The internet poses an interesting challenge to Buddhadharma.
All of the teachings were formulated for specific people at a specific place and time. That’s why even in the Pali Canon, they sometimes seem to contradict each other.
It used to be that a practitioner would receive particular teachings only as the need arose. If someone wasn’t at a point in their practice to learn about impermanence, selflessness, the cause of suffering etc. yet, then they wouldn’t be introduced to those teachings. This helped to hinder confusion and dogma.
Now, anyone with an internet connection can peruse teachings that they might not be ready for or might not ever even need.
This is part of the reason why FB Buddhism is so full of arguments and debates. If you’re really ready for a teaching, or if you’re part of its target audience, you’ll feel no need to debate about it or argue for it.
We don’t seriously debate about whether that white, fluffy thing in the sky is a bunny rabbit or a dragon because we know it’s really a cloud. It’s just like that if you stumble on a teaching that you’re ready to learn.
Anatta (selflessness) has been screwed over by the internet more than any other teaching. In a structured setting, you wouldn’t learn about anatta until you were far along in your practice; long after you were able to meditate well and effortlessly uphold the precepts.
That’s because meditation and ethical behavior create a mental landscape that’s hospitable to teachings on anatta. Without that foundation, teachings on anatta can be confusing, frightening, or only understood conceptually which makes them easier to cling to, argue about, and ultimately misunderstand.
I don’t usually go into the not-self aspect of anatta with non-Buddhists or new practitioners. I like to focus on the no ownership aspect of it.
I don’t own the things I’m experiencing, they’re all communal property – like a public park.
I might be sitting on a bench at Washington Park admiring a fountain, but that isn’t my bench or my fountain because, at some point, I’m going to get up and leave and someone else is going to sit there admiring the same view.
If something is mine, ya know, legitimately mine, then I should be able to hold onto it; I should also be able to keep it to myself. But I can’t do that. When I feel love, that love isn’t mine because others also feel love, they’re also partaking in that experience.
If I’m mindful of feeling love, I can also realize that that feeling is impermanent, it’s constantly increasing or decreasing. Sometimes it disappears altogether. The same holds true for all of my emotions, habits, beliefs, views, and thoughts.
It also applies to objects like my body, my guitar, or my house. None of them are permanent, they’re changing from day to day, second to second.
So, I like to tackle the my issue before the I issue. This is a lot of work in itself, but it’s a little easier to see not-mine than not-I, it’s also less likely to get people’s hackles up. When someone feels like they’re under attack, that their very identity is at stake, they’re more likely to close their eyes and plug their ears. That’s why comedians can be excellent teachers; they sneak in the truth passed our defenses.
But, I’m not a comedian. I couldn’t tell a decent joke if I had a staff of Grade-A comedians writing for me. So, I have to settle for gentle half-truths in order to ease people into things. That’s the way the Dharma’s always been shared. Well, until Wikipedia that is.
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