September 29, 2010 § 2 Comments
OK so … one of the points of frustration for me as a beginning Buddhist is having trouble finding LIVE support. You know, someone to talk to about what I need to know, ask questions to about what I’ve read, someone to simply learn from. I believe they’re called “Dharma Friends,” from what I’ve picked up through listening to various podcasts (see? this is what I mean!) Someone who helps you walk along the path, basically, and serves as a guide to those who are starting out and learning the basics.
Definitely, from what I’ve seen, Skeptical and Secular Buddhism are budding branches of this philosophy. There seems to be groups in some of the larger metropolitan areas, looks like maybe on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada, and maybe the Mid-West? Not sure. Either way, all I can say is that in my neck of the woods — rural Central New York — I can only find one reference to Buddhism, and it’s some kind of really heavily ritualized form of Buddhism. Not my bag.
So where have I gotten what I know so far (which isn’t much, really)? Online, mainly. The most valuable information I’ve picked up has come from the almost-real interactions of the 3D virtual world — Second Life. There have been other sources of information too — podcasts, books, Web sites, face book pages and more. All of those, however, are limited in the sense that it is a one-way conversation — the author talking to me, or the interviewer and interviewee talking to each other. I, however, get no opportunity to interject, ask questions or take part in the conversation. As an educator, I know that most learning comes from active, social situations in which students get the opportunity for some give-and-take.
That’s where Second Life has come in for me. Like I said, 3D virtual world, and yes, the sordid stories you MAY have heard about some of the goings-on there are true. Let’s make this clear: Second Life is the Internet, 3D, and you do interact with others who are surfing in this 3D manifestation of this world. So whatever, and I mean WHATEVER, you can find on the Internet, you’ll find there — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I’ve chosen to go with the good, and use SL as the one and only place where I can have a Sangha — a group of practitioners with which to meet and from whom I can learn. In Second Life, I’ve been lucky enough to find two great groups — Skeptical Buddhists’ Sangha, and Secular Community. They have both been instrumental in putting me in touch with some valuable information and support in my early stages of learning about Buddhism.
Unfortunately, those who run and organize the meetings for these groups seem very busy in RL (real life), and haven’t had many meetings lately. So, in my desperation, I created a reading group in SL, specifically for beginners like myself.
Our first meeting for this reading group (Skeptical Readers of SL) was on Sunday, and I was really excited at how well it went. It definitely wouldn’t have gone as well had it not been for the support of Sung Hifeng (his SL avatar’s name). This is what I mean about support from virtual sources — he’s clear across the other side of the country from where I am, but he was able to “sit” in a “room” with me, help me gather other like-minded individuals to meet us in SL, and talk about our first reading, answer questions in REAL-TIME (none of this posting and waiting for hours and days for a reply stuff) about what we should read, when, how, etc.
I’m really excited about this group, and I’m hoping we can gather a few more people for the next meeting, which will again be on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. PST (that’s the time they operate on in SL). We’ll be talking about Chapter 1 of “What The Buddha Taught” By Walpola Rahula, and I know that I’ll get so much out of the give-and-take that will take place with everyone!
If you are reading this, and want to consider joining SL, or if you already play SL and want to join us next week, I hope you do! Feel free to look me up in-word and ask any questions. My avatar’s name is Ryuko Naminosaki.
Finally, if you want to check out my group’s Skeptical Reader’s Haven, feel free to click on the link below. You’ll need to have an SL account to log in and take a peek, of course: