Mary Jaksch, Roshi, has kindly offered us this post. I know Lost Coin is very receptive to her point of view, in fact we share it. I am grateful she has chosen to post on our site.
– Daniel Doen Silberberg
A guest post by Mary Jaksch, Roshi
Zen has had to adapt over the millennia. After all, medieval culture in Japan had little in common with ancient China, and modern times have very little in common with either. Yet Zen has survived to this day. Why? Well, I think it’s because Zen is about life. Actually, it is life!
But sheer survival isn’t enough. If Zen is to flourish in the West, it needs to truly embed itself into our culture. And for that to happen, it needs to embrace the the virtual dimension that has become a real part of life for many people.
The Net with its particular communication forms, such as blogging and social media, has become a major force to be. That’s something I’ve learned in the last year or so through blogging.
The art of Zen blogging
Eighteen months ago, my son Sebastian said to me,
“Mum, I’ll make you a website, but you have to write a blog.”
“A blog?” I said. “What’s that?”
As you can see, I was still an innocent Zen teacher at the time!
Blogging turned out to be a great adventures and a steep learning curve. Soon I was posting a weekly article on my blog. I told my colleagues in the Diamond Sangha about it.
By return of post I got the following email from one of my more conservative colleagues:
“What I read in your blog shocked and horrified me. It has nothing to do with Zen and leads people astray!”
I have a rather impish sense of humor, so I immediately made his comment the focus of my next blog post Zen and the Art of Blogging.
I got some interesting comments:
“I love your blog! It has re-kindled my former interest in Zen.”
“As a long-time Zen student, I applaud your zesty, contemporary approach to making The Great Way available on-line by blog. I find her insights and teachings well-considered, inviting and applicable. For me, the dry dusty classical texts and case studies are no longer meaningful. How do we enter each moment with a fresh gaze? Bring on the playful, the zippy, the juicy, I say!”
“I find the comment it ‘has nothing to do with zen’ very interesting, as I can find no such division in my life.”
Talking of comments – they are the key to blogging. When I first started blogging, I imagined a blog to be a series of weekly articles. Full stop. But then I realized that there was much more to blogging:
The beauty and power of blogging lies in the fact that it’s a co-creation of writer and readers.
What that means for us teachers is that we have to step down off our high seat. And we have to even admit that we’re human! A student of mine in Sao Paolo said to me recently: “I love reading your blog. I’ve got to know more of your human strengths and weaknesses.” Dang! Where has all my mystique gone?
Virtual Zen Retreats
A few weeks ago I tried out something new: a ten day Virtual Zen Retreat. The theme of the retreat was “Awareness: The Miracle of Now”. Each day, participants got an email outlining the particular focus of the day, as well as some exercises to do during their ordinary day. In addition, people could choose to receive Twitter messages with practice reminders. A private forum was available for participants to interact with me, as well as with each other. Overall, the focus was on bringing mindfulness into every moment of life at home, at work, or at play.
When I first had the idea of offering a virtual Zen retreat, I thought that maybe fifty people would join – not four hundred! I was amazed to see that people joined not just from places you would expect, such as, say, New York, San Francisco, or Sydney. They poured in from Islamabad and Calcutta, Arima in Trinidad, or Tire in Turkey. Not to mention Paris, Madrid, Bucharest and most other major European cities. Some people even participated from Shenzhen and Taipei. It was truly international!
But did it touch and change lives?
That’s the touchstone, isn’t it? I mean, if Zen doesn’t change the way we live our lives – why do it?
In a comment to my blogpost Is Virtual Zen Real? a participant from India wrote:
Just before entering your “Virtual Zen Retreat”, I was almost dead with my desperate bid to commit suicide. Your personal messages, and your Zen lessons have made me realize the true value of this human existence.
I felt humbled by that remark.
Another participant wrote:
“I am in a period of significant change which will effect how I am for the rest of my life. This retreat came at exactly the right time for me. I am continuing with meditation practice. And I find by doing it I am more at peace with myself and the world.”
In fact, most feedback was along the lines that the retreat was a catalyst of change. Our next Virtual Zen Retreat has the theme: “Finding Peace in the Chaos of Anger”. This retreat will address how to work with the mind of anger – both in zazen and in everyday life.
I think our collective responsibility – yours and mine – is to find new ways of integrating Zen practice and training into our Western culture. We need to find new ways of spreading the Dharma – without betraying or cheapening our tradition. It’s like climbing a mountain of swords with bare feet – as Wumen said.
How can we be innovative, without betraying the old Masters? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Mary Jaksch Roshi is a teacher in the Diamond Sangha lineage. Head over to Goodlife Zen for more of her articles. If you would like to find out more about Virtual Zen Retreats, please click here.
photo by William Hook