Archive for July, 2008

The anatomy of an online meditation course

Posted in Buddhism on the web, General, Vipassana with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2008 by Al

This week, two excellent Insight Meditation teachers kicked off a 6-week Introduction to Mindfulness Meditation Course (that I mentioned in a previous post). What’s special about that, you say? Well, this meditation course takes place entirely online.

Meditation instruction online? Web-based Dharma teachings? Right up my (and probably your) alley. Now that I’ve almost completed Week One of the course and had my first online meeting with my meditation instructor, I thought it would be interesting to profile the tools that Gil Fronsdal and Ines Freedman (along with a host of other assistant teachers they brought on due to the popularity of the course) are using to bring this course to the web.

Site: Google Sites
The teachers have set up a website specifically for the course. Though (almost) all of the information on the site is communicated via email, this provides a nice repository for students to refer back to during the course.

Group communication: Google Groups
All of the communication from the teachers comes via email from a Google account set up specifically for the course. Students were invited to join the Google group as soon as they registered for the course.

Scheduling: Jiffle
This is the one tool I hadn’t heard of before I took this course. Jiffle allows others to schedule themselves for appointment times on your calendar (if you approve the request). Students were required to reserve a time each week on their instructor’s Jiffle calendar for their one on one meeting.

One to one communication: Phone, IM, Skype, and email
Course participants have a lot of flexibility in the way they choose to communicate with their meditation instructors. We had our choice of regular phone (we call our instructor or our instructor calls us), various IM clients (Y! Messenger, AIM, Google Talk), Skype voice and/or text chat, or just plain old emails. No matter what you choose, you get guaranteed weekly live one on one time with your meditation instructor.

The instructors have artfully combined all of these tools to create a seamless practice environment where communication is quick, scheduled, and personal. The instructors are available to answer questions, and practice issues that are relevant to the entire group can easily be shared with everyone. So far, this is a great experience and a flagship example of buddhism for the web generation.

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Vassa: The fun of Lent for Buddhists!

Posted in Theravada, Vipassana, Western Buddhism with tags , , , , on July 17, 2008 by Al

So today is Dhamma Day (also called Asalha Puja), which marks the anniversary of the Buddha’s first sermon at Deer Park. Tomorrow marks the beginning of Vassa, the three-month rains retreat historically observed by monks in Theravada Buddhist countries.

This will be my third observation of Vassa. Traditionally, Vassa means extra practice, extra precepts, and not leaving the monastic environment. So how does Vassa become a modern practice in the US for the lay practitioner? I don’t claim to know, exactly, how Vassa translates to Western Buddhist practice. I observe it by giving up drinking alcohol entirely (I normally just try to follow the rule of not taking intoxicants to the point of heedlessness). I strive to follow the Five Precepts, which are as follows:

1. Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
2. Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
3. Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
4. Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
5. Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.

Source: Access to Insight

I also re-devote myself to home meditation practice, download and listen to tons of Dharma talks from places like Audio Dharma, and generally try to be less of an asshole.

You can read an interesting article on Vassa to learn more about the history of this observance. Access to Insight also has a fantastic lay resource called Lay Buddhist Practice by Bhikkhu Khantipalo which has an excellent section on the rains retreat. If you practice Vassa observance, I’d love to hear about your methods in the comments.