I am really grateful for the existence of E-Sangha.
I came across E-Sangha after only having been Buddhist for a month. At the time I was pretty adamant about being non-sectarian - I didn't even know what Theravada was when I joined. As it turned out though, my views and perspectives and understandings of the Dhamma were aligned with that of the Pali Canon, so Theravada became my tradition of choice. Somewhere along the way, the moderators and administrators figured I seemed to know what I was talking about, so I was made a General Moderator and one month later, a Global Moderator, after it was seen how active I was across nearly the whole board. This shift from member to moderator allowed me an insight into what happens behind the scenes and what is required to keep a forum in good shape. For anyone who has not been a moderator you would not believe how much effort was required to keep out the genuine troublemakers, crazies and cultists. Even when they would be banned, many of them would not take no for an answer, and try several means to surreptitiously regain access to E-Sangha.
Being a moderator was a very rewarding experience for me because I got to play a role in keeping the board functioning well and serving the Buddhist community, in addition to meeting some truly wonderful people and trying to help out the absolute beginners. Actually, because E-Sangha is the biggest English language Buddhist board, it does attract all the beginners, so there is an endless stream of them walking through the door. With all these beginners coming in, and with all the troublemakers, crazies and cultists still poking around the edges looking for people to confuse, convert and insult, it was deemed necessary to tighten up the policies regarding Wrong View, so the Terms Of Service slowly changed to include a small list of Dhammic non-negotiables, rules of compliance for monastics (to prevent imposters using status as leverage) and what kind of advice was permitted in the Beginners Forum.
This sense of responsibility towards the beginners though, had its casualties. Members of some traditions felt marginalized by the policies and with backs to the wall, would often fight, either straight up or passive-aggressively, against the restrictions and against those seen to be closing the walls in on them. Often the beginners themselves became casualties of their own questions or preliminary beliefs as they were deemed to go against the grain of the acceptable normative Dhamma. I think many beginners and potential Buddhists walked out the door, disgruntled about Buddhism, never to return to E-Sangha and possibly never to return the Dhamma at all. To say any of the above was anyone's fault would be wrong. It would be far more accurate to say that different perspectives, different ideas and values, and the increasing stakes at hand, meant that a certain consolidation and consistency of method was deemed to be required, moving forward.
As time and incidents rolled on, I feel a certain "us and them" mentality crept in across much of the board... staff vs members, sect vs sect as so on. I myself felt marginalised on occasion when I would try to help beginners come to an appropriate perspective on key, and often tricky Dhammic issues, generally aiming to guide them with exactly the same style, logic, and respect for the audience that the Buddha used in the suttas of the Pali Canon (e.g. MN 60, AN 3.65). However, this was perceived as skirting around the edges and going too light on the enforcement of certain rules.
I started to feel at this point as if E-Sangha and myself were drawing apart, so when it was time to leave my moderating post in a couple of months, after the initial shock I felt quite OK about it all. Just as two people in a partnership can grow apart and not be compatible any longer, so it was for me and E-Sangha. Again, nobody's fault... that's simply how things go sometimes, isn't it? That is the truth of anatta and anicca in action for you!
Part of what helped make me feel OK about it all was the opportunity provided by David to be an administrator here at Dhamma Wheel... and to him and the other moderators I feel very thankful. I had began to think for a while that there was audience enough for a specialised Theravada Buddhist forum and if the first month here has been anything to go by, I think my suspicions have been confirmed.
"Back in the day" before every man and his dog had access to the Internet, there needed to be a central hub for Dhamma discussion on the Internet because if there were too many forums, none of them would get sufficient traffic to establish a critical mass. E-Sangha became like the first city in the new electronic online colony - offering protection, shelter, a place to chat, and a place to come together as a Buddhist community. In time that city expanded, people had new and different ideas, and the population had risen enough that such ideas for new cities on the electronic frontier became viable. As these new electronic communities are increasingly established, I think it's important to look back to that big, original city and be thankful that it existed. Without it, and without the tireless efforts of staff, owner, and members alike, it would have been a complete wasteland, just like the majority of unmoderated discussion boards on the Internet that were also vying for members at the time. Without E-Sangha, and without the learnings from that experience, and without the communities established, I don't think the Dhamma Wheel would have established critical mass, and I don't think there would have been a ready-made community of Zen Buddhists required to get the forthcoming Zen Forum International started either. We have a lot to be thankful for... hence our Terms Of Service and our refusal to allow people to use Dhamma Wheel as a platform to badmouth E-Sangha.
I still consider myself a "friend of E-Sangha" and drop by when time permits and I would encourage anyone who has strong emotions about the site to just reflect on what it has provided by way of service and opportunities to the online Buddhist community, both in the past and now today. No one will force you to go there and no one will force you to stay. Given its size and given the prevalence of other valid options, E-Sangha no longer needs to be "everything to everyone" and even if it wanted to, I don't think it could. E-Sangha offers a valuable service, particularly I think to absolute beginners who can adjust quickly to the laws of the land.
Please don't let unwholesome thoughts about E-Sangha consume your mind and lead you to unhappy destinations.