Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Buddhism and meditation outreach

The purpose of this post is to leave a "scent marker" that will be of use to anyone considering the creation of a Buddhism and/or meditation outreach site in their own geographic area.  South Houston Sangha News is only a few months old now, but I've learned a few important and surprising lessons about running this kind of blogsite, and those lessons are worth sharing at this point.
Blogs are inherently non-local phenomena.  Even though South Houston Sangha News targets the upper Texas coast and, with its newness, has not yet established a robust traffic pattern, it receives visitors from all over the world.  This is a partial list of countries with visitors arriving within the past several weeks.
Surprising Lesson #1Almost nobody else is creating this kind of outreach resource at the present time.  I've already talked about the lack of a comparable resource in the greater Houston area, which probably has one of the largest established Buddhist populations in the United States.  But the same has proven to be true all over.  In order to research this issue, I've relied on open internet searches and also on the meta-site called Blogisattva, which developed a highly-respected award system for excellence in Buddhist blogging a few years ago.  Unfortunately, I can't supply a reference URL for Blogisattva because, for unknown reasons, the entire site was pulled down just a few weeks after I retrieved their site database (if anyone wants a copy of that, please email me).  To date, I've reviewed 315 of the 458 Buddhist blogs and websites listed in their database, and I've identified only two (!!) that supply any discernable geographic outreach benefit, as follows:
  • Michigan Buddhist.  This is a true "one-stop" outreach meta-site, and is fabulously constructed both in terms of esthetic design and technical sophistication.  As the "About" section conveys succinctly, "Michigan Buddhist collects and distributes Dharma-related information of particular interest to Michigan practitioners. We publicize speakers, retreats and happenings, and maintain a listing of temples, sangha, meditation centers, and discussion groups throughout Michigan. We provide a list of relevant links for those looking to learn about Buddhism and inform their practice, and a calendar of upcoming events."
  • The Sumeru Guide to Canadian Buddhism.  This site does not investigate the groups and Temples that it tabulates, nor does it appear to track and publicize events or collate news content, but it is a very thorough, well-designed, and frequently-updated directory of basic resources.
Why are there so few true Buddhist outreach sites?  I don't want to get too deeply into speculation, but I suspect that it's because this kind of "grunt work" is less attractive to people as a blogging focus.  It's exciting and sexy to publish personal reflections that others actually read, and it's exciting and sexy "be a benefit" to Tibetans, to homeless people, to displaced peoples, and to incarcerated people.  Believe me, it's not very exciting and sexy to slog through hundreds and hundreds of narrowly-focused "personal reflection" blogs searching for those rare gems that might actually be a benefit to ordinary middle-class non-newsmaking American people who are facing monumental challenges in their lives.  Which brings me to my second point -

Non-Surprising Lesson #2:  Geographically-based Buddhism and meditation outreach is sorely needed.  There seems to be a tacit assumption that those ordinary middle-class non-newsmaking American people are not high priorities for outreach.  After all, do most of them not have comfortable lifestyles, especially compared to most of the world's peoples?  Don't most of them have gainful employment?  Access to education?  Why should they be a focus?  By the very fact that they are lucky enough to be in America, are they not already equipped to identify and procure spiritual resources under their own power?

Such a perspective is not a very compassionate view.  American residency is no guarantee that life will be even remotely free of suffering.  Even in my very limited spiritual travels, I've met people who have debilitating health problems that inflict chronic pain upon them, who have experienced the tragic deaths of their closest loved ones, who have been the victims of violent crime, whose families have abandoned them, who are ensnared in addiction, and who have been systematically violated by institutional Christianity.  Very often when people are actively searching for new spiritual resources such as meditation groups, it is in response to some acute crisis unfolding in their lives.  I've heard stories of pure despair from people trying to cope with a complete lack of informational resources and outreach as they conduct their searches, an unfortunate reality that imparts unnecessary insult to their existing life injuries.  Rest assured, if you decide to initiate a true meditation and Buddhism outreach site in your geographic area, you will be supplying an immediate benefit to people who warrant compassion.

Surprising Lesson #3:  Many "Buddhism outreach" search engine hits actually refer to missionary sites that seek to convert Buddhists to Christianity, rather than to sites that supply meditation and associated resource information.  Examples here ("ministering to people influenced by Buddhist worldviews") and here ("Christ's Great Commission gives Christians a mandate to take the gospel to every person, including the large number of Buddhist peoples. Since we understand that Buddhists are seeking truth, and because Jesus Christ is "the Truth," we are doubly bound to declare the gospel to them").  These sites are not helpful to people who are searching for true Buddhism and meditation outreach, and thus it is useful to counterbalance those viewpoints by supplying actual resources.  It's important to recognize that I'm not talking about prosetylizing here.  I'm just talking about making specific information readily available to those people who are actively searching for it. 

I've added a link category called "OTHER REGIONAL OUTREACH SITES" in the left-hand column of this blog layout where I will list any additional useful resources that I encounter in my web travels.  If you are considering the creation of a Buddhism and/or meditation outreach site in your local area, please refer to that section for additional good examples and ideas, and feel free to contact me via southhoustonsangha - gmail if you need advice or assistance.  Thanks!! 


  1. Thanks for your work. I read that you can't learn Buddhism from a book. But how can you learn if there are no teachers?

  2. That question deserves its own blog post... or ten! I will respond to that as soon as I am able.