Posts tagged: buddhism
Photo by Beth Kanter
I wrote about Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s new book The Distraction Addiction for TechCrunch:
“The purpose of technology is not to confuse the brain but to serve the body,” William S. Burroughs once said in a Nike commercial, of all places. But things haven’t worked out that way, at least not for most of us. Our technologies are designed to maximize shareholder profit, and if that means distracting, confusing or aggregating the end-user, then so be it.
But another path is possible, argues Alex Soojung-Kim Pang in his new book The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul.
He calls the idea “contemplative computing.”
Contemplative computing, Pang writes, is something you do, not something you buy or download. He does mention a few useful-sounding applications, such as Freedom, which will block your Internet connection for a set period of time, and full-screen text editors like WriteRoom and OmmWriter (my personal favorite is FocusWriter).
These tools, along with applications like RescueTime and SelfControl, are great — but they’re meant to treat the symptoms of a digital environment designed to distract you. Pang points out that OmmWriter was, ironically, designed by an online ad agency to help keep its copywriters from being distracted.
Also: Watch for Pang on the next Mindful Cyborgs podcast!
KF: Cool. So let me ask you again on the topic of what Buddhist Geeks is. What’s the difference between a Buddhist Geek and a normal Buddhist or a Buddhist Geek and a normal geek?
VH: Yes, it’s a good question. Well, let’s see. I’d say one difference is that most people that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks are not so sure that they are actually in fact Buddhist. That’s one interesting characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that I’ve noticed.
CD: Like me.
VH: Yes. Which is why we’ll see if you’re still in the closet by the end of this conversation. Yes, that’s one characteristic that’s very interesting. The folks that consider themselves Buddhist Geeks often are very skeptical, I don’t know if that’s the right word, or they actively question the validity of any particular model, especially one that originated 2500 years ago in terms of its absolute ability to explain things. I’d say that’s one characteristic of a Buddhist Geek that’s sometimes different than your average Buddhist practitioner. Some Buddhists are like that and others aren’t. Other people treat it much more like a religion in which they’re looking for all the ultimate answers to life and think that religion or the people who started it do have all those answers. Buddhist Geeks tend to question that assumption, and I think that’s a fairly healthy thing to do.
In terms of on the geek side I’d say one of the big differences between a geek and a Buddhist Geek I think … I’m sure you guys in Mindful Cyborgs know this. Most geeks tend to lean in the direction of becoming completely absorbed in their technologies without asking questions about why they’re using them or how they actually support or serve the deeper purposes or aims in life. Certainly there may be a lack of awareness in most of the geek culture about how these technologies actually impact our consciousness or direct first person subjective experience as we move about our day. I think the Buddhist Geek, not by any means rejecting technology, in fact we’re geeks so there’s a lot to be praised and loved about technology, I think Buddhist Geeks tend to ask questions about how that use of technology affects them in terms of their first person experience in terms of their ability to show up in life and participate in a meaningful way.
I think that’s one of the things that Buddhism really has to offer the geek culture is more of the sense of awareness of how our merging with these technologies is changing who we are and how we are and not to do that in some sort of deterministic way where we think oh, we have to, we’re going up in light in a singularity therefore we have to just surrender to what’s evolving. I think, no we actually have to look at these technologies and make determinations about what we’re going to use and what we’re not going to use. Are we fetishizing the technology or are we using it for deeper aims? I think those are questions that we’ve been asking with the Buddhist Geeks project. I think people who identify as Buddhist Geeks, although that’s a weird identity, would probably say they care about those kinds of questions.
This touches all my cynical buttons:
But in today’s Silicon Valley, there’s little patience for what many are happy to dismiss as “hippie bullshit.” Meditation here isn’t an opportunity to reflect upon the impermanence of existence but a tool to better oneself and improve productivity. That’s how Bill Duane, a pompadoured onetime engineer with a tattoo of a bikini-clad woman on his forearm, frames Neural Self-Hacking, an introductory meditation class he designed for Google. “Out in the world, a lot of this stuff is pitched to people in yoga pants,” he says. “But I wanted to speak to my people. I wanted to speak to me. I wanted to speak to the grumpy engineer who may be an atheist, who may be a rationalist.” […]
It also raises the uncomfortable possibility that these ancient teachings are being used to reinforce some of modern society’s uglier inequalities. Becoming successful, powerful, and influential can be as much about what you do outside the office as what you do at work. There was a time when that might have meant joining a country club or a Waspy church. Today it might mean showing up at TED. Looking around Wisdom 2.0, meditation starts to seem a lot like another secret handshake to join the club. “There is some legitimate interest among businesspeople in contemplative practice,” Kenneth Folk says. “But Wisdom 2.0? That’s a networking opportunity with a light dressing of Buddhism.” […]
Steve Jobs spent lots of time in a lotus position; he still paid slave wages to his contract laborers, berated subordinates, and parked his car in handicapped stalls.
Tim McGirk writes about the struggle that Tibetan Buddhist rinpoches — an honorific generally given to supposed reincarnations of past lamas — are having in the modern world:
By and large, the lineage of rinpoches survived intact for eight centuries, until the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet, in 1950. It was easier to maintain this system when the “precious ones” were locked inside monasteries ringed by mountains, far from worldly distractions. But in exile, this tradition is fast unraveling. The younger rinpoches are exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations. The irony is that while Tibetan Buddhism is gaining more adherents around the world, an increasing number of rinpoches are abandoning their monastic vows. Some are having a hard time finding their own path through the complexities of modern society and feel unable, or unqualified, to pass on much in the way of advice. Neither their early training in the monastery nor, supposedly, the good karma of their past lives as teachers is able to shield them entirely from the afflictions that the rest of us experience—desire, rage, attachment, envy, and egotism. The pull of samsara, the flow of worldly existence, can be overwhelming. One Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas has two tests for graduation: first, monks are sent out onto a snowbank wearing only a wet sheet and told to keep themselves warm by tumo, a sort of heat-generating meditation; second, those who pass the first round are sent to the monastery’s printing house in Old Delhi, a neighborhood that teems with prostitutes and myriad sensory distractions. For young monks, the stint in Old Delhi is the harder test.
Full Story: The Believer: Reincarnation in Exile
The New York Times reports:
“People today love high-speed things,” he said in an interview. “We didn’t have instant noodles in the past, but now people love them. For the sake of presentation, we have to change the way we teach Buddhism and make it easy and digestible like instant noodles.”
He says Buddhist leaders should make Buddhism more relevant by emphasizing the importance of meditation as a salve for stressful urban lifestyles. The teaching of Buddhism, or dharma, does not need to be tethered to the temple, he said.
“You can get dharma in department stores, or even over the Internet,” he said.
But Phra Paisan is markedly more pessimistic about what is sometimes called “fast-food Buddhism.” He is encouraged by the embrace of meditation among many affluent Thais and the healthy sales of Buddhist books, but he sees basic incompatibilities between modern life and Buddhism.
His life is a portrait of traditional Buddhist asceticism. He lives in a remote part of central Thailand in a stilt house on a lake, connected to the shore by a rickety wooden bridge. He has no furniture, sleeps on the floor and is surrounded by books. He requested that a reporter meet him for an interview at 6 a.m., before he led his fellow monks in prayer, when mist on the lake was still evaporating.
Monks are suffering a decline in “quantity and quality,” he said, partly because young people are drawn to the riches and fast-paced life of the cities. The monastic education of young boys, once widespread in rural areas, has been almost entirely replaced by the secular education provided by the state.
(via Erik Davis)
Christopher Vitale has been writing essays comparing Buddhism and, for want of a better term, post-structuralism. I don’t feel like I know enough about either subject to know how well he does.
Here’s a bit from the first in the series:
Meditation, then, is practice in separation from narratives and images which we have felt determine some aspect of who or what aspects of ourselves and/or our world are. As each thing comes by in our mind, we separate from it. I’m thinking that thought, but I am not that, it doesn’t bind me, I’m free from it, I can separate from it. I feel that emotion, and yet, it doesn’t control me, it is a part of me, I acknowledge it, I see it as caused by its contexts, but I am free to choose to dive into it and explore it, or let it fade, because I’m not that. I’m rather, a principle of infinite negativity, to use a Hegelian term, a site of infinite creativity. I am only limited by my relation to my contexts, and I can alter this through action, by making the world a better place, a freer place.
And this desire to free the world doesn’t mean doing what we think is best for it, to control it. Rather, it means to try to help the world free itself from its own chains, its own illusion of the necessity of the narratives and images, the essences, which imprison it. It is to want the world to self-actualize, on its own terms. A good therapist wants this both for themselves and their clients. This is what a Buddhist means by compassion.
See also: Defending Post-Modern Theory (As Always) by Adam Rothstein.
Someone recently asked on Reddit: Reddit: Has a monk ever taken DMT and the results been recorded?
I like this response:
Fascinating mental states can be attained through meditation, but Buddhists don’t really go for an attitude of exploring trippy phenomena. The purpose is to get over the endless craving for pleasurable mind states. So adding more uncontrollable stimulation is basically just adding more confusion. Of course, you can turn any situation into a practice, so if you find yourself dosed with DMT, don’t panic – just actualize great prajna wisdom and stay grounded in the hara!
Scott Carney wrote a long piece for Details about “India Syndrome” — one of may place specific menal disorders (see Wired’s coverage of Jerusalem Syndrome, which mentions that the majority of people dealing with these syndromes have pre-existing psychiatric issues).
Less discussed are the disorienting and damaging side effects of meditation. Neophytes have reported seeing walls move or rooms change color. The introspective state that is one of the goals of meditation can induce feelings of paranoia and terror. According to Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University who studies the effects of meditation on the brain, practitioners can perceive small sounds as cacophonies and lose the sense that they are in control of their own actions. Britton has claimed that this experience, which some refer to as the “dark night,” has caused numerous people to wind up on psych wards under suicide watch. Guided visualizations… are “designed to completely psychologically rearrange you,” says Paul Hackett, a lecturer in classical Tibetan at Columbia University. In a foreign setting, that kind of experience can be even more traumatizing, especially when you take into account the way some Westerners in India tend to snack at the country’s spiritual smorgasbord—a little Ashtanga yoga here, some Vipassana meditation there. “People are mixing and matching religious systems like Legos,” Hackett says. “It is no surprise that people go insane.”
There was also a Buddhist Geeks interview with Britton.
(both links via Contemplative Computing)
Previously: The Risks and Rewards of Yoga