Audio Dharma and disembodied teachers

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.

Zencast.org
Audio Dharma
BuddhaNet Audio
WZEN.org
Buddhist Geeks
Dhamma Talks
Audio teachings by Norman Fischer at Everyday Zen
Thubten Chodron’s audio library
MP3 talks at Dharma Punx by Noah Levine

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.

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11 Responses to “Audio Dharma and disembodied teachers”

  1. I think there’s a fine balance between in-group insulation and destructive pluralism (incorporating everyone else’s ideas or beliefs just for the sake of being cosmopolitan).

    I don’t think we can ever make much of a difference being a soldier of one group-belief, or set of ideals, and firing off missiles against the opposing group. It often seems to me that the most change we will ever affect comes from being a dissident within our own group, criticizing and analyzing the internal, making ourselves and our fellow group members think about their own beliefs in new ways. Sometimes we seem to be so afraid of hypocrisy that we decline to criticize our own methods, feeling that to do so means we would have to respond immediately to the criticism and change them entirely (Personal example: I post on the internet about the terror of the internet, therefore I should stop posting on the internet – not necessarily true I think, as that would be an extreme response to what is, after all, just a concept).

    Sometimes I think this is why poetry and fiction are much better methods of exploring metaphysically dangerous ideas. Metaphors can be interpreted in such a way as to be safe enough to be personally explorable by each person who reads them. When stated outright, your own interpretation, slant, etc. is automatically imprinted on the idea due to the way you, as the writer, have unconsciously presented it. If this slant is offensive or brash to any given subset of readers, they become much more likely to reject it wholesale rather than analyze and incorporate it in a way which is healthy for them personally.

  2. i think what brad warner speaks about is not saying that its wrong to get dharma online, but that it is no substute for face to face human interaction. he uses the internet himself to put his writing out there and communicate with folks…

  3. This day.
    Here.
    Right here.
    Doesn’t say anything.
    What about now?

    Judge. Don’t judge.
    This Dharma is grand.
    Who do “you” think you are?

    It’s funny. “Very” funny.
    One person communicates, and one person responds.

    Sigh…

    Whether your big, fat, short, or small, nothing is there.

    His Zen.
    Her Zen.
    This Zen.
    That Zen.
    Nothing to get.
    Do the laundry.
    Wipe the table.
    Sit.

    Thank you

    W

  4. Then I will state it differently:

    Shunryu Suzuki:

    If you have the eyes to see or the mind to understand the teaching, you will see that it is not necessary to be involved in such a dispute. Because some of the descendants of Eno and Jinshu didn’t completely understand the teaching of Buddha they got into a dispute. From Sekito’s point of view there is no need for contention.

    Jinshu’s teaching is good, and the Sixth Ancestor Eno’s teaching is good. Jinshu’s way is good for someone who studies things slowly and deliberately, and the Sixth Ancestor’s way is good for a quick, sharpminded person. … A great teacher’s way of explaining the teaching will be unique. But there is no difference in true understanding.

  5. The Ajahn Brahm Dhamma Talk Podcast produced by the Buddhist Society of Western Australia is insightful, enjoyable to hear, and easy to comprehend. Several of Ajahn Brahm’s sermons are also available on Youtube; search for his name!

    Ajahn Brahm is of the Theravada tradition, but don’t allow that to hinder your mouse finger if you’re of a different sect. Buddhists should mix like milk and water, not oil and water. I’m sure you’ll find his wisdom agreeable with your own experience.

  6. You might also enjoy Ajahn Brahm; he gives some great talks. Been listening to him for about a year.

  7. People tend to forget that many people in the past saw their teachers maybe once a year at most. Some only a few times in their life. Regular access to teachers is, in some ways, a modern phenomenon.

    I find both on-line and in-person communities to have merit. But I do think it’s easier for someone to fake enlightened experience on-line, and/or to make comments that suggest they know something they really don’t. When you can’t see body language, and when you don’t experience someone in person on a regular basis, it’s harder to get a sense of who they are. Not impossible, but harder.

    I think it’s foolish to suggest that dharma isn’t found on-line, or that it’s always going to be better to be in person with others. I’ve been a member of sangha for over seven years, and I also have been digging into on-line communities and writings for the past year or so now. Both support me.

    Bows,
    Nathan

  8. Mary Salome Says:

    I listen to most Dharma talks at http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com/ . I listen to certain talks periodically because I feel like I get something different from them each time. I think that’s one of my favorite things about having recordings available online: they become a reference. I can go back to a recording, sit with it, study it, find my favorite part, find a new favorite part. Then I move on and discover something I haven’t heard yet. So far the “disembodied teacher” has only been as asset to my practice.

  9. BrotherLeaf Says:

    For me it’s not the online vs not online issue. It’s more linked with syncronic or asyncronic communication. A skype video call it’s face to face and syncronic, and is almost the same than a non online face to face talk. You can’t hide anything in that situation. It’s not the same with a recorded video, or with a post in a forum, but they are also really useful for people.

  10. Yes, I am of the online and offline camp . . . 🙂 I am very fortunate to live close to a wonderful sangha with a great teacher in whom I trust. And I find the many conversations I have online, both in blogs (my own and others), and Twitter, very enriching as well. Books are also very good. Jack Kornfield’s “Path with a heart” ignited many sparks and still does.

    This being said, I do not believe there is a substitute for a real, live sangha. And I say, if none exists where you live, well, start one! Even if that means getting together, sitting and then listening to podcasts together. If enough of you, who knows, maybe you can invite a teacher to join?

  11. My fav audio site is http://www.freebuddhistaudio.com

    I’d rate audio much higher than written word as a medium of communicating the Dharma. Much more bandwidth. But Face to face at some point is necessary, surely?

    Jayarava

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