One of the things I learned from writing an article about Buddhist blogging (which is on the Tricycle editor's desk right now), is that a lot of us really enjoy reading about the details of each others' practices. The ups and downs of everyday life. The sutras, koans, and other teachings being studied. The ways in which we make breakthroughs and also stumble and fall. All pretty compelling.
Mumon over at Notes in Samsara commented about his resistance to speaking too intimately about his own Buddhist practice online. It struck me, and I started thinking about the balance point between telling and not telling. Where is it in any given moment? And what does blogging about intimate experiences do for us, and to us?
Here is Mumon's take on why he stays out of the realm of public disclosure of the personal:
So, for myself, there are several reasons why I do not wish to share my practice:
* It leads those reading this with a practice to want to compare their practice with my practice, and that's just adding more things about which to be attached.
* It also leads to want to compare understanding or development. This would quite naturally lead to division in a meat space sangha, and I have concerns that this is true in cyberspace as well. Moreover, sometimes cyberspace meets meat-space.
* It's natural for one with a good student teacher relationship to leave such matters in the province of the student and teacher, out of mutual respect. (I think therefore I lean towards getting a teacher, but not one who's a guru, but more like an accountable tutor.)
I find the comparison issue compelling because I've seen it myself in comments made on my blog and on the blogs of others. It reminds me of this guy I know who reads too many self help books, and who knows I'm a Buddhist. Every time he sees me he says "Oh Venerable one," and "Oh, wise one." Dude struggles to connect with people, but that's not really the point. He's heard a little bit about my practice - not much really - but he seems to equate whatever I've said to him with being much better than anything he's doing.
However, at the same time, if Shakyamuni had decided to keep everything to himself out of concerns of comparison, we'd be somewhere else today, wouldn't we? Of course, if you read Mumon's post, he's not speaking about teachers. However, what we've seen of the Buddha in the sutras is that he taught collectively, delivering his teachings to groups, not individuals in private sessions - at least, that's not what is presented to us anyway. And this is true of many Buddhist teachers throughout history - that a lot of their teaching was, and continues to be done in groups. That's not to dismiss private teachings between a single student and a teacher, but I don't think that method, so emphasized in Zen for example, represents the majority.
Beyond this, though, I think if you spend a fair amount of time in a Buddhist community, it's pretty difficult to keep everything about your practice to yourself. In fact, part of your practice IS the community, and how you interact within it. People get to know your edges, the teachings that inspire you, and those you dislike. Sure, you can hide a lot, but definitely not everything. And even in highly silent Zen groups there's still some talking, some sharing, even if it's how to do something during work practice or during a ritual. And do you really think your body doesn't give you away, at least in a general sense? How you move, how you look at people, how you bow: it all says something, even if you say nothing.
It might be worth asking, "What is private anyway?" We North Americans, especially, seem to believe very, very strongly in a division between public and private. And yet, how much of that division is simply our own clinging to a place to hide away from the world when we don't want to deal with it?
Even though it may seem like I don't, I actually agree with Mumon that some things in one's spiritual practice are probably better left unsaid, or at least carefully doled out.
I'm actually less concerned than Mumon about comparison mind than I am about being a spectacle for voyeurs to be attracted to. Comparison mind might be a living hell, but it sometimes sparks people to make the changes they need in their lives. Voyeurs, on the other hand, simply waste time gawking, and those who do things that attract voyeurs end up dealing with that and losing their focus on what matters. Of course, you never know what's going to get people's attention, so maybe you end up dealing with a peanut gallery of gawkers anyway.
What do you think? How do you navigate the telling, not telling line?