Secular Dharma: Theory and Practice

Extended course 2016 – 2017 4 Modules and 2 Meditation Retreats in Sussex and Devon, UK

A secular approach to Buddhism seeks to recover the ideas, values and practices that distinguish the teaching of the historical Buddha from that of his contemporaries, and then apply them to the conditions of the world in which we live today. By setting aside the cosmology and metaphysical beliefs of ancient India that underpin Buddhism as a religion, we can start to rethink the Dharma and imagine a culture of awakening that is based on the canonical texts of early Buddhism but realized in the context of modernity.

This two-year course offers 2 four-day residential study modules plus one week-long residential meditation retreat per year. It is intended for students with a basic knowledge of Buddhism and a commitment to meditation, who are seeking a secular form, language and community for their practice of the Dharma. In addition to the study modules and retreats, students will be assigned a mentor whom they will meet monthly for guidance in their own further reading, study and practice.

The course will be based on the book After Buddhism: Rethinking the Dharma for a Secular Age by Stephen Batchelor, to be published by Yale University Press in October, 2015.


Each of the four study modules will focus on one of the four tasks that the Buddha presented as the core of his awakening:

  • Comprehending Suffering (February 17-21, 2016 with Stephen Batchelor and Letizia Baglioni).
  • Letting go of Reactivity (November 2-6, 2016 with Stephen Batchelor and Jenny Wilks).
  • Beholding the Ceasing of Reactivity (February 15-19, 2017 with Stephen Batchelor and Letizia Baglioni).
  • Cultivating the Path (November 1-5, 2017 with Stephen Batchelor and Jenny Wilks).


Two meditation retreats:

  • The first year’s meditation retreat (July 16-23, 2016 with Stephen Batchelor and Martine Batchelor) will focus on the practice of stillness (samatha) and insight (vipassana) through the cultivation of mindful awareness.
  • The second year’s retreat (22-29 April, 2017 with Stephen Batchelor and Martine Batchelor) will be in the practice of questioning (hwadu) as found in the Korean Sŏn tradition.


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 Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. His most recent book, After Buddhism, was published by Yale University Press in 2015. He lives in southwest France with his wife Martine.

Martine BatchelorMARTINE BATCHELOR lived in Korea as a Zen nun under the guidance of Master Kusan for ten years. She is the author of Meditation for Life, The Path of Compassion, Women in Korean Zen and Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits.A Gaia House guiding teacher, Martine teaches meditation retreats worldwide and lives in Southwest France. Her latest work is The Spirit of the Buddha.

LETIZIA BAGLIONI graduated from the Oriental Studies Department, Universityscreen-shot-2016-09-06-at-14-53-13 of Rome, and trained in Buddhist ethics and meditation mainly within the monastic Thai Forest tradition as an eight-precept laywoman, as well as the retreat centres Gaia House and Insight Meditation Society. She is a psychologist and Focusing trainer, and has been teaching the Dharma in Italy for 16 years.


jenny-wilks1JENNY WILKS has practised in various Buddhist traditions since the late 1980s, and has an MA in Indian Religions. She has taught for several years at Gaia House, the Barn Retreat near Totnes in Devon UK, and local meditation classes. She trained in clinical psychology and works as an MBCT (Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy) therapist and trainer at Exeter University.


It is important to bring to this programme a clear commitment. The programme 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. We will therefore not be in a position to offer refunds for any non-attendance, and participation is expected except in cases of health or family emergency.

Booking and Eligibility

The Secular Dharma programme requires participants to have a regular practice, and a clear interest in the study of Buddhist doctrine and theory. 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 £2480, including the 2 Gaia House retreats.
  • The fee can be paid in instalments during year 1 and 2.
  • Deposit due when your place is confirmed is £743.
  • Dana contributions for teachers are not included in this cost.
  • Please read the Booking Conditions before booking


The programme teachers do not receive any compensation from the course fee, which covers the venue costs and 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 at St Cuthman’s and very few at Gaia House, and these will be reserved for people with the greatest medical needs. We therefore advise participants to enrol with the expectation to share a room. We may consider offering a limited number of non-residential places once the course is full.


Please click on this link to access the programme forum:

  • February 17, 2016 - September 1, 2017
    6:00 pm - 2:00 pm
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One Response to Secular Dharma: Theory and Practice

  1. upasamkamitva January 4, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    This course is almost full. Once it is sold out you will be given the opportunity to sign up for the waiting list.