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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
buddhadharma| 49 |fall 2007 enough for the works to be copied onto paper, a revolutionary advancement. Paper, under the right conditions, can last for centuries. Now, the paper record of the Buddha’s teachings and those of his many descendents is supplemented and complemented by increasingly sophisticated and versatile means to capture and preserve informa- tion on tape and in digital form. However, the life span of these new technologies, no matter how widely adopted, is uncertain. Technological prow- ess cannot ultimately defeat the enduring nature of impermanence, and one thing we know for sure, the early work of pioneering teachers who came to the West is disintegrating. Some of it has already been lost. Without the immediate intervention of dharma students in the West, the gifts of these first teach- ers – preserved primarily in collections of audio- and videotape – are at risk. A vast collection of recorded dharma is decaying, creating a potential charnel ground of lost dharma. The good news is that through the efforts of a few very hard-working people in various sanghas, many of these precious and irreplaceable collections are gradually being restored and digitized. But the dharma archivists we spoke with for this story face a range of chal- lenges, including: learning and managing (and in some cases developing) new technology; finding safe and adequate storage environments; recruiting and training staff and volunteers; raising funds for projects whose benefit may lie far in the future; distributing the teachings; navigating the complex world of copyright; and capturing the oral record of students before they die. Without a great deal of effort in all of these areas, teachings will be lost to future generations of would-be students. From Analog to Digital Starting in the 1960s, many sanghas routinely recorded dharma talks. It’s almost surprising that early students had the foresight to do so, given how haphazard the early dharma organizations were. But there was nothing remotely resembling a long- range plan and no concept of just how large the collection of recordings would turn out to be. The Dharma Seed archive project began as an archive for activities at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, and has evolved into the central collection and distribution point for more than seventy Insight Meditation teachers. It now holds an overwhelming collec- tion of 10,000 titles. “When I started here, we had analog tape dating back to the founding of IMS in 1975,” says Judy Phillips, who has been involved with Dharma Seed since its inception. And the archive continues to grow, adding new talks and recordings of group meditation instruction given during retreats. In 1970 Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche estab- lished Vajradhatu Recordings, which oversaw the recording of his many lectures, seminars, and pub- lic talks across North America and Europe. “We just went out and taped everything, because it all seemed important,” says James Hoagland, who recorded a number of the talks. Now Hoagland videotapes talks by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche. Both of these teachers’ works (as well as those of a variety of other teachers who presented teach- ings to the Shambhala community) are preserved in the Shambhala Archives, whose holdings exceed 12,000 audio- and videotapes, as well as tens of thousands of paper materials and artifacts. Analog magnetic tape was the state of the art for audio recording at the time that early teach- ers in the West were recorded. “Analog” means that the electrical impulses that represent a piece of sound create a physical image in the magnetic material that is laminated onto a backing. That image is lost when the tape falls apart, and tapes last only a few decades, even under optimal condi- tions. In dharma centers everywhere, the lovingly and laboriously collected tapes are degrading and require attention right now. Routine recording of Suzuki Roshi – founder of the San Francisco Zen Center and its associ- ated contemplative center, Tassajara Zen Moun- tain Center – began in 1966. The talks were often recorded on amateur equipment by well-meaning albeit unskilled volunteers, but if you’ve ever heard one of these early tapes, you know it was worth the effort. However, Suzuki Roshi’s recorded lectures, numbering approximately four hundred, were dis- covered several years ago to be “deteriorating, lit- erally disintegrating,” says Michael Wenger, dean of Buddhist studies at San Francisco Zen Center. As a result, the center has faced critical decisions about diverting limited resources to preserve the tape legacy of its founding teacher. Zen Center is not alone in dealing with this problem. The archive of teachings by Eido Shi- mano Roshi, the founder of Dai Bosatsu Zendo in upstate New York, contains hundreds of tapes, both reel-to-reel and cassette, that date back to the early 1970s. Roshi continues to teach, and his talks continue to be recorded, adding to the body Keiko Nagano digitizes analog recordings for Dharma Seed. EricWouDEnBErglizaMatthEWs