November 17, 2011

Buddha Buzz: Buddhism and the Internet, Friends or Foes?

http://engageddharma.com/2011/10/14/60-dharma-talks/The Internet is a many-headed beast. A many-headed beast that sometimes seems like it's eating everything, my free time being the first item on the menu. Websites like YouTube, StumbleUpon, Facebook and Twitter are so addictive—and some of the time, so mindless—that they can suck even the most seasoned Buddhist practitioner into a vortex of websites, blogs, and profiles, where the most profound of insights lose out to...are those pictures of baby animals? Let's put it this way: if the Internet could be summed up into one word, it would be distraction.

But the many-headed beast isn't many-headed for no reason. Since Buddhism and the Internet combined almost two decades ago, overall their relationship has proved to be one of harmony, allowing for easier access to the dharma and a widening community of Buddhist practitioners and teachers who can interact from thousands of miles away.

Take, for example, Yuttadhammo, a monk who lives in the forests of Sri Lanka but nonetheless runs his own blog, online forum, weekly radio show and YouTube channel. The channel is built around readers and listeners posing questions to him and receiving answers via his "Ask A Monk" videos, an immensely popular series with well over one million views. Yuttadhammo speaks about everything from the truth of the Tipitaka to dealing with difficult family members, and has also uploaded a Learn How to Meditate course for beginners. He has also just recently launched a program in which students can make Skype appointments with him through Google Calendar.

A Twitter handle seems to be the only thing Yuttadhammo is missing. But there's another monk spreading the dharma there, anyway: South Korean Haemin Sunim, who according to this Wall Street Journal article is one of the most popular Twitter voices in Korea. From the article:

Haemin Sunim recalled a recent Twitter exchange with a teenage girl who faces Korea’s high-stakes university entrance exam this Thursday while also deeply worrying about a mother with cancer. He said he felt really great that the girl found some peace of mind after their conversation on Twitter.

And let's remember that it's not just monks contributing to the wealth of Buddhist wisdom online. No, I'm not talking about Tricycle...I'm talking about Turning Wheel Media, the new online home of Turning Wheel, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship's socially engaged Buddhism magazine. Turning Wheel has been really staying on top of the Buddhist presence at Occupy protests around the country with articles such as Mushim Patricia Ikeda's "Bringing Shantideva's Prayer Home at the General Strike in Oakland." Ikeda has been very active on the site's comment section (she also wrote an article in Tricycle's recent issue, as one of the voices in "Lifting a Corner").

So, what are your thoughts? Buddhism and the Internet: friends or foes? 

And since the Internet isn't going anywhere soon, here's a couple Tricycle articles to help us out: @Tiny Buddha shares advice with us in "Ten Mindful Ways to Use Social Media," and Adam Tebbe, founder of Sweeping Zen, talks about his Buddhist forays into Second Life here

Photo from http://engageddharma.com/2011/10/14/60-dharma-talks/.

UPDATE: Yuttadhammo does have a Twitter handle, @yuttadhammo. You can find him there!

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yuttadhammo's picture

Thanks for the post :)

It seems like a common question; here's a recent interview on the subject that might be interesting:

http://yuttadhammo.sirimangalo.org/2011/11/29/friendly-neighbourhood-int...

P.S. I do have a twitter handle (@yuttadhammo) though I don't visit the site - YouTube sends tweets for me :)

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hi, Yuttadhammo! Sorry for the inaccurate information about your Twitter handle, when I searched for you on Twitter I couldn't find anything. But it's good to know that you do have one, and thanks for letting us know.
I just read the interview and really enjoyed it—the Internet is such a presence in our lives now, and I'm wondering where it will go in the future, especially with concern to Buddhism. Anyway, thanks for all the great work you do :)

jacks.bpf's picture

I find the Internet to be such a mixed blessing, but as a writer and media maker I am deeply grateful for the opportunities it allows us to extend our voices into the world. So many stories can be communicated that would otherwise not be shared with thousands of people. And so many isolated folks can find each other, whether they be Buddhist practitioners in remote locations, people living with disabilities, or anyone at all who is up alone late at night thinking about what it means to be alive now.

Thank you for mentioning our blog at Turning Wheel Media on the occupy movement, Emma! So glad you found us. I'm the person who curates the blog, and I'm really excited about the potential it offers to respond to events as quickly as they are currently unfolding around us. We just put up a new post today on practicing generosity in solidarity with occupy Wall Street actions on Wednesday, but from a very different perspective… Check it out: http://www.turningwheelmedia.org/?p=1082!

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Thanks, great article!

Emma Varvaloucas's picture

Hear hear to using the Internet constructively!
I think the most significant difference between the television and the Internet is exactly what you said, Mushim—that as Internet users, we are active creators of Internet content, whereas as television watchers we are merely receptacles to someone else's content choices.
P.S. I've also seen that duck video, it's adorable!

Mushim's picture

I'd say the answer to the question "Buddhism and the Internet: friends or foes?" is a resounding: YES!
In my point of view, the Internet, as television was formerly, is simply a technology-based communication tool accessible to a great number of people. The Internet has no specific content; people supply the content, which ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous, from creative and constructive to mundane to destructive. As a form of expression of human ideas and interests, we can use the Internet to educate ourselves, to buy things, to sell things, for entertainment, for networking, to promote health and well-being, for grassroots organizing, and so on.
Anything that is machine-based almost always has an On / Off button or switch. We can turn on our computer-based devices and use the Internet in beneficial and skillful ways, or we can allow ourselves to waste time.
For those who become addicted to certain forms of Net-based technology and content, 12-Step and other supportive programs may be helpful.
Buddhism and the Internet can be friends and can be foes. We have choices, often moment-by-moment. And I myself love the occasional bout of photos of baby animals. I just found a great YouTube video of a mother duck with a trail of tiny ducklings crossing a plaza and being repeatedly tossed end over end by strong gusts of wind. Distraction? Perhaps. Ducks? Most certainly.