Web and Connectivity

One presenter for this group pulls out her iPad to read her notes. Everyone laughs. It’s a momentary release from the close attention we’ve been paying, whether listening or speaking up. The techno-savvy scribe, an MRO student from New Jersey, begins by stating the obvious: the website sorely needs our attention. We all agree it should be more dynamic yet easier to navigate, more up-to-date with a bigger internet presence. It’s impossible to bring this up without an anxious nod to time, labor and money. So the challenge becomes, how to harness the knowledge of the sangha?

A current, interactive site would benefit the Temple as well as the affiliate groups around the world, helping them to stay plugged into training. Streaming video is a possibility. There is an impromptu request for Sunday liturgy streamed live via Skype. A city student longs for a voluntary email and/or phone tree to help downstate sangha find rides up to the Monastery, or get contact information. This is the natural segue to Facebook, MySpace, YouTube—and the pros and cons of social networking for spiritual practitioners.

There is automatic consensus: we must engage the internet since it is happening whether we participate or not—and happening fast. So for instance, in terms of disseminating information, are blogs appropriate? What about posted responses, unsolicited opinions? How can we be responsible for the content—ours and others’?

A young monk steps to the microphone. “How much do we want to be and remain connected? Do we want to send updates every week, every day?” she asks. “How does that work with our practice of stillness and simplicity?”

A presenter mentions the precept: Be generous. Do not be withholding, acknowledging that we both want to express ourselves in a way that touches a great many people, but are also concerned about how to do this appropriately.

Transforming the ZMM website will be a demanding but essential undertaking—a 21st century koan encompassing mountain and marketplace.

The Mountains and Rivers Order

The presenter begins with the MRO’s relationship to other Zen Buddhist orders around the world. The sangha would like to remain connected to the Soto school in Japan, though perhaps more informally than in the past. Recognizing that rich training opportunities exist for MRO students in Japan, is there the possibility of crossfertilization? We feel we have things to offer them as well as things to learn.

In our own country and in Europe, we hope to see more exchange between teachers and students from other western Zen orders. There is also talk of hosting events like the Dogen Conference, and other greater American Zen Buddhist gatherings.

Concerns about financial stability, endowments, and sustainability are voiced. Is there an optimal size for us? Space is a pressing reality. The solution of a larger facility in the city is on the table again.

Fluidity and growth are persistent currents in all our discussions. At the same time we have to wonder, if we continue to grow and reach more people, are we asking too much of our teachers? “That came up repeatedly,” the presenter emphasizes. “The sangha needs to take care of Shugen Sensei and Ryushin Sensei. And not let them burn out.”

We wonder if the other monastics and senior lay students might play a greater role with the sitting groups and outreach. The sangha would like to see the monks out in the community more. Why not hire lay students to perform certain administrative tasks that would then free up the monks?