Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Dharma Wars" and the problems with Buddhists/Buddhism online

This is why I've had the caveat about not being a teacher since I started this blog...
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. Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi, a Zen teacher who serves as spiritual director of the Zen Center of Syracuse, likens this behavior to online personal ads, where people have been known to misrepresent themselves (to put it charitably).

People who purportedly are teachers—whether they’ve been given transmission or not—are seen as Zen authorities online,” she says. “Sometimes students get swept into currents of basically malevolent speech. How can that be what the Buddha taught? I’m very concerned about it.”

“There’s something about the social distance that happens on the Web,” concurs James Ishmael Ford, a Zen teacher and blogger. “Anybody with a keyboard is instantly allowed to present whatever they’ve pulled out of their butt as if it were the dharma. There’s some ugly stuff out there. There’s massive misinformation, and there’s an amazing amount of ego wrapped in opinion.”

Not every Buddhist-themed website is a vehicle for vicious personal attacks, of course. Many teachers and sanghas have found the Internet to be an effective way to post text, video, or audio links to teachings that would otherwise be unavailable to people living far from practice centers.


  1. This sort of behavior is the very opposite of how the west views Buddhism, particularly Zen Buddhism. I'm pretty sure most would disregard any Zen expert, master, etc. who threw tantrums about being right as a joke.

  2. It would depend on the context. In one account a Buddhist monk from Tibet saw a young Western man sitting with a serene look on his face. The monk asks him what he doing, and the young man says he is practicing peacefulness and extending compassion. The monk says "@#$% you." The young man scowls and shouts "@#$% you too!" In this case the rude behavior was a skillful means to test and teach, but some take this too far and others are just reacting out of ego like the young man.

  3. Oh I agree, but I was speaking more of how the average westerner views Buddhists, eastern philosophy, and eastern spirituality in general.


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