challenge that Buddhism faces today is not with the dharma itself,
the Buddha's teaching - as the timeless message embedded in
the Four Noble Truths maintains its validity - but how to present
this ancient teaching as a meaningful alternative to the young
who have been shaped by the values of the consumer society.
is a new era of technological innovation sweeping the world,
which has spawned a new medium - the Internet's world wide web,
a very powerful communications network and learning environment.
The Internet should not be seen as just a new way to disseminating
or repackage the Buddha's teachings but potentially as a base
for an innovative online dharma community - a Cyber Sangha,
that offers alternative social and spiritual values.
what grounds can we realisitcally predict the future of the
Internet? Well we can get some idea from the trend in the online
growth. At present about 6% of the world's population uses the
Internet. Almost one billion people, or 15 per cent of the world's
population, are predicted to be using the Internet by 2005.
Last year, the US accounted for 34 per cent of Intenret users,
Europe 29 per cent and Japan 10 per cent. By 2005, web use in
Europe and Asia will outpace that of the US. And according to
reports, the spread of mobile phones and other devices that
link users to the Internet will add to this increase.
less-developed nations, the reality is that, most people lack
access or cannot afford the Internet or modem communications.
Overall, about 400 million of the world's six billion use the
Internet daily. Those growing up on the Internet will one day
make up the bulk of the population and there will be very few
non-users down the road.
you look at online religion - it can be expected to boom. Eight
per cent of adults and 12 per cent of teenagers in the US use
the Internet for religious or spiritual experiences, and the
number is likely to grow rapidly, according to a study. So in
spite of the drop in interest in mainstream religions and increasing
secularization, which is the view that one's life can or should
be carried out without a religious element, the age-old search
for meaning has found the new medium - the net.
linking together of the world's population in the globalised
economy is undermining the individual's ability to function
as a cooperative, responsible member of their society. This
happens because the ultimate effect of corporate culture is
to reduce the person to a mere consumer, on the assumption that
happiness can be achieved through acquisitiveness and the enjoyment
has within it a social dimension that can address global problems,
a way to "heal the wounds of the world". This way
is the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. The practice of which
while personal, requiring individual effort has consequences
that are deeply social. So there is a need now for the socially
engaged side of Buddhism to be combined with personal growth
and the path of liberation as the answer to the individual's
will require radical changes before we can see any alternative
to current values and attitudes. Yet the Internet could bring
about such a social revolution in values, as the corporate world,
try as it might has not yet succeeded in dominating it.
we creatively use the technology, the net can cater for the
religious or spiritual side of human nature and the means of
offering care and compassion in this digital world.
with its ancient teaching and cultures must seize the opportunity
and adapt itself so that it can make a meaningful contribution
to the social and spiritual needs of the inhabitants of this
blue planet via this new medium.
Buddhism is not a religion that proselytes, that is, seeking
to win over or convert, it certainly has a sense of its own
mission in spreading its message. In the past the Buddha's Teachings
spread slowly, not only due to the limitations of ancient communications,
but because it needed to make a local adaptation to each new
culture it encountered.
example, it took the Buddha's Dharma about 500 years to go from
India to china. It is not only the time factor, but also the
need to transform itself into "Chinese Buddhism".
That is, it had to accommodate itself to the indigenous religions
and philosophies. Taoism and Confucianism, before it was acceptable
locally. But in the process of accommodating itself to the local
culture the Teaching is transformed and can be very different
from the original.
different in a Globalised World is that the acceptance of the
Buddha's teachings does not depend on whether it can accommodate
itself to a particular culture or religion but the appeal of
its core insights. In fact the cultural accretion has to be
differentiated from the core understandings before it can be
seen to resonate with universal truths. So, in an increasingly
secular and globalised world where technology and scientific
appraisal is all pervasive, the Dharma or Truth itself stands
challenge now is can the Sangha, that is, committed communities
of Buddhists, use the tools and acquire the skills of the Digital
Age? And further, can we find new ways and means of presenting
the Buddha's teachings that are relevant to the digital world
rather than the traditional methods of sermons and ritual that
has little or no appeal to the technocratic generation.
not just technical skills that are needed but the motivation
of selfless service and compassion - core values of the Buddha
Dharma as expressed in the ancient Bodhisattva ideal. It is
becoming increasingly self-evident that we have to move from
the limitation of individual and national boundaries to a worldview
of a shared planet.
such a notion as a Cyber Sangha is to come into being - and
realistically it will probably take a generational change -
it will either come about when young monks in the scholarly
tradition in Buddhist countries go online or more likely, as
is happening now, the new generation of Western Buddhists, who
are not on the whole conditioned by a particular Buddhist culture,
produce more appealing e-Dharma content for its own.
the traditionalists - hankering for the past - there can be
no going back, as it would be foolish to think that one can
create some sort of "Virtual Temple" based on ritual
and ceremony. Or that one can recreate the particular cultural
customs of Buddhism on the net, which unfortunately the pure
Buddha's teachings have become so embedded in.
role of an online Sangha is to offer a spiritual alternative
while dissemination the Dhamma through E-learning (electronic
Dharma). This would need to go hand in hand with the servicing
of the needs of people who are experiencing negative aspects
of the globalised economy - the pressures and stresses it creates.
INSIGHTS AND THE INTERNET
a rapidly changing digital world, where many are stretched and
stressed, we need to come to terms with the effects of such
stress and pressure on the human psyche. I'm not suggesting
that we create some 'virtual utopia' as the Dharma tells us
that there is no certainty and that things are inherently unstable
and insecure. The experiential knowing of this insight allows
us to let go and be free of clinging to the known to blocking
the flow. This acceptance of change and the ability to work
with it is in the words of Alan Watts the "Wisdom of Insecurity".
Internet gives us many opportunities to promote Buddhist values,
understandings and insights on a global scale. Buddhism has
survived materially until now because of the practice of "Dana",
which is a culture of sharing and service, as opposed to the
greed culture based on monetary values. This leads to misuse
of the technology, as the motivation is merely to make a dollar,
as we have seen in the recent collapse of the dotcoms, which
views the internet as a market place it can exploit. In contrast
to this we have the example to the earlier BBS (Bulletin Board
System), which had a culture based on a genuine sharing and
learning community offering a largely free service operated
by volunteers. This is the way an online dharma community will
ideally operate - as a focal point, a hub for community sharing
the spiritual vacuum called the modern world - with its preoccupation
with having it all, there is a need to make known the contribution
that Buddhist mental culture can offer. The techniques of meditation,
for example, can be explained and illustrated very well on the
net through streaming audio and video, with the student being
guided by an online teacher. The characteristic of the internet
is its interconnectivity - global interdependence. This is a
core Buddhist understanding ,a universal truth. Its appreciation
leads to the maturity that moves from an ego-self preoccupation
to an interconnectivity that empathizes with all suffering life.
will be a new emphasis on lifelong learning, on training and
retraining, of development and innovation. This era of all-encompassing
change will need to be accompanied by an ability to cope with
the pressures caused by the new technologies, without becoming
overextended and stressed. So we will need to have the skills
to manage our own mental health through the healing practices
and insights that the dharma can give us.
are seeing that the psychological and healing side of Buddhism
is being utilized by modern Psychotherapy. That there has been
a shift from what was predominantly the ritual needs of lay
people to a search for help and support in an increasingly alienated
world. So counselling services in the form of interactive multimedia
via the net is the way of the future, as is demonstrated by
the popular "chat culture" on the net.
is to be hoped that a Cyber Sangha would be supported by, or
be an extension of the locally based Buddhist establishments,
as it evolves into a network of likeminded people - lay and
ordained - who come together as an online community - followers
of the Buddha - living out the insight of the dharma and communicating
the Buddha's message of intelligence and compassion in this
new Digital World.
or Electronic Buddhist learning can become a tool for spiritual
as well as social development, when access is improved and learning
techniques are refined. The reality is that it can never altogether
replace face-to-face teachings but has added a new delivery
medium that allows for skill-enhancement and easy accessible
training. The worldwide Buddhist community will need to develop
its own e-learning content with the traditions coming together
and pooling their knowledge and skills and researching new ways
of presenting the Buddha's Teachings out of compassion for this
has never been consider that the Buddha's teachings are to be
found only in the text, actually in the past the dharma was
transmitted as much through oral teachings. There is a temptation
to merely dump data (facts) online rather than exploit the new
ways of presenting information that the technology provides
Data and information do not necessarily translate into knowledge.
temple approach in teaching the dharma is through sermons with
the teacher or the content being unchallenged. The new way is
through group learning via discussion. On the net its chat groups
where the teacher or moderator acts as a facilitator for an
ongoing debate or discussion.
benefit of internet learning is that you have access to information,
and you also have access to other people, students or experts.
It's the combination of the two that provides an extra dimension
than most other technologies. In fact what is happening now
is that students are looking for resources themselves and then
interacting with them.
from animated characters that act as virtual teachers, could
be the future of online learning. Experts predict that successful
electronic learning computer programs will become more sensitive
to human nuances and motivation - software that initiate human
recently exaggerated publicity or hype in the news media about
the internet was common, but with the collapse of the dotcoms
we can take a more sober view of the situation. The reality
was and is more of a digital divide, which is a term for the
difficulties some groups in society face in even getting access
to computers and the internet.
especially applies to the economically disadvantaged Buddhist
countries in the Theravada tradition. Cambodia, Myanmar and
here in Sri Lanka. Online technology is unequally distributed
because access to and use of computers and the Internet mirror
the socioeconomic divide between rich and poor individuals and
nations. Another factor is that the English language dominates
cyberspace so students and other with little or no understanding
of English are often denied access to online learning. Although
this is changing as the net is becoming more multi-lingual.
BUDDHA'S TEACHING OR NOT?
matter that we will have to face is how can we know that what
is posted on the internet is an authentic Buddhist Teaching
or not? The way to judge this is to match what is posted with
the Four Noble Truths as all Buddhist traditions accept the
Four Noble Truths as the structure for their practice in one
form or another. But there have been individuals who make extravagant
even bizarre claims to some special knowledge or enlightenment.
I can suggest at least one way to judge this. The transmission
of knowledge in Buddhism is essentially based on lineage, which
is the verification of the students understanding by a lineage
teacher or master. While there is a purely text based teachings,
the scholarly tradition, the practice of mental culture is based
on experiential learning which can be checked by a lineage holder.
So whether the postings on the internet claiming to be the Buddha's
Dharma is authentic Buddhist Teaching or not, or whether it
is just the concoction of a cult - could be checked through
its lineage, or lack of it.
OF THE FUTURE?
for some it may seen rather futuristic, broadband and interactive
technology promises an enormous expansion of the potential of
the worldwide web to create a true online community and enhance
online learning. On the other hand, we have to work with the
current limitations until the interactive technology matures.
And especially we will have to come to terms with the realities
in Buddhist countries that are being left behind in the information
way to address this problem is the use of hybrid technology.
To this end we are developing ways to deliver e-learning content
via the text-based material on the web or through intranets
using CD-ROM. For example, BuddhaNet has produced a CD-ROM on
"Buddhist Studies for primary and secondary students"
that can be use on an intranet in schools or dharma centres.
The CDs is actually a web page (HTML files) that includes Adobe
PDF (Portable Document Files) documents of all of the material,which
when printed can then be photocopied. Also we have produced
a multimedia CD that interfaces with our web site, and includes
over sixty Buddhist e-books.
traditional temples and bricks and mortar centres will continue
to service people needs for the dharma, yet this can be expanded
and enhance, and may I say possibly made more relevant, if the
evolving Cyber Sangha, who need resources, is supported in its
aim to develop the dharma online using the latest technology
that is available.
a teaching is ancient that doesn't mean that it cannot sit comfortably
with the new technology. If the Buddha were alive today, he
would surely be at ease in the digital world. There is a new
generation growing up with the Internet's technology, who regard
it as the natural place to find information, for online learning
and for spiritual and emotional support. Can we hope that it
will be a place that one goes to have a meaningful experience
of the Buddha's dharma as well - it's the future!
Pannyavaro is the Webmaster of Buddhanet.net, President of the
Buddha Dharma Education Association and Vice-President of the
Buddhist Federation of Australia.
Source: Daily News, Sri Lanka, Saturday, 25 August 2001,