Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Blogging the Buddhist Near Enemies

There's a good post over at the blog Recovering Yogi about blogging and the Buddhist teaching on the near enemies. Here's the selection I want to consider.

This brings me to the topic of blog comments. A unique phenomenon relatively new to our internet culture, blog comments take the concept of the letter to the editor and make it immediate, anonymous and lethal. There is a fine line between contributing to a discourse and using your opinion to skewer someone else’s feelings. And nowhere does that skewering show itself as more insidious than when the blog comment comes from a place of pity.

In Buddhism they talk about near enemies.

“The near enemies are qualities that arise in the mind and masquerade as genuine spiritual realization.” (citation) Near enemies are the ways an amateur Buddhist might behave under the guise of being “mindful,” without quite grasping the concept in its entirety (which we could have compassion for, natch).

Compassionate, but clear and direct blog commenting is an art. Something I have spent a fair amount of time practicing, both in responding here on DH, but also in comments left on other blogs. Given that whatever we offer is there for anyone around the world to look at, I do think it's smart to be careful what you are doing. No doubt the flamewars some folks have engaged in online have led to some pretty nasty outcomes. Divorces. Job loss. Family rifts. Perhaps even some violent attacks and murders. Beyond any direct correlations though, there's also the general dispersal of negative energy that happens whenever people leave comments that personally attack or demean others, or which are designed not to add to a conversation or challenge an idea or set of facts, but is simply about derailing or diminishing a discussion.

It's so easy to let it rip online, thinking there aren't any "real world" consequences, but that kind of thinking is flat out wrong.

On the other hand, I have noticed that some people err too much on the opposite extreme. Trying too hard to not offend, to appear compassionate, and that as such, whatever they've written is undermined. Sometimes, you misread the emotional state of a blog author or another commenter, and then respond as if they are really angry, or sad, or upset in some way. And they weren't when they wrote whatever it was that they wrote. I've had a few blog posts over the years solicit highly concerned reactions from readers and even a few family members. Posts that were about me trying to write out what I was struggling with, but which weren't indicative of something serious, like thoughts of suicide (yes, that, among other things, has come up.)

What's curious about blogging and commenting is that a percentage of it involves sharing things really publicly that people in the past tended to not share that way. Perhaps they would never say such things. Or only share with people that they were most intimate with. But now we have these ways to offer up whatever we are thinking and feeling - right now - to whomever. Some of us use our real names, and some lurk behind anonymous tags and images, but regardless, there's still this feeling of sharing and wondering how people are going to take it. Maybe it's less dramatic for those who are writing and commenting anonymously, but I'd argue it's still present for them too. Go check out any hot political or relationship blog and you'll see endless amounts of passionate debating, often amongst people whose comments are not really traceable.

I think most people haven't really caught up emotionally, or even intellectually, to what we are doing online. Which is why using the near enemies as a guide while writing and commenting are helpful.

Are you attached to your views? Are you indifferent to the feelings of other commenters or the main blogger? Do you feel envious of another commenter or blog writer for some reason?

I offer this practice for folks to work with. Take the next week or two and notice what you see.

As always, comments are welcome.


Kōgen 光現 Dito-Keith said...

"Right Comment"

I think I just struggled with this.

Where is the middle of silence is acceptance and you have to say something?

Is this comment timely, for the benefit of all beings, true, and an improvement of the discourse?

I recently asked Jundo Cohen if mountains still walk, and he said, "No, mountains do not walk, fish do not swim, and birds do not fly."

To which I answered, "Does this come from a will to truth, or a will to be clever?"

I don't think that's a nice thing to say, but I'm interested in cutting through stock Zen answers and "Jedi mind tricks." If my comment smarts, its my attempt at skillful means to get at the heart of something.

What do you think?

Nathan said...

I say things, and ask questions that ruffle feather and sometimes cause upset. I try and do so coming from a place of wanting to open up what's being talked about, and not just accept something that feels dead or limited.

Zen stock answers seem to be calling for someone to push back. And yet, did Jundo offer a response? Did he leap beyond defending his answer or giving something snarky in return?

I think I might have asked something different, but can't come up with a good replacement question right now.

Kōgen 光現 Dito-Keith said...


You can see our exchange here. Am I being compassionate? Well, if compassion can be defined as wishing someone to be free from his delusion, then yes, but then, what kind of asshole says that?

After dokusan this morning, I was encouraged to love these types of people and notice comparative mind. Well, sure.

But I also think if you come to a center, and have been around, let alone call yourself a teacher, then the gloves are off, and I invite bare knuckle Dharma! I feel like this is the great gift of a Sangha, a community- to help each other see themselves, forget the self, and let life live itself without getting in its way.

So, that's why I asked Jundo if he had a will to truth.

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Nathan said...


Reading that exchange, I guess I don't know. Jundo's words could easily be meaningless Zen talk, but maybe he's saying something neither of us understand.

Still, I don't see anything off about the exchange. We need to push on this stuff, need to actively engage and wrestle with life and it's questions.

Jundo's been around the practice a long time. He should be able to take it.

I think the intention to get at the truth of the matter makes a major difference. Letting easy answers go that you know don't cut it undermine everyone involved.

Unknown said...

Nathan, This is something I have encountered not so much here on blogger, but at the hubpages. Many times it seems that people are on the attack. I am still learning that not everyone agrees with my views on life and I have realized that the saying "You get more bees with honey than with vinegar" holds to be true. Thanks for sharing this. It will hopefully help all who read it to be more considerate and respectful of the feelings and views of others.