What is this?: Ancient questions for modern minds



What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds presents talks given by Martine and Stephen Batchelor during a Sŏn (Chan/Zen) retreat in England in 2016. Leading us through the practice of radical questioning at the heart of this Korean Buddhist tradition, the authors show how anyone at all can benefit from this form of radical inquiry today.

These talks demonstrate clearly how a practice with origins in China a thousand years ago can meld with insights from the natural sciences, classical and modern western philosophy, Romantic poetry, and early Buddhism. The reader can use this book as a companion in facing the challenge of living a fully human life in our complex contemporary world, or as a practice manual, or both.

Stephen Batchelor is a writer, teacher and artist. He trained as a Sŏn monk in Korea for four years. He is the author of Buddhism without beliefs, After Buddhism and, most recently, Secular Buddhism. He is a co-founder of Bodhi College.

Martine Batchelor lived as a Sŏn nun in Korea for ten years. She is author of Meditation for life, The path of compassion, Women in Korean Zen and Let go. Her most recent book is The spirit of the Buddha.

Martine and Stephen have taught at Gaia House since 1986. They live in southwest France, and conduct seminars and retreats worldwide.

Product Details

$20.00  $18.40
Tuwhiri Project Ltd
Publish Date
May 01, 2019
6.0 X 0.38 X 9.0 inches | 0.54 pounds
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About the Author

Born in France in 1953, and ordained as a Buddhist nun in Korea in 1975, Martine Batchelor studied Son Buddhism for nine years at Songgwang Sa monastery under the guidance of the late Master Kusan Sunim. She speaks French, English and Korean, and can read Chinese characters. Martine is interested in meditation in daily life, Buddhism and social action, religion and women's issues, and Zen, its history and mythology. As well as teaching meditation retreats and workshops by herself, with Stephen she also co-leads retreats worldwide. We now cross to her live, at home, in southwest France.
Stephen Batchelor is a writer and teacher known for his secular approach to Buddhism. Born in 1953, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk at the age of twenty and spent ten years training in the Tibetan Geluk and Korean Sŏn orders. Since disrobing he has been engaged 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. In particular, he regards Buddhism as an evolving culture of awakening, not a system of unchanging doctrines, and considers some traditional Buddhist concepts such as rebirth and karma to be relics of ancient Indian civilisation rather than essential teachings. Since 1986, he has taught at Gaia House meditation centre in Devon, England.
 In 2015 he co-founded Bodhi College, a European educational project dedicated to the understanding and application of early Buddhism. He travels worldwide to lecture and lead retreats.


What a delightful retreat! These Sŏn - Korean Zen - teachings, leavened with contemporary insights and years of study and practice, provide the reader with practical and moving guidance for meditation, and for life itself. Stephen and Martine offer us a warm and caring teaching with underlying rigour and the gift of wisdom. Highly recommended for all of us, and a joy to read!

- Pat Enkyo O'Hara, author of Most intimate: a Zen approach to life's challenges

A wonderfully enlightening book about contemporary Sŏn meditation, you will have a first-hand experience of what it is like to sit on a meditation cushion and do the retreat with two highly experienced teachers. I highly recommend it for both seasoned practitioners and newbies.

- Haemin Sunim, author of The things you can only see when you slow down and Love for imperfect things

This marvellously readable little book will tell you all you need to know about meditation. A transcription of talks from a Sŏn (Korean Zen) retreat, it focuses mainly on the practice of questioning - meditation on the question 'What is this?' is a key practice in Sŏn. Stephen and Martine's lovely words cover the entire ground of meditation practice and its applications to living. An elegant and down-to-earth book by two of our best western Buddhist teachers.

- Norman Fischer, poet, Zen priest, author of The world could be otherwise: imagination and the Bodhisattva path

In this practical and inspirational guide to Buddhist practice, Martine and Stephen Batchelor distill a lifetime of personal experience in, and scholarly study of, two distinct types of Buddhist meditation: mindfulness and Zen 'questioning'. Their unique combination of these distinct techniques illustrates how bringing a Zen questioning dimension to mindfulness training can deepen the insight dimension of mindfulness practice and enhance concentration during questioning meditation.

- Robert E. Buswell, Jr., University of California, Los Angeles

What an enlightening little book! This book is rich with revelations in how mindfulness can transform the ordinary activities of daily life into the 'everyday sublime'. As Stephen and Martine warmly guide the reader through a Sŏn retreat it comes to life on the page. The practical meditation instructions offer a deep dive of enquiry into the question, 'What is this?', the perennial question that goes to the heart of who we are. The nature of the heart-mind is revealed as they share their personal experience, their in-depth scholarly knowledge, and insights. Martine and Stephen offer a path in how to live a fully engaged life free from reactivity with a heart blown open that embodies integrity, wisdom and compassion.

- Subhana Barzaghi, Zen roshi in the Diamond Sangha, guiding teacher for Sydney Zen Centre and Melbourne Zen Group, and senior insight meditation dharma teacher