Secular Dharma Studies

In these most unsettling and challenging times I find myself asking more often, what can I do to make a difference.  It seems I have a choice to just feel overwhelmed or to use what is happening in some way to learn and contribute,  These times of uncertainty, climate change, the growing gap between rich and poor, etc., have opened me to a calling which is about getting behind what I believe, and what I know.

Thoughts of being of service began when I was quite young out of noticing that there were the "Haves" and the "Have Nots". It led me to thinking about wanting to be a nun.  I didn’t know about Buddhist nuns and I was a nonreligious, cultural Jew.  So being a nun was pretty much out of the question, and no one yet, identified as a JewBu .

It was never the religious aspect of being a nun that was what appealed to me. It was that I thought being a nun would inform me as to what I was supposed to do, where I was to do it and why. I was sure that in a nunnery I would find answers that I was not finding with teachers, parents or peers.  The idea of living my life with integrity and being of service was the pull I felt back then and it is still that pull which drives me today. 

As I have never been a religious person, the secular study of Buddhism deeply speaks to me. I find my work and study in Buddhism gives me a sense of balance in response to so many things that seem extreme or out of balance now.  So, I have set out on this campaign, wanting to find more avenues in which I can be of service and use my life to serve others.  This course can provide me more tools to teach what I love; about how the principles of Buddhism can help people feel more settled in their life and therefore live a happier life.

My purpose in creating this request is to raise funds to participate in the two year Secular Buddhist Study Program at Bodhi College in England. It is a program that entails online studies, a Skype mentor session once a month, and an ongoing Skype group meeting.  During each of the two years, there will be two teaching modules in England and 2 silent retreats, one in England and in the last year, one in Holland.

I applied to the program last year and was happily accepted, but when it was time to send in the $1250 nonrefundable deposit, I hesitated and turned them down, unsure about how I would finance this study.  But the course kept calling my name; I could not shake it loose.  Though the program was “sold out” I emailed the administrator and received this response:

“Dear Ellen,

I have checked with Stephen Batchelor and he would be happy for you to join if you still wish. 
Do let me know if you would like to proceed…”

Those of you who know me know that I have done many Insight Meditation silent retreats and I am always drawn to teaching what I have learned. This program offers me an opportunity to delve further into Buddhist teachings, pull the concepts apart and really examine what they mean.  I expect that this program will help me further my understandings of Buddhism and deepen my work as a teacher and mindfulness psychotherapist.  It also offers me great opportunity to study with Masters in the field and not have to shave my head to be a nun.  (Though, sometimes I think about shaving my head anyway.)

I am drawn to work that offers service to others and this course offers a very practical application of Buddhist principles and concepts.
“The course seeks to create a learning environment that balances critical inquiry, open-minded discussion, contemplative reflection and practical application of what is taught.” ~stated in the course description

Currently, here in the Chicago area, I have been volunteering for Vitas Hospice and Random Acts of Flowers. I have also been volunteering at a alternative school with my dog, Henry, who is an internationally registered therapy dog.  We work with children who have experienced extreme trauma.  Henry and I also mentor children in our low-income neighborhood.

What is needed:

I will be needing to make payments over the next year. The first is due this month, January 2018.

The 2-year course is $4161.81US plus Dana for teachers.  "In the Buddhist tradition, the teachings are given freely because they are considered priceless; in the Buddhist tradition we also practice dana, or generosity, by making monetary offerings for the teachings." Dharma Wisdom

Additional costs would be flights to and fro, transportation to the airport at both ends and an extra night before each module to deal with jet lag.

It is with much gratitude that you have considered helping me on this journey.   

As a Thank You, I am happy to share the teachings as I go along as well as when I complete the course to any who contributes and anyone who is just interested.  I can offer this via Skype, emails, my blog or in person.  I am happy to offer a workshop to contributors.

If you have questions, please contact me.

Thank you very much, Ellen Stern, MFT, CCHT
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Ellen Stern 
Portland, OR
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