Friday, November 20, 2009

Dharma Wars Warring

There has been a lot of discussion about a recent article in Tricycle magazine. The article, Dharma Wars, is, among other things, heavily slanted against the Buddhist blogosphere. And while I agree with some of the critiques made, overall I find the article sloppy, littered with generalizations that could easily apply to "real life" sanghas as well if you take a closer look.

Here is the letter I wrote to the editors of Tricycle. It is my wish that it helps to open a dialogue, instead of merely being critical of the article at hand.

Dear Editors,

I'm writing to express my disappointment in the commentary "Dharma Wars," by Zenshin Michael Haederle. First of all, it is riddled with generalizations about the very broad, diverse online Buddhist community. For example, there's this line "In cyberspace, we can craft whatever persona we choose and call our blog whatever we want, and Buddhist bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding." Even though there is some truth to this, there is also a corresponding level of genuine sincerity and honest practice displayed online. In addition, as a longtime member of a "real life" sangha here in St. Paul, MN - I think it's problematic to say that bloggers often inflate their experience and understanding, but not also comment on how people do the same thing in "real life" in different ways.

Second, as a writer who seeks to be published, and an editor of a literary journal who makes publishing decisions, I question the ethics of quoting the comments from James Ure's "The Buddhist Blog without his permission. Mr. Ure was, according to a recent blog post, never contacted about the article at all. This, to me, suggests a lack of respect on the part of Mr. Haederle towards the online Buddhist writing community, and frankly, throws the rest of his criticisms toward the Buddhist bloggosphere in question.

Your mission statement points to a desire to explore Buddhism's many forms. You write: "The mission of The Tricycle Foundation is to create forums for exploring contemporary and historic Buddhist activity, examine the impact of its new context in the democratic traditions of the West, and introduce fresh views and attainable methods for enlightened living to the culture at large"

Do you intend to publish commentaries by some of us in the blogospere as a counterbalance to this current commentary, which no matter how you read it, is giving a very dim view of the online community? And if it is indeed true that Mr. Ure was quoted without permission, will you contact him and make amends in a manner that respects his efforts?

I do think that "Dharma Wars" makes some valid points about the level of nastiness that does occur at times online. And how there is a struggle to wade through misinformation and bloated commentary to discover true insights and valuable writing. However, the overall dismissive tone of the article towards those of us blogging and using online resources for part of our practice is antithetical to your mission in m opinion.

As a fellow Buddhist practitioner, I sincerely hope that this opportunity to open up a broader dialogue about the ways in which Buddhist practice is changing and adapting to modern life will be taken up by Tricycle, and not simply be dismissed as a passing disturbance.



Unknown said...

Nathan, Good letter, but I think you made too much of an effort to be kind. Sure, in a Buddhoblogosphere where there are hundreds blogging there is some exaggeration, but I don't think there is so much that it should even draw anyone's attention.

I think that Haederle's article is written based on stereotypes and general suppositions about the Internet on the whole than anything substantitive. Haederle's article doesn't really have examples; it is just wholly skewed to support established teachers and sanghas while tearing down the emerged [I was going to write "emergent," but the Buddhist blogosphere has arrived] voice of Buddhobloggers.

Nathan said...

Hi Tom,

I probably was overly generous on that point. Overall, I thought the article was lousy, for the same reasons you did. Given Nella Lou's very thorough analysis on Enlightenment Ward, as well as other ideas I had about the article, I definitely could have sent a blow by blow deconstruction of the piece to the editors of Tricycle.

However, I hoped by writing a letter that didn't completely dismiss the article, maybe it would provide a doorway to a larger conversation and more recognition in publications like Tricycle. We'll have to see if that turns out to be the best approach or not.

Jennifer Campaniolo said...

Hi Nathan,

Interesting, I noticed that article when I was leafing through the magazine the other day, and was surprised to hear about Buddhist cyberbullying. It seemed like an oxymoron to have those two ideas linked together!

I don't belong to a Sangha nor do I meditate. My only knowledge of Buddhism comes from reading the works of Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chodron, Chogyam Trungpa, etc. And I work for a Buddhist publisher, so I'm surrounded by Buddhist ideas all the time. Some people would blast my blog as being non-Buddhist, but I don't care. I think if you're reading the works and thinking about the ideas behind them and trying to practice mindfulness and lovingkindness in your day-to-day life, then you may not be a full-fledged Buddhist, but you're at least a lover and supporter of Buddhist ideals.

Your letter was very astute. I'll look for it in a future issue. Now I have to go back and read the article!

Be well,