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TOPIC: Distance learning

Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 11:41 #16468

I've been thinking about differences between on-line and in-person "sangha", and remembered when I studied programming at a local brick-&-mortar grad school that the courses were offered both on-campus and online, your choice. This school was one of the early adopters of "distance learning" and attracted lots of international students.

Since I was fortunate to live there, it seemed I should take advantage of the chance to go to the classes and interact with students and professors in person. But I often found that classes were scheduled in the evening after teacher and students had been at work all day, everyone was tired, few wanted to stick around, and instructors' body language said "let's get out of here."

By contrast, when I tried some courses online, I could picture the instructor in his/her bath robe, house slippers on the coffee table, with laptop and coffee. Less rushed, laid back, waxing elogquent. And student coloborations on online projects were more substantial. So I did almost the whole degree that way. Totally normal now, 15 years later.

Maybe I'm stuck in baby-boomer world view, but I've had the idea that in-person dharma-practice relationships are more substantial and better. It was an eye opener for me that DhO, KFD, AN, and skype interactions and relationships could be so rich and impactful. But I still felt compelled to seek out a local Buddhist group and teacher several months ago because I thought I was missing something maybe indespensable.

So, I had a doh! moment recently when it occurred to me that it's been like my school experience in some ways. People squeeze in the chance to sit together at times when it's not convenient for them. Sit silently, talk for a few minutes and get on to the next thing (like bed or work). Interactions with the teacher tend to be relatively brief. And if you have a typical busy life, you can't make all of the meetings.

Then there's the affiliation question. Is our group drawn together mostly because we all live here and this group comes as close to fitting our interest as is available locally? So after several months of trying to engage a very nice local group, I find myself comparing it to the quality of affinity that I find online, particularly for me, here. And it's touch [edit: I wonder if this is a Freudian typo, meant to say tough] to build in-person relationships when few of the local people can make it real regularly. It's fun to see different people each time, and you might hit on a serendipitous mutual interest to followup on. So the piece about busy schedules comes in, compared to online where you can do some catch up when you wake up and can't sleep for a few minutes.

So, I wonder if anyone has thoughts about what you might be missing by not doing in-person practice community. One thing is, group sitting can have a really different energy than sitting alone sometimes. But I don't know how important that is. Sometimes I feel like I'm not sitting alone when I get engaged in someone's practice journal. I get a lot more practice stimulus from reading Awake Network than other social interactions.
Last Edit: 16 Nov 2013 11:46 by Kacchapa.
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 11:51 #16470

Thanks for this.

I don't visit a dharma center, but I was an avid church goer in my youth. Some of the same aspects apply.

I find value in both online and in-person communication pertaining to dharma. Whenever I get the chance, I meet my friend Ian for lunch somewhere in Portland. We talk dharma, and the conversation is always very fluid, helpful, and encouraging. It's amazing how well communication flows when it goes beyond the written word. Much less time is spent asking, "Wait, is THIS what you meant?"

I'd love to have more close dharma friends, but I don't know that sitting with the local sangha is the best way I can go about it.
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 12:25 #16477

I have seldom participated in a local dharma group, other than with the folks I meet online, like shargrol, Ron Crouch and Jackha1. I am supremely satisfied with the long distance relationships I have with dharma friends, especially after having met them in person once or even a few times, like when I'm traveling near one of them or at a Buddhist Geeks conference (which is frankly an orgasm of dharma friendliness).
Last Edit: 16 Nov 2013 12:26 by Chris Marti.
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 14:16 #16487

Chris Marti wrote:
an orgasm of dharma friendliness

You have got to send this to Vince for promotional material.
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 15:10 #16489

Whether there's a regular bunch of people may be to do with the specific group - I hung out for some years with a Theravadan group that met once a week and was affiliated with a local monastery, and made good friends, some of whom I'm still in touch with. I never felt I could discuss 'PD" practice with those people, but in retrospect I think this was 'my stuff' - these days I'll often mention, if I know people are meditators, that I'm interested in practice for awakening (as long as I don't call it 'enlightenment') and that seems to be fine. But I got a lot out of that, including hanging with people who were interested in a spiritual path, not much into intoxication, saw the value of practicing morality, etc.

These days I mostly get my in-person spiritual community from AA, though there there are people who are more and less open to dedicated spirituality/contemplation - but no-one will sneer at you talking about it, and many will engage in depth.

I also find that group sits can have an energy that solo sits don't - I rarely if ever do them these days, but in theory would like to more. And particularly, I like groups for that communal energy/consciousness thing, like chanting, kirtan, yoga, those kinds of activities which just don't work solo or online, and for me at the moment I really want to engage in and develop. What this has meant for me recently is that I need to go to groups whose philosophy isn't a precise fit with mine, and often with a bit of a guru-like quality among the inner circles - Hare Krishnas, for example, and I'm thinking now of going along to a Muktananda satsang group and a Nirmalananda yoga place - in order to do those things.

But it pretty much goes without saying I love this community, and without the online stuff who knows where my practice might be... I have a feeling I might be in Burma or India in a monastery or ashram somewhere... though never say never :laugh:
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 16:13 #16492

I can totally see the value in personal interactions -- big BG Conference fanboi here -- but the problem I find with all local sanghas is the lack of common interests, specifically the PD approach to awakening. That said, I have recently found at least one sangha that would be close to my interests (Jeff Warren's group), but then my issue is one of scheduling. With a family and active kids, there just aren't enough hours in the day to squeeze in a 30+ minute drive each way just to meet up. I do so wish it were otherwise, but it is not.

Skype is really the key here. Forums (fora?) are not enough, but Skype is so damn good that it is the next best thing to being there.
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Distance learning 16 Nov 2013 16:35 #16493

The online sangha has been the only way I have been able to interact. Time constraints and lack of contacts in this space around here have meant that its pretty much a solitary thing. Even though lack of time and knowledge/experience to contribute much have limited my involvement in this sangha, its been of great benefit and without it, things would be a lot harder.

Internet has enabled me access to teachers I would have struggled to find or connect with otherwise. Of course it would be great to hang out on a regular basis with other dharma focused folk but can't see that happening. The issues of different paths, different experiences, different interests etc kick in here as well. Similar to Tom, I could see how effective the BG conference was at the networking opportunities etc - although it was very tiring and expensive for me to attend, it was absolutely the best thing to do.
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Distance learning 18 Nov 2013 14:29 #16553

I have some in-person community as well as distance community. It is fun to meet with people in person. Sometimes! Each type of interaction has it's own flavor. Sometimes I want one or another to fill a certain need and it may or may not do that, or it may do so for a time, and then not. In terms of in-person community, there's an advantage to being in a large city where there are more choices of where to go and what to do. It seems online community offers that sort of urban advantage even if you aren't in a big city.
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