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Buddhadharma : Spring 2014
SPRING 2 0 1 4 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 21 Learning to sit, however, can be quite difficult without close contact with a teacher or community. Given the limi- tations of video, it’s challenging for stu- dents to do precisely what someone else is doing on-screen; for teachers, physical adjustments aren’t an option. For both, it is impossible to get the somatic sense of sitting with another person. We have tried to address these limi- tations by having a forum where prac- titioners can send pictures that I then mark with feedback. This approximates in-person work to an extent, yet there’s nothing like someone actually adjust- ing your floating-in-the-clouds head by gently tipping it forward or moving your torso—that you imagined to be verti- cally upright—six inches to the left. The power of embodied sitting with a group and a teacher cannot be fully replicated when only a couple of sense avenues, not including the body sense, are available. In the lineage of my first teacher, Dainin Katigiri Roshi, dharma study is an important aspect of Zen. It is also one of the significant strengths of the cyber world. Online course work can be designed in a way that engages stu- dents in active learning and makes use of a wide range of resources. This is a major upgrade from the passive teaching style prevalent in most physical zendos, where the teacher talks and students nod. In addition, curricula can be per- sonalized, sequenced, and scaffolded to maximize learning, drawing on a mod- ern understanding of what constitutes effective education. Online teachers rely on Skype and other videoconferencing tools to main- tain contact and communication with their students. It can be an effective mode of coming together, but because there are only a couple of sense chan- nels working—visual and auditory—I’ve found that online meetings need to be much longer than traditional dokusan, which might last just a few minutes. The Internet is not a perfect medium for dharma, but it clearly offers some tangible benefits. Still, an important question remains: Is waking up possi- ble through purely virtual connections with a teacher and community? The answer may depend on what “waking up” means to you. For those engaged in just-sitting Zen, which is so physical and relies strongly on group practice, the answer may be no. Waking up online—except in the sense that we’re all already awake—may not be possible. But I think the conversation changes when we turn to koan practice. Students I’ve worked with only online have realized kensho; the medium, for them, seems to be less limiting. Distant though it may be from the monastic practice at the heart of this tradition, online dharma work can be authentic. And we have only begun to explore the shapes it might take. I envi- sion a not-too-distant future in which more and more practitioners, even with close access to teachers and commu- nities, embrace a hybrid option, one that includes the intimacy of in-person work while exploring the possibilities and freedom of cyberdharma. To move beyond limitations in our practice—isn’t that the point? For more information on our programs and events, please visit us at zenstudies.org NEW YORK ZENDO SHOBO-JI Hokuto Daniel Diffin | Dharma teacher An oasis of deep stillness in the heart of Manhattan. n Daily zazen and chanting services n Monthly all-day sittings n Dharma talks, practice interviews n Tai Chi, yoga, arts workshops, and more. 212. 861.3333 | email@example.com DAI BOSATSU ZENDO KONGO-JI Shinge Roko Sherry Chayat Roshi | Abbot On the banks of the highest lake in the Catskills, on1400 acres of pristine forest, Dai Bosatsu Zendo offers an inspiring setting for true Zen practice. n Residential training periods for serious lay and ordained students n Koan work, sesshin, dokusan, teisho n Summer and winter work exchange programs n Introduction to Zen weekends n Yoga, bodywork, writers’ and other retreats. 845. 439.4566 | firstname.lastname@example.org TRADITIONAL RINZAI FORM CONTEMPORARY EXPRESSION the zen studies society