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Monday, October 19, 2009

Clinging to a Moment in Time.

I wanted to add some additional thoughts about the current discussion bubbling up to the surface in the Buddhoblogosphere about sanghas and teachers, which I addressed in my last post found here. As you know I support both online sanghas and interactions with teachers as well as the traditional sanghas and teacher environments. I am somewhat bewildered by those who refuse to acknowledge the usefulness of iSanghas (online sanghas). Especially when there are those, which are run and administered by ordained monks!! We have to let go of this idea which bubbles up from time to time that online sanghas and teaching environments are always inadequate.

So if I show up in person and talk to an ordained teacher at the agreed upon building I will get a "better" Dharma than if I interact with the same teacher via chat, phone or video-conferencing? Is the "specialness" (that some "purists" claim comes with physical presence of a teacher) the smell they give off? Is the trick being your smell mixing with their smell? I know that's silly sounding and that's the point because purists are being silly with this issue in my view. Whatever happened to the idea of 84,000 different ways of teaching the Dharma? I fully support traditional sanghas and a lot of other Buddhist traditions. However, we practice a belief system that was developed by a man who had NO Roshi or other Buddhist "Master" to help him. Even ordained teachers who wander the temples and meditation centers will tell you that no amount of interaction with a teacher will enlighten you. In the end it is each one of us who has to do the work. It doesn't matter if a Zen Master stands on his head while chanting unless you do the work yourself. That's not to say that interaction with an ordained teach is WRONG--It's not wrong AT ALL. It's very important and should remain intact but there is plently of room and elasticity in Buddhism to allow for iSanghas.

However, at what point are we clinging to something simply because "that's the way it's always been done?" Isn't being a "purist" in this case attaching way too much importance to the ritual of the student/teacher relationship? As well as the ritual of formal buildings and temples? Don't get me wrong I want to maintain these wonderful buildings and tradition of having a teacher to work with in person. However, I don't see "iSanghas" as a disease that will ruin Buddhism, which is an attitude I see behind much of this hyperventilation over these new developments in Buddhism. The original "temples" were forests. So was the change that would come with the advent of more formal temples with ornate carvings, golden statues and beautiful artwork poisoning the "traditional forest sangha" set-up? What about the great masters who left the temples after a time to study alone in a cave? Were they not "credible teachers?"

Were those caves hindrances to their practice? Tell that to all the great teachers who have come from that tradition, which is especially strong in Tibetan Buddhism. Tell Buddhadharma that the meditation he was doing in that cave wasn't "the real Dharma" because there was no teacher right there to constantly whack him on the back. So my point is that change is inevitable and we seem to be able to see that in our daily lives with learning to adapt to changes at work, in relationships and in all areas of life. Yet I have seen a strange stubborn streak in some practitioners when it comes to change in Buddhism seen here with the virtual sanghas and online interactions with a teacher. Hell, there are STILL people who say that Mahayanist Buddhists aren't TRUE Buddhists!! Some people are still fighting that change, which was a difference that arose ages ago.

~Peace to all beings~

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mentalzenn said...

I agree with you. I also tend to find that most of the time you receive more direct attention online one on one. If there is a question or discussion it is more directly answered then would be in a room full of other people. It is almost as if you choose to be in that cave but with direct asistence from an ordained monk. The down side is that "the smells" that you were talking about; for me is more of an energy. The teacher tends to have an energy around them face to face. Practicing in that energy helps to some point. The other side of that is that when using an online practice you are supplying the energy for yourself, so in the long run it is helpful, because you are not dependent on some other energy source.

They call him James Ure said...

Mental Zenn:

And, often teachers online are available at times not convenient for some people at temples and centers. I think people who might not be familiar with online communities don't know how much interaction with teachers and fellow sangha members can be accomplished.

I understand the energy thing and that's good for people who need that physical "face-to-face." However, as you pointed out there is energy to be felt online too.

I am someone who is very sensitive to energy and can feel it upon reflecting about how amazing it is that I can interact and be with people from all over the world.

That is some amazing energy to teach oneness on a large and smaller scale.

Energy can be felt online but with people from all over the world. How that isn't authentic or helpful is simply baffling. I often have more of a bond with people that I interact with online than those I know in person!!

I say that only to show that relationships and deep connections can be made online. It's not some false world. It can be but it isn't pre-determined to be that way simple because of the format. The emotions, words, feelings and energy are all very real. I believe it's the INTENTION beyond your interactions.

Sure you can find online connections with people that are fake, shallow and disconnected but that's probably because you're in a general chat room. If you enter into a chat room designed for sangha practice your energy changes to a more focused one--just like when entering a zendo or center.

And I like the idea that I can connect with my sangha where ever I go via my computer. While on vacation I can log-in and sit with a group. Or on business trips. It provides great flexibility for people with difficult schedules or medical or social reasons for not attending a physical sangha.

I don't think the traditional sanghas have anything to fear though. They will also be needed and probably preferred, which is great. I don't want to see that tradition fade but I think we can make room for the new as well.

Kyle said...

Thank you for this post James. You know how much I agree with you on this! :-)

Emma C said...


really interesting post. I think this iw a wonderful resource for many people who are housebound (due to illness, caring responsibilities etc).

It's also really useful for people who are geographically isolated and don't live in an area where there are any Buddhist classes or temples.


Ambud said...

Hey James,
I read your last two posts and decided to go checkout some e-sanghas. Of course one of the first I found was: e-sangha dot com. Apparently, it is down due to some kind of hack, perhaps sql injections, not sure. The curious thing about that site is that there seems to be many who denounce it. In fact there are several sites dedicated to just that. Have you been on that particular site? any opinion?
Another quick question since I'm on here any way. Does your tradition of zen buddhism believe in reincarnation? I was part of a zen community for a short period of time that essentially held that this life was it. Just curious.

Spiv said...

I think the biggest problem with 'online' is the potential for misinterpretation. Some things just don't translate over the wires clearly, and that can make it easier to think you understand something that you simply don't. There's definitely something to be said about possibly getting off on the wrong foot for a particular idea, but that's a potential for all things.

If we are to believe that online teaching is somehow harmful, then the same logic dictates that books and other information should be strictly regulated. It's impersonal, there's little or no guidance, and it's rife with potential misinterpretation. It seems absurd to me to think that every book about Buddhism should be stripped form Amazon, especially at the requirements of those who practice it.

Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater: Online communities provide a potential to reach a much greater audience. Some people are curious and want to see what it's all about. Some people are afraid to seek a teacher, or perhaps live somewhere that teaching is not readily available (this is very common in many parts of America. Where was that graph showing number of centers by state? Some places had only one or two Buddhist centers for the entire state!)

I think the issue here is fear of being replaced. Personally I don't think there will ever be a replacement for going and living the monastic life for some time, but there are ways to get some understanding of it. That's a very important step.

Madeleine said...

Hi! Nice to meet you.


fair7deal said...

Pancha Niyama Dhamma
Five Conditions or Laws of Dhamma

They call him James Ure said...


If we are to believe that online teaching is somehow harmful, then the same logic dictates that books and other information should be strictly regulated.

Yeah that's what bugs me about Brad Warner's "purist" ideology on this issue. So if we're not to study online then I assume he will take his blog down? lol.

I don't think that traditional teaching environments will be replaced either. They will always be the foundation for the Dharma and monastic training. There will always be those who seek a more intense and personal teaching. Such as monks or lay practitioners looking for some more physical.

Temples and centers will always be places of refuge for all Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. They are like a scared mountain that will always be a place of importance to Buddhists.

Besides, fear of being replaced isn't skillful to anyone.

I think that there is plenty of room for both. I find it ironic though that some Buddhists teach to accept change at these traditional practice centers/temples/monasteries.

Yet to some, "traditionalists" change is a "negative" when it involves adapting to a new paradigm that involves online practice centers/groups??? Despite their teachings at those traditional centers that "change is inevitable!!" Interesting.

I personally think it's all about adapting. Just because something new appears in "Dharma Land" doesn't mean people want to pick one over the other. There is plenty of room for both traditional "brick and mortar" temples/centers and for online groups.

While I practice mostly at home alone or with an online sangha like Jundo Cohen's; I also like visiting temples and hope one day to visit and learn from a teacher like Jundo. I see value and importance in both.

They call him James Ure said...


I haven't heard of that esangha. A good one I know of is Plumline Sangha. Another is the one run by Zen teacher Jundo Cohen.

As for reincarnation, I don't believe in it. I do believe in rebirth though. Zennists do believe in life after death but not all do.

I believe in rebirth in the sense that my ashes will help a flower grow and I'll live on in the flower. I also believe in traditional rebirth. Even science tells us that nothing every disappears but simply changes form.

Of the four seasons. How despite months of freezing cold a tree will be reborn and thrive in the spring.

Paul said...

@Emma C
I am one of those people. I do live in a pretty large city (Calgary AB) but there are no Zendos here or anything to do with Zen.
There are two Buddhist temples. One is True Buddha and the other is NKT.
So for me having an online sangha would be awesome.

Excellent post James and I appreciate the fact you are not afraid to give your opinion.

Samuel said...

James - enjoy your blog. I've been terribly busy lately but I've finally been able to get back around to blogging and reading blogs.

I want to get some input about e-sangha's seeing as right now my situation isn't very conducive to going to the closest Buddhist group.

I really don't know much about the topic, and am open to learn from your experience.

I can be reached at my g-mail account:
OkieZombies [at] gmail [.] com.

Yes, I have a Zombie blog too, :-).

But it would seriously open up some options for my practice if I could have an online community to resource.

Thanks for your time and for an enjoyable and informative blog.

Marco said...

I really agree with you James on this very interesting post.



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