🪷 Is Digital Dharma Authentic?

Thought this article was an interesting contemplation on its subject: (if link doesn’t work, copied and posted in a reply)

From the author:

My curiosity about the authenticity of digital Buddhism was whetted on a recent turbulent flight. Most of the passengers seemed nervous. The person in front of me, however, was calm, even blissful. Looking over their shoulder, I could see they were wearing earbuds connected to an iPhone whose screen displayed a Buddhist-inspired meditation app. Could this be considered an authentic practice?

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I do not know what the Definition of Dharma is, so I dont know.

All I know is that digitalized anything is a double edged sword. It makes information easily available to the masses which is a good thing, but also disinformation and misinformation.

I would said all in all it is a net positive. These days you can basically get a college degree from youtube if you are watching the right videos (videos on differential equations, calculus, astronomy, anatomy, chemistry, etc). It wasnt like that 10 years ago.

50 years ago, you could barely learn about Buddhism in most libraries. Now websites like this, have made a great wealth of information available. Nothing beats the quality a trip up to the Himalayas for a few years or decades, but who can afford that? Very few. Now a single mother of 2 kids, has a universe of information at her finger tips in her living room. Crazy how fast things have changed

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Just an FYI, actually, distance education has been around for a hundred years and people have been earning degrees this way since the first World War. Technology-assisted instruction, learning remotely, has been big around the world for as long as these technologies have existed, particularly in rural, non-urban areas. For example, the sparsely populated Australian continent has had a very active off-site program for decades and in the US, most states had distance ed programs dating back to the 50s and 1960s—earlier if you count the use of educational TV.

The “authenticity” of remote viewing can be applied to many things besides Buddhism. Anything televised or broadcast, really. Consider viewing a Baseball or football game versus being there, at the stadium, watching the action, live, in the same environment. Many people pay big bucks to attend events, yet some fans never see their teams in person, yet are seemingly just as loyal as paying customers.

In the old days, pre pandemic, Buddhist teachings were transmitted in-person, or vicariously in books or through art such as thangkas, well before the advent of mass media over the past century. The article discusses whether anything has been lost (or gained) through these new outlets. I agree with you Nothing beats the quality a trip up to the Himalayas for a few years or decades, but who can afford that? On the other hand, we live in a digital age and we are lucky to be able to meet teachers and receive treasures without arduous treks and great expenses. Does that “cheapen” the experience? That’s where purists would argue that it does. Not a purist . . .

Interesting - this happens if I want to open the link: “451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons
Sorry, this content is not available in your region.”
Now I’m even more curious what the link would be about :grin:

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How to know if your practice of Buddhism through listening to podcasts or use of meditation apps is 'authentic’

Gregory Grieve, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

May 19, 2022

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Gregory Grieve, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

As a scholar of both digital religion and Buddhism, I hold that authenticity is not determined by its strict adherence to older forms. Rather, an authentic practice furthers a happiness founded on deeper meanings, whereas an inauthentic practice may only provide fleeting pleasure or temporary relief.

Arguments against digital Buddhism

Scholars who deem digital Buddhism inauthentic generally point to one of three reasons.

First, some scholars argue that online Buddhism differs from earlier forms – if not in message then at least in the way it is transmitted.

Second, some dismiss digital Buddhism as mere popular consumerism that takes historically rich and complex traditions and selectively repackages them for monetary gain.

Finally, most often, they’ll say that digital Buddhism is often seen as the most virulent form of Western popular culture’s appropriation of Asian traditions. As religion scholar Jane Iwamura argues in her book “Virtual Orientalism,” this obscures the voices of actual Buddhists of Asian descent.

The true nature of happiness

In the end, these all may be legitimate concerns. Nevertheless, these scholars do not address many Western Buddhists’ deep desire for an intense spiritual experience. In my research, many Western Buddhists have often described their religious practice as a “search for authenticity.”

To understand what they mean by authenticity, we need to look at the Greek philosophical terms “hedonic” and “eudaimonic.”

The hedonic concept dates back to the ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene, who argued that the ultimate goal of life ought to be to maximize pleasure.

Current popular culture centers on hedonic happiness, which values an outgoing, social, joyous view of life. As a result, much of the Buddhist- inspired media currently found on meditation apps peddle moments of personal bliss, calm and relaxation.

Most forms of Buddhism hold there is nothing inherently wrong with pleasure, but that it is not the key to happiness. For instance, Buddhist texts such as the second century “Buddhacharita,” which describes the Buddha’s early life as a pampered prince, preach the ultimate shortcomings of a hedonistic lifestyle. Legend has it that Siddhartha Gautama renounced his worldly lifestyle as empty of meaning, sought enlightenment and ultimately awakened to become the Buddha.

On the other hand, eudaimonic happiness adds meaning and purpose. Eudaimonia means the condition of “good spirit,” which is commonly translated as “human flourishing.” For Aristotle, eudaimonia is the highest end, and all subordinate goals – health, wealth and other such resources – are sought because they promote living well. He insists that there are virtuous pleasures besides those of the senses and that the best pleasures are experienced by virtuous people who find happiness in deeper meanings.

In Buddhist texts such as the “Samaññaphala Sutta,” one can find eudaimonic descriptions of Buddhist practice. The British scholar of Buddhist ethics Damien Keown argues that there is a resonance between Buddhist ethics and Aristotelian virtue ethics.

He writes that Buddhist ethics rests upon the cultivation of virtue for the goal of enlightenment and that the English word “virtue” can be used as an umbrella term for embracing the numerous individual Buddhist virtues such as compassion, generosity and courage.

Keown makes evident that in Buddhism, the cultivation of eudaimonic happiness, if not sufficient, is necessary for supporting a good life and that it is concern for the welfare of others, both human and nonhuman, that leads to a happy life worth living.

What is authentic practice?

It was not surprising to find a person using digital Buddhism on a turbulent flight. Yet, I wondered, was this just a stopgap to sooth an uncomfortable situation, or an authentic practice?

Buddhism has been modified and translated into new cultures wherever it has spread. Also, no doubt, online Western Buddhism shows that it has been translated to fit into our consumer society.

However, as I show in my 2017 book, “Cyber Zen: Imagining Authentic Buddhist Identity, Community, and Practices in the Virtual World of Second Life,” behind the exotic media stereotypes of online practitioners, often uncritically perpetuated by some academics, lies a largely unexamined territory of popular forms of authentic religious practice. Although virtual and usually performed by middle-class white adherents, these are real people engaging in real spiritual practices that add eudaimonia to their lives.

Still, not all online Buddhist practices are the same. Most of all, one needs to be mindful of appropriating and diluting traditional Asian practices. Moreover, as I found in my research, some digital religious practices resonate with the good life, and some are just a hedonic treadmill entangling users further in their desires.

If digital Buddhist practice approaches the good life as eudaimonic – as leading to human flourishing based on the pursuit of a deeper meaning – it can be judged to be authentic. An inauthentic practice is one that just furthers hedonism by merely peddling bliss and relaxation.

The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. The Conversation is wholly responsible for the content.

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