On foot of a recent discussion, Taigu asked me to post on the whole question of teaching the Dharma online. Here goes! :wink:
If I said to you that Dogen appeared to me last night in a dream and gave me Dharma Transmission, what would you think? That he had come to me, in his tattered Kesa, emaciated with TB and near death, and given me his robe and bowl? If I believed the dream to be true, you'd think I was crazy, right?
I didn’t have this dream. But it isn’t for nothing that Dharma Transmission of the dream-realm isn’t recognized. If I did dream this – interesting though it may be to a psychoanalyst – it would have very little purchase in the conscious world. No one, not even for a second, would consider that my night-time hallucinations carried any weight.
Jundo and Taigu's teaching of the Dharma over the World Wide Web, particularly their giving of Jukai and Shukke Tokudo over Skype, has been criticized by some. I have read their critics summon the inadmissibility of Dharma Transmission in dream or from the dead as a way of undermining what happens here at Treeleaf. But this criticism is fallacious. No analogy can be drawn between what Jundo and Taigu are doing and interactions in either apparitions or dreams.
As we know from our reading of Master Keizan's Record of Transmitting the Light, "warm hand to warm hand" transmission is given great emphasis in the Soto tradition. Such a Transmission can be verified. An apparition can be the product of a deluded mind, while a dream may be nothing but a manifestation of repressed or wishful thinking. But at each end of a Skype exchange sits a real person. Teacher and student are communicating together intentionally and in real time. As Shohaku Okumura writes in Realizing Genjokoan, there is a "unity of subject and object". The reflection (in this case the flickering image on the computer screen) is a real reflection of the person being reflected. There is no separation between them:
Radically, the reflection of the moon is at one with the moon. And so it is with Dokusan on Skype.[Dogen] is saying that a mirror and reflecting water are not separate from the objects whose images they reflect. In other words, there is no separation between the person who experiences and the objects that are experienced. The subject of experience, the object of experience, and the experience itself are all truly one reality (Okumura: 67).
Incidentally, while dreams get a rough time in Buddhism – just think of the close of The Diamond Sutra – Dogen sees even these dreams as belonging to this one reality, which, as we know, is ultimately empty. And as emptiness goes, critics of encountering the dharma online should bear in mind ontological reality as understood by Dogen in the Shobogenzo.
For Dogen, representations (like Skype 'projections') have the same order of being ultimately that our very flesh and blood has. It is a denial of emptiness to argue that our physical bodies are ultimately real and that our internet selves are not. In Dogen's view, all – our physical selves and our representations or projections – have the ontological status of "painted cakes".
Those that place Jundo and Taigu's endeavor in a lower order of existence are therefore making a fundamental mistake. In more senses than one, the moon [the person] and the moon’s reflection [the person on Skype] all can be broken down to the essential emptiness of form – or, to put it another way, these forms are all empty.[You will realize that] life and death, coming and going, all are a painted picture/ painting a picture (gato); supreme enlightenment is none other than a painted picture/ painting a picture. All the dharma world and the empty sky – there is nothing whatsoever that is not a painted picture/ painting a picture (Dogen: Shobogenzo, ‘Gabyo’).
As Kee-Jin Kim says in Eihei Dogen – Mystical Realist: “all existences were the flowers of emptiness (Kim: 91)” for Dogen. In Dogen’s words: “all things themselves are ultimate reality (Shobogenzo: ‘Kuge’).”
The moon and its reflection. Taigu sitting in Japan and Taigu filling the frame of my computer screen. This is “warm hand to warm hand” communication. Taigu is alive. Jundo is alive. They are not ghosts or some kind of dream. Their representations are not apparitions (although sometimes they can be a bit ghostly, especially on Justin TV). When we talk to Jundo and Taigu, it can be verified that it was not a dream that took place.
Maybe Treeleaf’s critics should go back to Master Dogen and have a rethink for themselves. Or maybe they should just do as I'm about to do now: simply revert to silence and sit. Gassho.