A Hardcore Buddhist Evening

Daniel Ingram</a>
Daniel Ingram, photo courtesy of Buddhist Geeks

It is amusing that I wrote about Daniel Ingram last week in regards to the release of his book as an ebook because I wound up having a dinner and long evening with him and others in San Francisco last night.

Meditation teacher Alan Chapman has been in the area, in Sebastopol, for the last week doing a semi-private retreat. He came and did a meditation teaching and talk at the local Saturday Night Sangha recently, which I recorded. That retreat was ending this last weekend (when I was distracted by the East Bay Mini Maker Faire) but I got a tweet from Vincent Horn of Buddhist Geeks about a dinner in San Francisco with him and my friend, Eran. It turns out that one of the “Hardcore Dharma” teachers, Kenneth Folk, has just moved to San Francisco for at least a year and we were going to get together with him. It sounded like fun. I mean, a Monday evening with Kenneth (whom I like quite a bit), Alan, Vince, and Eran, along with some others. What’s not to like?

Once Eran and I got there, it turns out that the crowd as even larger. Ona Kiser, a very active member of the Buddhist twitter space, and her husband were in town from Brazil. Antonio, who is local and I met at the Buddhist Geeks conference, was there too. The final surprise was that Daniel Ingram was here for a medical conference. (For those that only know of him from his book, Daniel is a medical doctor working in a very active emergency room in Alabama.)

We had this weird convergence of people that knew each other from twitter and blogging, from the Buddhist Geeks conference earlier this year, and the so-called Hardcore (or “Pragmatic”) Dharma movement. Almost none of these people are actually local so it was quite a confluence to get everyone together in one space. The only person missing was Hokai Sobol, though it was pointed out that a stray comet or meteor would have undoubtedly ended us all at that point, thus ending the movement.

In any case, we wandered the streets of San Francisco to a nice eatery, got food, and had a little conversation. I got to watch Alan and Daniel have a verbal cage match about the nature of their understandings of enlightenment, suffering, and so forth. From what I could gather, given the understandable limits of language, people wind up spending quite a bit of time trying to map terminology that one person or tradition is using to discuss experience to that of another before people can even attempt to talk about something as ineffable as enlightenment.

We then wandered back to the house where Kenneth and Beth, his wife, are staying. There, lounging by a pool and having a little wine, conversations continued for another three or so hours. One of the things that came out of this is that Kenneth Folk is going to be local, in San Francisco, for a year and is going to have a weekly Dharma group meeting. Out of talks between Kenneth and Vince, this will be the first official local Buddhist Geeks group, loosely referred to conversationally as the imaginatively titled “Buddhist Geeks, San Francisco.” Kenneth will teach and work with people locally and when people like Vince associated with Buddhist Geeks are in town, other events will occur. I find this very interesting on a personal level. Vince also dropped that he expects, without having had the Buddhist Geeks 2012 conference, that the 2013 conference will be in San Francisco, assuming everything goes well. I’m very excited by all of these developments.

The weirdest thing for me of this evening was I wound up walking with Daniel, the two of us ahead, on the way to the restaurant. Now, I’m as likely to fall to unrealistic ideas concerning a “famous” person as the next guy. So, here I am, talking to a self-proclaimed Arhat, whose work I’ve read and am planning on using for a detailed course of study this winter. As one would expect, Daniel is a pretty normal guy, turns out to have a similar spiritual background to me in a number of esoteric respects, and a rather sarcastic sense of humor. As a sarcastic bastard of ill repute, it put me at ease and we had a good conversation. It was a bit odd, initially, to have “the” Daniel Ingram ask me, “Tell me about your practice. What do you do?” and to follow it with a bit of conversation. After enough talking over food and wine, some of the glimmer in my eyes wore off enough to see a bit more of the man. I must confess, all things being equal, I like the man. He’s a good guy following a difficult calling (and I’m referring being to an emergency room doctor here, not even the Buddhism). He had some great rants about the current legal situation in regards to illegal aliens in Alabama (something very much in the news) since it affects him, being in Alabama, and his family.

Towards the end of the evening, as Eran was patiently waiting to walk out to the car, I got some very specific instructions on technique relating to concentration practices with support (a flame), the kinds of things to focus on and be ready for while doing it, and ways to judge progress with it. This is something that I really appreciated and Daniel definitely has a no-nonsense way of discussing these things that is very direct and to the point.

Finally, we schlepped home, getting back after 1:00 AM. Today, I’m rather sleep deprived but all the richer for getting a chance to meet online friends, Buddhist Geeks, and at least one person that I’ve admired but never thought I’d actually meet. It is times like this that living in a place like the Bay Area seems worth it.