Wisdom or dharma candy? This post has nothing, really, to do with the above book, but it definitely does have to do with this question.
Marguerite over at Mind Deep had a recent post about determining who is a "good Buddhist" practitioner worth following on Twitter. Now, full disclosure - I have no Twitter account, and don't really feel compelled to open one. However, her post could easily apply to other online writers, or even to people in one's "regular" life I suppose. I started writing a response to her on her blog, and then realized it kept going on and on like a blog post, so I just moved it over here for others to consider.
Here is her criteria for locating people to follow on Twitter:
Don't weird me out. Don't look too sexy. Smile. Even better, dress as a Buddhist monk (or nun) :)
No new age-ish linguo, please. Instead sprinkle one of the magic words like 'meditation', 'Vipassana', 'zen', 'Buddhist', 'Dharma', etc
I prefer you don't sell stuff. I love it when you blog about the Dharma.
The ratio of 'followers' to 'following':
Greater than one usually tells me you've got something to say. But there are exceptions!
How recent is the activity?:
At least within the past month, and fairly frequent. Otherwise, how can I have a conversation with you?
'Dharma', 'Buddhist', 'zen' lists tell me you are interested in the stuff.
The first page:
Do your tweets ooze mindfulness, loving kindness, authenticity, and Dharma intelligence?
And here is my response:
All of this might help I suppose, or maybe not. Honestly, some of those who "appear" to fit what I think constitutes a "good Buddhist" actually turn out to not offer much. And at the same time, I've found writers/bloggers/people who have none of the obvious trappings and might even use languaging that irritates me, but who are real teachers for me all the same.
In fact, on my own blog, I've only barely mentioned my dharma name, and there's no picture of me in my rakusu. If I had a twitter account, it would be the same. Maybe someday, that will change, but I've felt it better to just do my writing, and not worry too much about appearing to look a certain way.
It's funny, but the longer I'm online, the more I'm interested in people who may not always uphold their vows or precepts per se, but who are putting something of their life out there that causes me to stop, reflect, maybe even react strongly. The abundance of great dharma quotes and comments out there actually is weakening the effect for me. It often feels like eating sugar now, reading yet another Thich Nhat Hanh or Dogen or Suzuki Roshi gem. There's so much of it all, and so many people gushing about how wonderful teacher X is, or teaching y is, but I find myself saying "so what" more often than not.
What's fascinating is that the same quotation from great teacher X might, in a different context, jar me awake - I've had that experience of repeatedly running across a line from someone, only to have it hit the twentieth time because it was within some unique context (and I had changed somehow). So, it's not about rejecting often repeated dharma teachings; it's more about the excesses of "good" perhaps.
It's kind of like having shelves and shelves of dharma books. After awhile, it just feels like collecting slightly different perspectives on the same thing. I've always had a bit of academic in me, and love to research subjects at depth, but lately I've felt the need to check that some because I wondered how much it was benefiting my life and practice. I mean, does it matter if I can cite seven different takes on the Heart Sutra? Maybe, under the right conditions, but often not I think.
In some ways, it just seems to come down to what really teaches us to live our lives more fully. If everyone I follow online confirms what I already believe, or appears as I think a Buddhist might appear, then what I will receive is almost the same as what I already am experiencing.
It reminds me when I was in undergrad psychology classes, learning about confirmation bias. I remember that different teachers who were from different schools of psychological thought approached this issue differently. The social psychologist emphasized the role of community, nation, and other groups and how they impacted what we saw. The cognitive psychologist emphasized the way human thinking generally works. The developmental psychologist talked about life stages and common biases within them. In other words, the larger frame impacted the smaller frames contained within it. So, if your frame it too limiting, or too slanted in a certain direction, it might not be all that beneficial.
The thing is, like Marguerite, we all have lists like this playing out in our lives. They aren't a terrible problem, but if you believe in them too much, watch out! But beyond that, though, it's really worth investigating who you think your teachers are, or who you think a good teacher for you would be. Because it might turn out to be someone or something entirely different from what you think.
What do you think about all this?