Members of the White Plum Asanga at the group’s 2009 conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo © Barbara Joshin O'Hara
Members of the White Plum Asanga at the group’s 2009 conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo © Barbara Joshin O’Hara

Jan Chozen Bays pauses a moment along the flagstone path. “See this earth?” She points to a patch of dirt. “These days people are frightened of it. They’d rather be in front of a computer screen, or sit side by side texting each other, than have a face-to-face conversation.”

I’m attending the annual conference of the White Plum Asanga, an organization of dharma successors descended from Taizan Maezumi Roshi and the largest single lineage network of Zen teachers in the West. On assignment for Tricycle, I’m the only non–dharma holder in attendance, though I’ve practiced in this lineage for over 20 years. Chozen Roshi, one of the first Americans to be sanctioned as a Zen teacher, is coabbott along with her husband, Hogen, of the Great Vow Zen Monastery in Oregon. Our conversation began as an analysis of the possible dharmic uses of Facebook—which I think we’re about to conclude are basically nil.

In five minutes walking along these flagstones, we seem to have touched on nearly every aspect of the virtual sphere, from creating fictional online identities through the procedures used for testing video games.

“Still,” says Chozen, “underneath it all there’s this great need for connection.”

If truth be told, I’m a bit charmed that this senior Zen teacher would take time out of these busy two days to chat with me on a matter so apparently peripheral. But this seems to be Chozen’s way. Whenever our paths have crossed over the years, she’s always been, as the Zen phrase goes, “just like this.” As we close our conversation, however, I realize she’s been angling gently toward a point that is not peripheral at all: “It’s our responsibility in Zen to keep this faceto- face teaching alive.”

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