Bringing together the meditation instructions and dharma talks given by Martine and Stephen Batchelor during a Sŏn (Chan/Zen) retreat at Gaia House, What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds takes us through the practice of radical questioning at the heart of the Korean Sŏn Buddhist tradition and suggests how we can benefit from this form of meditation today.

These talks illuminate how a practice that originated in China more than a thousand years ago can now draw on ideas from the natural sciences, ancient and modern western philosophy, Romantic poetry, and the early Buddhism of the Pali canon. 

The reader can use the book both as a practice manual and as a companion in facing the challenge of living a fully human life in the contemporary world. To accompany each of the talks, Jim Champion has written a series of questions which you can download here[TO COME].

About the authors

Stephen & Martine.png

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

Martine Batchelor lived as a Sŏn nun in Korea for ten years. She is the 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.

Stephen Batchelor is a writer, teacher and artist. He trained as 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.

Getting books

What is this? Ancient question for modern minds is available from your local bookshop and library suppliers, as well as on Amazon, Book Depository and elsewhere. Trade orders should be sent to Ingrams. 

Individual copies can be bought in paperback, Kindle, PDF and ePub formats through the Tuwhiri online store. Small quantities of the paperback are available at a discount for reading group and course use through our online store. 

Martine and Stephen Batchelor have generously waived royalty payments for What is This? All proceeds from the book will go to The Tuwhiri Project.

Institutional orders

Institutional orders can be supplied on invoice if submitted on official order forms or departmental stationery to:

The Tuwhiri Project
PO Box 6626
Marion Square
Wellington 6141
Aotearoa New Zealand


176 pages
Dimensions : 152 x 229 x 8mm.
Date of publication : 15 May 2019

ISBN : 978-0-473-47497-3
Recommended retail price for bookstores 
NZD $30.00, AUD $28.00, USD $20.00, CAD $27.50, EUR €17.50, GBP £15.50

PDF – NZD $11.00
ISBN : 978-0-473-47500-0 

ePub – NZD $15.00
ISBN : 978-0-473-47498-0 

Kindle / Kindle Fire – NZD $19.00
ISBN : 978-0-473-47499-7 


took place on Friday 31st May
at The Buddhist Library & Meditation Centre, Camperdown, NSW

Tuwhiri editorial board member Winton Higgins introduced The Tuwhiri Project, and then the US Zen teacher and author, David Loy, launched What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds. This took place in conjunction with his free public talk titled Personal and social transformation in critical times. The event was organised by The Tuwhiri Project and Sydney Insight Meditators.


took place on Wednesday 29th May
at the Friends’ Centre in Mt Victoria, Wellington

Tuwhiri’s publisher, Ramsey Margolis, briefly introduced The Tuwhiri Project, put some questions to co-author Martine Batchelor, and then after Martine fielded questions from those present, Ramsey launched What is this? Ancient questions for modern minds.

This event was organised by The Tuwhiri Project and One Mindful Breath.

What people say about this book

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