Another post-festival blog posting! Sorry for the barrage, it was just a really great festival so I have a lot to write about. I will probably have one more tomorrow on “making faith in the wisdom Buddha Je Tsongkhapa our main practice.”
An additional fundamental lesson I learned at the Festival is how to more correctly do a Kadampa blog. First, why is it a good idea to do a blog at all? Back when the Dalai Lama/Dorje Shugden issue was flaring up a few years ago, Venerable Geshe-la said at the Education Council meeting that what was needed is positive examples and experiences of Kadampas on the internet. At that time, the internet was a black hole of negativity against the NKT, and since the world was becoming increasingly connected through the internet, anybody who looked for us on the internet would find only negativity. By having positive examples and experiences on the internet, such as through Kadampa blogs, we can introduce an alternative narrative that one finds on the internet about the NKT – from the point of view of the practitioners. Then, people could judge for themselves seeing how we see ourselves compared to how some others view us.
Additionally, Venerable Geshe-la said in Joyful Path that we should use the meditation break to discuss Dharma with our Dharma friends, sharing our experiences and understandings. Thanks to the internet, we can now do that with the entire global Kadampa family. Gen-la Dekyong said at this year’s Summer Festival that the focus of the tradition is on the union of modern life and Kadampa Buddhism. This is what Kadampa blogs are all about – how individual Kadampas from around the world are each, in their own way, bringing about this union in their lives. In this way we can all learn from one another and benefit from each other’s efforts. She said in particular we need good examples. We have perfect teachings in the books, what we need to also have is many good examples showing that the Kadampa path works. Blogs can help in this regard, and authors of blogs can try to become a good example. A good example never tries to “show a good example”, rather they should simply become one. If others see them that way, then all the better. But certainly being a good example increases the odds that others see you as one. But if we are trying to “show” a good example then it is artificial and therefore significantly less good than just “being a good example.”
Finally, the virtual world provides the global Kadampa family an unprecedented method for staying together as an International Kadampa Buddhist Union. As time moves on, more and more practitioners will be following primarily a local variant of the tradition. The General Spiritual Director and his/her deputy travel the world for the major events which establish the general framework for the global spiritual family, Resident Teachers attend the International Teacher Training Program which helps create a common understanding and common bond, but most of one’s individual karmic connections with Sangha will be local. Through the internet in general, and blogs and social media in particular, the Kadampa family can experience a similitude of that initial Summer Festival experience when it truly was the only coming together of the global Kadampa family – a feeling of total oneness. Kadampas from around the world can share their experiences with one another and through these exchanges not only learn from one another but also build powerful karmic relationships which function to knit together the global Kadampa family. The reality is we are moving into an increasingly virtual world. Just as Venerable Geshe-la is encouraging us to take the Dharma into the city centers because that is where the people are at, so too we need to bring the Dharma into the virtual world because this is where the people are spending their time. For all of these reasons, for me I think doing something like a Kadampa blog is a good idea.
But even if that is the case, how then do we do a Kadampa blog well/correctly.
- I think we have to have a clear understanding that this is part of Venerable Geshe-la’s wishes. This can be established through the above discussion.
- We need to be crystal clear that a blog should never be a substitute for receiving traditional teachings. A blog cannot and should not be a teaching platform. Readers should not relate to it as such. It is a sharing of experience in the meditation break, it is not a teaching. And the writers of blogs should also not (even sub-consciously) view their blog as a teaching platform. If blogs cause readers to no longer go to their local center as much, then it is a sign that something is astray. Either the author is not approaching their blog correctly or the reader is not relating to it correctly. Either way, in our writing of a blog we need to be crystal clear in making clear that a blog should not be related to as a means of receiving teachings or as a substitute for receiving traditional teachings. The sign that we are doing our blog correctly is when our readers are even more enthused about going to their local center. In this vein, while I welcome people posting comments on my blog I tend to not respond to them because it feels too much to me like a back and forth exchange transforms a sharing of experience into a quasi-teaching.
- We should also be very careful with our language choices that we are not explaining our understandings as if they were “definitive Dharma.” We should add things like, “in my view” or “it seems to me” or “what I understand about this is” to make this clear. At present, the only person who is qualified to write definitive Dharma is Venerable Geshe-la. The way I look at it is no single one of us holds all of the wisdom of the tradition, but each one of us holds a piece of it. By coming together and sharing what we understand, while keeping clearly in mind that we only have a small piece of the overall puzzle, we can all learn from one another and develop a more comprehensive view of the myriad ways in which VGL has revealed the Kadam Dharma in this world. There is a HUGE difference between a Kadampa blog and a Kadampa book. The former is a simple sharing of experience of an individual practitioner, the latter is imputationally considered more a presentation of definitive Dharma. Even if the author of the book makes it very clear that the book should not be considered definitive Dharma, conventionally speaking this is how people relate to books. Blogs, in contrast, are conventionally understood by all as more of a daily/weekly journal of an individual practitioner’s spiritual path. Kadampa bloggers should make this distinction very clear in all of their writings so as to avoid any confusion by the potential readers.
- I think we need to adopt the same mind as Shantideva when he wrote the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, namely that he was primarily writing the Guide to help him clarify and improve his own understanding, and if others received benefit from it then that is a nice secondary effect. But the main purpose is writing as a means of deepening and consolidating one’s own practice. You almost need to forget that others will be reading it, but still nonetheless keep it in mind so that you keep your bodhichitta alive.
- We make a clear distinction between sharing experience and teaching. When we are sharing our experience or understanding, we are just explaining what we have understood. But our intention is not to teach. We hope people receive benefit, but we are not doing it so that they do. Our strong emphasis is to work on the secondary wish of bodhichitta, namely the wish for ourselves to become a Buddha, and not the primary wish, namely to lead all beings to enlightenment. When we teach, our strong emphasis is on the primary wish of bodhichitta. This is a fundamental difference.
- Venerable Geshe-la has said that Modern Buddhism is our Guide to the Union of Modern Life and Kadampa Buddhism. Just as there is the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and there is the Guide to Dakini Land, so too there is a Guide to the Union of Modern Life and Kadampa Buddhism. This latter Guide is the book Modern Buddhism. I feel that Kadampa bloggers should take this precious book as our root text, and to the maximum extent possible align our blog with the presentation of the Dharma in Modern Buddhism. Of course we will draw on all of the other books as well, but we do so in the context of how they filter into the presentation in Modern Buddhism.
I think if we understand why a Kadampa blog is a good idea and we understand what are some of the things we can do to do it correctly, then a Kadampa blog is a perfectly appropriate aspect of a Modern Kadampa’s life.