Toward a Secular Buddhism: An Interview with Martine Batchelor

Today it’s my honor to bring to you Martine Batchelor, who along with her husband Stephen Batchelor, is author of a number of books including, Walking On Lotus Flowers, Let Go,and The Spirit of the Buddha.  Her husband Stephen Batchelor is author of Buddhism Without Beliefs and his most recent book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist. With her husband, Martine co-leads meditation retreats worldwide, including the upcoming retreat at in Santa Monica on November 12-13 titled Toward a Secular Approach to Buddhism.  Martine and Stephen now live in France.

Today Martine talks to us about what is being gained and lost in a secular approach to Buddhism, where mindfulness is going and some tips on how to ground ourselves when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Elisha: Mindfulness meditation can trace its origins to Buddhism, but is now being picked up in the fields of healthcare, psychology, business, and even politics as a way to live with greater ease, be more effective at what we do and even change our brains.

What are the implications of secularizing this Buddhist teaching and practice, what is gained, what is lost?

Martine: What is gained is that Mindfulness is entering our common discourse and is not esoteric anymore and thus can start to benefit more people more widely and is not restricted to people interested in Buddhism or meditation.

What could be lost is the ethical, wise and compassionate dimension that is so essential in Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness is not only to help us be more aware and more efficient but more to be less self-centered and more open to others and to the world in a wise and compassionate way.

Elisha:  How do you see mindfulness evolving and integrating in western culture in the next 5 to 10 years?

Martine: It seems to me that it is possible that mindfulness will be more integrated in the medical and educational fields as these are the places where it might be the more efficacious and where more research and training are going on. Already in Oxford University in the UK you can do a MA in mindfulness. Soon many students will enter the world of work well-qualified to have an impact in the fields of education and medicine.

Here in the USA for example you have mindfulness education in ordinary schools in Oakland, California where not only the pupils are doing 15 minutes of mindfulness every day but their parents are also becoming interested and trying it out. In 10 years I could imagine these students becoming adults who would do mindfulness as they would brush their teeth every day for health and mental well-being.

Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from someone right now who was suffering from great stress and came to you for advice. What would you tell them?

Martine: If a person in front of me was suffering from great stress, first I would listen to them and try to understand where the stress comes from, how did it manifest and how often it happened. Then I would listen some more about what makes them happy in their life even for a moment, what could bring them some peace even for a moment. We could try to find out together what is the least they could do to try to reduce some of the stress. Then we could look to see if they could be interested in mindfulness. Could they just sit quietly and watch their breath for 3 minutes, then could they be aware in a wide open way to sounds, to the music of life. Could they find a place in their body where they could rest their attention which could be stable and balanced. But most of all I would listen to their story and respond to where they would be and then try to respond compassionately and appropriately.

Thank you so much Martine for sharing your life’s wisdom.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.

Reposted from Elisha Goldstein’s Mindfulness Blog on

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