Sunday, September 18, 2011

Pen Pals and Kindness in the Cybersangha

My father and mother met as pen pals during the war. Dad was in North Africa rebuilding things that had been blown up. Mum was in a bunker in England plotting the location of incoming bombers. Both of them painted watercolours.

It seems a group of the ladies started it, each writing a little about themselves in a batch of letters delivered to the boys overseas.

Someone with a stack of letters came into my dad's camp and said, "Harry, this one must be for you - she paints too." And so began a very sweet exchange of letters that lasted until Dad took a posting in England to be closer to Mum. The only catch was he had to dig up unexploded bombs! Happily, none went off, the war ended, and they married soon after.

As a newcomer to the cybersangha, I at first thought this was the crest of a new wave of spreading compassion, a fresh way for bodhicitta to manifest in the wonderful world of our evolving appreciation of our interdependence - Indra's Net on the internet.

I still believe this, however the idea is certainly not new.

In the 1994 Summer issue of Tricycle, Gary L. Ray wrote:
"There's nothing lonelier than a Buddhist in Alabama" is the kind of comment I hear from many Buddhists who live in outlying regions of North America where their sangha is small or nonexistent and information about Buddhist practice and philosophy is scarce. By tapping into computer networks, however, geographic isolation can be overcome. This rapidly expanding "cybersangha" provides support and community for Buddhists around the world. From your home, you can now send a message to anyone (who has a computer, a modem, and a telephone line) within seconds, and usually at the cost of a local phone call.
Old or new, I am constantly touched by the kindness and generosity of those who take the time to write in cyberspace, from little tweets of sympathy for a personal loss, to words of wisdom and encouragement in widely read blogs by practitioners like Marguerite Manteau-Rao, exhortations to compassionate action by socially engaged Buddhists like Maia Duerr, online sermons from our Unitarian Universalist Zen friends James Ford Roshi and Meredith Garmon, and online journal posts by Lewis Richmond and Joan Halifax Roshi, to name only a very, very few.  Online meditation communities, like the Online Meditation Crew (#OMCru on Twitter) have sprung up to bridge the gaps of distance and disablility. The Buddhist blogs listed in my blogroll (over 100 at last count) are surely just the tip of a much greater iceberg.

Whatever we call our practice, may it flourish, spreading the wonderful mystery that is kindness, one link at a time.


  1. David,

    How wonderful to hear the story of how your mom and dad met, and then linking that to the dharma community that is woven together through the Internet.

    I also remember those early days of the Web when the possibilities for connection were wide open (and they still are!). While there is certainly a shadow side to our pervasive use of computers and technology, it has opened up so many pathways for connection as well... and I am grateful for getting to know you through this medium and via your blog.


  2. Thank you so much, Maia, it has been a pleasure getting to know you too! BTW if you checked this post when the links were down, they are fixed now :)

  3. Hi David. Really enjoyed your post, touching story about your parents. Like you i find a great sense of community on line amongst the sangha. It has been great to connect with you and share practice even though we are thousands of miles apart.

  4. A lovely a romantic novel ....thank you for sharing :)

  5. Thank you for following my blog David. Love this post, beauty read.

  6. Wonderful how your parents love of art brought them to the love of each other... And to the creation of you!
    Beautiful story!

    And for all the negatives we can cast on this (sometimes) time-stealer of the www - If not for it we would never have met either. I am grateful for the whole of it.

  7. Hi Thane, thanks, and the same to you! I enjoyed your blog post on the subject (Buddhist Practice: Twitter and the #OMCru) over at My Journey.

    Thanks Debra! BTW nice work over at The Blue Lotus Café!

    Bea, thanks - so am I! I should have mentioned your tireless efforts on your blog PROVOKED on behalf of our mute cousins.

    Dear Susan, thank you! It’s nice to meet you in the blogosphere - your posts at Sincerity, Cleanliness & Good Presentation get my mouth watering every time!

    Dear folks, I tried to insert hyperlinks to your blogs in the above comments but Blogger doesn’t seem to like my HTML. I’ll keep working on it, but meanwhile links to your blogs can be found on the blogroll ->

  8. Wonderful story!
    Wonderful post!

    Thank you.

  9. what a lovely story of how your parents met. Even with that slow technology of hand to pen to paper and a postal service, they connected.

    I have made many happy connections over cyber space -- and I love your characterization of cybersangha. Whether Buddhist or not, the idea of cyber communities joining people together makes me glad. A positive counterpoint to world.

  10. Thanks, Tara! I agree - the growth of cyber communities is really heartening.

  11. Thank you David! Yes, cybersangha is very real and powerful. Thank you for being such an important part of mine . . . :)

  12. Thank you, Marguerite - very kind words coming from a beacon of the blogosphere. Nice job on your new web site The Present Care Project!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...