Lines like East/West blur as the world comes together at a fantastic pace, but some historians will argue that the world was more cohesive and "globalized" a hundred years ago, and that didn't prevent intense nationalism and World War I. In any event, online is not the West. It's a whole other country. It will take wild and weird forms undreamed of right now. (Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition -- or dharma talks on Second Life. But there they are.)
There's a huge challenge embedded in all this. The dharma can flourish online, and this is precisely where many, many people found Buddhism and where they engage with Buddhism daily. They simply don't engage with other Buddhists offline. Can we bring the "Online Buddhists" offline (for a little while) and into actual dharma centers and communities of flesh-and-blood people?
Why? Because it's harder to argue face-to-face, to insult someone, to mock someone's beliefs, to tell someone you hate them or that what they think is stupid. This is all-too-easy to do with fingers on the keyboard, unfortunately. But while life online may have the illusion of neatness, real life is unapologetically complicated, contradictory, and messy. It's harder to always be right and shield your ego and have the last word every time. People will often refuse the gift of your anger and you'll have to keep it for yourself.
Don't ask me how this will happen. I don't know. But at Tricycle we're trying to create a sense of community and shared purpose that will facilitate more human interaction than you find on message boards and blog comments where flame wars, sadly, still find lots of fuel. We'll keep you posted, or stop by and see.
Philip Ryan is the Web Editor of Tricycle. He has worked for Tricycle on and off (mostly off) since 1996. He is an inconstant and unreliable sitter, mainly in the Zen Buddhist tradition.