The internet is probably the first place that someone interested in Buddhism will go for information these days – I happened to start with books, but that was an accident. However, I’m not sure that going straight to the internet is always good idea.
Beginner navel gazing below the cut.
On the one hand, I’ve found my reading of Buddhist blogs and websites fascinating and at times extremely helpful, but there can be a downside: Buddhism on the internet has also brought up feelings of confusion, anxiety and perhaps more doubt than is really necessary.
There are inspiring people offering teachings, but there are also so many people arguing, debating issues and traditions I know nothing about (half the time I have no idea what they’re on about and I have another post coming about the effects of feeling so ignorant). Everyone seems to know so much more that I do; sometimes I’d like to ask questions, but I’m rather afraid of sounding really dumb and getting jumped on – not that I have any real reason for thinking people will jump on me, that fear is coming from being burned in other internet circles and knowing the internet can be really cruel.
But it does bring up a lot of bothering questions in my head, am I right for this? Do I have the right motivations? Am I completely wrongheaded about Buddhism? Am I a shit Buddhist before I’ve even become a Buddhist? (disheartening thought!). I know this is a lot of this is ego and social conditioning talking – why on earth do I care what people on the internet think of me? Why am I worried about “right” motivations? Why am I bothered about being a “good” Buddhist before I’ve even identified as one in the first place?!
Perhaps more worrying is the fear that Buddhism may be just as bad as everything else, which brings up the question of whether I want to be involved with it. Of course this isn’t helped by my going out of my way to read posts about elitism, sexual exploitation, and the commercialisation of Buddhism! These are obviously important issues to be aware of, but perhaps my ego is looking for a way out? After all, if I can prove to myself that Buddhism is dodgy, I can take my ball and go home and that might save ego some trouble.
Anyway, all this made me realise that it’s time to stop the chattering in my head and remind myself why I got interested in the first place. As far as I can figure out, my conscious motivations (at least right now) look something like the following:
1. I want to sort my head out. I don’t want to be controlled by my neuroses and social conditionings
2. I am disturbed by suffering, my own and that of others and Buddhism offers a way to approach suffering directly
3. Dharma teachings have already had a powerful impact on my life and I feel a need to explore that further
I will come back and look at this when I’m feeling confused and anxious.
It’s made me realise that it’s time to start going more to the source and reading Buddhist texts to help me understand more about what’s being debated. I’m going to start with the Dhammapada.
I’ve also realised that this is why you can benefit from a real live teacher, someone who you can talk to about all the anxieties and doubts and who makes themselves available to support you in your explorations. I’m not sure how to find a teacher, but the internet has made me come round to the idea more strongly, though there clearly are some awesome internet teachers too (I do really value my blogroll here).
There are a couple of meditation groups in my area that may be place to start, one is straight up Zen and one is Mahayana based. I may go to both and see what happens. There is also a Buddhist centre, but it’s difficult for me to get there in the evenings from my side of town and I’m loathe to do anything that increases tiredness at the moment. There is a financial implication (I’ve noticed the issue of charging being discussed in some posts and think it is a serious concern for Western Buddhism), as most groups expect donations and I really don’t have much spare money – my partner is unemployed at the moment and I’m supporting us both financially.
Also think I’ll fix up a You Tube channel where I can keep teachings.