Welcome to the techno-dharmic realm of Digital Bodhisattva! You have just entered an exploratory domain of socially engaged Buddhism located at the crossroads of compassionate action and modern technology. Amid the maelstrom of content populating this vast digital landscape, your awareness has settled for perhaps five minutes on our humble offering, may your attention remain unfractured!
Indeed, fractured is what our attention has mostly become thanks to the cognitive and physiological penetration of modern technology. From palm-leaf scriptures to Gutenberg’s Bible, and now Indra’s inter-net of jewels, the world overflows with compelling, liberatory, even transcendent media right at our fingertips—but there is also a lot of noise!
Pandora’s boxes now nestle in our pockets and on our shelves of devices with sleek rounded edges and simplistic iconography awaiting the initiatory tap of a bored thumb on glass. We live in an era distinctly characterized by the hyper-mediation of experience through vast networks of powerful tech, all leveraging, reinforcing, and amplifying our desires and aversions seemingly for the better, but all too often for the worse.
Although this algorithmic dance has only just begun, many have already perceived troubling structural faults in the light-speed edifice of techno-capitalism. Some say that under the hegemony of Silicon Valley we are nothing more than digital serfs freely tilling the virtual soil of infinite newsfeeds while our feudal lords rake in value beyond comprehension. Others are building utopian clouds that float above these platform kingdoms, experimenting with new forms of society by encoding principles of trust, sovereignty, and decentralized governance.
Enter Digital Bodhisattva
Socially engaged Buddhists have been paying careful attention to this dynamic landscape, exploring and supporting skillful interventions in service of building a wiser and more compassionate virtual world. As such, the purpose of this column is to articulate the evolving terrain of “techno-dharma” as a path to holistic well-being in the modern age. Inspired by the Buddhist ideal of heartfelt service through skillful means, these articles are intended to trace the outline of an emergent Digital Bodhisattva whose energy we encounter in constructive social analysis, innovative practices, and the cultivation of a mindful virtual presence.
Beyond these words, Digital Bodhisattva is an active public forum and design space hosting regular discussions on the social, cultural, and economic impact of technology. We encourage diverse engagement in these conversations, weaving together views in our Clubhouse jams and podcast deep dives, check here for upcoming sessions—we’d love to hear your voice!
An initiative of the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB), Digital Bodhisattva was born during COVID hibernation in response to the proliferation of technologically conditioned suffering brought about by our rapid global shift online. Questions of data sovereignty and security, inflammatory social media discourse, smartphone addiction, the digital divide, and ethical use of artificial intelligence all surfaced amid the interdependent challenges of technology and the need for a comprehensive approach from the perspective of socially engaged Buddhism.
Drawing on INEB’s decades of experience working with a broad spectrum of social issues, Digital Bodhisattva has developed the “Three I’s” methodology as a means for positively responding to the individual, cultural, and structural layers of this pressing topic:
Building interest in the rich, overlapping terrain of engaged spiritual practice and technology is a core Digital Bodhisattva activity that we see as foundational to cultivating deeper understanding and mindful interventions. Through regular public discussions we encourage exploration of this domain as an opportunity for collaborative sense-making, freely expressing our ideas in the spirit of sincerity without assuming to have the answers. From these dialogues, common themes have already emerged which are in turn forming the basis of short curriculums and educational materials that will similarly contribute to expanded interest. Happily, Digital Bodhisattva is not alone on this journey. Many inspiring projects, initiatives, communities, and individuals already exist at the confluence of these streams, which we intend to catalogue through an evolving resource hub where you can find the others, one click at a time.
Cultivating insight into the complexity of our technological moment requires a penetrating analysis of the structural and cultural factors at play under the surface. For this task, Digital Bodhisattva is bringing together a range of thought leaders from the fields of technology, civil society, and religion into a high-level working group to address salient issues at these intersections. This work will include experimentation and research into blended spiritual practices, which utilize powerful tech as tools for enhancing self-awareness and building social cohesion. As a guiding force, this group will pursue engagement in policy and advocacy work at the local, national, and international levels through collaboration with institutional bodies in the public and private spheres. With this level of articulation of our aspirations, we intend to support the integration of ethical awareness directly into the design, implementation, and regulatory processes that govern the direction and quality of the technology that shapes our modern lives.
Digital Bodhisattva’s third “I” is where all the energy and aspirations of Interest and Insight come together for the creation of sustainable real-world Impact. To this end, we are actively developing social-enterprise projects designed to address various forms of suffering utilizing the principles of socially engaged Buddhism and skillful applications of advanced technologies, such as AI, Web3, blockchains, and data analytics. One such project, DanaFlow, is currently in an early research stage of understanding how surplus offerings of food and material goods in Thai monasteries can be recirculated back into local communities as a support for those in immediate need.
Ultimately, these activities represent a spiraling process of discovery open to friends from all beliefs, professions, and backgrounds seeking knowledge and a more integrative relationship between the head, heart, and hands of our time. Bearing witness to the swirling landscape of virtual life, we see how the readily the unwise use of technology conditions confusion, overwhelm, and social division. Over millennia, every spiritual tradition worth its salt has offered compelling responses to these concerns through relevant adaptions of language and practices. Indeed, the Buddha’s resounding invitation of ehipassiko (Pali: to come and see the truth) reminds us that we must test the validity of the teachings in our own lives in order to arrive at truth—a challenge that Digital Bodhisattva accepts with a humble bow and firm conviction.
Related features from BDG
The Path of Engaged Buddhism in a Divided World: An Interview with Ven. Pomnyun Sunim
Engaged Buddhism: The Role of Spirituality and Faith in a Divided World
Engaged Buddhism in a Divided World: Declaration for Peace at the Korean DMZ
Peace, Planet, Pandemic, and Engaged Buddhism: From a Divided Myanmar to a Divided World
Compassion and Kalyana-mittata: The Engaged Buddhism of Sulak Sivaraksa