Online Buddhist practice seems to be on my mind a lot lately. I think I have a pretty strong interest in seeing the internet become another arena for spiritual life, and feel that there are already steps being taken in that direction. In my view, unless the vast majority of us all unplug, we need to treat what we do online as part of our practice no matter what. Otherwise, there's just more compartmentalization and separation going on.
I found this today over at Gniz' blog about Brad Warner:
Everyone around these parts is aware of Jundo Cohen (leader of Treeleaf Sangha, sometimes feuding dharma brother of B. Warner). Jundo has frequently come on Hardcore Zen in the comments section and whined about how ill-treated he's been by Gudo and Brad and others, even to the point of posting a bizarre deposition about a fight that took place in Japan some time ago.
Recently, I took a gander over at the Treeleaf site and found this thread.
I believe it's a very telling thread in as far as bringing to light the basic way in which Jundo appears to operate. Behind closed doors, Jundo seems to be a very different guy than what he lets on in public. When called out on this seeming "difference" in his private and public persona, he gets indignant.
I went over and took a look at the thread in question. It was a messy affair no doubt. The principle player, Chet, is someone who has been what you might call an agitator in the Treeleaf community for a while now. Having spent some time as a lurking observer over at Treeleaf, I've found Chet to be one of those people who has some pretty quality questions, and comments, but who also can be highly combative and offensive at times. There was a great thread awhile back about the Benefits of Being Bad, during which Chet displayed all of this in his comments.
Anyway, Gniz' post is about what led up to the decision to "ban" Chet from commenting on Treeleaf. Gniz takes the position that the way all of this was done is an indication that the teachers over at Treeleaf, especially Jundo Cohen, are "passive-aggressive" liars.
Well, I don't know about that, but I do know that in my own "brick and mortar" sangha, our teacher has had to ask a few people to leave over the years. This isn't done lightly, but I think there is a place where the sangha as a whole must be placed above the needs of any one person in it.
When I look at the Treeleaf thread in question, I do wonder if this would have played out differently in person. Would those involved have been able to work through their disagreements in a way that allowed everyone to remain in the community? Or would it have just happened quicker, the ejection of Chet?
What all this brings up for me is the struggle a lot of spiritual communities seem to have with issues of power and authority. This blog is called "Dangerous Harvests" partly because I have been in situations like Chet, being the only one to openly challenge something a power figure said - it's a scary place, kind of like walking across a rope bridge over a thousand foot gorge. And like Chet, I've gotten defensive and combative at times - all the while trying to hang with both what I've learned from Buddhist teachings and with the heart of whatever it was I had to say.
The fact is that in a forum like the one at Treeleaf, all the people involved have are each others' words. Body language is missing. The context of how a person's day is going is often missing. Smell, touch, hearing, and taste are missing.
My point in bringing all this up is that it's easier to be dismissive of people who are a pain in your ass when they are reduced to mere words on a computer screen.
In saying this, I do not wish to be dismissive of online practice opportunities like Treeleaf - I want them to continue to develop because there are people out there who need this kind of approach. However, I do think it's incumbent on those of us involved in the "online practice world" to remember the limitations present, and to act accordingly. It's especially important for those who are in leadership roles, such as the increasing number of Zen teachers doing online-based practice, to figure out ways to be examples of how to conduct oneself online. It has to look different in some ways than how one approaches "regular life" situations.
For example, Jundo's comments sometimes have sarcasm in them. I think online this often fails. People react to it differently, and rarely in a "haha" kind of way. This is a very minor criticism of Jundo, and I'm really in no position to say one way or another whether his removal of Chet from the Treeleaf community was justified or not.
However, I do wonder if this situation is another example of how the technology is further along than the humans using it. We have the capability to interact with people all over the world, but we haven't quite figured out that this experience calls for paying attention in a different way than talking to our neighbor does.