
Practices for daily life
Feel the ease and joy of setting clear, achievable goals for bringing practice off the cushion and into your day.
There's wisdom in stories. In each unit, Stephen recalls a traditional Buddhist parable and reveals its significance.
STEPHEN BATCHELOR is a Buddhist teacher and writer known for his secular or agnostic approach to the Dharma. Formerly a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan and Zen traditions, he is the translator and author of several books including Buddhism Without Beliefs, Living With the Devil and After Buddhism. What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds, was published by The Tuwhiri Project in 2019. His most recent book is The Art of Solitude.
Stephen considers Buddhism to be a constantly evolving culture of awakening rather than a religious system based on immutable dogmas and beliefs. In particular, he regards the doctrines of karma and rebirth to be features of ancient Indian civilisation and not intrinsic to what the Buddha taught. Through his writings, translations and teaching, Stephen engages in a critical exploration of Buddhism's role in the modern world, which has earned him both condemnation as a heretic and praise as a reformer.
MARTINE BATCHELOR studied Zen Buddhism under the guidance of the late Master Kusan at Songgwang Sa monastery until 1984. Her Zen training also took her to nunneries in Taiwan and Japan. From 1981 she served as Kusan Sunim's interpreter and accompanied him on lecture tours throughout the United States and Europe. She translated his book The Way of Korean Zen. Following Master Kusan’s death she returned her nun’s vows and left Korea.
Martine is the author of Principles of Zen, Meditation for Life (an illustrated book on meditation), The Path of Compassion, Women in Korean Zen, and Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits. Her latest book is The Spirit of the Buddha.
Martine speaks French, English, and Korean and can read Chinese characters. She has written various articles for magazines on the Korean way of tea, Buddhism and women, Buddhism and ecology, and Zen cooking. She is interested in meditation in daily life, Buddhism and social action, religion and women's issues, and Zen and its history: both factual and legendary.
"An excellent course. A fine combination of explanation and practice."
"This course has helped me to develop my practice and understanding of the dharma. It has given me much food for thought and I think it will continue to challenge and motivate me for some time to come as I intend to go back and reflect further on some of the material as I try to put into practice what I’ve learned."
"Martine, I love the way in which you present your insights and your knowledge in a humorous yet deeply sincere way. You often make me smile. Your teaching style keeps it light, the insights helps me in practice. Stephen, your teachings are so beautiful. It seems that every word you speak is meaningful, so precise."
"As ever a wonderful course from Bodhi College, Stephen and Martine. I wasn't sure what to expect but I enjoyed every moment of the course."
"Martine’s guided meditations were especially excellent."
"Great course! Even after reading some of Stephen's books his videos are very helpful for an in-depth understanding. And Martine gives in her videos daily life examples that are wonderfully catchy and enlightening. This course gave me an extra kick. I'll keep going."
This is a 6-unit course which you are welcome 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 video teachings. There will also be prompts for reflection, optional quizzes, and a communal discussion board. There are suggested take-home practices, including guided meditations and inquiries, 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.