The web serves up the voice of almost any teacher currently actively teaching the Dharma in the world. The tradition, the location, or the venue don’t matter. You can download Dharma talks on any subject. You can work through a beginning meditation course, listen to teachings on afflictive emotions to help you with anger or lust or greed, or you can even download a step by step discussion of many great Buddhist texts like the Dhammapada or Dogen’s Shobogenzo. All of it is freely available in the spirit of sharing the Dharma. I often take this for granted, quickly browsing by topic for a talk on my “problem of the day.” But think about how incredible it is to be able to hear the voice of the Dalai Lama, or Robert Aitken, or Ajahn Brahm.
Here’s a list of my personal favorite resources for audio Dharma, in no particular order.
There are many more out there. You don’t have to live near a teacher to find one that resonates with you. Thubten Chodron transformed my thinking on emotions, and I’ve never spoken to her personally. Jundo Cohen brought zazen alive for me and generously gave me the precepts, but I’ve never shaken his hand.
Brad Warner recently wrote a post over at Hardcore Zen about Treeleaf Zendo and how online interaction is not the same as real life face to face contact with a teacher. I agree that it’s not the same. However, there seems to be an implied judgment there that “not the same” equals “not as good.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Both have benefits and drawbacks. Face to face time with a teacher, for someone who doesn’t have a sangha close by, might mean sacrificing time with a family or other responsibilities. However, online interaction doesn’t provide the “smell of the person, the shared physical space, that little bit of electrochemical interconnectedness that occurs when you’re near a person” as Brad puts it.
So what are the benefits of online communication with a teacher?
– Regular access, no matter where you are.
– Expanded access to much more information and many more teachings than would be available in person.
– Your choice of teacher, instead of just the teacher who’s closest to you geographically.
– Communication is recorded and saved (via video and forums) so the teacher is held responsible for his or her words.
I don’t think one is better than the other. I see the benefits of both, and I even see the benefits of combining both. Web is Dharma, though. Dharma doesn’t just exist “out there” in the real world. Dharma is here on the screen and in your practice and in interacting with others, whether it’s online or in the “real” world or floating out there in space somewhere. Don’t let anything make you judge your practice as “not good enough,” whatever it is. Your practice is what it is in this moment. It couldn’t be anything else. Just keep listening for the Dharma.