The Urban Dharma Newsletter - Aug 4, 2008
In This Issue: Monks, Nuns and the Internet
1. Only broadband will do for monks with an internet habit - By Chris Green
2. "Thinking of becoming a monk or nun? Look to the Web" / From North County Times - By SARAH N. LYNCH
3. Monks, nuns get back to roots with computers - By Jennifer Brown / Associated Press
4. Web Monks - By Paul Moses
5. Should Monks Surf the Internet? - Ven. Pannyavaro
I saw the first article yesterday (Only broadband will do for monks...) and it got me thinking... Monks, Nuns and the Internet... How has the internet changed Monastic life???
Just added a really cool animated video on Meditation... Its 2:45 min in length and says a whole lot, in a short time... If you find the time:
And... Ill be posting a new podcast real soon... A talk I gave yesterday on the Four "Brahma-Viharas.
Peace... Rev. Kusala
1. Only broadband will do for monks with an internet habit - By Chris Green / Friday, 1 August 2008
"Patience is one of the characteristics of monastic life, but even the patience of the brothers was being tested by our slow dial-up internet service," said Father Daniel, the Abbot of Caldey Abbey.
Choose to be a monk and you accept that your life will be a spartan existence dominated by prayer, chastity and reflective solitude, far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
But such a traditional perception of monastic life is being challenged by a community of Catholic monks who live in a century-old abbey on Caldey Island, off Pembrokeshire in south-west Wales. Sick of being hindered by the limitations of their ancient dial-up internet connection, the tech-savvy brothers have installed a rapid wireless broadband receiver inside the abbey tower.
The tonsured community on Caldey Island numbers only 15, and although the monks allow tourists to explore the island during the summer months, charging them a fee for the ferry, money can be hard to come by.
To finance the running costs of the monastery, the brothers produce their own range of products, including bars of chocolate, perfumes, books and DVDs about the life of a monk, sold through their website. The site was created six years ago after the monks invested in a dial-up internet connection, and the business has become a storming success. But after suffering problems with their ageing connection, and unable to connect to the faster wireless networks enjoyed by those living across the water in Tenby, the nearest coastal town, the monks decided enough was enough.
"Patience is one of the characteristics of monastic life, but even the patience of the brothers was being tested by our slow dial-up internet service," said Father Daniel, the Abbot of Caldey Abbey. "Broadband access has made a huge difference to our internet usage. We knew we needed a faster connection, but we had almost given up trying to find a workable solution which would give us an internet connection at speeds enjoyed by others on the mainland. We have many plans to develop our commercial activities now we have a modern, high-speed communications link."
Currently, five bars of home-made Abbot's Kitchen Chocolate are available from the Caldey Island website for £7.25, while two boxes of shortbread are priced at £7.95. The Lavender Collection, a selection of naturally produced bath essences and hand lotions, costs £18.95.
The monks initially investigated the use of satellite technology to solve their computing problems, but thought a satellite dish might have damaged the abbey's status as a listed building. The brothers turned to a Pembrokeshire-based wireless telecommunications specialist, who installed a powerful but discreet receiver inside the abbey tower, allowing a signal to be distributed to surrounding buildings.
"BT's conventional broadband service in effect stops at Tenby harbour and is unable to cross the short stretch of water to Caldey," said Jonathan England, of TFL Group, the company that installed the receiver. "In these situations, wireless broadband can be delivered simply, quickly, cost-effectively and with minimal disruption."
2. "Thinking of becoming a monk or nun? Look to the Web" / From North County Times - By SARAH N. LYNCH
Sister Judith Miryam, the webmistress at the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary in Summit, N.J., believes the monastery's blog has helped attract the interest of six aspiring nuns who have joined the community. Photo courtesy of Columbia News Service.
The day Lauren Franko was inspired to become a nun, she did what many people her age would do: She logged on to the Internet in search of answers. But first, the 21-year-old New Jersey resident had to break the news to her boyfriend, whom she had met in an online chat room a few years earlier and planned to marry.
"I didn't have the grace for marriage," Franko said. "I just couldn't do it. I needed to give myself entirely to God. That was the only way I would be happy."
She began her online search in the fall of 2006, and it eventually led her to a Web site and blog for the Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, a cloistered community of nuns in Summit, N.J. Intrigued, she fired off an e-mail inquiry. A little more than a year later, she entered the monastery.
In doing so, she is also joining an unfamiliar world ---- one without cell phones and, ironically, the Internet.
The cloistered lifestyle may seem incompatible with the Internet. Unlike "active" communities of nuns and friars, which devote themselves to community service and are often seen in public, cloistered nuns and monks rarely leave the monastery. Typically, they also limit their use of mass media so that the outside world does not distract them from a life of silence and perpetual prayer.
But now, more cloistered communities are launching Web sites to increase their visibility and assist young people who are exploring religious life. And while there are no statistics to suggest that the Internet is bolstering interest in cloistered life, many cloistered monasteries that have embraced the technology say they are starting to receive more inquiries about their lifestyle through the Internet, and in some cases, are experiencing newfound growth.
The Dominican Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary got its introduction to the online world about eight years ago, when the sisters invited two aspiring priests to give a talk about the Internet's pros and cons. Despite some initial concerns, the women took a vote and decided it could be used in a positive way to educate interested women about their life, recalled Sister Judith Miryam and Sister Mary Catharine, two of the more Internet-savvy nuns.
In 2004, the two decided to launch a blog to engage people and take them inside the monastery walls. The blog is written from the cloistered community's perspective, and it talks about everything from the handmade soap they sell to the rabbits eating their garden.
"This is how these young women communicate, and this is how they want to be communicated to," said Sister Judith Miryam, who maintains the Web site and believes the blog has helped spur the interest of six new women there, all of whom found the monastery on the Internet.
Many people who find their monastery of choice on the Internet say they are happy to leave the technology behind them. While some cloistered monasteries like the one in Summit allow minimal Internet use to e-mail family or buy groceries, others prohibit it.
That is the case for the Carmelite Monks of Wyoming, a new monastery founded in Clark, Wyo., in 2003 and whose Web site has caught the interest of some aspiring monks. Soft chants begin to play as its site pops up, and visitors are greeted by a photo of three monks bathed in the glow of candlelight. The monastery has eight members and another six candidates on the way. The site was created shortly after the monastery's founding and improved several months ago. But if interested men wish to contact the monastery, they have to pick up the phone or write a letter.
That's because the community does not have Internet access, even though the Internet is the way that some men find their way to the monastery. The site is maintained by people outside the monastery.
"Why have the walls around the monastery when the Internet is literally the world at your fingertips?" asked Brother Simon Mary, 24, who found the monastery online, but does not miss the technology. "For us, those things kind of break down the integrity of the enclosure. We believe it's important to use these modern resources ... but at the same time in a way that will not be detrimental to the world we're striving after."
It's hard to say whether the Internet is helping to bolster growth in cloistered communities. But the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University, a Catholic school, is planning to launch a survey that will look at recent membership patterns in active and cloistered communities. The survey will also include questions about the Internet's role in vocations, said Sister Mary Bendyna, the center's executive director.
Even without statistics, some monasteries that used to be reluctant about having a Web site are starting to change their position as they grow to understand the importance of the Internet in the lives of young people.
Several cloistered Carmelite communities, including the Monastery of Cristo Rey in San Francisco, said a Web site could be in their future.
"I accept the fact that times have changed," said Mother Elizabeth, the prioress at the San Francisco monastery, who added that the monastery is still trying to figure out the logistics of setting up a site. "This is where young people are going."
Despite the rise in Internet use, however, some monasteries are sticking to traditional ways.
In Alexandria, S.D., the Discalced Carmelite Nuns at the Mother Marie Therese of the Child Jesus have worked to preserve their more conservative lifestyle. They do not show their faces to the public and they do not have television.
The community did get permission from its prioress about a year ago to test the waters of the World Wide Web when one of its sisters enrolled in an online course. But ultimately, the nuns decided it was simply too distracting to their life of silence and prayer, and they got rid of it.
"If you've been eating organic food and you have been eating fresh things, and then go out and have something that's processed, after years of that it does something to your system," said Sister Mary, who is not allowed to reveal her full name to preserve the integrity of the enclosure. "That is the same thing we have found with the Internet. It's too invasive."
3. Monks, nuns get back to roots with computers - By Jennifer Brown / Associated Press
DEVON, Pa. -- In the Middle Ages, monks labored with quill pens and parchment paper to transcribe manuscripts. Today, monastics again are preserving our collective memory with the tools of the time -- a keyboard and mouse.
The Electronic Scriptorium is an agency based in Leesburg, Va., that contracts with nuns and monks to create computer archives for newspapers, libraries and museums. While providing a small income on a flexible schedule for the often reclusive religious communities, the jobs also take advantage of the monastics' 1,000-year-old reputation for accuracy and intelligence.
``It really appealed to us because it seems right in line with what monks and nuns have been doing for centuries,'' said Sister Zita Wenker, a nun at a priory in this town outside Philadelphia and one of 60 monastics from around the country who helped computerize captions for some 2 million photos in the New York Daily News archives.
The mainstay of the Scriptorium's business is library conversion -- transferring card catalogs into computer databases. The 8-year-old company works on about 60 projects a year for Fortune 500 companies, research businesses and major libraries, said founder and president Ed Leonard.
The Scriptorium has taken on photo cataloging projects for Time Warner, U.S. News & World Report and Conde Nast, Leonard said.
``To me, it felt like going full circle ... in having the monks using this tradition in transmitting to the future,'' said Rodica Preda of The Frick Collection in New York City. She is directing the electronic conversion of card catalogs at the Frick Art Reference Library. The 70,000 cards list auction catalogs dating back to 1616.
For the Daily News, the Scriptorium workers spent about two years editing and rewriting captions, sometimes checking names and correcting typos, said photo director Eric Meskauskas.
``We couldn't just use clerk typists, we needed somebody with a brain who could look at these (pictures) and make some assumptions,'' Meskauskas said. The monks and nuns, he added, ``are educated people who can use their brain and do that.''
About half the members of Benedictine communities have college degrees, speak several languages and have excelled in other disciplines before joining the church, Leonard said.
Fluency in five languages was useful to Sister Mary Bruna as she helped convert the Pierpont Morgan Library catalogs in New York; about every fourth card lists a translation.
``It's a challenge, and I like that. You need to be smart, and use your head,'' said Sister Bruna, who was a part-time teacher in England, Germany and Singapore before joining the priory in Devon.
The Scriptorium, named for the writing room used by monks during the Middle Ages, began in 1991 when Leonard met a community of monks in Berryville, Va. Leonard was looking for a career change -- he had been an environmental activist, among other things -- and the monks needed a new source of income to supplement their seasonal fruitcake business.
``The monasteries went through a period of hundreds of years where they were the primary businessmen,'' Leonard said. ``Now they are finding there is competition from large commercial businesses. They are trying to live a simple life, and marketing doesn't fit into it.''
Since then, he has contracted regularly with about a dozen monasteries, peaking with a total of about 60 monastic workers during the Daily News project.
Participating monasteries, besides Berryville, are in Chicago; Scituate, Mass; Independence, Mo; Corpus Christi, Texas; Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa. Communities in Arkansas, California and North Carolina also participated but asked that their locations not be revealed in order to preserve their seclusion.
In Scituate, Mass., two nuns share the Hermitage of the Advent, a particularly solitary order of monastics who rarely leave their estate.
``It fits into the rhythm of prayer and work that we keep,'' Sister Mary Wolf-Salin said.
The Scriptorium works almost exclusively with members of the Benedictine order, a Roman Catholic community noted for its piety and encouragement of education. In addition to following a devout spiritual life, Benedictine monks must make a living.
Scriptorium jobs pay about $10 to $14 an hour per person, though each monastery works at its own pace and is paid per project. For the Morgan Library conversion -- a complicated database that includes more than 500 possible fields per card -- the Devon sisters complete about 13 cards per hour.
``We always insist that the work fit into our life, rather than the prayer life fit around the work schedule,'' Sister Wenker said. ``It's not that easy here, either.''
4. Web Monks - By Paul Moses
HI - This is an older article, and a lot of the links dont work, but I thought it was worth adding to the newsletter Rev. Kusala
Tap into monastic life and spirituality by surfing the Internet. Numerous monastic communities have Web sites that are inspiring, educational and entertaining.
ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR, I travel 275 miles to spend a few days with the monks at Mount Saviour Monastery, a Benedictine community near Elmira, New York. The routine of chanting the psalms seven times a day, listening to the bleating sheep on the farm and hiking hills that rim the horizon always soothes the soul. As I head back to New York City, I take along notes reminding me of new resolves gleaned in listening to the homilies at Mass or from the quiet time spent in prayer, reading and walking the woods. Once back in the
bustle, however, I don't have much success incorporating these insights and practices into my everyday life.
But I was shocked one day to find a new aid in the effort to tap into monastic spirituality, with its powerful sense of God's presence in everyday life. The monks at Mount Saviour, so resolutely low-tech as they live out the rule St. Benedict wrote in the sixth century, have started a Web page on the Internet (www.servtech.com/~msaviour).
I could look again at the steepled church, the terraced pastures dotted with sheep or the candle-lit, 14th-century statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace before which the monks sing each evening. I could read reflections from Brother Pierre, a monk who tends to the flock and is pictured on the site playing his harp. I could read the monastery's monthly newsletter, which always includes some spiritually calming remarks from Father Martin, the abbot.
Brother Pierre is Mount Savior's Webmaster, a title which sounds like one St. Benedict himself would have used for a monastery's Internet gatekeeper. Brother Pierre also includes a set of links to other monastic Web sites. (A link allows the user to go to another site on the World Wide Web by clicking the computer's mouse, avoiding the need to type in a cumbersome address code called a "URL.") Like some medieval traveler who sought hospitality at monasteries along the road, I was soon on a cyberspace journey from one monastic community to the next.
This Internet journey led to peaceful wellsprings in the middle of hectic workdays and to restful breaks in the evening. There were bits of wisdom to be found in the words of abbots and ancient writers, new perspectives to be experienced, even if only vicariously, by following a monk through a day of prayer and praise. There were paintings and poems by monks and nuns, pictures of monasteries in mountain valleys, deserts and forests.
Monastic communities are opening the doors to their treasures in a new way. In the past, they spoke to the world largely through books written by the few authors who'd truly gotten to know them. Now they are speaking for themselvesnot just a few well-known monasteries, but communities large and small throughout the world.
Extending Monastic Hospitality
For the monks and nuns, the Internet has opened a new window to the world, allowing monastic hospitality to be extended around the clock without excessive intrusion on their lives of prayer and contemplation.
This effort to bring a taste of monastic life to the world in an unprecedented way is helping to bring the world to the often-isolated doorways of monasteries. "Already we have women who have come to us seeking to join us in community, who found us via the Internet," Sister Diana Sebago of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, wrote in an e-mail interview. "We have had volunteers come and live with us for two months from as far away as Slovakia. They found us on the Internet" (www.benedictine.edu/mount.html).
For those interested in understanding monastic spirituality, I recommend starting with a visit to the Abbey of the Genesee (web.lemoyne.edu/~bucko/genesee.htm) because of its excellent description of the Liturgy of the Hours, the heart of a monk's daily activity. By singing the psalms seven times a day, the monks hope to sanctify the passage of time with continuous prayer. "It consecrates to God the cycle of night and day, the liturgical seasons and the whole gamut of human activity," the monks explain. "It is also the chief means for achieving incessant prayer, mindfulness of God and transformation in Christ."
The explanation of compline, the last common prayer before sleep, is well worth a visit to this site: "Compline may be understood as a daily exercise in the art of dying. For what is sleep if not a little rehearsal for death?"
A companion Web site also shows another good point of some monastic offerings on the Internet: strong homilies. Time spent contemplating the Word and reading the Church's great doctors and mystics gives the monastic homilists a special perspective.
An example of this can be found at www.frontiernet.net/~johnbamb, which features homilies from Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, O.C.S.O. "It is a way of sharing and I see it as part of monastic hospitality, extended to those who cannot get to the monastery but can profit from the information put on the Web," the abbot wrote in an e-mail interview when asked how his monastery's Web site fits with monastic tradition.
The Abbey of the Genesee, a Trappist monastery in upstate New York, updates monastic tradition with an online guest book. Much as they would at a monastery, visitors can scan the remarks left by other visitors and see how far they've traveled. "I never saw such a meaningful explanation of the Liturgy of the Hours," one visitor said. "As a grandma new to the Web, I'll encourage my grandchildren to look you up. And I shall return to this site!"
Inspirational Chanting and Illustrations
The Monastery of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine community in New Mexico, offers brief sound clips of the monks' chants, including the first 12 seconds of the "Salve Regina." This Web site offers some of the most beautiful pages on the Internet. The monks at Christ in the Desert design Web pages in much the same way their ancient predecessors illustrated scrolls. Visitors are welcomed with a colorful yellow and red drawing of the monastery's Spanish-style bell tower.
Clicking on the link "Seeking God" is worthwhile, even for the "S" in the title: The hand of God extends from the upper loop and a monk curls up with a book in the lower loop.
This site also offers an informative section on monastic spirituality as a response to Matthew 6:33, which says, "But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides." And in a playful touch, the aging "Brother URL" leads visitors on a tour, noting that in St. Benedict's day a monk too old to do physical work would handle the task of greeting newcomers.
Thomas Merton and Fruitcakes
Many of the monastic Web sites offer a good overview of a monk's or nun's day, focusing on the Liturgy of the Hours. One of the best can be found at www.mepkinabbey.org, Web site for Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South Carolina. Click on "walk a day with us," starting with a description of vigils at 3:20 a.m.
Mepkin Abbey also offers a link to other Trappist and Benedictine Web sites. One link leads to Mepkin Abbey's parent community, the Abbey of Gethsemani, which dedicates a page to the monk whose writings made this Trappist community so famous: Thomas Merton.
And yes, you can order Gethsemani's fruitcakes through their Web site. Most of the monasteries with Web sites have online stores that offer books as well as products made in the community. Most also offer details on how to visit for retreats.
Another good entry point to the cyberworld of monastic wisdom can be found at, Web site of St. Andrew's Abbey, a Benedictine community in Valyermo, California. The monastery's lovely view of snow-capped mountains in the southern California desert greets the visitor, and the information that follows is set against a grainy, beige background, suggesting it is printed on a scroll.
Clicking on an article about lectio divina offers another good gateway to exploring the monastic life. The visitor can read an excellent article by Father Luke Dysinger about this practice, which he calls "a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God." The article offers a step-by-step explanation about reflecting on a short passage or word in Scripture, followed by prayer and contemplation. It offers a welcome caution against striving for any particular goal, saying that lectio "has no other goal than spending time with God through the medium of His word."
Father Dysinger, prior of St. Andrew's Abbey, wrote via e-mail that the monastery's Web site has proven to be helpful: "We have had guests to the retreat house...who first found out about the monastery through the Web site, and one of our observers [postulants] first discovered us in that way."
Other articles about monastic spirituality are offered by St. Benedict's Monastery, a Trappist community in Snowmass, Colorado. It offers The Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and the Cloud of Unknowing, by William A. Meninger, and a link to Thomas Keating's The Method of Centering Prayer.
Visit a Llama Ranch
One of a monastery's roles has been to serve as a repository for Christian culture and learning. This tradition is being carried on in fine style by the nuns at Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North Dakota. Sister Jill Maria Murdy, O.S.B., has pulled together a virtual library under the theme of "Prayer and the Internet." She says, "The media are very fond of playing up the evils of the Internet....We may place a block on the Internet to protect our children. But we definitely should not ignore the Internet and hope it goes away. It will be with us for a long time."
This Web site offers a history of prayer and communication going back to Babylonian cuneiform, and then suggests links on such subjects as centering prayer, mystics, the rosary, social justice and Church documents.
Sacred Heart Monastery's Web site also has an endearing link to pictures of the monastery's llama ranch. "You might be wondering, what do a group of Benedictine sisters and a group of llamas have in common?" the narrative asks. "Lots! We have put benches by our pasture just to sit and watch the llamas." That image of the nuns setting out their chairs in the evening to watch their llamas at play in the fields of the Lord is one that lingers.
There are other sites that reflect the gentle humor found in monastic communities. The New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery near Dubuque, Iowa, for example, greets visitors to its Web site with this message: "It is a fine clear day in summer; the puffy white clouds tumble slowly across the sky, the wind is sighing gently in the pines, and there is a small sign: 'This way to the Guesthouse.'"
Clicking on that "sign" leads to New Melleray's "Guesthouse on the World Wide Web," which offers a photo tour of the grounds, answers to some of the questions visitors have asked by
e-mail, and pictures and biographies of many of the monks.
E-mail Prayer Intentions
The Carmelite Order, with its focus on such powerful spiritual writers as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, also features some interesting Web sites. The Carmelite nuns of Eldridge, Iowa, offer a way station to the Web pages of other Carmelite communities. And their Web site offers links to "Prayers of the Carmelite Mystics." For those who'd like a more in-depth look at Carmelite spirituality, this site provides a link to articles that have appeared in Carmelite publications.
The Austrian province of the Teresian Carmelites also offers links to online literature and connections to other sites dedicated to St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
The Carmelite Institute also publishes a monthly "e-zine" about Web sites it considers interesting on Carmelite topics. This site also provides links to Carmelite writers.
Like many of the monastic communities with Web sites, the Carmelites of Eldridge offer to pray for the intentions of their Internet visitors. Just click on "Send e-mail," and the power of the Internet becomes a tool to reach toward the Highest Power.
Paul Moses is an editor at Newsday, a New York City newspaper, and is active in his parish, St. Columba in Brooklyn.
5. Should Monks Surf the Internet? - Ven. Pannyavaro
Should monks surf the Internet? Is spreading the Dhamma electronically sacrilegious? Is a computer just a glorified typewriter or tablet? It is not as if Buddhists are any more technophobic than any other members of the religious community are, but there needs to be an acceptance of computers and new technology as we enter the twenty-first century, which isnt necessarily apparent at the moment.
What is happening now is that we have new tools and more sophisticated ways to spread the Dhamma. So now monks, who have always had the role of teachers and scholars, are becoming increasingly computer literate. So it is the cyber monk, skilled in the new medium of the Internet, that will take the Buddha-Dhamma into the twenty-first century and beyond.
Monks and computers are still a novel combination. For traditional lay Buddhists that can pose a dilemma, especially if the monks lifestyle is perceived only as reclusive. So when you put monks and technology together, some traditional Buddhists have problems with it. There tends to an uncomfortable view of a monk using a computer. I, as a "cyber-monk", have found myself telling and sometimes reassuring people that I do not play computer games! I often get a distinct feeling of disapproval, as there seems to be the misconception that using a computer somehow conflicts with or goes against the Vinaya. Well of course there were no computers at the time of the Buddha, but is a computer any different than more traditional forms of communication? Is there any difference between typing a word document and writing with a quill on a parchment? Surely its the content that is more important.
But only rarely have I experienced outright hostility: Once a long-time supporter came to my office and watched me at work. I could see that she was disturbed about something, in fact she seemed to be very upset. Suddenly she said, "Your computer screen is dirty!" And then as she stormed out, added "
and so are your glasses!"
If anybody can set up a Buddhist web site and present what they believe to be the Buddhas Dhamma, is it the true Dhamma? Where is the guarantee of authenticity, the orthodox may ask? Well fortunately nobody can control the Internet so all sides and opinions are expressed equally. It is this freedom that makes the Internet flourish as a true global village without the dictation of any one religion or politically motivated party (not even Bill Gates!). Therefore, the Dhamma, as always, can only be recognised through the genuine experience of individual practitioners and not by any arbitrary authority.
The Internet, with its worldwide connectivity, will eventually globalise the Dhamma and free it of all its cultural accretions. Here then is an opening for Buddhism to re-express its essence, freeing itself from the institutional grip and the irrelevancies of non-Buddhist cultural practices. The new cyber temple will become the meeting place for an online Buddhist community of practitioners, as is already happening in the newsgroups and chat channels worldwide. As the infrastructure improves on the net the dataline to the virtual Buddhist community could bring about a renaissance of Buddhism. The idea of Buddhism on the Internet does not threaten or compete with the ancient understandings - it can only make it more accessible and enhance the original teaching, providing an international forum for discussion and education.
The content of the Internet already offers a limitless ocean of information on the Buddha-Dhamma in the form of text based web pages. But increasingly the Dhamma be will be experienced through multimedia, most probably as Web/TV. This means that Buddhist material will be presented in a multimedia context making it more accessible and interesting to the average user and Buddhist student. Buddhism on the Internet will become a powerful communication tool. It gives us new ways of interacting with the world.
The inevitable globalisation of Buddhism, which is happening in business and commerce, will be accelerated by the new medium of the Internet. Why, therefore, are we not now putting the resources into this new medium? How many more temples, stupas, big Buddha statues, etc do we really need? Can we not now see the merit in supporting Buddhist web sites / CD-ROMs for spreading the Dhamma to the office and / or lounge room?
Who has the commitment to keep alive the Buddhas teachings? In the past it has typically been the monks and scholars with specialised training in the Dhamma. Traditionally they have preserved and spread the Teachings. But 21st century Buddhism will be left behind as a museum piece if we do not harness ourselves to the new technologies and the Internet. Who will be the Buddhist web masters - the teachers on the Internet? It will be the computer literate monks and nuns, the Cyber Sangha who will provide the dataline to Enlightenment.
I for example, as a Buddhist monk, who after some years of intensive meditation practice and study in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka returned home to Australia and established a meditation centre in Sydney about six years ago, without the traditional support.
I started to use computers for word processing and simple desktop publishing, then, acquiring a modem started the first bulletin board service (BBS) ever run by a monk, called BuddhaNet. Naturally as the technology developed I moved with it. I progressed to the net three years ago, hand-cutting simple HTML code (web page programming language) growing naturally with the new medium. I must confess I was a beta-tester for Windows 95. BuddhaNet - the information network - joined MSN (Microsoft Network) "On Australia" later that year.
I am pleased to inform you that the BuddhaNet web site now is a successful non-sectarian Buddhist information network, which includes an online Buddhist magazine BuddhaZine; and a very popular on-line instructional meditation section: "Insight Meditation Online" plus a section on Buddhist Studies. As a teaching monk, I give regular meditation classes and talks during the week perhaps up to sixty people or more. But on BuddhaNets web site, there are over 50,000 visitor per day, and a plethora of e-mail inquires on Buddhism as well.
To tell you the truth, I think the Buddha would have been quite at home using the new technology of the Internet to propagate his teachings. There is a belief in some Buddhist traditions of a future Buddha, called Maitreya - who it is said will come to revitalise the Dhamma. Now, without being disrespectful to the romantic associations of that belief, I can not honestly see how any future Buddha, or future followers of the historical Buddha, would not naturally use the available technology and be at quite at ease surfing the Internet.
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