Buddhist Geeks and the virtual path to enlightenment

by Ed Halliwell, The Guardian, 9 August 2011

Although no amount of online chatter can replace practising with a real-life community, the wired-up approach has its benefits

Los Angeles, CA (USA) -- First glances might suggest that new technology and Buddhism make for uncomfortable bedfellows. A 2,500-year-old tradition aimed at ending unhealthy attachment seems at odds with gadgetry so addictive that a quarter of smartphone users now check their devices in the bathroom.

The internet isn't an obviously meditative medium, but it is a vibrant space for fresh expressions of ancient insight. Take the popular Buddhist Geeks podcasts, which feature cutting-edge conversations on how dharma teachings are entering the 21st century, mixing creatively with disciplines like evolutionary psychology, physics and computer science.

After a million-plus downloads, chief Geek Vincent Horn and friends have just held their first live conference, drawing delegates from several continents to discuss "The Science Of Enlightenment", "Seeing Through Culture, Staying In Touch With Wisdom", and "Disrupting The Awakening Industry", among other presentations. The debates naturally extended to a lively Twitter hashtag (#bgeeks11), with followers now eagerly awaiting downloads of the main keynotes.

Geekery could bring a radical heart and soul to 21st century Buddhism. Whereas early western devotees grappled for a meaningful way to practice unfamiliar rituals, there is now a younger, confident cohort unwilling just to imitate their elders. While maintaining a deep respect for history, they are rising to the task of developing forms that feel genuine for their age and culture. Out goes dropping out on an eastern pilgrimage, in come Buddhist start-ups making sharply designed apps for modern meditation.

Some of the innovation is driven by need – online retreats and Skype sessions obviate the problem of geographical distance from teachers and practice centres. But there's also a heavy dose of attitude – one of open-hearted scepticism, pragmatism, and a trust that if the old institutions carry truth, they can withstand some fearless inquiry and youthful energy. It's very much in the spirit of Gautama's original message, the application of which is said to be like making good bread – recipes are handed down, but the dough must always be baked afresh. Old loaves soon turn stale.

For all the apparent novelty, it's striking how very Buddhist these geeks are. Whereas proponents of secular mindfulness have downplayed its heritage with medical, psychological and scientific language, making for friendly assimilation into healthcare, schools and workplaces, Buddhist Geeks make few compromises: technology and tantric visualisation, spiritual bypassing, money and sex are just a few thorny issues raised in the website's top 10 interviews. Rather than aiming for mass appeal with a mainstream message, there's a revelling in esoteric knowledge that only the very committed and very geeky would aspire to.

There are risks in a wired-up approach. As intellectual philosophy it has the nutritional value of menu reading, and it's all too easy to get sucked in and swamped by the endless streams of concept in the Buddhist blogosphere (which, naturally, has its own annual awards, the Blogisattvas).

No amount of virtual chatter can replace the challenges and rewards of practising with a real-life community, and lack of guidance from experienced hands can lead to an unholy mess. Ethan Nichtern, whose New-York based Interdependence Project is also making waves, offers a blunt warning: "The internet is not your teacher."

It was perhaps fitting that the closing talk at the conference came from Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, a robe-wearing Tibetan lama whose Rebel Buddha book and website warn against blind attachment to Asian ways, while at the same time exhorting his students to see through all cultural baggage and into the timeless essentials of enlightenment. He urged the Geeks to "put the magic into the heart of technology", and use it "to create connection not isolation". At least, that's what it says on his @ponlop Twitter feed, which is not, presumably, updated from the bathroom.

More here: http://blogs.laweekly.com/stylecouncil/2011/08/buddhist_geeks_descend_on_la.php

We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv