Since November 2022, eighteen people from twelve countries have been working to create a new online course, Mindfulness Based Ethical Living (MBEL). Significant progress has been made and we expect the online course to be available on an MBEL website and offered through facilitated Zoom meetings sometime this fall.
Last October, Stephen Batchelor offered a series of four workshops on the topic of ‘Mindfulness Based Human Flourishing (MBHF): The Ethics and Philosophy of Mindful Living’. Sponsored by Buddha-Stiftung, the workshops explored the role of mindfulness practice as a key to flourishing in every aspect of human life.
The workshops were structured in relation to Stephen’s notion of the four tasks, his reconstruction of the Four Noble Truths. Stephen has created a pithy summary of this fourfold task – Embrace Life, Let Reactivity Be, See Reactivity Stop, and Actualize a Path, or ELSA. Stephen explored how the four tasks are an integral part of a comprehensive ethical, contemplative and philosophical framework for mindfulness, based on a secular interpretation of the Buddhist foundation of mindfulness.
After the series of workshops ended, there was a consensus that Mindfulness Based Ethical Living (MBEL) is a more apt way to characterize this new approach. A follow-up Zoom meeting was held 19 November with Stephen and the workshop participants. Based on the enthusiastic response to the workshop and recognizing that MBEL as an important new approach, we agreed to work together to develop an MBEL online course which would include Stephen’s key ideas but also incorporate other perspectives from psychology, ethics, and social theories.
MBEL course development
In December 2022, we created a committee to develop the structure of the MBEL course. The group worked on identifying teaching methods, group processes, and the types of resources that will be used in each session.
Once this committee had developed a draft of the course structure, we established four working groups to develop the curriculum and lesson plans for each of the four tasks. Each task would have two online sessions, for a total of eight sessions in the online course.
Each working group was tasked with identifying 1) the key ideas and themes associated with each task, 2) the skills and virtues needed to accomplish the task, and 3) the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ or social practices which actualize the task. Each group also began to work on ‘lesson plans’ for the sessions, which include a mix of presentations by facilitators, groups discussions and reflections, and periods of meditation practice.
As the working groups began to develop material for each session, we developed a consensus about the objective of the MBEL course:
The intention of this eight-week course is to develop the understandings and skills needed to live an ethical and fruitful life with sufficient tools for reducing suffering and taking more care of ourselves and others. The course will provide a safe space to explore what it means to cultivate this kind of flourishing life amidst the inevitable difficulties of our vulnerable human and earthly condition. We will raise various questions such as ‘How do we experience and make sense of the world and our place in it?’ and ‘What can we do to take better care of ourselves and the world?’
The course will be oriented toward both individual and social transformation, providing a path which can lead to greater self-realization and improved social and political engagement.
Final phase of the MBEL course development
We are currently beginning the final phase of the MBEL course development. An Editorial Committee has been established to integrate the course material and lesson plans developed by each work group. The committee will be selecting the resources and material for the course website and developing the agenda and lesson plans for each facilitated session.
We are very much encouraged by the progress that we have made despite the difficulties of doing this work online and bringing together secular dharma practitioners from many countries and with different perspectives on secular Buddhism. Despite these differences, we have been able to work together in a respectful and inclusive way to move this project forward. Project participants have been very committed to this process. They have given their time and commitment in countless online meetings and through the work of reviewing and writing material for the course.
We look forward as we move into the last phase of developing what we think will be an important, new offering: an online MBEL course.
The following is a list of the MBEL project participants:
Charlotte Anstey, England
Karl-Heinz Brenzinger, Germany
Ciara Cullen, Ireland
Vince Cullen, Ireland
Ayda Duroux, Italy
Lorna Edwards, Wales
Luis Daniel Gonzalez, Costa Rica
Saskia Graf, Germany
Petra Hunsche, Netherlands
Sylwia Plich, Poland
Joa Scetbon, France
Carmel Shalev, Israel
Tina Sideris, South Africa
Mike Slott, USA
Sharon Tobias, USA
Ruriko Watanabe, Japan
Jochen Weber, Germany
Wolfgang Wöllmer, Germany