All beings are by nature Buddha,
as ice by nature is water.
Apart from water there is no ice;
apart from beings, no Buddha
-Hakuin Zenji, "Song of Zazen"
James: On another note the article that I was interviewed for was published in the Hartford Courant newspaper in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. Here is the full text:
Worship on the Web
By Phil Hall
April 5, 2007
The late Quaker theologian D. Elton Trueblood said evangelism "is not a professional job for a few trained men but is instead the unrelenting responsibility of every person."
Many people, particularly those with webpage-building skills, have taken Trueblood's words to mind and modem, creating a new online era of conversation and commentary in all matters theological.
In some cases, the Internet has provided a new extension of an existing theological experience. In 2005, for example, the Unitarian Church in Westport expanded its audience for Sunday services by having sermons digitized for podcasting or real-time broadcast from its website (www.uuwestport.org).
"In the past 12 months, there have been 1,837 requests for podcasts, and 519 sermons have been listened to online," says webmaster Charles Klein, who adds that the church's Net audience stretches far beyond its Connecticut congregation. "The website gets approximately 4,700 visitors monthly. The site is visited from all over the United States, much of Europe and even the Middle East."
Still, Klein is aware of the local value of this Net outreach.
"Those who are elderly have indicated a strong desire to visit the site specifically for the podcasts," he says. "Some listeners have moved away, and it is a way to stay connected. Others have either vision or hearing issues, and this really goes far in making sermons accessible to them. Others might be ill at home and do not wish to miss a service or have become shut-ins due to ill health. Others simply enjoy having the services available at their leisure while driving, walking, exercising, or at work."
For those who'd rather be in the pulpit than the pews, the Net allows personal views on matters of a divine nature. Blogging provides a more intimate discussion of faith, as James Ure discovered when he launched The Buddhist Blog (www.thebuddhistblog.blogspot.com) in 2005.
"An important aspect to Buddhism is the `Sangha,' or community of followers," says Ure, an artist in Loveland, Colo. "Being disabled with mental health issues, I have a difficult time staying connected to my physical Sangha, so I started this blog to stay connected with followers online. This blog has helped me see and connect with that worldwide community of followers that I call `The Greater Sangha.' Further, it has helped me realize that we are interconnected with the entire planet [Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike] and therefore one giant community."
Ure says he appreciates the depth of the connection (he averages 100 hits per day) and the diversity of experiences that lace these interactions. "I receive comments and stay in contact with bloggers of the Sufi Islam faith, mystics, agnostics, Christians, Taoists and Hindus," he says.
Cutting across religious traditions has benefited the Dalit Freedom Network, a nonprofit advocacy group devoted to bringing civil rights to the Untouchable caste within India's Hindu faith. Benjamin Marsh, social justice coordinator, notes the group's website (www.dalitnetwork.org) has attracted a strong level of global non-Hindu attention.
"A good deal of our traffic comes from the U.S., U.K., Canada and a surprising amount from China," he says, adding the one group that has tapped into the site is the community in its focus. "Most Dalit have no access to electricity, let alone the Internet."
Distinctive approaches to faith can also be addressed online. Michael Elliott discovered this when he launched The Christian Critic's Movie Parables (www.christiancritic.com) in October 1998.
"My interest is in trying to show how Scripture could be applied to life -- using the lives of the characters we see in the movies as examples," says Elliott, who runs his site from Orlando, Fla. "So, for me, R-rated films are every bit as valid as G-rated films."
Elliott says his initial efforts were not well received.
"Believers were concerned for my soul, thinking that I was naively subjecting myself to the negative influences of a devilish temptation," he says. "Unbelievers were offended that I was bringing religion to their secular entertainment. Over time, the negative feedback has all but disappeared. Most of my e-mail now is simply filled with suggestions of films people want me to review or, better yet, biblical examples that people have seen in films that I haven't yet had an opportunity to review."
Of course, some degree of negativity aimed at faith-based Net entities exists -- yet the digital environment allows intolerance to be erased with little more than a Delete Button click. Leslie Bunder, editor and publisher of the website Something Jewish (www.somethingjewish.co.uk), can afford to be blase when anti- Semitic e-mail is sent.
"We get a few e-mails of that nature, but generally we ignore it," says Bunder.
For Ure, the main problem facing Net-based faith is not the lack of tolerance, but the lack of face-to-face interaction.
"Perhaps the only negative that I can see between religion and the Internet would be that perhaps it might keep some people from interacting with others in person regarding religion," he says. "However, in today's busy world many people are finding it easier [and just as rewarding] to commune online vs. visiting a physical temple or church. In fact, my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, says it is not enough to be mindful at temple or while meditating -- that one should stay mindful and present throughout the day while engaging in various tasks."
PHOTO: One of my favorite representations of the Buddha called, "Resting Buddha." I first saw it as a large sculpture available in the "Dharma Crafts" magazine but for hundreds of dollars. I can't seem to find a smaller version. I guess I'll have to paint one!!