|Richard Maurice Bucke|
(18 March 1837 – 19 February 1902) from Wikipedia
Over on Zen Forum International one of the moderators, Seigen, asked the following question.
Buddhist Geeks has a project that is very different than, for example, Adam Tebbe, also a young man who began his own website, Sweeping Zen, in the year after Buddhist Geeks began. Where Sweeping Zen will focus on interviews with teachers and topics that are very close to what might be understood as formal practice, Buddhist Geeks spreads the net outwards towards technology and culture, and is directly engaged with an economic imagination that it believes to be transforming. It is a self-described for-benefit community.
What do you think of the difference between these two websites, as models of practice? As statements of where things stand today in the dialogue between elders and youth? Is Buddhist Geeks something that you check in to regularly, or is it of no interest? What have you gravitated towards there? And so on..
The following is my reply.
It seems that perhaps this topic has gotten a bit side tracked so I'd like to address the original question posed by Seigen. I attended all three days of the Buddhist Geeks conference and I happen to know Adam Tebbe, who founded Sweeping Zen, personally. I met Adam through some prompting by James Ford Roshi back in 2008 and have followed his progress since that time. Also, a few of my students have been interviewed on Buddhist Geeks and at least one has been involved with some of the founders.
I must say that normally I wouldn't have attended the Conference; however, I was in between consulting jobs and it was being held only 25 minutes from my house so I figured why not. I enjoyed the experience, I met many people that I know indirectly by reputation, and have struck up a few new friendships.
I suppose on the surface one might view Buddhist Geeks as being more directed to a younger and perhaps more technologically savvy audience. Yet, I think the biggest divide between the two approaches are defined more by the communities they represent. Sweeping Zen is only involved with Zen Mahayana Buddhism; whereas, Buddhist Geeks is a conglomeration of Buddhist Practices, some of which border on the cusp of being 'new age.' I do not think this is a bad thing, but there was an attitude at the conference that somehow this technology is going become the savior of Western 21st Century Buddhism.
I should be clear, I am 54 years old, have never played a video game on a computer (outside of Solitaire) yet have been directly involved in Business Software and Programming since I left the US Air Force in 1980. I currently own and run an Enterprise Software Support and development company so I see technology as a tool; however Shinzen Young's assertion that we can possibly build an enlightenment machine, reminds me of what can be found in the classic, Cosmic Consciousness: A Study in the Evolution of the Human Mind from a 1901 book by Richard Maurice Bucke. Bucke had one of those 'big enlightenment experiences' and he spent the rest of his life trying to prove that is was inevitable that all humans will evolve into the Higher Consciousness he had experienced.
Perhaps many will find my stance 'old fashioned' and that is OK; it is human nature to believe that we can improve upon things, yet this is the very paradigm that separates us from the 'experience of the Absolute.' It seemed, at times during the BG Conference, that we were in the midst of a Buddhist Marketing Convention. I was a bit disturbed by a thread that ran though most of the weekend that seemed to be focused on how to make money at teaching the Dharma. Several of the speakers also employ a fee based system similar to what you might pay to a Professional for Services, (ie: Psychologist, Lawyer, Counselor, etc..) Statements like, 'Psychologist's have already co-opted mindfulness and they are charging huge amounts for it, so we better wake up before there is nothing left for us,' I found distasteful.
I am prepared to get flack for saying this, so I will address the issue with maintaining a 'bricks and mortar' organization. Real estate, utilities, maintenance all cost money and these organizations need donations to flourish. So, I am not saying that it can be done for free; yet I feel strongly that teaching the dharma is a gift and should never involve a fee. It would have been nice to have someone on one of the panels who had an alternative view, but it seemed everyone was on board with the Dharma Gravy train. Shinzen Young was proud that he has lived off the Dharma his whole life and never had a real job, I think that is great for him. Some would say that people don't value what they are being given if they don't have to pay for it. This may be the case, but once it is given it is no longer ours. The other thing here is that it seems too much like 'selling water down by the river.' Buddha taught that we are already enlightened, so there is nothing changing hands and nothing to be gained. Enlightenment is not something that can be marketed as a Brand Name, and we have way too much of that already.
I have been using technology to break down the walls of the Monastery and to reduce the costs to the end user and no one brought that up during the weekend conference. Unlike Shinzen Young, I actually spent $270,000 of my own earnings trying to support the dharma in the first seven years of the 21st Century and this has led me to find alternatives to the bricks and mortar approach. Teaching the Dharma is a service to others, so viewing it as primarily in the realm of making a profit seems troubling at best.
I think Buddhist Geeks is doing a wonderful job of presenting alternative views of the Buddhadharma; I think that Sweeping Zen is doing a wonderful job of presenting alternative views of the ancient Ch'an Buddhist approach. Both are free and seem entirely altruistic in their approach and are serving two diverse audiences. That stated none of us live our lives without casting a shadow, and sometime those shadows can offend others, so in advance I apologize for saying anything that may seem awkward.