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“Media used to be one way. Everyone else in the world just had to listen. Now the internet is allowing what used to be a monologue to become a dialogue. I think that’s healthy”. - Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
“I have one major problem with the internet: it’s full of liars” - John Lydon.
As long as the world wide web has been in mainstream use, debates about the pros and cons of “The Internet” have bubbled - sometimes raged - away. On the one hand, the benefits of greater freedom of information, global connectivity, flexibility for freelance work; on the other, ethical considerations around privacy, addictiveness, exploitation and trolling. Nevertheless it is surely beyond doubt that the Internet has changed the very way that we live. From the decline in physical shops and stores, to the phenomenon of online-dating, to how we communicate on phones and social networks – the rise of online spaces and contexts for human interaction has had an impact on modern society and culture that’s arguably as big as the effect of the Industrial Revolution on the 18th and 19th centuries.
So how has the Internet impacted the Triratna Buddhist Community? In a year when politics and social media have been rocked by allegations of Russian hacking and the Cambridge Analytica scandal; in an online context where the domination of huge profit-making Internet corporations has come under renewed scrutiny (evidenced in the recent news that Google has been fined by the EU for market abuse); arguments that the internet makes us less empathetic are worth taking seriously. Can The Buddhist Centre Online offer an online space where the considerations of Buddhist ethical practice don’t get switched off as we log on?
Indra’s Net to World Wide Web
The Buddha taught that all arises in dependence on conditions. This reality means that we are all fundamentally interconnected to each other, being part of the conditions for each others’ lives. And so we have the beautiful image of Indra’s Net where all beings are like jewels in a net: we reflect each other, and how we behave ripples out along the net.
The World Wide Web, at its best, has the potential to be an Indra’s Net of sorts - a new realm where we can reflect back the best of what’s happening in the world and share information more easily.
Dedicated Dharma spaces
One particularly important space for our community has been Free Buddhist Audio where a steady stream of Triratna Dharma talks flows ever on in the spirit of the great oral tradition in Buddhism…
You can find more Dharmic audio and conversations on The Buddhist Centre Online’s own Soundcloud and podcasts:
Check out The Buddhist Centre Podcast: On your preferred app | On iTunes
Have a listen to our Buddhist Voices podcast (inspiring, longer conversations with members of our community across the world): On your preferred app | On iTunes
This is the information age. I can remember when information was a commodity. Some held onto their information and knowledge like a prized-possession. Now some people go to forums and ask questions and there are numerous people ready to provide the information and teachings to help the person (David Snyder, founder of Vipassana Foundation and Dhamma Wiki)
We’ve got you covered
One of the developments over the life of The Buddhist Centre Online has been the development and evolution of our web coverage of significant Triratna events, in more-or-less real time. Since our very first posts from the European Chairs’ Assembly in 2011, we’ve expanded to offer everything from specially commissioned Dharma talks to featured Instagram stories to Facebook Live streams of ordinations around the world!
Just this year there’s been diverse coverage from the International Order Convention in Bodhgaya, as well as the International Council meeting in Bhaja; and, more recently, the Mainland Europe Young Buddhist Convention in Valencia.
We’ve made use of our site blogs and also (with a keen eye on mobile) of all our available spaces on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr. So wherever you are, however you connect to the web, there’s a way to share in what’s going on in our international community.
Certain events have benefitted particularly from having an extra, online dimension. Perhaps the most obvious has been the series of Urban Retreats we helped run between 2011 (before the site proper even existed!) and 2015. Here Dharmic resources were shared across the Triratna community, enabling a synchronised ‘retreat’ to take place in a variety of urban locations around the world, and highlighting the fact that Buddhist practice can happen wherever you are, right now. This also means that those who are not living physically near one of our Buddhist Centres can also take part.
Here are the resources from the various Urban retreats:
Sailing The Worldly Winds, 2011
Blazing Like the Sun, 2013
Living in the Greater Mandala, 2015
And don’t forget to sign up for this September’s successor to the Urban Retreats: Triratna International Practice Retreat 2018: Turning Arrows into Flowers
Thanks to funding contributions from Dharmachakra, the ECA, FutureDharma, the Order itself and Sangharakshita, plans are now in motion at The Buddhist Centre Online to ensure that the Dharma reaches the widest possible audience by reimagining our Dharma platform and making the site ready for the next stages of the mobile age. + Follow this space (above) for news of new mobile sites and apps for The Buddhist Centre Online, Free Buddhist Audio and the Order as we roll them out.
“We are all now connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain” - Stephen Hawking
New spaces for talking about the past and future of Triratna
Since its inception, The Buddhist Centre Online has provided a space for the Triratna Community to communicate about itself in a new way. One important function has been the provision of opportunities to reflect back on on our rich history:
Read The Triratna Story (due to be updated later this year)
In the past few years especially, this work has included offering new channels for the the consideration of sometimes complex, painful issues from the early days of our community. One important space in this regard has been the blog for the Adhisthana Kula, which was set up to address ongoing concerns about Triratna’s past and has been instrumental in developing a full set of transparent resources and records around Triratna’s history.
A particularly vital aspect of the Adhisthana Kula’s work has been in relation to the establishing of a Restorative reconciliation process for Triratna, whereby those who have been impacted by past actions can express their concerns and have them addressed.
Read more about the Restorative approach
More generally, in line with other religious organisations, Triratna has been developing its efforts to ensure that comprehensive Safeguarding policies for the protection of children and vulnerable adults is taken into account in all our Centres.
You can listen to a podcast with Munisha, the leading member of Triratna’s designated Safeguarding team, discussing what’s involved in this work, as well as how it has changed with online environments.
Read Triratna’s latest safeguarding guidelines (which follow national requirements of charities in England and Wales).
“We judge on the basis of what somebody looks like, skin color, whether we think they’re beautiful or not. That space on the Internet allows you to converse with somebody with none of those things involved.” - Bell Hooks
How to use the internet (and not be used by it)
In September 2016 at European Chairs’ Assembly Maitreyi, a Public Preceptor working at Tiratanaloka - a retreat centre in Wales training women who have asked for ordination - raised concerns about the effects of using the Internet while on retreat. In particular she argued that being constantly online prevents people from being in touch with the existential aloneness that can help them deepen into their spiritual practice.
Listen to Maitreyi’s podcast here.
Similarly, this year during Buddhist Action Month one aspect of the theme was to explore the effect of digital technology on the well-being of us as individuals and on society, and to address the unhealthy craving that can arise as a result of our use of technology. As part of this some participants undertook a digital detox for the month, as a way of exploring concerns about the possible negative impacts of Internet use on our minds.
Of course, the Internet is a tool like any other – as we hope our work has shown. If we choose to use it well it has as much potential to be a means of spreading the Dharma as it has to over-stimulate and distract and exacerbate craving.
Like any form of input we must surely bring mindfulness and our practice of Metta into the picture when we interact online. Here are 5 principles in relation to the internet that Candradasa, the current director of The Buddhist Centre Online, came up with for a Dharma Teachers conference in New York in 2015, for use in a workshop on this topic. These principles highlight the main issue here: that what matters is how we use the internet (rather than having it use us):
1. The Internet is not the answer.
It’s impermanent, dependent on complex conditions - but it’s a fact of life at the current time. And while peace prevails enough so that the Internet continues to grow and develop and shape society, it can help in very many ways. The emphasis should not be on the technology but on the Dharma. And the Internet can be a great medium for communicating something of the Dharma. At its best it can be a storehouse for the Dharma as the best of human consciousness.
2. Behind every computer screen or cell phone or tablet or watch is a human being.
And their mudra is… Looking for, searching for, something. Connection. Only connect. Stay connected to the human. Resist the unconscious tendency to think too much of your ‘brand’ and not enough of the people it’s serving.
3. The Buddha goes where the people are.
And the people, for better or worse, are online. We have a duty to meet them there. The Internet is not a replacement for face to face connection, it is its own form of connection. There are things in common, there are differences. More of the former than the latter, in my experience, when it comes to what really matters about human connection. Warmth, dignity, being taken seriously in one’s aspirations. Face to face and online are not mutually exclusive.
4. The Internet is a great teacher when it comes to going beyond our personal preferences.
The Internet arouses the passions! I don’t like this site or that site, this service or that service, this mode of communication, or that mode of communication, her view, their view, his view. It’s very good for gauging our present relationship with craving and aversion, alienation and distraction.
5. Imagine the future as part of your present field of awareness.
If you are interested in seeing the Dharma flourish beyond your own lifetime – and especially if you are responsible for passing on a particular translation of the Dharma, an approach or a lineage – it’s good to be aware that your future audiences are currently children learning in ways that may be alien to you but are normal to them.
As Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the online, not-for-profit encyclopaedia, Wikipedia says:
“We are still at the very beginnings of the internet. Let’s use it wisely”.