In the metaphor of the diamond net of Indra, there is a glittering jewel at every juncture of the vast web of consciousness, a jewel intimately connected with, and reflecting, every other. It is a fitting analogy for virtual reality and the World Wide Web—an interconnected universe where one URL can ultimately link to every other. A kalpa’s worth of Buddhist material has accumulated on the Web, and the offerings range from the scholarly (the Virtual Buddhist Library of the University of Australia links to literally hundreds of academic sites and Buddhist texts in translation around the world) to the muscular (a “how-to” site rich with photos where the home page reads “may every visitor here be inspired to sponsor, build, repair, and maintain stupas throughout the world without the slightest bias.”) to the pop (a Gen-X-style intro to Buddhism where right speech is a tip in the “Coping with Life” column, and a witty cartoon strip about a monk and his savvy cat dispenses dharma). What follows is a random sampling of some of the gems the Net has to offer.
To experience website as encyclopedia, visit the vast www.tibet.com, the official site of the Tibetan government in exile. A compendium of thumbnail reports—on everything from the four principal schools of Tibetan Buddhism and Bonpo religions to the place of deities, mudras, oracles, butter lamps, and prayer in practice to Tibet’s history, recent and distant—reveals such esoteric nuggets as this, from the writings of the Dalai Lama on the Nechung Oracle: “Now [his] face transforms, becoming rather wild before puffing up to give him an altogether strange appearance, with bulging eyes and swollen cheeks. His breathing begins to shorten and he starts to hiss violently.”
Another exhaustively deep and rich virtual archive is Access to Insight: Readings in Theravada Buddhism. Painstakingly maintained by John Bullitt, a Theravadin practitioner who launched (with the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Massachusetts) one of the first Buddhist bulletin boards, this is a dense library of translated texts from the Pali canon, complete with study guide and search tools to help you navigate. Just dipping in randomly is fun, and footnotes point out Pali puns and wordplay—Buddhist humor otherwise lost in translation.
Most sanghas and practice centers now have websites, and most of these offer more or less the same menu: a teacher biography, a history of his or her lineage, a schedule and sangha news, and transcriptions of the teacher’s dharma talks. But sometimes, these pages bear unexpected gifts. At the website of southern California’s Mount Baldy Zen Center, under the direction of Rinzai Master Joshu Sasaki Roshi, click on the newsletter archive icon to find verses by the monks, among them Jikan Leonard Cohen. Zen practice has altered some of the content, but not the old sardonic tone, as with a poem called “The Drunkard Becomes Gender Free,” which closes with these quintessentially Cohen lines: G-d is such a monkey / And He’s such a woman too / SHe’s such a place of nothing / SHe’s such a face of you / May SHe crash into your temple / And look out thru’ your eyes / And make you fall in love / With everybody you despise.”
And then there’s Web surfing as daily practice with overcoming desire. Forget porn sites. Mara served up no greater temptation than ebay.com, the Web’s notorious auction site where, as with marketing everywhere, acquisition can be cloaked in a flimsy “Buddhist” veil. On a recent foray, typing the word “Buddha” in ebay’s “Search” field rendered no fewer than 814 entries, ranging from “Buddha power beads” (read: cheap glass malas) to a zany “Buddha Crossing” faux street sign, to a 1950s chrome cigarette lighter in the shape of meditating Buddha to a stunning twelfth-century “Angkor Wat Style” triptych of devas that was once upon a time lifted from a temple somewhere. This latter entry typifies some of the superb Buddhist art that shows up on ebay—as on amazon.com’s auction pages—with much of it being sold by established dealers around the United States. But unless you know what you’re looking for, and buy from a dealer who offers a track record and a money-back guarantee if your appraiser doesn’t authenticate that antique Thai amulet, browsing Buddha on ebay can drain the wallet and reveal new levels of craving.
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