If Buddhist and Zen Buddhist forums serve as any indication of how Buddhism is doing in the West when it comes to having a basic college 101 grasp of what the Buddha taught, we are in deep doo-doo. Most forums are not places like class rooms. In fact what you may learn is dead wrong.
In general, internet forums are not moderated to encourage academic discussions, but to limit wrangling, emotional fire fights, chronic spammers, and other such uncool things. The worst forums are moderated to keep out certain views such as rebirth or the matter of the âtman in Buddhism or anything too close to the notion of mysticism, all of which represents the minority opinion.
Dharma centers (including Tibetan centers) and Zen centers are worse still. There is an unspoken, silent dogma—but nevertheless a dogma—subtending the particular center. Members of the center are expected to conform to the dogma and be obedient. For example, if the Zen teacher is discussing a koan treating it as some kind of moral lesson, or life lesson, it is not a good idea to change the discussion to reflect on the idea of the hua-t’ou (lit. ante word) or what k’an-hua Ch’an is. Western Zen centers enjoy their koans mundane even though koans were always intended to be expedients to help us drop the bad habit of trying to conceptualize our way to satori. In addition, most Zen centers are very strong on zazen, that is sitting meditation. Such practices are more ritual than substance. Zazen is rather limited, although in Japanese Soto Zen it appears to be the alpha and omega of Zen. Still, it is only the 5th paramita the highest paramita or perfection being prajñâ by which we can tell the wheat from the chaff—the gold flakes from the brass flakes.
To get up to running speed (i.e., Buddhism 101) chat forums and Dharma centers are not the best means. The only thing we end up doing is reinforcing our wrong views of Zen Buddhism and Buddhism in general. At some point it becomes difficult to let go of our wrong views. This is not good. It is okay to go to Dharma centers if you wish to learn rituals (Tibetan centers are the best), how to make robes, and learning how to sit for at least 40 minutes without a sore back or legs. Outside of that, home study is recommended studying more of the Buddha’s discourses, including history. If you are lucky like I was it will dawn on you one day that you have to have a direct experience of the One Mind or the same, pure Mind (Bankei’s Unborn Mind is included). This is the mystic’s path. It is the most authentic form of Zen Buddhism.