By training and temperament, I never access social media for personal matters during intensive retreat — Kyol Che or otherwise. (The only exceptions are for Zen Center admin-related official posts directed toward promotion.) That means, especially, that I do not engage the practice of “liking” or commenting on all the endless social media diarrhea out there during these periods of hard training. This is not to seem “virtuous” or pure; it just feels unseemly for people in meditative retreat to behave “socially” online, like having a cigarette while playing tennis. I know some monks who are very avid social media types, even during silent retreat, and I could never understand that: Even the thought of touching even the smallest part of all that super-superficiality seems so incompatible with the everything the ancients told us about the attitude and focus of the Way-seeking mind. Again, I’m the last person who should try to seem somehow “better” than other fellow practitioners. I just don’t think that anyone who is truly serious about their practice can be engaged with Facebook commenting and “sharing” and “liking” while also making efforts in the work of looking into “don’t know.”
And I am absolutely certain that my Teacher, Dae Soen Sa Nim, would have never, ever allowed that to happen in our retreats, had he lived into the Facebook age. (Died in 2004.) In Mu Sang Sah Temple, in Korea, my older brother, Dae Bong Sunim, forbids retreatants from any Facebook/Instagram-type social media connection during retreat. The temple even asks you to hand in your smartphone when you begin the retreat! Dae Bong Sunim told me recently that people who are compulsively posting, commenting, or “liking” on FB during retreat, no matter their monks’ age, were just killing time, and not looking into themselves at all. I have exactly the same feeling.
This year, after some 27 years of these intensive retreats, but especially since carrying a teaching role which extends beyond the confines of just this retreat-place, I am trying something new, as an experiment: In the time since this baby-blog has appeared two months ago, mostly as a way to have a teaching “home” which is not reliant on social media communication — in other words, it has appeared in order to become free from Facebook as the only means of reaching people — we are having our first Kyol Che retreat. And I have decided to continue to post things here that might have some meaningful content for my students and their practice. After all, the very reason for this blog is to be able to offer “a digital finger pointing at the moon” (as I named the original Tumblr page), away from cat videos and noisy politics and opinions of social media. That pointing is merely a kind of cheap-form Dharma talk, for those at a distance, to augment the (already few and far between) talks I give here in the Zen Center during practice. (And, anyway, is a blog social media, anyway?)
So, while this blog is technically not “social media” in the classic sense of the word, it will be linked to our ZCR Facebook account, so, things that get written here might (and might not, in some cases) get linked there, in order to reach anyone who has expressed interest in my work through the conventional FB outlet. I am going to work hard for this not to become a “substitute” for social media, but rather to be a more “curated” experience than I have heretofore had available for digital teaching.
And yet there is profound discomfort with this “experiment.” But there might be no other way: You see, I have this extraordinary compulsion to spread the technologies of my Teacher, Dae Soen Sa Nim, every day of this short life. I have felt this compulsion since literally weeks after first encountering his practice in the Cambridge Zen Center, and getting some initial tastes of its extreme and right-at-hand benefit, and this “compulsion” has become a vocation, and that vocation has now inspired nearly everything I have said or written or recorded or filmed for the last 30 years. So, making this blog was a lame attempt to have some more consistent base from which to conduct nighttime raids on the sandbagged bastions of samsara, conventional thinking, mere religion, social/religious straightjacketing, etc. etc., employing the guns of whatever I have developed through years of practice of his teachings, and that of others.
So, we will see if maintaining this blog has any benefit. Again, as a Zen practitioner, there is great ambivalence about the whole thing, and about nearly every sentence that comes out. I will keep an eye on whether or not maintaining this blog adds more noise or distraction to my own daily practice, or to the lives of friends and students. The first concern here, every day, is to protect enough time in the busy work of leading a small meditation community, to actually be on the cushion at every single sitting, and to attend every single meal (even the breakfasts, though that is personal fasting time, an added training). If I notice any clouds gathering as a result of this blog-communication — either an unrestrained desire to yak-yak-yak post or needing to deal with an unexpected volume of “incoming” reactions or requests — then this idea, too, can be shut down. I hope, in the meantime, not to embarrass (too much) any students or practitioners of Zen, with my crude, unpracticed expressions.
The most important thing is to practice. Since I am a communicative person — sometimes — by nature, it is unavoidable to want to communicate my own impressions of things encountered through the lens of the focused, practicing life. If it might have any benefit for others who also have this shard of the Great Question lodged in their brains, as I do, then But this must never become any substitute for, or distraction from practice. There are already far far too many distracting opportunities, both for my students, unknowns, and for this errant monk. It would be making immeasurable sin to add yet another flashy-object, if there was not some “Dharma” to come of it.
So, I will continue to blog during retreat, and anytime, for the time being. This is being done for the first time, and it really does feel weird. I wanted to share these reasons why, and why it might also not remain.