Monday, August 30, 2010

Preaching and Blogging the Dharma

In "The Tale of Yūkichi Takayama" Hakuin writes (as recorded in Norman Waddell's recent " Hakuin's Precious Mirror Cave"):

I do not believe there is any work in the entire Buddhist canon that does not expound the virtues of preaching the Dharma either in its introduction, in the course of its discussion, or in the conclusions it draws.  We must regard the preaching of the Dharma with the greatest veneration, as a karmic cause of the highest order. Yet if a person preaches the Dharma for even the slightest thought for reputation, gain, or profit, or with the slightest sense of self-importance in his heart, then the preaching will generate a karmic cause and will send the preacher straight to hell instead.  Because of that, preaching of the Dharma must be approached with the greatest circumspection; it must be undertaken with the utmost care.

The Vimilakirti Sutra says that one whose mind still resides in the world of birth-and-death must not preach the Dharma.  Elsewhere it is said that those who lack the true eye of wisdom, who cannot distinguish the various capacities of his listeners should not preach the Dharma, and that a person must not preach the teachings of the Lesser Vehicle to those with the capacity to receive those of the Greater Vehicle.  Chao-Chou said that if a false teacher preaches the true Dharma, then the true Dharma becomes a false Dharma.  All of those  words are only too true.  

Now Hakuin, of course, says many other things in the work I've cited,  and there's a great deal of superstitious behavior floating around in Hakuin's work from the time.  (The tale in question from which this quote is taken concerns the "possession" by a kami of a 13 year old boy who was defending Hakuin against some charges that were being made by his contemporaries.)  The superstitious psychology behind the behavior of the main story is not the point of this post however, but rather, what the relationship is between expounding the Dharma and blogging.



It's not for me to say why someone else blogs or what their final motivation is of preaching the Dharma. To be honest, though,  when some folks talk about how they've made peace with the shadows of greed and therefore there's no problem with them profiting from "preaching" the "Dharma," it looks difficult to reconcile such boasts with what Hakuin wrote above.  (That said, I might as well put a link to Amazon here for the book I just mentioned, if only to let you know the source of the quote better.  I doubt you'll find that quote on the internet elsewhere easily.)  I suspect even old Hakuin himself now and then did not live up to his ideal.  But that's part of being human.

I have to try to keep in mind that when I see certain stories and blog posts that seem to be egregious examples against which Hakuin warned, that my response should not be an over-indulgence of ego.  That's not always easy.

I also need to keep in mind that other bloggers and teachers might have different "mileage" than those in the school to which I belong, although that doesn't get anyone a license to avoid dedicating themselves to a practice that lacks self-centeredness.   It is true that the blogger benefits from blogging, but that benefit is voided by active seeking of it, I think.

I had been reading that bit over the weekend, and simply thought that it was of relevance to the phenomenon of Western Buddhists blogging about Buddhism. Whether or not or how it compares to those who've been hogging microphones to declaim for and against other religions lately, well, that's a question I won't go near today.

5 comments:

Petteri Sulonen said...

It's funny, a blog that "preaches the Dharma" is almost always an instant turn-off for me, even if the blogger is crazily credentialed. I like blogs that discuss the Dharma, or practice, or any of a number of other things, but that's rather different. But then I tend to dislike preachiness in general.

Sometimes the difference is subtle, just in turns of phrase. "It is very important for Buddhists to uphold the Fifth Precept" is an instant turn-off, whereas "Since I gave up alcohol, both my practice and the way I relate to other people have improved noticeably" makes me want to read more, even though the actual message is the same. Funny, that.

Also, I can't stand Dharma tweets. Blech.

Mumon said...

Petteri:

Full disclosure: I did tweet about the existence of this and other blog posts, mainly to publicize them.

I don't think it's a bad thing per se to publicize such things. It's a good use for Twitter. (The only other one I've found useful to date is an ongoing series of one-liners, such as Glenn Beck Haiku.)

I don't consider that the kind of "Dharma tweet" to which you refer, though, I kind of think it's more of the "My aphorism of the day is..." kind of thing.

That said, your point is roughly, I think, my point: in the "good" example you gave, personalization makes it somewhat less self-centered (in that the person speaking isn't actually "speaking on behalf of the Dharma but really placing himself as Dharma spokesman.")

Petteri Sulonen said...

I tweet about my blog too. And post links to my Facebook wall.

By Dharma tweets I mean stuff like

RT DhammaMetta "... somehow you have to reframe that bad feeling - so that you see it as a doorway to liberation ..." --Pema Chodron

You know, pithy 140-character nuggets of lovinkindness that do nothing but trivialize the actual insight of the people being tweeted.

Re personalization, yeah, that's it, exactly. I like to read about other people's practice; their experiences with sila, dhyana, and prajna. I just loathe it when they generalize from it.

Perhaps that's why I feel so comfortable with the tradition I'm in. Dokusan, for example, is 100% personal and individual. It's "I think you should now do this" rather than "Everybody should do that."

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Chana said...

I run into people a lot who proclaim the "Dharma" in their own specific way. It seems that they have just taken whatever parts of Buddhism and incorporated it with their ego. The good part about this is that it might wear the ego down, because the the Buddhist messages are designed to do so. :)
None of us are perfect Buddhas, I don't even believe that the "Buddha" was. We are just one among billions of other humans on the planet. So say what is on your mind without fear. There is no one judging us, except us. :)

Chana