Filed in Social Justice

Buying Wisdom

The Art of Mindful NetworkingRichard Eskow

Buying Wisdom 1Outside a conference on mindfulness for the Silicon Valley crowd stood a corkboard and a pad of yellow Post-it Notes. There, in keeping with the conference’s “Wisdom 2.0” name and theme, attendees were invited to write down their thoughts on creating a “global wisdom culture.” There were 50 or 60 suggestions on the board, mostly for things like online platforms to encourage “lateral communication.” But something was missing, I thought. I grabbed a pen, tore off a Post-it, and added a word that was conspicuously absent from the board: Wisdom.

I know: It might seem like a cheap shot. It’s just that, well, even the very name of the conference seemed off somehow. In the tech world, “2.0” is used to note a newer, better version of the original product. Upgrading the world’s wisdom teachings is a pretty heady ambition. Maybe an inflated sense of self-importance is simply to be expected when an executive from one of the organization’s corporate sponsors, himself a speaker at the event, says things like “Wisdom 2.0 is, quite possibly, the most important gathering of our times.”

Really? The most important gathering of our times? Not the Yalta Conference, or Nixon in China, or the UN Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament? Can’t we at least give the Kyoto talks on the environment an honorable mention?

There’s a revolutionary, fast-paced, and transformative wave sweeping through the elite cultures of the 21st century—but it’s not what its boosters think it is. It’s a wave not of technology but of narcissism, and it’s cresting at the intersection of wealth, corporate power, and guilt, as the rich and wannabe rich nourish their acquisitive drives with expressions of self-love. The third annual Wisdom 2.0 conference was suffused with the same self-satisfied glow that’s found at corporate feel-good events like the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, events where powerful and wealthy elites come to network, schmooze, and congratulate themselves on their own generosity and understanding. Every other presentation at the Clinton gathering seemed to feature images of impoverished African children dancing in water from their village’s new well, while almost entirely missing was any discussion of the role some of the corporations represented there played in creating that poverty.

The Wisdom 2.0 conference provided the same kind of balm for the corporate conscience, but in a different way. While there were some excellent speakers, too many presentations merely offered purveyors of frequently mindless online pastimes the chance to convince themselves that they’re really promoting mindfulness.

If “mindfulness” is to create genuine change in our society, it must involve being mindful of more than just our own need for comfort, good health, or serenity. It must entail being mindful of the social and economic forces that allow some to prosper while others struggle, forces that promote and perpetuate certain behaviors and thought patterns while discouraging or suppressing others. Without that awareness, “mindfulness” will quickly descend into another luxury item that permits the few to ignore the impact of their behavior on others. If they are to attain the significance to which they aspire, conferences like Wisdom 2.0 must open themselves up to a broader kind of awareness than they can achieve by promoting a feel-good, tunnel-vision version of “mindfulness.”

The gathering, which was held February in a hotel and conference center in Silicon Valley, was presented as an exploration of the intersection of modern technology and ancient spiritual traditions. Its theme, according to the website, was “living with awareness, wisdom, and compassion.” It featured well-known Western Buddhist teachers like Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Roshi Joan Halifax. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle was also one of the featured speakers, and some newer figures on the scene, like psychologist and mindfulness teacher Kelly McGonigal (her website tells us it is “where science and compassion meet”) and her sister, my former colleague Jane McGonigal, whose work on computer gaming and social change has made her a rising media star who has been profiled at length on shows like Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program. (Our chat was interrupted in mid-sentence by a couple of investment consultants eager to “network” with her; it was that kind of event.)

Wisdom 2.0’s sponsors and supporters have included such tech giants as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook—and it shows. Their support helped organizers gather this constellation of Western mindfulness luminaries, often pairing them with executives from sponsoring corporations in sessions that felt like awkward blind-date dinner conversations. The “Zynga Meets Zen” session, for example, featured Roshi Joan Halifax and Eric Schiermeyer, a founder of the online game company Zynga, and himself a Wisdom 2.0 supporter. The roshi seemed to bristle slightly as conference organizer Soren Gordhamar introduced Zen and gaming on seemingly equal terms—but it could be argued that she didn’t bristle enough. “There is a kind of brilliance in Zen,” said Gordhamar, “and a different kind of brilliance in games....”

Gordhamar’s remark seemed to equate Zen Buddhism’s accomplishments with those of a company whose most notable achievement is the Facebook game FarmVille, but Schiermeyer was not one to see any incongruity in the comparison. Rather, he went on to effusively praise his own venture’s capacity for “clarity and insight.” Schiermeyer, like many other speakers, pushed the idea that mindfulness can and should be marketed the same way companies like Zynga market FarmVille, or with the same techniques they use to motivate their owners and employees—through acquisitiveness and need, or what Schiermeyer called “the technology of incentive.” There is a world in which the works of Dogen and Eisai as human achievements are indistinguishable from a game that encourages users to buy and trade pastel-colored animals on social media sites. To attend conferences like Wisdom 2.0 is to enter that world.

Like last year’s Buddhist Geeks conference, the meeting also included a lot of talk about “branding.” Schiermeyer’s bent for motivational selling proved to be popular, never more incongruously so than when he said that “if somebody wants to become a millionaire, which a lot of people do, and ... you can convince them that the best way to become a millionaire is to adopt these practices in a directed, conscious way, then you'll end up having a bunch of really conscious millionaires."

A venture capitalist in the audience agreed, telling me afterwards that “people today want to be millionaires, so we should market spirituality together with the ability to become a millionaire." He defended Schiermeyer's position. “What’s the worst that could happen? “You’d have a lot of mindful millionaires. That would be a good thing.” Unfortunately, comments like these may have been inevitable, since conference organizer Gordhamar was occasionally given to saying things like "there's a place for the authenticity of a lineage and a practice ... and there's this other voice which says No, but every generation is different, let's just go wherever they're putting their attention, who cares where the hell they're putting their attention, let's meet them there and let's be very creative in how we can incorporate it ... both potentially have a place."

Is that so? What about the matter of motivation? What matters isn’t just whether you’re mindful but also what you are mindful of. If your awareness is centered on money and comfort, does that help anyone else? Does it help you?

The Wisdom 2.0 conference and its organizers were also promoting a technology-centered vision of mindfulness like that reflected in the Buddhist Geeks podcast and conference, websites like Indranet, and a growing cottage industry of techno-spirituality books, blogs, and software products. At their best, these sites and gatherings can represent a kind of democratic leveling of differences among participants. We saw this, for example, at the Buddhist Geeks conference, where, much as they do on the Internet itself, attendees mixed without regard to name recognition, status, sect, or practice. But at their worst, Buddhist technophiles confuse science with spirituality and information with insight, and in the process, they overlook their own best opportunities to make a real contribution to society.

Buying Wisdom 2The clinicalization of spirituality, which seems to reduce it to a matter of physical and mental health, is a common feature of these conferences. While there is some good data suggesting that mindfulness and meditation can have a beneficial impact on individual health, that shouldn’t be confused with wisdom. Too many of these conferences and speakers conflate wisdom with well-being, enlightenment with ease, and compassion with comfort. A quick review of history’s great spiritual figures—the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad being among the best known— shows that they often rejected their own ease and comfort in pursuit of higher wisdom, or sacrificed themselves for a higher purpose once they found it. The journey from sacrifice to enlightenment is codified in religious traditions that range from Native American Sun Dance rituals to Tibetan practices of solitary meditation in caves.

If the subject is wisdom, those reams of blood pressure reports and magnetic resonance studies aren’t as meaningful as their champions claim. “The hours of folly are measured by the clock,” wrote the poet William Blake, “but of wisdom, no clock can measure.”

As at so many gatherings in the digital delta, the discussion at Wisdom 2.0 often confused the medium with the message— or, as they say now, the “platform” with the “content.” Digital technology—computers, cell phones, the Internet—are indeed a breakthrough in human communication, much as printed books, radio, and television all once were. But if the purveyors of those technologies were equally convinced they were revolutionizing the human experience, they left no record of it. The printing press played a central role in the Protestant Reformation, but it is hard to imagine Gutenberg sponsoring a gathering to praise the new wisdom he was bringing into being through his invention. Television pioneer David Sarnoff never tried to book Gandhi into a meeting room to praise the revolutionary human potential of his medium. What is it about digital entrepreneurs that creates such excessive self-regard? A greater sense of history—of block printing in the spread of Buddhism, or books in the democratization of Christianity— would provide these conferences with greater context for discussing newer technologies.

The “awareness” at Wisdom 2.0 too often lacked the “wisdom” and “compassion” organizers promised. The many hagiographic references to Steve Jobs praised a digital pioneer who became, of course, extremely wealthy. Jobs’s turtleneck-wearing, quasi-Buddhist persona was a natural fit for this crowd. But few attendees showed any interest in the tragic world of workers at the Chinese factories who built Jobs’s Apple products. According to independent reports, their lives were made much worse because Jobs chose to ignore reports from aid groups and others about working conditions there.

It’s a shame. Conference organizer Soren Gordhamar has written a book, also called Wisdom 2.0, and he’s a good writer with many useful things to say. It’s unfortunate that the conference didn’t stick more closely to the themes he explored in the book, which asks good questions about the balance between online time and “real life,” the medium’s untapped potential for aiding personal growth, and the challenges of being human in a digital age. You could build a good conference around those questions. The digital generation has few maps to guide it through the new territory wrought by its technology, and support and kindness are always worth sending toward any group of people trying to find their way. But this approach won’t meet their needs any more than it will meet society’s.

Some speakers spoke to those needs eloquently. Jon Kabat- Zinn openly discussed social issues in a way that challenged the insular nature of the gathering. Representative Tim Ryan, a member of Congress from the struggling Ohio Rust Belt, offered a refreshing break from entrepreneurial self-congratulation to discuss the value of mindfulness in urban settings and among children from impoverished families. Congressman Ryan, who has written a book called Mindful Nation, was generous in his assessment of the conference when I spoke with him a few months afterward. It’s “progress,” he said of the conflict between entrepreneurial acquisitiveness and mindfulness.

But the surprise challenge to self-satisfied cocooning came from Eckhart Tolle. I haven’t read much Tolle, who had always struck me as a nebulous and New Agey figure, but he led a meditation exercise masterfully. Tolle told a story about the usefulness of silence—one that ended with a friend sending him a blank text message. That led to the joking idea of an app that sends blank text messages to iPhone users at intervals throughout the day. More importantly, Tolle’s remarks brought a broader awareness into the room. We need a new social order, he said in a soft voice, and a new banking system. These systems have been created by the old egoic consciousness, he added. What’s more, said Tolle, we could drown in an excess of information and suppress creativity through an excess of thinking. These words challenged both the self-satisfaction and the economic goals of many conference attendees, and in doing that, Tolle provided a glimpse of what gatherings like this can be— and what they must become, if they are to be meaningful.

Instead, Wisdom 2.0 featured too many words like those that appeared on a conference whiteboard: “Can the soul learn to tweet?”

Wisdom is not necessarily synonymous with comfort, or better health, or even happiness. If Wisdom 2.0 had addressed the sometimes painful conflict between technological growth and human needs, it would have been forced to challenge its attendees, its speakers—and yes, its corporate sponsors. It could be argued that this, and not feel-good sessions for acquisitive millionaires, is the work of wisdom. Philosophers like Mortimer Adler, along with later thinkers like the economist Kenneth Boulding, created a simple hierarchy, known as DIKW, that was applied to early thinking about computer technology. It stood for Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom, with data at the lowest rung on the ladder and wisdom at the highest. Each of these rungs is important. But data and information are not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom.

One week after the conference ended I found myself at a different gathering, this one a gathering of Sufi musicians in South Africa, where I had traveled to follow the work of an aid group working with HIV-positive Zulu villagers. A young Sufi singer from Mauritius made a striking observation. “All prophets in history,” she said, “came to upset the social order, not reinforce it.” That should be the goal of Wisdom 2.0 or any other gathering that claims to pursue true innovation—because insight is disruptive, wisdom upsets the old order, and mindfulness must inevitably lead us to confront those aspects of ourselves we’d rather bury in self-congratulation.

“Wisdom,” said William Blake, “is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy.” That market isn’t a great place to “network” with potential customers, or to find venture capital for your next start-up company. But if these conferences genuinely want to promote wisdom, they’ll need to go there eventually.

Richard Eskow is a writer, consultant, and musician, who is a senior fellow with a public policy group. A Tricycle contributing editor, he also contributes regularly to The Huffington Post.

Artwork by Sophia Chang.

This version of "Buying Wisdom" has been revised to correct inaccuracies or clarify points Soren Gordhamar, the founder of Wisdom 2.0, alerted the editors to:

This is the third annual Wisdom 2.0 conference, not the second.

Two quotes, one from Eric Schiermeyer, a founder at Zynga, and the other from a venture capitalist whose views are supportive of Schiermeyer's, were conflated in the print version.

Schiermeyer's words were:

If somebody wants to become a millionaire, which a lot of people do, and ... you can convince them that the best way to become a millionaire is to adopt these practices in a directed, conscious way, then you'll end up having a bunch of really conscious millionaires.

The venture capitalist's words were:

People today want to be millionaires, so we should market spirituality together with the ability to become a millionaire.

The print version reads:

… when a venture capitalist said that “people today want to be millionaires, so we should market spirituality together with the ability to become a millionaire.” “What’s the worst that could happen?” Schiermeyer continued. “You’d have a lot of mindful millionaires. That would be a good thing.”

A quote in the print version, attributed to one of the conference's organizers, reads:

“Every generation is different. Who cares how they’re different? Let’s meet them in that place where they’re different.”

The correct quote, spoken by Soren Gordhamar, is:

"There's a place for the authenticity of a lineage and a practice ... and there's this other voice which says No, but every generation is different, let's just go wherever they're putting their attention, who cares where the hell they're putting their attention, let's meet them there and let's be very creative in how we can incorporate it ... both potentially have a place."

Corporate sponsorship:

Zynga was incorrectly listed as a sponsor. It is not. Eric Schiermeyer, a founder of Zynga and conference participant, is a supporter, and the text has been adjusted to reflect that. Paypal was not a sponsor.

Tricycle and the author regret these errors.

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robertrobert's picture

Your music is amazing. You have some very talented artists. I wish you the best of success.
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angusvail's picture

I'm an MBSR instructor. As such, I've participated in the secular mindfulness movement for a few years now. When I first heard critiques of secular mindfulness, they sounded like whining from people who were worried that secular mindfulness would steal their members. MBSR, the way I teach it, is not just about stress reduction; it's about developing a present way of being in the world and that's a moral endeavor. It's only recently started to dawn on me just how far off the mark the secular mindfulness "movement" has become. This article is absolutely brilliant in putting that into bold relief! Thank you, Richard, for stating so clearly where the secular practice of mindfulness is missing the mark. Well done, sir!

junofff's picture

Thank you for this wonderful article.

balmerhon's picture

Hello RJ. Thanks for this article. I got linked to it by reading your newer article on Alternet, 6 Signs our Cutlure is Sick with Greed. Thanks for that also. William Blake really got it. Glad to see someone quoting him. Also Eckhart Tolle is the real deal. I read his first book which I still have, I'm not sure of how he is living, now that he's had great success, but his writings and insights feel very wise to me. Great insights you make also in the Kanye West dialectic, and then such conferences as Wisdom 2.0. Yes, whenever I pick up usually free type 'new age' magazines, I'm appalled at the references...such as, you can have it all..true peace, freedom, and wealth. I'm usually, like...WTF??! It's pretty gross actually. Glad to hear Tolle spoke truth to Power...So Many more need to get it...but how can they possibly 'square' the lifestyle they have been become accustomed to, or desire to become accustomed to, with real peace and freedom and compassion for all. They can't, it's impossible. True spirituality does not crave wealth on any level. Because wealth equals POWER to those who are not truly spiritual. In fact, the truly spiritual are so powerful within themselves, that alone feeds and nourishes them (which is why they are Able to so sacrifice when called for).beyond anything those encultured with wealth and power can imagine. The truly spiritual are RICH in spirit, faith, and love. And yes that is the 'market' we have to attend/study/pratice to attain those wares. Thank you!

kateharp's picture

I live by the Bart (subway) station and my home office window faces outward towards commuters getting off the train. One thing that has changed in the last five years is that people now look down at their cell phones when they walk home. They are reading, texting and talking which has caused a new problem in our neighborhood of people stepping in front of cars and being victms of robbery because they are not paying attention. I think now, more than ever in history, people really need to pay attention to where their mind is and what they are doing. We can talk all we want about mindfulness -- but the first step is to ask ourselves: Are we willing to put away distractions and look upwards when we are walking?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Having one's wits about while taking care of business takes practice. If people are too comfortable or lazy, why would they bother? The 3 poisons innate in human life take over: greed for the latest tech toys, belligerence towards others in the environment we share, and ignorance (and therefore disregard) of the Law (Dharma) underlying all phenomena.

rabeel1's picture

Really great post. I simply unearthed your site and needed to say that I have truly appreciated perusing your blog entries.
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teecomb's picture

I did not like this article, primarily because it ripped on Buddhist Geeks podcast which I have found to be incredibly useful in resolving tension between a western world permeated with modern technology and the spiritual practices that are ancient in origin. The majority of what was written here I had already heard discussed in the many interviews with spiritual masters and innovating tech specialists on that podcast. You should listen to it more- the problem of "McMindfulness" as you are pointing out appears on every other show.

Also, I believe it is common knowledge that when Buddhism spreads to a new country it must be adapted and reborn to suit the psychology of the citizens in that country. Like it or not, technology is a huge part of the psychology of the west (and most of the world, for that matter), so questioning the merging of Buddhist practices and new technologies is pivotal for coming up with a form of Buddhism appropriate for our time and place. These discussions are important.

I do think you make an important point by talking about being mindful of the impact that our consumerism of technology is having on the world. Software design is cool, because it is relatively low impact, but you are right to point out that the factory conditions which bring us all our hardware are unsustainable and violate human rights. Hopefully at future conferences problems such as these are addressed.

rabeel1's picture

This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality. This is very nice one and gives indepth information. Thanks for this nice article.
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brooker's picture

it's encouraging to see any group focus on development of the spirit. as a longtime resident of silicon valley, i do agree with the author's perception that there is a culture of self-aggrandizing (to the point of narcissism, at times) within the tech community. shedding some light on this may be useful to allow recognition of another obstacle along the path (hmmm, i wonder if there's an app for that).

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matthias.steingass's picture

Is this article, its apearence in Tricycle, I sign of hope? That there is – finally – beginning to emerge some insight into american buddhism as nothing much more than a fad?

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism is not a fad. But Americans certainly are faddists. Birth, aging, illness and death do not go out of style. How to conduct oneself while undergoing them is subject to change.

mindfulcarlos's picture

Thought-provoking article. I live in South Florida, and without the Internet I never would have heard of Tricycle, or Wisdom 2.0. Actually, even though I am a paying subscriber to Tricycle, I never would have read this article if it had not been reposted on Wisdom 2.0's Facebook page.

So given the dearth of sanghas that are compatible with my life's responsibilities and my geography, I'm thankful for all these technologies that keep me connected to a mindfulness practice.

I know, it's like going to a zoo instead of going to the African savannah on a safari. But I love looking at elephants, so I'm thankful for my local zoo... Hopefully it will encourage my kids to be kinder to animals when they grow up.

This is where I am in the path... Not all of us are ready to shave our heads and join a monastery.

Thank you

rebelor17's picture

I read this article and particularly this statement and was repulsed. Yes, a strong word and thought, but from my readings of Tricycle and the writings within, this is not a place for the "blue collar" worker. They would never understand a word of rhetoric espoused in the annals of elitist intellectualism. Give us a break. Get real and truly be mindful of the survival of the species. Right work means some of us have the capacity to work in different fields and also the gift of success. No one leaves anyone out. The Eight Fold Path is truly an awesome guide from someone who had a unique gift. How do we bring these thoughts to someone who is trying to eat everyday, avoid the mutilation of their culture? I say, please be OPENLY mindful. Political and social JUSTICE are non- existent and should not be part of our journey. I work on the goodness of me. I share and do what I can, but there are realities we must accept. Let us leave the judgments behind and focus on our own wisdom. Perhaps I missed the point of this whole article...which is a strong possibility. Please don't judge me.

"It must entail being mindful of the social and economic forces that allow some to prosper while others struggle, forces that promote and perpetuate certain behaviors and thought patterns while discouraging or suppressing others. Without that awareness, “mindfulness” will quickly descend into another luxury item that permits the few to ignore the impact of their behavior on others. If they are to attain the significance to which they aspire, conferences like Wisdom 2.0 must open themselves up to a broader kind of awareness than they can achieve by promoting a feel-good, tunnel-vision version of “mindfulness.”"

jmysin1's picture

I would like to share a few thoughts as someone who has attended that last two Wisdom 2.0 events. I would agree the corporate "self aggrandizing" was apparent but moments with Jack and Jon and Roshi and Eckhart were more than enough to create a sangha. Two years ago Jon chastised the audience for trying to tweet while he lead a guided meditation. This year Roshi held the Zynga wonk accountable for statements he made earlier but was unwilling to stand behind offering a more compassionate way of doing business. Zynga share prices have plummeted. Perhaps a lesson not learned. As a healthcare provider I would like to suggest that mindfulness leading to better health is not something to scoff at. As someone embracing the Bodhisattva path I see mindfulness leading to health leading to less suffering as a worthy endeavor. A warning to those who see true wisdom leading away from technology. Roshi Joan tells a story of travelling to Nepal frequently and running into a population immersed in Buddhism who want nothing more than what we have, devices such as iPads! Perhaps the name of the conference could have been more descriptive of what was being offered. In my short spiritual journey I have learned that wisdom will not come from a conference that is outside me but rather a continue looking inward. Thank you to those mentioned for giving me a stepping off point.

Tharpa Pema's picture

Observation: we each enter the Buddhist stream exactly where we are. The wise teacher works with the student wherever he or she is. No student is beneath the teacher’s compassion. Not even the teacher is beneath the teacher’s compassion!

Some students (Wisdom 2.0?) enter the stream clinging to a self-image of wisdom. Some students (Richard Eskow?) enter the stream clinging to a self-image of puncturer of other people’s arrogance. Some students (me?) enter the stream clinging to a self-image of peacemaker.

We all benefit from the compassion of the teacher.

maryse.lepage1's picture

This is a real eye-opener for me. Bravo to speakers such as Eckhart Tolle for trying to bring back participants to a path of compassion and some measure of wisdom. I am struggling with strong judgment as I read about the stellar Buddhist personalities who participated and did not find it possible to bring their own wisdom to bear.
With another recent Tricycle article calling Buddhists to political engagement, I am encouraged by a conversation that is becoming a lot more real and frank. I am not a Buddhist but I use the precepts as life guides and I have been deeply affected by Buddhist “philosophy” over the past 3 years. In this short time, I have often wondered why there is not more social and political engagement on the part of serious practitioners and teachers. I hope that Wisdom 2.0 is not an example of what the new order looks like, and that a very different movement can rise from what Buddhism has to offer in this world.

Dominic Gomez's picture

My observation has been that notions such as non-attachment, non-self, emptiness, et al. obstruct engagement with the reality of samsara (i.e. life).

tomcummings's picture

While the term "interconnectedness" does not appear in this invaluable essay, the concept of the interconnectedness of all beings - such a key pillar of Buddhist thought - certainly imbues its spirit. There is a risk inherent in any mindfulness practice - whether its venue be a corporate-sponsored conference, a local meditation group, or one's own personal discipline - that it will be hijacked by the needs of the self and its constant quest for its own satisfaction. Thanks to Richard Eskow for reminding all of us - not just the Wisdom 2.0 conference participants - that our mindfulness practice is of little value if it is not making us ever more aware of our conection to, and responsiblilties toward, every other being with whom we share the planet.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Andy Warhol commented that "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes." Looks like Wisdom 2.0's had its quarter of an hour.

dhRma4all's picture

Let's keep this in perspective. First, "wisdom" as described in this article is simply one person's limited view of the subject. Obviously, the meaning of "wisdom" to a conference attendee will differ from that of a full-time Buddhist practitioner. Wisdom can be furthered by listening to a number of different ideas on the subject, and this forum provides one means to do this. Usually, the greatest value of such forums is when both participants and viewers alike develop further questions, rather than reflecting on the answers they provide, of for critics to attempt reading the minds of the participants.
Second, even though the author seemed to feel that technology and corporations are somehow fundamentally rather shallow and sinister, and without mindfulness of the impoverished and disadvantaged, let's not forget technology and corporations have arguably brought many irreplaceable benefits to the impoverished and disadvantaged -- perhaps more than their often rather arrogant elitist critics have done. Too many poor people still exist, and we must love them, but also look at the rise of the middle class in places like Brazil, Vietnam, and eastern Europe. The standard of living in the majority of the world has perhaps increased as we apply technology, even though these benefits are often indirect, unpredictable, uneven, and not controlled by a central source. We live in an interrelated world, and just because one group of people (the technocrats) benefit, doesn't mean that others cannot benefit as well. Bill Gates made far more money from Windows than I have, but this should not make me feel hateful or ungrateful to him as I use a windows computer in my office and home. As Guy Consolmagno reports about his time in the Peace Corps. what many people in underdeveloped countries want is more access to technological development, not less.
Third, if you think this situation would change if we applied a rather elitist view of "wisdom" to a complex situation, we may want to guess again. Elitist centralized "wisdom" is not necessarily benign or efficient, as many people from Tibet, Cambodia, or Eastern Europe would suggest, and is no kinder to the poor or to the environment, as the record in the former USSR or modern China would suggest. Even though critics of market economies tend to romanticize central control, history does not suggest this romanticization is warranted, and little in the Pali scriptures support the idea that the Buddha preferred centralized political or economic control outside the sangha (where it was voluntary).
Anyway, thanks for the article and nice thoughts about a complex subject. May you be well and happy, and may your use of technology be beneficial.

Jmah273843's picture

Central control whether it be social political, economic has been shown historically to be a disaster. All these great equality experiments; USSR, China etc. on down to Burma have one common result. Totalitarism

celticpassage's picture

Your wisdom comment reminds me creme brulee.

At a restaurant one time I said I would have the creme brulee and when it came it was simply vanilla custard.

Of course, I said that this isn't creme brulee.

But the waitress assured me that it certainly was.

After explaining what creme brulee really is, she still assured me that it was creme brulee....It's just the way the " chef " here makes it.

I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

wtompepper's picture

Interesting rhetorical strategy—first, you begin with the standard postmodern assertion that there are infinite meanings of wisdom, and they are all completely correct and nobody is ever wrong about anything so we should never be critical or disagree. Wisdom is whatever you want to call it.

Then, you offer the “perspective” of the rich westerner as the “true” version of reality, a perspective in which the suffering caused by capitalism, the inequality and oppression necessary for capitalism to even exist, are simply invisible. From your magically “true” perspective (the one we must “keep it all in”) capitalism only improves the standard of living, and everyone everywhere only wants capitalist commodities. Anybody who is homeless, starving, working under inhuman conditions to produce those commodities, is simply screened out from this glorious perspective.

And then, of course, any insistence that there is a real wisdom, some truth beyond the superficial postmodern tyranny of opinion, is subjected to the tired old cold-war rhetoric.

Finally, the subject is “complex,” which is quick becoming the corporate capitalist excuse for not changing anything.

Great article. It seems there will always be those die hard defenders of the Buddha-was-a-capitalist position, though, to warn us away from truth telling like this. It is just so out of “perspective,” and makes things look so unpleasant.

Misha's picture

I think the article is right on, but also I'd like to point out that well-being and ease have their place, as a first step. It is useful to be healthy and have peace in the face of adversity, in order to be able to bring about meaningful change in the world most effectively, and without destroying ourselves in the process. So the benefit to ourselves IS a benefit to others, if we follow it to its fullest expression; we learn how to heal ourselves and develop true equanimity, so that we have the continuing strength to face what needs to be done in the world, not so we can sit happily in a bubble.

Pbinquito's picture

I love the honesty of this article and the fact that Tricycle printed it. We do need to challenge the motives of the corporate world who seem to be increasingly dedicated to benefiting the few elite. There is greed in us all that we need to examine, but as long as we hold these corporations on a pedestal, we're heading in the wrong direction as a society.

jackfd53's picture

All I can say is wow! My iPersona has been vaguely uncomfortable with the degree of "plugged-in-ness" in my life and this article gives me much food for thought. I can only hope that I can learn something from the process and that it's stimulus doesn't end up as yet another "oh I'm having noble thoughts" consumable for myself.

JeffScannell's picture

Yes indeed. How can we pretend to be mindful and wise if we are ignorant of, and ignoring, those social, economic and cultural forces/structures/institutions that are shaping our minds? Corporations are killing life on Earth for profit and we must beware of becoming sedated and pacified with inner mindfulness as separated from our world.

kirk_1's picture

Well, isn't the pot calling the kettle black... I subscribe to Tricycle for the few nuggets of "wisdom" in each issue, but when I see all the ads it contains - some of them clearly questionable - I'm tempted to not renew. This conference sounds like it just took what Tricycle (and other magazines) do to the next level.

franschaper's picture

I sense a little defensive anger here.
This all makes my head spin. This technology- wired-wisdom is just another layer of gauze...Mara at work... I found anger rising in me as I read this article. Merchandising mindfulness drives us farther and farther away from the point of no point.
I bow to William Blake
"“Wisdom,” said William Blake, “is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy.” That market isn’t a great place to “network” with potential customers, or to find venture capital for your next start-up company. But if these conferences genuinely want to promote wisdom, they’ll need to go there eventually."

michaelstumpf's picture

Interesting that your comments seem so out touch with living on this earth here/now ,participating-engaging wisdom in all it's messiness.Buddha engaged,questioned & shared his life.

sallyotter's picture

Wow. "All prophets in history came to upset the social order, not reinforce it." I heard an interview with Chris Hedges on Bill Moyers, am now reading his books; he's saying the same thing. By supporting the current administration as"'the lesser of 2 evils" I am perpetuating the evil. For me, the biggest challenge is to be politically active while remaining compassionate for all parties. Without anger? Without despair.

Sukha's picture

And quite a challenge it is!

saratree43's picture

How do we discuss issues of social justice in this context without sounding bitter and picky? Is it possible to wake up and not see the connections between corporate culture and suffering? I'm grateful for this article. I remember taking the streetcar down Market Street in San Francisco in the 60's and seeing lighted neon peace signs for sale in the window of Woolworths. A friend commented that there's nothing corporate culture can't co-opt. Is mindfulness a path toward my own enlightenment? A new version of Jesus saves? Or way to clear my mind and open my heart in order to be of service in the world?'s picture

Alltogether, isn't this a step towards a better direction? Everything starts somewhere. And Tolle must have made an impact for more than a one person.

petedignan's picture

I'm headed to Buddhist Geeks in Boulder this week. Richard, you have given me useful insight for considering my participation there. Thank you!

melcher's picture

Bravo! An article on spirituality that actually features critical thinking! Can Buddhism in the United States become more than an upper middle class pursuit? Can we bring ourselves out of the Whole Foods 'Gluten Free' ghetto of social networking fadism and actually confront the real world?