Vine of Obstacles Update: What Would the Old Guys Say?

Online Zen training? What would the old guys say about that?

I don’t know.

The “Zen Center” model, though, is less than sixty years old, so I hope the innovators of that model – especially the guys in the front row (priests left to right, Katagiri, not sure who, Suzuki, Maezumi, and  probably Chino) – would see online Zen as a natural extension of what they were trying to do, making Zen accessible to those interested and capable.

The Vine of Obstacles: Online Support for Zen Training is about six weeks old (click here for the previous update) and as we’ve gone along, the brave trail-blazing practitioners that jumped on board (the early adopters, as they say) have come up with great ideas for developing what is available and have helped me clarify the work.

This post is another update in our meandering efforts.

Zazen, study, and engagement continue, of course, to be the three focal points of Vine of Obstacles training. Study is particularly (and perhaps unusually) important in how I teach Zen, following Katagiri Roshi’s style of being a scholar-monk.

Study gives the heartmind something to chew on as we do our sitting and engagement, putting, pushing, prodding, and pulling the whole process more and more in line with the buddhadharma.

Luckily, one of the virtues of the cyber world is the possibilities it offers for study. So we’ve launched a Vine Moodle site that has become the living room of our practice place. It is the Vine Moodle that I’ll be discussing in the rest of this post.

In the Vine Moodle, we have several courses and a forum. I’ll describe the forum first.

“Engaging the Way through the World” is a place where practitioners can post practice-enlightenment success stories, engage with other practitioners about the Vine process, and also ask me dharma questions. For ethically navigating our relationships together, we have a “What is said in the Moodle, stays in the Moodle” guideline.

“Zazen Workshop: Getting Started Where You Are” is a resource for zazen and includes a range of materials from basic instructions to more advanced topics like translations of the classic zazen manuals, and some short essays on the more subtle considerations in shikantaza and koan work. We’ve also started a “Zazen Workshop” where practitioners can send in photos of their zazen and ask for an online posture adjustment.

“Guidelines for Studying the Way” is a ten topic course based on the Dogen text of the same name that serves as the in-depth orientation. I encourage practitioners to work through the entire course at their own pace and to make one at least one Vine Moodle contribution each week. In this course, students have the opportunity to clarify their intention for practice, wrestle with Dogen’s opinions about the teacher-student relationship, and develop a solid basis for either koan or shikantaza. And establish a working relationship with me.

“Genjokoan: What is Realized in the Issue at Hand?” is almost ready for roll-out. I’m excited and even enthusiastic about the possibilities for this course. I’ve integrated koan work with the text and used the best of my educational training for an outcome-based learning experience.

In terms of dharma pedagogy, the online method of learning may well prove to be more effective than the one-way lecture style because it requires active engagement from students, allows for more detailed and precise feedback, and promotes more frequent multiple-way communication than is possible in the old model (going to a Zen Center once a week or so and listening to a dharma talk, enjoying some private feelings about it, then moving on).

Next up is to develop a “Buddha Nature” course and to include more in-the-flesh students in the nonsegmentation of cyber and noncyber worlds. In my view, presenting dharma offerings that erase the gap between those two worlds, seamlessly integrating the possibilities of online learning and practice enlightenment, is an exciting and challenging new frontier for teaching and practicing Zen.

Your thoughts welcome.

Oh, also there are a few more student spaces available in the Vine of Obstacles, so if you’re interested in getting more information, let me know at

Buddha's Enlightenment: A Single Body is Revealed
Just Sit or Wake Up? A Tale of Two Old Teachers
The Wave-Particle Duality and Practice-Enlightenment
Buddha's Enlightenment: Yielding Assertively, Touching the Heart