by Ramsey Margolis and Winton Higgins
Every community, every sangha, works in a different way, and each of us has a way of learning that we prefer. There’s no one size fits all, no one pedagogic method that works best with this material. If some of these suggestions don’t work well for you, do please let us know what does, and we’ll look at how we might incorporate what you do into this page.
Consider, first, what your intended outcome for this course is, what you’d like to happen after the course ends. Are you, for instance, seeing this as part of the process of creating a secular Buddhist community, a secular dharma practice group? Or is the course enriching the one you already have? Is this your community’s introduction to a secular dharma? How can you encourage useful discussion? What you want as an outcome will affect the form in which you offer this material.
We know this material works. After Buddhism: a workbook originated as a series of dharma talks given to two insight meditation sanghas in Sydney to initiate discussion, and even before publication we’ve seen Sati Sangha kick off their first online course with students from the USA and Australia taking part.
What we describe for group study below, by the way, adapts easily for individual study.
The book has sixteen chapters, each of which is worth a discussion on its own. This means that the course could run once a month for sixteen months, or perhaps twice a month for eight months. You could also use this material as the basis of a residential study retreat of (say) a week’s duration.
At home, people would read:
- firstly, the next chapter from Winton’s book to be discussed;
- secondly, the relevant chapter, or part chapter, from Stephen’s book;
- along with the questions, making notes as they go.
Participants would then come to each meeting prepared. If, however, the facilitator can’t realistically assume that participants are doing their reading in preparation for the sessions, s/he may have to factor in time spent summarising the material.
A session could last for between 40 and 90 minutes – whatever works for you. In our experience, the fewer people involved, the shorter the session needs to be, while the more people are involved, the longer the session will be. The facilitator might perhaps:
- start by asking everyone for their overall impression of their reading that week;
- work through each question one by one;
- ask students what additional questions came up during their reading.
The mix of presentation and discussion will depend again on the students and their understanding. And the more you’re wanting to create connection and community among the attendees, the more time you might allow for small group discussions of say 2, 3 or 4 people.
We want your feedback. What worked for you when you ran a course or went through this on your own, and what didn’t?