This book brings 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. Jim Champion has written a series of questions to accompany each of the talks, which you can download here[TO COME].

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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.


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

What is this? Ancient question for modern minds will be available from your local bookshop and library suppliers, as well as on Amazon, Book Depository and elsewhere from 1 May 2019. Trade orders should be sent to Ingrams. 

Individual copies can be bought in paperback, Kindle, PDF and ePub formats through the Tuwhiri online store. Ask us[tuwhiri.nz/contact] about getting small quantities of the paperback for course use at a discount. 

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


176 pages
Dimensions : 152 x 229 x 8mm.
Date of publication : 1 May 2019

ISBN : 978-0-473-47497-3 
NZD $00.00, AUD $00.00, USD $00.00, CAD $00.00, EUR €00.00, GBP £00.00

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 

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

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