Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dharma WarsII

I continue to see a lot of posts on the article Dharma Wars in Tricycle magazine. If anything, the heavy negative slant of the writing, especially towards online forms of Buddhist practice and discussion, has stimulated some critical thinking, along with a few slices of angst, frustration, and other forms of quality messiness.

John over at Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt made the following observation in this recent post:

The only real statement that I can make is that this blog as well as most of the blogs that are listed to the right and a bit below the fold are all honest, day-to-day practitioners of a variety of Buddhist schools, sects and viewpoints. Most are respectful but all are respected.

This is one thing that Tricycle is missing for the most point. We engage with each other through different mediums to broaden, expand or focus our practice. By following the pitfalls and triumphs of these everyday peoples we have a more complete practice.

This morning, I was down at my "in the flesh" sangha for morning service. I'm trying to push myself a bit more because I'm now part of a more intensive study group there, and we all agreed to "up our practice." So, I woke up early and went down for two of the three sittings (I usually just do one), and then stayed afterward to talk to a few dharma friends about, guess what - different modes and variations of practice, and how best to support and challenge a householder community of practitioners. Some of the same issues we talk about on here. It's happening all over the place, which shouldn't be a surprise. And yet, for most of my "in the flesh" community, the online world is pretty foreign - they've not spent much time thinking about the possibilities. Partly a generational thing, but definitely not only that, especially since a fair number of bloggers and teachers online are of the same Boomer Generation as the majority of my sangha is. It makes me wonder if this is all part of an emergent struggle to bridge the gap between the "brick and mortar" and the "digital." Surely, universities have started to do it, so why not spiritual communities? (Note: the results of projects like online university courses and online schools in general is pretty mixed, but I do think something of value has come of it all.)

Richard over at My Buddha is Pink wrote an excellent post on the Dharma Wars article addressing right speech and asking the right questions. Here is a snippet of Richard's commentary that I found especially interesting:

it seems to me the Tricycle article failed to deliver on its supposed premise because the author asked the wrong question. The article’s summary asks this question: “What is it about the Internet that turns Buddhist teachers into bullies?” This question presumes that Buddhist bullies are not responsible for their bullying behavior because the Internet made them be bullies. It’s the old, “the Devil made me do it,” argument, a premise that conveniently absolves one of any personal responsibility. The other flaw with this premise is that it’s based on the notion that there is something about the written word appearing on the Internet that provokes disharmony, that it is more likely to encourage unskillful discourse by virtue of the fact that it appears on the Internet, which seems rather odd to me because after all, a written word is nothing more than a written word, and whether it’s placed on parchment or a computer screen is moot. It all comes back to who wrote that word and what were his or her intentions in writing it and was his or her action skillful? If a Buddhist teacher behaves like a bully, it is because the seeds of a bully were already present; the Internet did not create that seed. So it would seem the more appropriate question to ask is, “Are Buddhist teachers who respond with anger and behave like bullies worthy of receiving attention?”

Earlier in the post, Richard rightly questions some of the responses to the article by bloggers and the online community at large. What I find interesting about all that I have read, both posts and comments to those posts on this article, is that there's a tinge of defensiveness, and sometimes a very heavy one, to much of what is said. And I can definitely understand that; the article's author really did little to hide his disdain for online Buddhist practice and discussion. However, like everything else, it's important to go back and ask "What is being defended? What can be defended even?"

Over the past few months, our sangha has been studying Sengcan's HsinHsinMing, or "Trust in Mind." I've written a fair amount about it on here, but this morning the following koan was mentioned during the morning dharma talk, which features teacher Sengcan.

A monk asked the master Sengcan:

“Master, show me the way to

Sengcan replied: “Who binds you?”

The monk replied: “No one binds

Sengcan said: “Then why do you seek liberation?"

I enjoy discussing and debating practice, teachings, and forms as much as the next person. In addition, I believe that these kinds of debates are essential to keeping our spiritual lives and communities alive, vibrant, and dynamic. But it also seems really easy to let others' words and views "bind us," which really is about each of us, and not those who are critical of our variant practices.

No comments: