Friday, August 20, 2010
Two personal notes, the second leading into today's post. First, I quit my job yesterday. It's a scary leap, but I was tired of the spinning I have been doing over the past few years about it, and feel that the move will open up the space for what's next. Luckily, I've lived frugally, so I can handle a period of joblessness right now.
Second, both drafts of the article I wrote for Tricycle, and which about 20 of you provided generous interviews for, were rejected. I'm going to publish parts of the first draft on my blog, while continuing to work on the second draft for submission elsewhere. Today's post is part overview of blogging and part discussion about the question "Have you learned anything online about your life and Buddhist practice?” Feel free to leave comments about what your response to this question is.
Among the many online features available to Buddhists, the blog appears to be especially popular amongst practitioners across the world. In the English language alone, there are hundreds of Buddhist-centric blogs regularly maintained by both individual practitioners as well as groups of practitioners. The diversity is astounding, spanning across political and social boundaries that rarely are traversed in established Buddhist sanghas or practice communities. Even the group-run blogs are unusual in their breadth, from the Buddhist Military Sangha, a blog maintained by Buddhists in the U.S. military, to the Zen Community which showcases over 20 Buddhist bloggers, ranging from beginning Zen practitioners to well established Zen teachers like James Ford and John Tarrant. In fact, there has been so much activity by Buddhist bloggers over the past several years that a term for us has been coined: the Buddhoblogosphere.
Why the interest in blogs? What is this writing activity about, and what does it have to do with the Buddhism? As a main part of the research for this article, I interviewed over 20 members of the Buddhoblogosphere to find out what drew them to blogging, why they think it’s important, and what they believe the impact of the internet will have on Buddhist practice in the coming years. All blogging in English, these writers represent six nations and at least half a dozen different branches of Buddhism. Among their commonalities was an expressed enjoyment of writing and a general belief that the internet is proving to be a great vehicle of access when it comes to Buddhist teachings and resources. Beyond that, there is much disagreement as to what all this online activity means, and how it might benefit or hinder our spiritual lives.
There were a wide variety of answers to the following question: “Have you learned anything online about your life and Buddhist practice?” Among those answering in the affirmative was Marcus Laitinen, author of the blog Zen - The Possible Way and a teacher in the Dogen Sangha Finland group in Helsinki, Finland. He spoke of his affinity with the teachings of the founder of Soto Zen, Dogen, and how he struggled at first “because in Finland we didn't have anything related to Soto Zen.” The internet, especially e-mails between him and his teachers, Nishijima Roshi and Peter Rocca, provided him the opportunity to both develop his own practice, as well as the sangha he currently helps to lead. Another member of the group who said he had learned a lot online was Adam Johnson, author of the blog Home Brew Dharma. Unlike Marcus, though, Adam specifically cites blog reading as a major source of benefit to him Buddhist practice. Not only has he developed friendships with other bloggers, but he says that reading the blogs of other practitioners “provides real life lessons in the dharma,” which gives him “a new way to look at” his life and Buddhist practice.
Others, however, weren’t so enthusiastic. Justin Whitaker, who began his blog American Buddhist Perspective as a student in England, said there’s nothing he has learned online that he hasn’t also learned in “real life.” And James Ishmael Ford, whose blog Monkey Mind chronicles his dual path as a Zen Priest and Unitarian Universalist minister, commented that he has “seen little directly affecting my practice out of my online experiences.”