Brad Warner misses the Twangha train.

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I’ve been so happy in my posts lately but Brad Warner just rubs me sometimes (not the pleasant, fuzzy way).  For as insightful that he is in his writings it amazes me how much of the point he misses on the topic of iSanghas.

I know I’ve been harping on my antipathy towards so-called “cyber-sanghas” way too much. But that’s because what I do here is so often confused with that concept, in both overt and subtle ways. It’s also why I refuse to get involved with any cyber-sanghas. The experience is not at all the same as dealing with real human beings face to face. No more so than cyber-sex is the same as real sex.

You can get very lost in the twisty twirly world of Internet communication and easily lose sight of what’s real and what’s not. These days I often hear people say,”I was talking with my friend…” And I’ll ask, “Were you actually talking with that person or were you chatting online?” Often it’s the latter. There is an enormous difference between these two activities. Yet many people these days seem to regard them as being essentially the same thing.

What Brad does on his blog is far from teaching or engagment or even helpful.  Good writer, bad teacher.  Well, far from wanting to rant and rave.  I feel it coming on and I want to…but I’ll forget it and and take the opportunity to say “Thank you”. 

  •  Thank you to the teachers, roshis, monastics and laypersons that were willing to converse and help me in my practice online for the year I was searching for a sangha out here in the middle of nowhere. 
  • Thank you for those that were willing to engage with me even though we can’t determine each other’s tone and facial features. 
  • Thanks for the emails, open comments, blog posts, open online translations of sutras, videos webinars and telephone conversations.
  • Thanks for the podcasts and the virtual retreats.
  • Thank you for those that took the time to support the practice of those that can’t, won’t or are unable to attend a “real” sangha.

Teachers are appreciated for the time and commitment they put towards the development of others, despite the particular medium.  Thanks for reaching out.  I was lucky enough to find a sangha to practice with but I still find a huge amount of support and encouragement, as well as interaction and engagement from my iSangha.

For me the iSangha is like the night school of Zen.  When I was in college I would giggle at online degree schools or night school.   With the thought that they were inferior or their students dumb.  Now with two jobs and a family, I realize what their purpose was and how helpful they are to people with many constraints.  The same concept applies to Zen and Buddhist practice.

Have fun with your speaking tour, Brad.

Cheers,

John

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18 thoughts on “Brad Warner misses the Twangha train.

  1. My comment to B on FB:

    The way I see it, talking face-to-face is still a crappy way to transfer information. And it’s all about transferring information from point A to point B (me to you). It’s important we understand the limitations of online communication just as we have to understand the limitations of communication in general. One might be better than another but they still pale in comparison to experience.

    • Nice comment. I agree that any teaching is a supplement to our own practice. Whether it comes from a guy at a zendo or some dude on facebook or a book for that matter.

      Until we walk the walk, everything is just talk.

      My main issue with BW is that he insists on face-to-face as the only form of adequate teaching. This leaves out a whole huge demographic of those unable to attend zendos/dharma halls for one worldly reason or the another.

  2. “I was lucky enough to find a sangha to practice with but I still find a huge amount of support and encouragement, as well as interaction and engagement from my iSangha”

    John, if you had to choose between a real-life Sangha or a cyber Sangha you’d clearly choose the real-life one, right?

    I think that’s the point. No one is saying that cyber sanghas are totally useless, just that they can’t be as good as the real thing. That’s all.

    Anyway, looking forwrd to getting my topic in the blog-post-swap thingy!

    All the best,

    Marcus

    • That, Marcus, would depend upon the sangha. I revcieve a much, much broader understanding from my iSangha (cyber is so 90’s) compared to my real life one. Not to knock the sangha that I sit with but I do see benefits in what I do online. Now, as far as Brad goes, he has brought this up several times and not once have I heard anything that remotely accepts the teachings one may receive from an online sangha.

      I have been with some “real” sanghas that, well, have been subpar from the interactions I received online.

      Oh, I am trying to think of a good topic for you. Been so busy. I think I have a topic for you.

      Cheers,
      John

      • I love my sangha and I wouldn’t be where I am without it. That being said I like my online Buddhist friends. And yeah I call them friends.

        • Thats good but friends are only friends when you can shake their hand and see the whites of their eyes.

          Otherwise it is just binary!

          Thanks for the comments Anon!

          John

  3. Just imagine that 50 years ago most Dharma teachers were Asian, you had to go to them traveling great distances at great peril, and you had to basically give up any semblance of a family to have a teacher at all. Most would have scoffed at the idea of what the “householder” is accomplishing today as Buddhist practitioners.

    Buddhist practice has come a long way, as it should. The Dharma is beautiful and utterly plain, sublime yet prosaic. I believe the Japanese call it wabi-sabi.

  4. I knew you were going to post about this.

    I think a balance needs to be struck somewhere. The internet is connecting us in a way never before imagined, creating a global community. The information being shared is astounding. I wouldn’t know much of anything concerning Buddhsim if it weren’t for the internet.

    At the same time, there is a growing disconnect that stems from our hiding out on the internet, preferring the annonymity, the ease of use, and the lack of accountability to your fellow human beings. I’m not just talking about iSanghas either.

    I say, both are great (real life and iSanghas). Use them for what they are. Don’t expect too much from either, and integrate them both in moderation into your life.

    • Have I become that predictable?

      As far as the annonymity; when we post, comment or otherwise engage, much of that annonymity is removed. It does however make for a more honest and sometimes combatitive environment.

      But is that much different from a real-life sangha. Oh the drama is great there as well.

      To broaden practice is important. Someone who writes off real-life sanghas that are accessable are just as bad as those that write off online communities.

      I agree that both in their context pale in comparison to our own daily practice.

      Cheers,

      John

  5. I’ll give you a take from a karmic perspective. iSanghas are actually ways that we are processing karmic connections from previous lifetimes. If it had not been for the ‘net, we might’ve had to wait a few more lifetimes to encounter people that we have karmic connections with. The people that one exchanges information with regularly are probably Dharma brothers & sisters that we know from other lifetimes and we’re continuing those relationships now–whether they be positive or detrimental.

    The advent of technology and connectivity gives us a chance to interact, exchange ideas and give support to people do not have the opportunity for such face-to-face interactions, like remote areas where there is no sangha of any lineage present. My Dharma teacher is in Malaysia and had it not been for YouTube I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at in practice today.

    In-person sanghas are important but the most important thing is your own practice and how devoted and committed you are to achieving your Dharma goals. A physical sangha can help with those goals but so can your iSangha. 🙂

    • Great points, GK! I feel that my practice went from solo to sangha-based without losing the home-practice. The online sangha led me to many forms of practice that I would not have exposure to out here in SD.

      It is just another tool and the reason that I jump up BW’s ass on these points is when this tool is degraded it means that many don’t get exposure to the Dharma that would otherwise.

      Cheers,

      John

      • I think that a majority of serious ‘western’ Dharma students are out in the boondocks for a reason and that is to bring the spirit of Dharma to areas where it was unavailable before. This current generation of Dharma practitioners are like spiritual pioneers, exploring the relatively unknown territories in their quest for enlightenment.

        To paraphrase the Blues Brothers: “We’re on mission from Buddha.” 🙂

        • I love when you comment, GK! So smart! Out here, there is very little traditional Buddhist community so mostly it centers around underground practitioners.

          Lately there has been more of a movement towards teaching meditation classes for beginners, advocacy to prisons and “major” temples/centers are willing to “affiliate” with us. To help guide and nurture our practice.

          I think much of this exploration is due to iSangha resources. It is important that iSangha is a huge group of unaffiliated practitioners that connect and support each other.

          Cheers

          John

  6. I live in the “Boondocks” and dont have access to a decent Sangha or teacher so I look to places like Jundo Cohens online Sangha and several other places like blogs. The internet is a fantastic tool, if used mindfully.

    Brad has some deep seeded issues that really require him to stop writing books and seek some psychotherapy.

  7. Thank you Jack!

    I so regularly disagree with Brad that it hardly seems worth the bother now.

    I’ve been part of a real-life sangha for about 8 years and I was able to see my teachers for a few days about 3 times a year. And even then it can be a real struggle to get one-to-one time with a teacher. There have also regularly been communication problems due to language differences and socially awkward situations.

    About 9 months ago I became the independent student of another teacher who I can see at one sesshin per year, but who I have regular dokusan interviews with over a Skype video call. Although the teacher was cautious about this approach at first, this has been going very well. I now feel more supported and better understood by this teacher than by my previous teachers.

    I don’t see Zen communication as fundamentally different in this respect from business or social communication. None of these are a purely abstract, intellectual activity. There are some occasions which are better served face-to-face and some where using modern communications technology is appropriate. There are actually some types of activity which are better handled on an internet forum – any academic matters for example.

    I think it’s just another case of ‘spiritual snobbery’ and of Brad looking for others to criticise. It seems unlikely to be a coincidence that Jundo Cohen runs an online sangha.

    I honestly don’t think Brad has the self-awareness to see the conditioning that operates him.

    Justin

  8. Hi Jack,

    I was checking the source of some of my blog visitors and it surprised me (why should it!) to see some of the hits were from waaay North… I mean, even farther North than the roads go. Now it may just mean there’s an ISP on an ice floe somewhere but you get my drift (pun intended). We have to start broadbanding the transmission of dharma simply because practitioners are not just on airline flight lanes.

    I’ve been part of i-communities for almost twenty years. Not all have been good experiences but even the worst ones gave me dharma teachings when I most needed them and for amny reasons couldn’t get to an RL sangha or teacher. My best dokusans have been via phone and the deepest dharma friendships I have today originated in the early days of internet communities.

    Anyway… I take it where I can find it. It’s all practice.

    • Indeed! I am surprised at how far away people can be. I think, IMO, it the Twangha or iSangha or whatever you want to call it is largely practitioners helping practitioners. I have met those that can steer me in the correct direction for my practice and those that haven’t but either way, there is a delightful flux in it. It never stays stagnant.

      Teachers either embrace this community or they don’t, which is fine but it has brought out some bad feelings and even worse comments. The fact that Brad is knocking those that try to connect in the best way possible (myabe in their situations) I think says much of his character.

      Now, I could be wrong but it seems that some teachers place more importance on who is walking through their doors rather than how many they can reach.

      Anyways….I have also had some pretty bad experiences but I was growing to the medium, learned from my mistakes and continued on my way.

      Cheers,

      John (or Jack)

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