Forum-Community-Sangha

Casual conversation between friends. Anything goes (almost).
Urgyen Dorje
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Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Wed Jul 01, 2015 3:47 pm

Some thoughts on my experience here as a noob.

I've been involved in virtual sangha since the 1990's when we would meet in IRC chatrooms or those classic dial-up bulletin boards. Things were different then, the internet didn't exist as we know it, so connectivity and communication were difficult. Resources certainly were not available as they are today, where one can download anything and everything from Scribd, for the inconvenience of having to upload some crap. The challenge I have on DW is the same challenge many had on e-Sangha and the Tricycle boards-- it is simultaneously a forum, a community, and a sangha. All of those have a different set of expectations for conduct as well as commitments to each other.

I spend quite a bit of time on forums-- mostly tech forums. There is absolutely no illusion that they are communities. At the same time, people perform great acts of kindness. I have people drop a zip file of code that was so tailored to my application that I felt I should find a way to cut them a 1099-misc. The burden for moderation and participation is fairly straight forward. The moderator reduces the noise to zero so people can farm content the most efficiently. The participants graze for content that they need, and if they fancy, drop content to help people out. There is are no expectations regarding anonymity and identity. Some people go under the radar and supply awesome content. Others hang out a slate, often to market products. The rules come down to the ToS. That's it.

In many ways, DW, and e-Sangha and the Tricycle boards before them, are forums just like that. People come and go foraging for content to have certain questions answered. I'm boring into different threads to educate myself about different things. And I'm dropping posts to try to get specific pieces of information. I'm not one of them, but there are many knowledgeable people here, and much can be learned, at least from the perspectives of those local DW experts.

But DW is also a virtual community, and despite the assertion that it is the ToS the governs the DW community, there is an unspoken and probably unrecognized way of being or culture here, just as there was on the e-Sangha and Tricycle boards, just as there was in my IRC and bulletin-board communities. It has to be the case, because as soon as it becomes less about serving information so that people can mine it, and more about relationships with people and sustaining those relationships, a culture forms. That culture varies over time as people come and go bringing their personalities with them. And that culture varies from sub-forum to sub-forum.

My whole experience on DW has been a series of transgressions of this culture. And boring deeply into posts similar to my goof's, I see that there is a culture. There is a certain way one should write. One doesn't question certain people, nor does one talk about certain things. If one says something, it should be something one is intellectually committed to, and it's considered disingenuous to argue a point one isn't committed to, even for the sake of argument. Scholastic discussion is valued more than personal experience. Not just from recent threads, but there are some issues relating to community member identity/anonymity, outing one's teachers, and so on. People have formal roles, but people have also informal roles and exert great influence. Certain types of interruption are tolerated, others nipped in the bud. None of this is critical. It's just the sign of a culture and a living breathing way of being. I know because I've transgressed every aspect of this, and boring through older posts, I see how others have done so as well, generally with more explosive consequences-- or just dropping off.

With culture comes values, and that is where this starts becoming about sangha. With community comes reciprocal relationships. Ways that I benefit, and ways that I am committed to service to others. Those reciprocal relationships become more serious as one starts to consider a virtual community a sangha. I've bored through the threads on the subject here, and people have argued whether DW is not a sangha, and that's really immaterial, as many of us are instructed by our teachers to consider this a sangha. So what are our higher order responsibilities to each other? What are our higher order responsibilities to the community, and vice versa?

Personally, I feel a very strong tension between the forum and community/sangha aspects of DW. The forum aspect makes me feel empowered and justified in verbally calling out anyone on things contrary to my values, and justified in debating and discussing anything under the sun. I'm open to a blood bath. Bring it on. On the flip side, I am socially and dharma-wise very conservative. I feel I should respect my elders and serve them, simply for time served in life. I feel I should respect time served in the community, and take cues and directions from the silver backs. I also feel I should be respectful of the ordained, the more experienced in practice, and those who have done retreat. I should simply change my ways because I'm told to by those who carry the micro-culture. As a result, many things I want to challenge and response to, and I have... yet on the other hand, I take many things said as corrections and directions as they come from the more experienced.

What part of this is "just" a forum? what part "just" a community? and what part is a sangha, at least to those who relate to it as sangha? It's all mixed up in one package. For the record, none of this is unique to DW. A friend of mine who is a cultural anthropologist, and another who is a religious studies academic, have been discussing this for some years as we work with different challenges in our own meat space communities, and our own virtual communities-- not to mention our own classrooms (when we have them).

DGA
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by DGA » Wed Jul 01, 2015 3:55 pm

Thought-provoking post.

I agree that there are long-term relationships that are nurtured through this medium, on this site. And that there are certain unspoken norms that are held. I'm not sure there's a consensus culture, though. You may feel you have transgressed certain unspoken rules, or perhaps found out about certain boundaries that some users have by tripping over them and hearing about it afterward. I'm not so sure that those same boundaries exist for everyone, or that they should exist. Others have different boundaries.

How do I know? because I was a mod and then an admin here for a long time. So I got to see how some of this is negotiated. I think my overall point is that it's better not to assume a consensus when there may not be one.

Anyway, I think you're right to raise the question of how the forum as a medium relates to expectations of community and the practice of community-building, and to Buddhist descriptions of sangha and (I'll go further here) expectations of right speech.

Urgyen Dorje
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Wed Jul 01, 2015 4:30 pm

Jikan...

I largely agree with you. Just a few comments...

Personal boundaries are not necessarily separate from community boundaries, nor should they be. Generally communities integrate the personal boundaries of some members, generally as a method of retaining those members. As such, there are rules that exist for some that do not exist for others. Generally in our egalitarian views of society we find that hypocritical, but in practice it's socially very adaptable. Some people are blind to that, some see it and make it a point to challenge that, others find it entirely reasonable. I'm of the latter category.

I would agree, there is no consensus, which is what I personally find difficult.

The right speech thing is a whole other discussion, but I think it's related. In meat space and more focal virtual communities, I just don't talk to sangha like this. Certain types of conversations would be expected, even demanded, that don't happen here, perhaps can't happen. Regardless, very clear lines would be drawn and expectations demanded.

-UD

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by DGA » Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:00 pm

Urgyen Dorje wrote:Jikan...

I largely agree with you. Just a few comments...

Personal boundaries are not necessarily separate from community boundaries, nor should they be. Generally communities integrate the personal boundaries of some members, generally as a method of retaining those members. As such, there are rules that exist for some that do not exist for others. Generally in our egalitarian views of society we find that hypocritical, but in practice it's socially very adaptable. Some people are blind to that, some see it and make it a point to challenge that, others find it entirely reasonable. I'm of the latter category.

I would agree, there is no consensus, which is what I personally find difficult.

The right speech thing is a whole other discussion, but I think it's related. In meat space and more focal virtual communities, I just don't talk to sangha like this. Certain types of conversations would be expected, even demanded, that don't happen here, perhaps can't happen. Regardless, very clear lines would be drawn and expectations demanded.

-UD
I agree: it is difficult. I'd say that the highest percentage of disputes and moderation activities at boards like this (choosing my words carefully) involve misunderstandings of where those boundaries lie, and mismatched expectations of the same. Example: at e-sangha, there was a particular Nichiren Buddhist who challenged Malcolm to a make-it-rain contest (!!!) to resolve a disagreement over Buddhist doctrine. I could go on...

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Jesse » Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:10 pm

They way I see it, if people are trying to be helpful and learn rather than only to spread their own viewpoints were good. A conversation is give/take, dw is full of eccentric personalities imo, it's part of why I enjoy posting here, but it can get to you sometimes.

I agree there are some aspects of dharma culture that are unique vs other cultures, when I first started posting here I wasn't even a Buddhist yet. So I found many aspects of the culture weird and or pointless, but as you learn more of buddhism some of them make sense, others seem less important.

One of the thing's I find really fascinating about the forum is the more you practice and understand your own behaviors the more you understand other peoples, and small things cease to bother you. We all want to feel intelligent, helpful and knowledgeable, so many people give advice/correct others.. it's just another part of the culture.

In so far as the social dynamics, I've never understood them IRL, so much less here so I just ignore them outright haha, seems to work fine.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
-Henry David Thoreau

Malcolm
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Malcolm » Wed Jul 01, 2015 5:45 pm

Urgyen Dorje wrote:Scholastic discussion is valued more than personal experience. Not just from recent threads, but there are some issues relating to community member identity/anonymity, outing one's teachers, and so on.
Personal experience is subjective, and cannot be quantified. For example, "Today I experienced that Lama X is Vajradhara!" Nice, but so what?

As far as anonymity goes, people whose actual identity is not secret tend to be taken more seriously in discussions; at least, I take them more seriously. I tend to regard the posts of the anonymous as being more frivolous, less worthy of attention, and their opinions of less consequence.

I personally think it is disingenuous to conceal one's teachers, but hey, that's just me. I frankly think that Buddhist boards should have non-anonymity policies. Tried that at Vajracakra, and people were too freaked out to sign up. So we gave it up — market forces prevailed.

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Huseng » Wed Jul 01, 2015 6:46 pm

Urgyen Dorje wrote: What part of this is "just" a forum? what part "just" a community? and what part is a sangha, at least to those who relate to it as sangha?
Virtual sangha space is interesting because it has had a real-life impact on me. As I noted elsewhere the other day, I had someone from this forum upset enough with me to try and get me kicked out of my real-life living and work arrangements in Nepal. That's the virtual world directly affecting real life. It was also personal, which highlights how what someone writes here can and will stir emotions, sufficient enough to get people to act.

However, not all has been negative. When I first started seriously studying Buddhism more than ten years ago I found internet communities (initially Livejournal and later E-Sangha) quite informative and helpful. The discussions and debates also helped shape perspective and even inspire. To participate in debates with learned users required extensive readings and study on my part, which made learning all the more gratifying when it could be employed in lengthy discussions online.

In many ways I've shared my personal life (a bit too much perhaps) with people online, but then at the same time I've been personally affected by my interactions with people online, especially on forums with a number of long-term users (some of whom I've met in real life). Communities naturally have love and hate, so this one should be no exception. Again, I can point to cases of great concern and assistance I've received from people online, but conversely I've been on the receiving end of venom more than once (in particular from Tibetan Buddhists).

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Malcolm » Wed Jul 01, 2015 6:51 pm

Indrajala wrote: Again, I can point to cases of great concern and assistance I've received from people online, but conversely I've been on the receiving end of venom more than once (in particular from Tibetan Buddhists).
Only when you posted outrageous and inflammatory nonsense.

Urgyen Dorje
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:38 pm

Urgyen Dorje wrote:Scholastic discussion is valued more than personal experience. Not just from recent threads, but there are some issues relating to community member identity/anonymity, outing one's teachers, and so on.
Malcolm wrote:Personal experience is subjective, and cannot be quantified. For example, "Today I experienced that Lama X is Vajradhara!" Nice, but so what?
There is a huge bandwidth between Buddhist scholastic citations and sharing visions. As an example, when discussing something like compassion, I find it more useful to discuss and hear about other practitioners' actual experiences with the practice, than to quote Shantideva to eachother. That's just me. I have have a khenpo and a drupon that I can address technical questions to, as well as some very well studied translators. Boring and mining into your posts, you'd be one of those. But personally, I get more out of hearing about practitioners personal experiences. Some of my lamas are great that way, very pragmatic and personal. Most are not, and those that are have a different set of experiences than me, and those around me.
Malcolm wrote:As far as anonymity goes, people whose actual identity is not secret tend to be taken more seriously in discussions; at least, I take them more seriously. I tend to regard the posts of the anonymous as being more frivolous, less worthy of attention, and their opinions of less consequence.
I can understand that. In some virtual communities that I am involved with, anonymity would not be tolerated. That includes both tech, Buddhist, and social justice commuities.

Here it would seem to be a pointless issue, as the norm is that people are anonymous. Most people don't even use a refuge name, and most people don't identify themselves in a meat-space identifiable fashion. Those who do, like yourself, and other people who are more "dharma professionals" for a lack of a better term-- teachers, doctors, monastics-- and that probably should be the case. Those who are not "dharma professionals" really have a complex constellation of reasons why they might want to keep their identities hidden.

At the same time, I think the presumption that people who wish to remain hidden are less worthy of attention, should be reevaluated, as it is a function, for me at least, more of the forum than anything else. Do I want my identity out here, where bots are mining data for Google, there a lurkers who have never posted, some people are probably not even Buddhists and here to harrass, and the norm is that most people don't identify themselves-- NO. Would I be willing to identify myself in a viritual setting that was locked down, everyone provided identifying contact and bio information, and there were no bots mining data-- YES. I would actually prefer the latter, as I've mentioned in another post.
Malcolm wrote:I personally think it is disingenuous to conceal one's teachers, but hey, that's just me. I frankly think that Buddhist boards should have non-anonymity policies. Tried that at Vajracakra, and people were too freaked out to sign up. So we gave it up — market forces prevailed.
It seems to be a quality of boards in general that nuances are lost. I never said I felt a need to conceal my teachers. I felt a need to conceal them in a way that would result in identifying myself. I also said I did not feel a need to attribute everything I say to a teacher because I don't want to resort to argument by authority, and I don't want to drag any legitimate teacher into my nonsense.

If it matters so damned much, my Drikung teachers are Garchen Rinpoche, Drupon Rinchen Dorje, Drupon Thinley Ningpo, and Gape Lama. I've connected with most of them in the Southwest, with the exception of Drupon Thinley where I had to travel South to see him. My Nyingma teachers are Khenpo Palden Sherab and Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal, who I met right in my own backyard. My Gelug teachers are various at the Loseling Institute, also in my own back yard.

All I want to avoid is saying, "My teacher Gape Lama said {vomit}" because that's just not my style. I think it's stupid. And I want to avoid saying that I received empowerment X from Gape Lama, because somebody clever might realize that the only place he gave that was in Tucson in 2012, and from that back out identity information.

Seems reasonable to me.

I vote for what you wanted to do with whatever this Vajrachakra is, my only caveat being everybody is totally out to everybody and it's locked down.
Last edited by Urgyen Dorje on Wed Jul 01, 2015 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Urgyen Dorje
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Wed Jul 01, 2015 7:54 pm

Indrajala...

I can relate.

Virtual sangha has been very important and supportive for my practice. I have dharma friends that I know in real life that I met back in an IRC room back in the 90's. Without those relationships I would not have been able to continue practicing the dharma. I have also had very supportive and transformative interactions on the Tricycle boards and e-Sangha. For all I know, with some of the same people who are here-- another argument for creating spaces where sharing identities and contact information is more feasible.

I have benefitted from on-line debates and in depth scholastic discussion. I have been going through some texts with a khenpo friend by email and Skype for years and years now. I have also had an ongoing dialog with a monastic for some years now on Buddhist ethics. All of those things have only been possible through some presumptions and some structures. In the language of my post here, it would be a certain local culture and way of being that makes those dialogs possible.

I also benefit from sharing my personal narrative, but there I come into a snag that perhaps others don't encounter. Our lives are interwoven with those of others, and as we start telling our own tale, we tell that of others. Sometimes that doesn't matter. In my case that does matter.

So I'm basically trying to learn the ropes here. That's all.

UD

Indrajala wrote:
Urgyen Dorje wrote: What part of this is "just" a forum? what part "just" a community? and what part is a sangha, at least to those who relate to it as sangha?
Virtual sangha space is interesting because it has had a real-life impact on me. As I noted elsewhere the other day, I had someone from this forum upset enough with me to try and get me kicked out of my real-life living and work arrangements in Nepal. That's the virtual world directly affecting real life. It was also personal, which highlights how what someone writes here can and will stir emotions, sufficient enough to get people to act.

However, not all has been negative. When I first started seriously studying Buddhism more than ten years ago I found internet communities (initially Livejournal and later E-Sangha) quite informative and helpful. The discussions and debates also helped shape perspective and even inspire. To participate in debates with learned users required extensive readings and study on my part, which made learning all the more gratifying when it could be employed in lengthy discussions online.

In many ways I've shared my personal life (a bit too much perhaps) with people online, but then at the same time I've been personally affected by my interactions with people online, especially on forums with a number of long-term users (some of whom I've met in real life). Communities naturally have love and hate, so this one should be no exception. Again, I can point to cases of great concern and assistance I've received from people online, but conversely I've been on the receiving end of venom more than once (in particular from Tibetan Buddhists).

Urgyen Dorje
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Wed Jul 01, 2015 8:17 pm

It's actually an interesting dynamic as I think about it.

As Malcolm puts it, "market forces" drive the context so that anonymity is not forbidden, yet there is clearly, based on a whole series of threads and comments, a sense that this should not be the case, and that people who are anonymous are somehow less serious and have less to contribute. Then, as I and others have pointed out, the reason we're anonymous is because the board is freaking wide open, wide open enough to be farmed for data.

I suppose I can understand not knowing somebody's dharma "context" be a little strange. But going through the intro's and sig's of people... putting that context out there in a formal and consistent way seems to be the exception.

Now that I've spit my teacher's names out, I feel I've earned the right to ask what the backstory is here-- why is this such an issue?

If it's so important to know who everyone is, I supposed I could give a mod my cellphone and we could talk. It would seem easier and less painful to just change the ToS and structure of the board so that some aren't called out because they make a point of anonymity and others are anonymous by omission.

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jul 02, 2015 12:59 am

Urgyen Dorje wrote:
Now that I've spit my teacher's names out, I feel I've earned the right to ask what the backstory is here-- why is this such an issue?
.
Because of the amount of harassment anonymous users have subjected other users to in the past, and it is actually enormous and pervasive.

Urgyen Dorje
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Urgyen Dorje » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:42 am

Malcolm...

When I was on e-sangha, I had somebody guess my identity when I dropped that I had been at a certain teaching. They proceeded to torture the hell out of me in the most sadistic way. This included using proxy servers and fake email accounts to pretend they were dharma siblings and vice versa. This damaged dharma relationships and caused me to forgo some very precious opportunities with my teacher and sangha. It permanently ruptured some relationships because of the malignancy of the shenanigans. It's a long story. There was nothing anybody on e-sangha could do, as everything took place off the board. But it started on the board from personal data.

So I get it. I appreciate the nastiness and destructiveness of what happened to Indrajala. He's just dropping his name, dropping his ideas, and WHAM, some psycho is out there using who knows what, VPN, Tor, whatever, to screw with him.

I appreciate all of it. I've seen it go down at the university too.

But, see, dig, that's why I want to be anonymous.

I really resent the aspersions as I'm tring to avoid the same thing you are. I guess the difference is you're trying to take care of others. I'm taking care of myself, as I've found nobody else will do that on the internet for me.

-UD

Malcolm wrote:
Urgyen Dorje wrote:
Now that I've spit my teacher's names out, I feel I've earned the right to ask what the backstory is here-- why is this such an issue?
.
Because of the amount of harassment anonymous users have subjected other users to in the past, and it is actually enormous and pervasive.

joy&peace
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by joy&peace » Thu Jul 02, 2015 3:10 am

Very interesting points in the OP, OP.

My understanding has generally been as follows:

It is a Sangha, with Buddha and Dharma, all present;

A verse from the Diamond Sutra may help to llustrate.

'You should know that such people will have planted good roots
With not just one Buddha, two Buddhas, three, four or five Buddhas,
But will have planted good roots with measureless millions of Buddhas.
All who hear such phrases and produce even one thought
Of pure faith are completely known and completely seen by the Tathagata.'


on Sangha and stability, these words of Thay are very elucidating. The article is over-all on the topic of liberating ancestors, and is very nice.


'If we have a teacher and dharma brothers and sisters who are stable, they look very much the same today as yesterday and yesterday they looked very much the same as the day before. We have to take refuge in a sangha that is stable, that we can count on. We can contribute to the quality of our sangha by our smile, and by our own stability. A sangha can be improved by our practice. We can never find a perfect sangha. An imperfect sangha is good enough. We have to do our best in order to transform ourselves into a good element of the sangha. It is not helpful to complain too much about our sangha: “This sangha is not good; this sangha is not worth my refuge,” and so on. We have to accept our sangha and build it. It is like a family. And our family is also a kind of sangha. We have to accept the members of our family as they are and begin from there. We should be a good member of our family sangha in order to help others.

'Taking refuge means also taking refuge in ourselves. When we take refuge in the earth, it is because the earth is stable. When we have a friend who is stable we can take refuge in him or her. We use our insight and our experience to see his or her stability. We don’t just go on blind faith. Taking refuge is not blind faith. It must be based on our own experience. There are many stable things around. We should refrain from taking refuge in things that are not stable, that have made us shaky in the past. Sometimes we don’t know much about something. We hope that it can be a refuge for us simply because we want it. It is not based on any direct experience or observation. We should refrain from taking refuge in things like that.'


http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/wp/tag/l ... ancestors/
Om Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate bodhi svaha

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Huseng » Thu Jul 02, 2015 5:59 am

Malcolm wrote: Only when you posted outrageous and inflammatory nonsense.
Then there were the subsequent accusations I was being paid off by the PRC.

At the time, ironically, I wished that were so because I was broke as hell!

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Huseng » Thu Jul 02, 2015 6:26 am

Urgyen Dorje wrote: I have benefitted from on-line debates and in depth scholastic discussion.
The online world definitely has its advantages and disadvantages. Much of the criticism that some would dish out online would not be said to the real life face of the recipient. In real life discussions one has to be mindful of one's own status and position in the community, and undue or overly harsh criticism can be damaging to both. Academia insists you identify yourself apart from anonymous peer review, which means anything you say can and will be used against you. It also goes into the historical documented record. That's fair and helps to ensure civil discussion.

I've been continuously online since 1995 minus a few retreats. I've also built up a blog and site which get a fair amount of monthly traffic. I like sharing my findings and resources with others as it makes it feel worthwhile. I believe that deeds, not words, better shield oneself from personal attacks. Like Malcolm suggested, unless the person in question is evidently learned and has much of value to say, anonymous individuals have less power in a discussion in relation to individuals who are forthcoming with their identities and moreover have a record of their deeds. If someone wants to know who I am, they can easily find out and even look at my CV. I've even documented many of my travels and experiences online for all to see. I see this as a strength rather than a weakness, and actually appreciate it when others online are equally forthcoming about who they are.

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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by MiphamFan » Thu Jul 02, 2015 11:07 am

Indrajala wrote:
Malcolm wrote: Only when you posted outrageous and inflammatory nonsense.
Then there were the subsequent accusations I was being paid off by the PRC.

At the time, ironically, I wished that were so because I was broke as hell!
Those remarks don't seem to me to be accusations as much as strong teasing. You were posting some rather derogatory remarks about Tibetan culture.

Simon E.
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Simon E. » Thu Jul 02, 2015 11:15 am

Do people really want to rerun all that ? :?

Cant we just move on ?

DW is not a community or a sangha. Its a forum for discussion. Discussions have a birth, life and natural death.

Let's value it for what it is rather than trying to make it something it can never be.
“Why don’t you close down your PC for a while and find out who needs your help?”

HH Tai Situ.

Malcolm
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:16 pm

Indrajala wrote:
Malcolm wrote: Only when you posted outrageous and inflammatory nonsense.
Then there were the subsequent accusations I was being paid off by the PRC.

At the time, ironically, I wished that were so because I was broke as hell!
Yes, well, people say ridiculous things in response to other ridiculous things all the time.

Malcolm
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Re: Forum-Community-Sangha

Post by Malcolm » Thu Jul 02, 2015 1:17 pm

Indrajala wrote:...and actually appreciate it when others online are equally forthcoming about who they are.


Indeed.

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