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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!