Via @claudia_m, I came upon this brief bit about Facebook (and promptly posted the article to my Facebook page where a couple of folks commented on it ah, irony!). The article is provocatively titled “Quit Facebook” and is about the obsessive amount of time we spend constructing our online identities.
Next Friday we’ll be releasing the second installment of the live podcast. And in this episode, someone in the audience (you know who you are) asks about the stereotypes or assumptions people make about Buddhism that really bug us. When Harry reminded me of this question (I’d completely forgotten about it (they say the mind’s the fist thing to go) and Harry’s in the process of editing it), I got to thinking about where this question may be coming from. I’m sure I’m projecting my own egotistical shit onto the questioner (sorry about that), but I can’t help but wonder if my own online identity prompts people to think I’m little more than a rabble rouser, bitter and angry.
Not infrequently, people I consider to be very good friends (in one or two cases, people I’ve known since I had Flock of Seagulls hair), will call me up or send me an email asking if I’m okay. They’re wondering what the backstory is to whatever travesty must have inspired some random thing I Twittered/blogged/Facebooked about. And my usual response is, “what?” I have no idea what they’re talking about. Whatever travesty of injustice got me so riled up on the Internets was a fleeting concern, something that really chapped my hide during a lunch break, but now that I’m home, now that I’m with three dimensional people, now that I’m sitting on my sofa listening to music or hanging out with my wife I’m sorry, what were we talking about?
This post is about language and about travel. And this is a post directed more toward my readers who have served time, as it were, in academia, either professionally or as a student. But, of course, it is certainly not limited to those folks. Whatever your background, feel free to chime in!
In the days of yore, when Buddhist Studies was just emerging as a distinct discipline in European and American higher education, it was more or less expected that if you wanted to do Buddhist studies work, you were going to have to learn the traditional Buddhist languages: Pali and Sanskrit. Probably some classical Chinese and maybe even Tibetan. Serious east-Asian scholars would need to learn Japanese as well and to the extent that 99.9% of academics back in the day were well-educated white men with a classical education, they were no doubt coming to their fields having learned Latin and French and/or German in secondary school or college. Polyglots ruled the school.
To this day, there remains a certain breed of scholar who believes that real Buddhist Studies work requires language study. Real Buddhism is to be found in the texts, in the words of the Buddha, and to read those texts you need to know the language. And these folks will be quick to tell you what a travesty it is that the number of mono-linguists seems to be outpacing the number of polyglots.
I had a morning meeting today wherein I was reminded of the importance of my task blurring the boundaries between “scholar” and “practitioner.”
Also today, when other meetings I (thought I) had scheduled didn’t actually happen, I slacked off and went through over six years of blog posts looking for things that might be controversial. I was thinking about this blog project of mine, my transitional state between grad student and full-time academic, and whether or not this blog may have deleterious effects on the later. I do occasionally look back, of course, at what I’ve written. But not in such a systematic way. Looking over almost everything I’ve written in this space all at one, I am left with the following conclusion: I write a lot of really pointless dribble.
The most recently released IBS Podcast episode is a lecture by UC Chico’s Daniel Veidlinger, and it’s quite good. His overall project is to examine how changes in technology effect the way Buddhism is practice, and, in this case, he’s looking at the transition from a predominately oral and aural culture to a culture dominated by the written word in ancient South and South East Asia. In other words, the basic question is, what effect did this new invention of writing have on the early Buddhist communities? The answers may surprise you. Or, maybe they won’t, but either way the talk is well worth watching.
In other, completely unrelated news, my lovely and talented wife, a force of unrelenting good in this world, is doing a 10K run to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For those who don’t know, St. Jude’s hospitals do research to prevent childhood cancer and other catastrophic diseases. So, you know, also damn good work but of a different sort than historical/textual scholarship.
So a few weeks ago I tried writing a post about teaching. We’re about half way through the fall semester right now which means that teaching is the one thing that’s occupying most of my time. But what I tried to write didn’t come out right, so I threw it in the old File of Forgotten Blog Posts that seems to be rapidly filling up my hard drive.
I thought I’d revisit the issue because two of my favorite blogs, Angry Asian Buddhist and Enlightenment Ward, both posted commentary about a recent Brad Warner post over on Hardcore Zen. It seems everyone’s favorite punk rock Zen master has closed the comments down on his blog, and in the process he’s added to a litany of critiques about the value of the Internet in the practice of Buddhism.
First and foremost, my dear readers, it is the second Friday of the month which means you’re all being treated to a new episode of the DharmaRealm podcast. And not just any new episode but the first episode recorded before a live studio audience!
Actually pulling this event off was pretty rewarding, I gotta say. Between you and me, we kind of threw it all together without much foresight (a consequence of a more-than-insanely-busy late summer, early autumn). Harry and I learned a lot from the experience, though and are looking forward to recording more stuff with an audience. And next time we’ll do it on a Saturday so more people can attend (and maybe I’ll look into live-streaming but don’t hold your breath!). Apart from all that behind-the-scenes stuff, the content of this episode is, in my humble option, actually quite good! We were inspired by a question about the nature of the Pure Land, and to the extent this is the kind of question us Shin Buddhists get asked a lot, it was good to hash out our ideas. Harry’s perspective, that the idea of whether or not the Pure Land is really real and how that forces us to question the reality of our mundane world, is something worth considering. Needless to say, he blew my mind once or twice.
Shortly after I posted my last entry, wherein I talked about the Buddha’s compassion embracing everyone without distinction, I received an email forwarded to me from my lovely and talented wife. A friend of ours’ daughter recently married, and her husband is now serving in the Army Reseve. In point of fact, he is right now at boot camp somewhere in the South.
Without revealing too many personal details, he is not currently a U.S. citizen. Turns out that one way to fast-track your citizenship is to join the Army Reserve. (Add that to my list of things I’d never thought about and was surprised to learn.) The gist of the email was to ask folks to send him letters, postcards, care packages. Something about being in boot camp means not having regular access to the Internet or email. And something about being a newlywed far from home means missing your family.
Back in August, I took a too-short trip to New York. On the plane, I had a copy of The Buddha’s Wish for the World to keep me company (and only now do I have the time to write about it). It’s a new book written by the Monshu Koshin Ohtani. “Monshu” is usually translated as “abbot,” in this case, the abbot of the Nishi Hongwanji, the head temple of the denomination of Shin Buddhism under which the Buddhist Churches of America falls. So, in a sense, he’s the head guy of our denomination. But “abbot,” of course, is a lousy word that does not quite capture the nuanced nature of this inherited position or its responsibilities both symbolic and administrative.
Be that as it may, the Monshu has written a cogent and accessible account of Shin Buddhism. The recurring theme is all about heightening our awareness of our inherent interconnectedness to the whole of the universe and, of course, gratitude. On the one hand, it’s a series of reflections on the spiritual path and the Buddha Dharma. And it’s filled with little bits of wisdom such as “If you never question what you are doing, the process of spiritual rebirth cannot begin.”