A newsletter from Bodhi College – Early Buddhist Teaching for a Secular Age
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Starting to make a difference

As Bodhi College starts to offer the courses it has been preparing over the past year, we find ourselves moving from being a virtual to a real world educational establishment. It is heartening to see how what started out as an idea can, when pursued persistently, assume concrete form and begin to make a difference in people’s lives.
As a way of keeping you in touch with the progress of the College, our six-monthly newsletters will inform you about current courses as well as those we are planning. This issue also includes three essays by members of our core faculty – John Peacock, Stephen Batchelor and Akincano Weber – which explore some of the challenges involved in coming to terms with the secular world of our time. You will also find brief reports on the two programmes now up and running: the Mindfulness Teachers’ Development Programme and the Secular Dharma Programme.


Bodhi College opens for practice

After a year and a half of preparatory work, Bodhi College opened its doors in February with the first module of the Mindfulness Teachers’ Development Programme, held in Switzerland. 

It has been a busy and energising start for the College, with the Secular Dharma two-year programme as well as the fourth Committed Practitioners Programme starting within a month of one another. 

We are pleased to report that everything is going well, and we would like to thank everyone for all their help and support in helping to get the College off the ground. 

Meanwhile, the teaching faculty have been responding to the suggestions and requests that have been arriving from different parts of the world. They will help plot a path of development that can best meet the changing needs of practitioners. 

The College intends to offer a mix of online courses from 2018 onwards to draw on and supplement the core residential programme, establishing contemporary study and practice contexts that are not limited by location. 

A pilot online study course is planned for 2017, and it will help shape the 2018 programme. The faculty also intend to increase the course offering in Europe over the next few years, and the 2018 Committed Practitioners Programme will also take place in Switzerland. 

Finally, to enable the College to deliver a high quality Pali language course in 2017, we look forward to welcoming scholar Andy Olendzki to Bodhi College next year. Many of you will be familiar with him.

We hope to see you during our first year, and perhaps also in years to come. There will be more news on the 2017 programme in our next newsletter, so in the meantime do please get in touch if you have any suggestions or questions. We look forward to hearing from you.

The teaching programme starts

The launch of Bodhi College took place on 4–9 February 2016 with a course offered by Christina Feldman and Akincano Weber. People from eleven countries came together in Beatenberg, Switzerland for a five-day course for mindfulness teachers.

Set against the backdrop of the snowy Alps, the theme of ‘What is Mindfulness?’ was explored in depth, drawing on the early texts and reflecting on how the wisdom held there applied to contemporary mindfulness-based applications.

Mornings were spent in silent meditative practice and afternoons and evenings in teaching and discussion. Through this combination of forms, we endeavoured to dismantle the commonly-held view that silent practice and conceptual, contemplative investigation are two separate modalities. Meditative development in the West has tended to preference silent, solitary practice over conceptual understanding which means that this can leave people with little framework to hold their practice.

The attendees at this course were enthusiastic, engaged people, deeply committed to the work of integrating ancient teachings into contemporary mindfulness-based applications. They were people engaged in teaching people to become mindfulness teachers.

Our hope for this programme, which will continue over 18 months, is that Bodhi College can make a significant contribution to how training programmes are shaped, as attendees bring a depth of personal understanding and  learning to their teaching.

After several years of Bodhi College existing primarily in our thoughts, it was a wonderful moment to see it truly begin, engaging real people with real teaching in real time. While many of those attending the course committed to the entire programme, it is still possible to attend individual modules.

Secular Dharma: Theory and Practice

Twenty-three students of eleven nationalities and diverse Buddhist backgrounds gathered at St. Cuthman’s Retreat & Meeting Centre in West Sussex on February 17 for the first module of Bodhi College’s two-year programme, Secular Dharma: Theory and Practice.

Letizia Baglioni, who was scheduled to have taught this course, was unable to attend because of illness. Fortunately, Martine Batchelor was able to stand in for her for the first two days. We had the additional good fortune that Professor Guy Claxton was able to accept a last-minute invitation to present a lecture on his new book, Intelligence in the Flesh.

This is probably the first time that a systematic course on the topic of Secular Buddhism has been offered anywhere. Teachers and students alike had the impression that they were embarking into unfamiliar territory, which was both exhilarating and a little unnerving at times as well.

The theme of this module was ‘Embracing Suffering’. We explored, through presentations and group discussions, what this means in the context of the Buddha’s fourfold task, the wide range of meanings implied in the concept of dukkha, and the practical challenge of how to ‘fully know or ‘embrace’ the complexity of life as it arises in each moment: both internally within one’s own mind as well as externally in the world at large.

Time was also spent in reflecting on the group process that we will be involved in together for the next two years. 

Our next gathering will be in July for a retreat at Gaia House at which all four faculty members – Martine and Stephen Batchelor, Letizia Baglioni and Jenny Wilks – will be present.

Upcoming courses

Places are still available for Mindfulness in the Satipatthana Suttas, a seven-day study and practice course to be led by Bhikkhu Anālayo at Sharpham House in Devon from 13–20 March 2016.

As you embark on a thorough exploration of these seminal Buddhist texts, this course is also a rare opportunity to experience the teachings and guidance of Bhikkhu Anālayo. With an emphasis on what is of practical relevance to meditation practice, the course will combine study, discussion and practice sessions.

It is intended for more experienced practitioners of meditation, who wish to deepen their understanding on the canonical source material. For more information and to book your place, please click here. Additional non-residential places will be added once the venue places are taken.

The knowing citta: mind, obscuration and understanding is a five-day course that will be led by Maura Sills and Akincano Weber at Karuna Institute in Devon from 7–12 August 2016.

This course will focus on the experiential centre of being, citta in Pāli, and how it becomes afflicted. From the vantage points of both Buddhist and Western psychologies, factors that engender clear understanding and condition obscuring afflictions will be investigated, with a view to identifying practical skills for strengthening the former and transforming the latter.

The course is intended for mature meditation practitioners with retreat experience and presumes acquaintance with concepts from early Buddhist teachings and psychological models. Exercises from early Buddhist contemplative traditions will alternate with teachings and group inquiry. For details and booking, please click here.

Text studies on the Aṭṭhakavagga is a 4 day course led by John Peacock, held at Sharpham House in Devon from 14–18 November 2016.

The Sutta Nipāta of the Pāli canon is reckoned by most scholars to be the oldest portion of the canon, and within this text the chapter entitled the Aṭṭhakavagga or Section of Eights is considered to be the oldest part of this ancient text.

On this course, we will examine this text in detail, looking carefully at each verse and assessing what light it sheds on the Buddha’s early vision of the path, and what relevance this may have for those living and practicing in the 21st century.

Reflections on language, culture and social identity
John Peacock

The Buddha repeatedly points out in the course of his teaching career that all languages are cultural constructs and that the relationship between the signs that constitute a language, and what is signified by those signs is purely conventional. 

He also recognized the role that language plays in conditioning what we might refer to, as ‘ego consciousness’ and creating the illusion that reality, like language, is composed of fixed and unchanging (unchangeable) elements. This was the theory of language and of being that was current in the Buddha’s day, and was rejected by him.

The Buddha’s treatment of language would perplex scholars trained in Brahmin philology and offers an entirely different perspective on our relationship to language. One of the discoveries I have made in the course of my own study of the Buddha’s Dhamma is that it is distorted when not understood in its own terms. This applies very particularly to his understanding of language. 

–> Click here to read the complete article.


The secularization of Buddhism
Stephen Batchelor

As someone immersed in the practice of Buddhism for the past forty years – as a student, translator, writer, interpreter and teacher – I may not be best placed to appreciate the impact of this tradition on the wider British society of which I am a part. 

I may be unable to see the forest, as we say, precisely because of my professional concern with some of its trees. Nonetheless, I sense that seismic changes are afoot in the ways Buddhism is currently evolving in its adaptation to modernity.

–> Click here to read the complete article.

Free Thinking

The BBC Radio 3 programme ‘Free Thinking’ recently recorded Stephen Batchelor with Tim Whitmarsh, Kader Abdolah and Linda Woodhead on the theme, ‘Religion Without Belief’. It was broadcast at the end of February and is now available online at:

Beyond scientific materialism and religious belief
Akincano M. Weber

Secular Buddhism, a concept still somewhat vague yet emotive, is being exalted or vilified across net and media – and so are its users occasionally. We need to be clear: secular Buddhism is neither Stephen Batchelor’s invention nor the final triumph of scientistic rationalism over religion. 

History is full of examples of social change due to processes of secularization involving religious movements – notable examples include Ancient Greece (5th–4th century BCE) and the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th century in Europe and Northern America. To disentangle the topic of a secular Buddhism it may be useful to distinguish four related, yet different, notions connected with the term secular.

–> Click here to read the complete article.

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