Secular Dharma: Study, Practice and Community

Long course 2018-19

4 Modules and 2 Meditation Retreats in the UK, Belgium, and Holland

This two year programme takes a secular rather than a religious approach to the teachings of the Buddha. This perspective emphasises the humanity of Gotama and the practical applications of his teaching in this world. The teachers encourage each student to find his or her own way of practice within the secular/religious spectrum of their own lives.

The purpose of the course is to enable students to recover and integrate the values, philosophy and ethics of early Buddhism into their lives so that they become more autonomous in their understanding and practice of the Dharma.  To this end we encourage an ongoing practice that interweaves the elements of the eightfold path into the fabric of one’s daily life as a means of flourishing fully as persons and communities in this world. The course seeks to create a learning environment that balances critical enquiry, open-minded discussion, contemplative reflection and practical application of what is taught.

The meditation practice taught during this programme is primarily that of the four foundations of mindfulness (satipatthana). Other practices such as the sacred abidings (brahmavihara), collectedness (samadhi) and questioning (hwadu) are likewise introduced.


At the conclusion of his first discourse in the Deer Park at Sarnath, the Buddha presented his awakening as the result of having mastered four tasks: comprehending suffering, letting go of reactivity, beholding the cessation of reactivity and cultivating the middle way of the eightfold path. This pragmatic, ethical and therapeutic approach to the Dharma will serve as the framework for two years of study-modules, meditation retreats, personal tutorials and online group meetings.

Modules and retreats

Each year we offer two residential study modules plus one residential meditation retreat. The four study modules take place at St Cuthmans in England, Oostraven in Holland and Chemin des Roches in Belgium. The theme of each module is based on one of the four great tasks.  Each element of the eightfold path is explored in detail as we proceed through the course.

  • Suffering: Vision and Intention with Stephen Batchelor and Renate Seifarth 13-18 February 2018
  • Reactivity: Mindful Awareness and Effort with Stephen Batchelor and Jenny Wilks 13-18 November 2018
  • Freedom: Unification of Mind with Stephen Batchelor and Renate Seifarth 5-10 February 2019
  • The Path: Speech, Action and Livelihood with Stephen Batchelor and Jenny Wilks 5-10 November 2019

The two retreats, conducted by Martine and Stephen Batchelor, seek to consolidate and deepen understanding of these themes and their applications in a contemplative setting. The first retreat (21-28 July 2018) takes place at Gaia House in Devon, UK, while the second retreat (4-9 June 2019) is held at la Maison du Chemin des Roches, near Brussels in Belgium.

In between support

In addition, students are assigned a mentor from among the teachers whom they will meet monthly via Skype for a 30-45 minute tutorial. They are also encouraged to form discussion groups among themselves that meet regularly via Skype. A workbook will be provided of primary Buddhist texts, reading lists and other study aids. An online forum is available for sharing materials among the student and teacher body. The teachers offer a monthly ‘homework’ of readings, questions and exercises.


The four teachers are longstanding scholars and practitioners of Buddhism. They each bring their own distinctive understanding of how the Dharma has become an integral part of their lives in the context of today’s world. The content and style of their teaching will draw on the different sources that have influenced their own practice: from Western psychology to Korean Sŏn, from Hellenistic philosophy to contemporary uses of mindfulness.

MARTINE BATCHELOR trained in South Korea as a Sŏn nun under the guidance of Kusan Sunim from 1975-84. Today her interests range from how meditation can be integrated into daily life to how Buddhism can engage with issues of social inequality, particularly those involving diversity and women’s issues. Her emphasis in teaching is, above all, practical: whether in psychology, ethics or meditation she is concerned to present what will make an actual difference in the quality of one’s life.  She is currently co-facilitating a three-year research project at the University of Caen that is studying the effects of meditation practice on the process of aging. She has written articles on topics as diverse as the Korean way of tea, Buddhism and women, Buddhism and ecology, and Zen cooking. The author of Meditation for Life, The Path of Compassion, Women in Korean Zen, Let Go, and The Spirit of the Buddha, she teaches meditation worldwide and lives in south-west France. (

STEPHEN BATCHELOR has been practicing Buddhism since 1972. Throughout this time he has been concerned to find ways of articulating the Dharma in a language that speaks to the conditions of modernity. This has led him to dispense with elements of Buddhist doctrine that he considers artifacts of ancient Indian culture with limited relevance to the world we inhabit today. In recent years his approach has become increasingly pragmatic: he is concerned primarily with whether a teaching works rather than whether it is true. He encourages a secular approach to Buddhism that challenges religious dogma and the unquestioned authority of priests. He envisions a Dharma that values equality, critical reflection and personal and communal transformation. As well as being a scholar, translatorand writer, he works as a photographer and collagist. The integration of the imagination and the creative arts into Dharma practice is of particular importance to him. A co-founder of Bodhi College, he is the author of Buddhism without Beliefs, Living with the Devil, Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, After Buddhism and, most recently, Secular Buddhism. (

RENATE SEIFARTH started her practice of the Dharma in 1989 in India. For the next ten years she dedicated herself to deepening her study and pursuing her training. Her principal meditation instructors at this time were Westerner teachers in the Vipassana tradition, while the most influential teacher in her philosophical understanding was Stephen Batchelor. Finally, for a number of years she lived as a lay woman in monasteries in Thailand and Burma to further her practice. A central issue during all this time was her recovery from severe childhood trauma. To this day her practice continues to be concerned with recovering love and joy in life. The meaning of her practice has always been about diving into life with wisdom, love and a complete openness to the senses. Her conviction is that loving life, living it fully and having fun are entirely compatible with holding sincere ethical commitments rooted in wisdom and compassion. She is the author of Buddha at Home and is currently working on a book about healing the inner child through practice. Both titles are in German only. For more than a decade she has been conducting meditation and study retreats mainly in German speaking countries. (

JENNY WILKS has practised in various Buddhist traditions since the late 1980s. She has an MA in Indian Religions and is an amateur student of Pali, the language of some of the oldest Buddhist texts. She has been teaching insight meditation at Gaia House and elsewhere since 2007. She also worked as a clinical psychologist for many years, and has trained to teach MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) and MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) which she has taught in healthcare settings and for the general public. She currently works as an MBCT therapist and trainer at Exeter University. She has a particular interest in the interface between traditional and secular approaches to mindfulness, and how they can mutually inform and support each other in offering potentially transformative, ethical, and life-enhancing practices to people of any or no religious affiliation.


It is important to bring a clear commitment to this programme as it involves a considerable investment of time and finance. Please ensure you are in a position in your life to begin and sustain the entire course. Since it is a closed programme, it has been budgeted based on all rooms being occupied for the duration. Please make sure you read the cancellation and withdrawal policy before applying for the course.

Booking and Eligibility

This two year course is open to students with a working knowledge of Buddhist thought and a commitment to the Dharma, who are seeking a contemporary form, language and community for their practice. We aim to recruit a student body with a balance in age and gender, representing a diversity of social, religious and ethnic backgrounds. Upon being accepted for the course, you will be expected to attend all the modules and retreats. A limited number of bursaries are available.

When you register, you will be asked to fill in an online application form detailing your practice/study experience and a personal statement. When you submit the application online, a place will be held for you until the application has been verified by the teachers. At this point, you will be asked to pay your deposit and this will secure your place on the course. It helps us greatly if you can complete the application online, but should you be unable, please contact the bookings administrator who will help you book onto the programme.


  • Applications are only accepted upon enrolling for the full course (1.5 years)
  • The course teachers will review all applications
  • Successful applicants will be notified a short time after application
  • The entire programme is £3070*, including the two retreats
  • The fee can be paid in instalments during year 1 and 2
  • Deposit due when your place is confirmed is £920
  • Dana contributions for teachers are not included in the course fee
  • Please read the Booking Conditions and the withdrawal policy before applying
  • Bursary places are also available for those of limited means

* Please note, this has been revised from the £2995 cost stated previously.


The programme teachers do not receive any compensation from the course fee, which covers the venue costs, a contribution to Bodhi College’s operating overheads and teacher travel expenses. It has been decided to offer this programme in the same spirit of dana that supports retreat teachers at Gaia House and other major centres.  The teachings are considered priceless and the teachers treasure dana or generosity as the heart and foundation of the path of awakening. There will be the opportunity to offer dana to the teachers at the end of each module and retreat.


There are only a few single rooms, and these will be reserved for people with the greatest medical needs. We therefore advise participants to enrol only if they are willing to share a room.

Please note that this programme has now sold out.  Please register your interest by joining our waiting list below, should we receive a cancellation, we will notify you at the earliest opportunity.

  • Secular Dharma
    February 13, 2018 - November 10, 2019
    6:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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Venue Phone: 01403 741220

Venue Website:

Cowfold Road, Coolham, West Sussex, RH13 8QL, United Kingdom


St CuthmansNamed after St. Cuthman of Steyning, St.Cuthman’s Retreat & Meeting Centre is a quiet house run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Arundel & Brighton. The house is set within 25 acres of fields & woodland grounds with access to the South Downs and the historic Sussex countryside. We welcome those wishing to make a private retreat, guided retreat, or those just wanting some “time out” to relax in our peaceful surroundings.

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