The Virtual Monk Story
I’m about to arrive at an intersection on my path — a point where I will have to make a decision about my study. In order to explain things, though, I need to bring up my initial experience in Second Life — the virtual world. You are all probably laughing at this, but in real life, I tend not to meet many Buddhists. In fact, I may have only met one before I started sitting with a group and attending sesshins at the monastery. That is what propelled me to investigate Buddhism in the virtual world.
Second Life has many beautiful and interesting worlds, but I found a favorite place — Bodhi Lotus. It was filled with beautiful mountains, Tibetan flags, Japanese pagodas, temples, waterfalls, lanterns, statues — everything you could want in a world that could combine all forms of Buddhism in one place. As in real life, there were builders, gardeners, students — the people that created the experience and even made seasons appear to change. There were little jewels hidden throughout the land (Diamond Sutra metaphor) that would help explain the path if you clicked on them, and there were even times to sit zazen and hear Dharma talks. At the time, I was trying to figure out what it meant to sit zazen in a virtual world. In fact, I grew to have a few friends, and we would talk about this problem of doing something that isn’t entirely real with good intentions of “sitting”. Well, one of my friends, said that I needed to meet a certain monk.
The world of Bodhi Lotus had many symbolic areas — from monk caves and replicas of famous temples, to a giant lotus flower whose center would boil yellow and orange with energy if you ever flew high enough to see it. Well, my friend arranged for the monk to meet me under the most important symbol — the Bodhi tree. I will never forget that first meeting because the man appeared old and he was wearing a robe and kesa. Normally this would not seem funny, but most people who frequent virtual worlds are running around in lingerie and have bodies that could outdo Barbie. It is a rarity to even find someone that would appear over 40. However, this monk decided to keep things simple, and he called himself Kodo Muni. I didn’t get to see Kodo often, but when we did meet, our conversations would be both humorous and deep. He would talk about the importance of sitting and what zazen really meant translated. It soon became apparent that this was not a wannabe, but the real deal. Kodo seemed quite literate with technology and he invited me to check out his website. Kodo was actually Kengan, an Abbot at a Soto Zen Temple in France. I discovered that he is gifted in many languages and spends much of his time translating Buddhist texts. He is also quite well known in France and appears on the Buddhist Channel on TV (yes, they actually have a channel devoted to this!). I started emailing him every now and then to ask questions, and that soon escalated to Skype. Now I smile when I see my Iphone ringing early in the morning and see a photo of a monk. He is my sangha from afar.
We have had many discussions about how to deepen practice, and I’m happy to say that he is largely responsible for me taking my meditation so seriously. We have chatted about places to study and teachers — a subject that I find difficult to navigate. When I showed him a list of available zen centers in my area, he actually got excited about one, because there was a similarity in the lineage. I had already been sitting at Zen Mountain, but I promised my French monk friend that I would check out this other place — Mt. Equity. So now, a year later from my promise , I’m finally making the journey. This weekend I will be doing sesshin as part of my version of Ango at a different location. I know things will not be the same, and yet I’m excited about how they may be different. I feel this is so important, much like choosing a university only with more personal repercussions. Rain falls, but which chain will catch it and send it spiraling to the stream? All of this from one virtual monk. Gassho.