Tanya McGinnity is a Gen X punk rock Buddhist girl who is a student of Nalandabodhi and honing her skills as a meditation teacher. Blogger, tweeter, culture freaker who is also interested in comic books, video games, movies and pugs. Tanya's blog is Full Contact Enlightenment.

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche once mentioned in a talk that,

“The buddhadharma is like genuine water, which has no color or shape. It is pure and natural. This is genuine wisdom. All the world’s different languages and cultures are like the container for this water. Without the container, the water cannot be preserved.

Without water, there’s not much use for the container. The container may change from language to language and from culture to culture, but the essence of the water is always the same — something we share universally. That essence is the words of wisdom, the words of the Buddha. The container is only a support to allow us to receive and enjoy the contents, the authentic buddhadharma.”

In the West, more and more people are microwaving up heaping portions of dharma. Meals that were prepared long ago, but kept warm by today’s teachers, translators and students. We’re gobbling down platefuls of Hinayana, sharing our McMahayana Nuggets and slurping soup bowls of hot Vajrayana. All chefs add their own special blend of spices to the basic recipe. Some teachers serve up the dharma military-style on a basic divided metal tray. Others give you a little spoonful of moist chocolate cake after they just had you nibble the bitter instructions on impermanence (it kind of tastes like a lima bean). A spoonful of sugar…

Happy and not so Happy Meals. With each passing experience, we don’t really know what will end up on the menu. “Heartburn, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach…” or a divine creamy blend of “zen wrapped in karma and dipped in chocolate”.

The universality of the container used to hold the buddhadharma is not really of great importance. It is the teachings within that have much more flavor than what you get from chewing on the lid of a Tupperware lunchbox.

It’s common knowledge that our ‘containers’ are getting younger these days as a new generation of teachers and practitioners assume their place on the Buddhist landscape. The dharma is being communicated via new methods, such as online discussion groups, podcasts, meetings in virtual worlds, comic books and other elements that are very much an ingrained part of Gen X, Y and Z culture. These vehicles aren’t for everyone, as many claim that they do more to distort the initial teachings than to act as aides. But I believe it’s important to balance both the original texts with independent practice using some of these various supports. A Rebel Buddha is wise to learn the original song before running off to create the remix and hoping to make it on the charts.

It’s remarkable to see the dharma flourishing in the West and to have more and more people dedicate themselves to the path of inquiry and discovery. What this means for future generations is hard to say just yet, but I am invigorated by the principles of wisdom and compassion, which are continuing to be manifested in the world.

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  1. avatar Tyler Dewar says:

    “A Rebel Buddha is wise to learn the original song before running off to create the remix and hoping to make it on the charts.”

    Great line, Tanya! And great post as well. It is indeed magical, how compassion and wisdom can take on so many beneficial forms. I’m still working on that darn E7 chord!

    much appreciation,


  2. avatar Dharma soy latte mochachino half-caff with cinnamon says:

    People have grown complacent in terms of the teachings, as they now consider the most urgent situation possible to be subject to their various needs for comfort.

    “No, not enough sugar” .. “No, thats too hot” .. “No, I wanted whipped cream” .. “No, it should be like I told you”

    and so on and so forth. However, the teachings are not a tasty treat for those people who would have the world delivered to them on a silver platter. They are not designed to placate your concerns and give you warm, fuzzy feelings about yourself and your little place in the world.

    It is necessary to look at the demand for this kind of comfort food if you wish to work with the dharma. But the dharma itself is not necessary for your silver-platter life, as it is always possible to ignore it, if you wish.

    You may concern yourself with all manner of things instead. You may award yourself many great titles and medals along the way. You may build up your resume, and acquire millions of precious dollars.

    Many things are possible in the quest to avoid the most urgent situation possible.

    • avatar SvR says:

      Very true Dharma soy latte, but you must admit, a stiff cup of expresso can go along way towards facilitating mindfulness – especially around 3pm on a workday. . .

      Comfort, like pain, is just another illusion along the way. Who can say which one is more helpful at any given point in time? Personally, I’ve needed to learn how to be comforted just as much as I’ve need to learn how to abandon comfort.

      • avatar thanks, but.. says:

        It isnt about comfort or pain, thats the point. It isnt about what is helpful or learning awesome new things. As you say, they are just another illusion along the way.

        Endless consumption is its own reward. Enjoy whatever you wish.

        But dont shit in my hand and call it chocolate.

      • avatar SvR says:

        Agreed “Thanks but” – if I shit in your hand, it would be foolish (and unkind) to pretend it was chocolate. The point is to recognize shit as shit – and that there’s no real difference between shit and chocolate, except the relative experience of taste, texture, temperature and smell. Until I reach enlightenment, however, I’m sticking with my expresso.

      • avatar Tanya says:

        On the topic of poop and chocolate… I was just reading about “the yoga of one taste” in Ponlop Rinpoche’s book “Wild Awakening”.

        “The is one taste because there is only one emptiness, one reality- one absolute truth.”

        Now I will get back to eating my lunch… which I recognize as lunch…

        Thanks for weighting in. I appreciate the discourse.

      • avatar SvR says:

        LOL – great use of a dharma quote to cut through our grossness. Sorry to have spoiled your lunch, but I guess this thread shows the editors are tending towards tolerance in what they will tolerate for comments. I was holding my breath to see if they would post my musings on the relative properties of non-chocolateness . . . I’m happy to climb back out of the gutter now.

  3. avatar Tanya says:

    Whoa Sven! That’s the first time I’ve seen that! Now I’m waiting for Tara as Wonder Woman :)

  4. avatar Karma Yeshe Gyaltsen says:

    @tanya…You made a very important statement: “These vehicles aren’t for everyone, as many claim that they do more to distort the initial teachings than to act as aides.”

    I would have liked to see you make the case for why you think this isn’t so, as shown by your going on to suggest a mashup of traditional practice and modern “supports” ie social media etc.

    Perhaps the question should be ” What is there in our culture which would serve as a support for the teaching, and what aspects are counter productive, and why?

    I shudder to think that folks are embarking on the work of building a new ediface for Buddhism, without having thought through the ramifications of whatever choices they make.

    When making fine wine, a container is needed. It has been demonstrated that old oak barrels work well, and the reasons for this can be described and understood. On the other hand, although old oil barrels, or even new plastic ones can hold wine, the outcome is bad wine. It is not just a question of our wanting to fill what we have with wine because it is “our” container.

    Proposing a “balance” as a solution to this does not really address the issues at hand IMO.

    When I used to roof hop, the middle way would have resulted in my falling between buildings to the hard pavement below.

    Perhaps if you would like to summarize what people’s objections are to pouring the dharma into “modern” containers, and then go on to refute those objections I would have more faith in your arguments.

    best wishes to all


    • avatar SvR says:

      Very interesting post Tanya, and I love your blog.

      @KYG and Tanya – “Internet Dharma” a.k.a. “Dharma surfing” is here to stay, so lets work with it.

      When we talk about “traditional practice” being swept away by the force of a high speed, global, digitalized community of spiritual seekers, now free to exchange ideas and experiences without the constraints of a religious hierarchy, part of me finds that incredibly exciting and liberating. At last a great diversity of voices can be heard, and a greater range of issues can be freely discussed. Vive la révolution!

      On the other hand, we also loose (at least in the short run) the kind of physical community, stability and ritual that traditional practice offer. The continuity and repetitiveness of ritual, for example, is a very powerful aide to cutting through habitual patterns. Does digital dharma practice demand the same kind of commitment that traditional practice does? If not, what is lost?

      Arguably digital practice is less committed and lacks intimacy and depth, because the surfer only remains engaged on the surface, free to depart at the click of a mouse once the going gets tough. When you go to a live teaching, or when you work with a teacher, or when you are part of a sangha, its harder to just walk away.

      By allowing other people to actually witness our struggle, we enter into a kind of spiritual intimacy that helps us open our hearts to other people (or it helps us discover the extent to which we are afraid to open our hearts). Internet chats, blogs and digital communities can only go so far in developing that kind of intimacy, because the link between participants is so easily discarded with the click of button.

      So, I think digital containers are great for transporting wisdom,for connecting people and getting the message out – but they are less well suited for actual practice because they don’t allow us to share our full humanity, and our full presence, with each other.

      What’s the point of Internet dating and chatting if it doesn’t lead to an actual kiss?

    • avatar Tanya says:

      @Karma Yeshe Gyaltsen You are totally correct in saying that you’d like to see more of a support or discussion related to “modern supports” as I really didn’t have enough time (or space) to fully formulate and explain or investigate this further. I will certainly follow write a post related to your question of ”What is there in our culture which would serve as a support for the teaching, and what aspects are counter productive, and why?”

      I think in someways it isn’t so much the supports – or what we use that is the problem but how we use it. I can find myself just as judgemental online as I am “in meatspace”. I’m not sure if there is something in social media that makes me less discriminating… Thanks for inspiring further inquiry on that one.

      @SvR Great points! I think you covered quite a bit of ground with your reply in relating these channels as more of a means to transmit information. Nothing beats the face to face connection you get from personal contact and I’m sure the gurus didn’t have in mind “Transmission through Twitter”! An mp3 of a finger snap!

      @a surfer girl – Thanks for that poem. Can I post this on my blog with a credit to you? And do you have a blog? I want to read more.

  5. avatar a surfer girl says:

    The Buddha is a grain of sand
    that becomes glass in the hands
    of red hot youth. Brilliant
    and clear, sharp and cutting
    it too, will become soft,
    and rounded in the sea of time,
    tumbled by the tides and
    tossed ashore, clouded
    pebbles of faded color.

    The Buddha is the hot oil
    spewing forth from the earth’s
    wounds, the blackness
    of greed, of everlasting decay.
    It too, will become soft,
    and rounded in the sea of time,
    tumbled by the tides and
    tossed ashore, naga tears,
    tar balls of our passing.

    Go, sit on the beach
    and watch the waves.
    You are alive, for now.
    Jam, smoke, surf, and rage,
    then sit on the beach
    and watch the waves.

  6. avatar Mike Munro says:

    I am wondering what people think constitutes a genuine container. Personally I don’t feel the internet is a real container. To me it is more of a support or facilitator. When I think container for the lineage of the Buddha I think of practice materials, practice space, genuine teachers, practitioners, even organizations that support these. The internet is an aspect of how people practice and communicate, yet it doesn’t really constitute a container does it? Or does it? Assuming you agree that a container is necessary, what then is a genuine container?

    • avatar Tanya says:

      That’s a pretty good question and I think it all comes down to how we define container.

      I tend to agree with the idea of the internet being a support or facilitator for study and practice, but on the other hand, it can also distract and keep us (me- in particular) from these activities. Ah duality!

      I’d be interested to hear what Buddhist masters have to say on this as ultimately they are the ones filling the cups.

      From your question, I just starting asking myself:
      - If there was no internet, would Buddhism still exist?
      - If there were no dharma books, would Buddhism still exist?
      - If there were no teachers, would Buddhism still exist?

      Thanks for helping me to do a bit more self inquiry Mike.

  7. avatar Perplexity says:

    Not sure that the Internet is a “container” for Buddhism — but as a communication tool, it is certainly letting people communicate with a much wider group than they would have at any other time.

    Tanya — I totally agree with you that the problem is not the support or the medium of communication that we use, but how we use it. I’m not sure about online Buddhists, but some people get so “hooked” by being online that their “meatspace” (as you put it) relationships suffer…and some people use the Internet to project an “alter ego”. Are we being honest online? Our we really being who we are? Are we acting online with compassion or does being online “liberate” us to act like jerks?

    The Internet (I think) can be a great support for people who don’t have a teacher or a sangha nearby. It can be the source of new friendships, challenging discussions, encountering new ideas…but I don’t think that it’s a replacement for face to face practice. I think it’s best to practice with a sangha in person, if you can, along with our time spent online. While I’m honest about myself online, I’m challenged during face to face encounters in ways that I would never be challenged if not practicing with others in person — facing others and chanting with others and speaking in front of others is a good challenge for me, an introverted type. I also wouldn’t have anyone to tell me I was slouching, or correct my hand position when sitting…

  8. avatar Philip says:

    I think the least important container for dharma is the “dharma center”. The container is in it’s practice. If we are in practice and mindful to come back to the breath, or whatever object/non-object of practice regardless of whether or not it’s sadhana, mahayana, or simple meditation practice, that’s one cantain,er, hmm. But, isn’t the best container, what we do every moment in the so-called post-meditation practice? Everyday dharma. The dharma of brushing teeth, the dharma of driving to work, the dharma of spreadsheets, the dharma of laying bricks.

    Sh*t, Tiliopa crushed sesame seeds during the day and was a pimp at night, as a practice, specifically to achieve realization of mind. And, when he guided his own student Naropa to see his mind, Tilo’s initial “pointing out” instruction was to slap the dude up-side his head with a shoe!

    I think we forget with live in a realtive world, not some sort of utopian heaven. That worn out axiom “be here now”, really -is- the main practice! Meditation and the rest; tis all grist for the mill in knowing our minds. I think there is little doubt that it’s a lot easier to sit when I’ve laundered my clothes, cleaned the house and even had a good nights sleep.

    I think such tasks are just as good a practice than our more formalist Buddhist practices. Maybe, no matter what we do or where we are, the container is there, as long as we stay mindful of it. Otherwise we may fall in to the trap of such activities being just another samsaric habitual pattern. It is the same mindfulness to keep in practice. Intentions aside, practice itself can become a mindless escape, and we wind up with just another OCD like habit, only disguised as dharma practice. Ergo, probably the container is simply mindfulness itself.

  9. [...] wrote a post over at the Rebel Buddha blog last week on “Heating up the Dharma: The Container Principle” so do pop over there if you want to check it out or add your comments. There’s a decent [...]

  10. avatar Tanya says:

    This link came my way last week and I wanted to share it as an example of an online sangha.

    Would love to hear your thoughts…


  11. avatar Susan says:

    Thank you Tanya – this is a great link and it bridges your blog, and Rev. Danny’s discussion of intra-faith community.

    I’m struck by the trust, faith and respect Thich Nhat Hahn demonstrates towards his students and an unknown on-line community. It’s pretty fearless to hand the teachings over to a bunch of young, lay, computer geeks, to see what they can do with it, and to encourage your monks to roll with it. He has a profound confidence that dharma, timeless and formless, can’t be “ruined” by non-monastics and he has a genuine openness to the diversity of human expression. Thich Nhat Hahn also has this amazing ability to always sees the best in those around him. It’s no surprise then that the people around him tend to rise to the occasion and give him their best.

    I love the “Ask a Dharma Teacher” idea. I wish there was a site where practitioners could ask questions of experienced yogis or mediators, or where practitioners could simply share and discuss their practice with other mediators.

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