To Internet or not to Internet
This posting is a bit longer than my previous posts so you may want to copy it into your computer for later review instead of reading it through now.
Two members of the AZ sangha, senior students, over 50, emailed me expressing their concern that I’d set up a Blog, an internet activity, associating the schools name, and the word, sangha in the title.
My response to one of them was that I was a hybrid student having also been in a school where the teacher used the internet extensively. Later I thought my response of ‘hybrid’ was an evasion of the issue. So what is, or what are the issues?
Their concern seemed to be that I’m not just engaging the internet which LL had strongly criticized and quite adamantly warned about as dangerous, by associating the school or the school name in it. Having stated this persons concern, I don’t recall his prohibiting our use of it. But he might have? I think he might have even called ‘it’ evil?
I think there are at least 3 issues I’m exploring. LL’s speech, how we understand/interpret it, and why we interpret it as we do? What the implications are in how we interpret it.
So why was LL creating such caution for this seemingly innocent servant –the Internet?
Certainly unconscious use of the internet can be harmful to ones work but still… over the last week of writing this piece and mulling over this internet question, it strongly seems to me that LL had more in mind than just warning us? Was it beware or stay away, from internet use?
With my deepening exploration of this issue I find contradictions that beg a deeper exploration of the question of internet usage.
His, LL’s, own relationship to the internet was complex. Though he repeatedly warned of and condemned it he had others work on it for commercial purposes of one of his business’s. And I once saw someone obtaining a movie show time schedule said it was at his request which they acknowledged they were doing at his request. He didn’t attempt to stop, or curb, any of the community businesses from marketing on line. And one of them has the generic name we use for the community; which is buried in my blog title. Though the way I use the informal name of the school it would not show up in a search.
Strict or literal interpretations, and it’s all our interpretation no matter what the words to prove our point are kind of wanting to play it ‘safe’. Safe is like stay on the well worn path etc. it implies there is a dangerous way. What is dangerous? Obviously in this case that which distracts us from our work. And maybe that’s all that’s really dangerous. It implies that non-literal, liberal, or apparently different and unorthodox understandings are likely to be dangerous. Literal, conservative, orthodox and fundamental interpretations imply or suggest that we should live life as safely as we can understand and as usefully as possible. Not bad depending. (Remember the David Bowie Quote in the first post?) But, I don’t see that this leads to maturity as – standing on my own 2 feet responsible for my decisions. Not when I’m second guess and trying to follow what someone else believes.. And there is a real, though temporary, danger when you don’t know and do what you can to the best of your own lights. The thing is then your mistakes are your own earned learning opportunity. Sometimes you guess right and sometimes you may be off the mark. And you won’t know till later if ever.
“Be prepared for truth at all hours and in the most fantastic disguises, That is the only safety.” Christopher Morley
Maybe you can find truth on the internet even.
For me all descriptions of ‘just this’ are interpretations. Like the marketing term “value added” we do “meaning added”. Mostly we are not conscious of the meanings we add and assume others have the same meanings as we do. The Tower of Babble still raises.
“You are out of danger,” he said. I laughed and said, “How can that be? I don’t feel dead yet.” – Margaret Laurence.
LL’s utterances appear to me as intentionally complex and often ambiguous. His contradicting himself, his “twilight” or “liminal” speech, his poetic use of language, his story telling and so on, it seems that he didn’t want his words understood as The Truth and carved in stone. Why? Maybe he wouldn’t play by our rules and let the teaching get nailed down, with fences constructed and sides taken.
He gave us tools with which to sort it out like: “be that which nothing can take root in” inquiry, just this, beginners mind, and more.
Everyone wants to win. Having access to the ‘good book’ of right behavior gives a place to hang your hat, relax and stop having to struggle with the complexities and ambiguities of life. It’s the assumption that if I can find out the rules I can be right and then I win.
The other polarity of ‘laissez-faire dharma’ can lead to a sloppiness of “it’s all good”. Again diligence needs to be exercised. It’s just a different way of loosing our edge than fundamentalism. Let’s take a poll, which is the more dangerous fundamentalism or the new-age? And the coin lands on its edge.
An aside here, perhaps.
(One of the dictionary definitions of ‘laissez-faire’ “The problems associated with laissez-faire leadership can intensify when a follower does not have the capabilities to compensate”.) I’ll restate that: when you haven’t learned critical thinking and accountability then you need to be told much more. (That’s the problem inherent with democracy; most people in the world don’t have the personal resources for democratic government.)
What is our aim in this school, is it to be a Devotee? Then how we define Devotee is very important. Let’s try this definition: to practice as well as I/we can, according to my own lights, with the willingness to ask for help. I guess some people don’t trust that they’ve enough light and so try to adhere rigidly to Lee’s words with whatever understanding they understanding. But I can’t really be sure that I understand what his intent was. Maybe, certainly, he wanted -that we develop the discrimination, or the instinct, to know and act in a way that keeps us moving on course?
Reminds me I once heard someone in the sangha say, “That’s what the mind does, it questions.” (And I didn’t have the wit to check that our!) It seemed the person meant that questioning was not a useful activity. My take is that this is more than an isolated but an unconscious mindset of this school. That LL and only LL really new the truth and we, the sangha can do little more than review his words and try to follow his direction. This shoe obviously doesn’t fit everyone, but I’d guess there is a majority vote here. The problem is that life keeps rearranging the props so that we still find ourselves in new situations requiring out creative presence. Like LL going subtle and leaving us with “this fine mess” as Guridief put it upon his check out.
If he said the internet was evil, I think we need to think carefully about that. Things are empty, it’s how we use or misuse them that may be problematic. Or did he say our use of the internet could become evil?
(Personally I don’t believe in evil, especially around things. There is no evil, there are degrees of ignorance of our self nature and of truth, and an extreme of ignorance, as in total disconnection from our nature allows people to do horrible things. Does that kind of linguistic philosophical hair splitting have any use in this consideration? For me it does as our use of language reflects our belief systems and creates and values and creates our reality. I’m no longer 25 sorting out my values. I’ve struggled to clarify them and am not going to drop pr change them without very careful review especially upon others suggestion. A wise man said to me long ago, “No matter what you see going on around here you are responsible for your common sense”. “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Shakespeare.
In the end I, we all, pay the bill on the action and choices anyway.
LL strong warning say’s to me to be alert, practice attention and discrimination, when on the internet. Certainly the use of the internet can be problematic as can driving a car if you’re not paying attention. In the USA people have used car-exhaust to asphyxiate themselves intentionally. It’s much more difficult to damage property, kill others or yourself with internet usage. The internet is like television on steroids. The dangers of television apply to the interne exponentially. The thing is that perhaps it’s biggest danger is that we consider it as harmless, while we see it as useful. With a car you know that a moment’s lapse of attention could signal disaster but with the internet you dive into the “rabbit-hole’ (Alice in Wonderlands world of distorted perceptions) without even realizing you’re in there. At the least it can be a huge waste time with undirected unintended use. (I’ve wasted more time than I want to think about maintaining my PC’s in some working order. I regret the day that I bought a PC instead of a Mac.) And our time, -or how we use it, what activities we choose to occupy ourselves with- is the most precious possibility we have.
Unless we learn to ask questions without easy answers and stay with them, learning how to think critically in the process, we are going to always be dependent on others on “experts” telling us what to do and how to think. I don’t believe that’s what LL wanted of us. He was a kind of “expert” for us but now it’s up to us. ‘The book of L’ isn’t going to cover every situation or decision we’ll have to make.
The unexamined life is the life un-lived. -Socrates
A story that came to mind during my journey into this consideration.
I heard that a teacher I once worked with made some very strong warnings and admonitions about not going into San Francisco, that it was contaminated. That school was maybe 2-3 hours away from SF. He said it was contaminated. This was in the early 90’s I believe. Sometime later I found out that one of his long time local students had died of Aids. I made the guess then that this was probably why this teacher had made such a ridiculous assertion that SF was contaminated. Was he doing what he could to avert this mans possible future?
So teachers can make recommendations that are pretty non-linear and there is still intent.
To muddy the waters further. LL was a self proclaimed fundamentalist regarding maintaining the tradition. The internet is certainly not part of the tradition. The internet could become a diluting element to our tradition of Bhakti, Bauls, tantric shaivism, Hinduism and whatever else I’m leaving out. This doesn’t look like apples and apples
to me, but then I’m clueless regarding traditions.
Blow out your brains and let your heart sort this out.