AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 10

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Session 10: Dharma in the Age of Internet – Changes, Challenges, and Opportunities

Organizer: Erez Joskovich, Tel Aviv University, Israel

Chair: A Charles Muller, University of Tokyo, Japan

The Internet is rapidly becoming an integral and indispensible part of life in modern society. Evidences for the growing role that the internet assumes are visible in every facet of daily life, from communication and information to shopping, entertainment and socializing. There can be no doubt that this astounding development will have a considerable impact on Buddhism and Buddhist studies, as it will on other religions. New databases and dictionaries, such as SAT, DDB and INBUDS are making classical Buddhist texts accessible as never before, enable textual analyses that only twenty years ago would have been impossible. This progress is by no means limited to academic research. Virtual space has become an arena for spiritual quest and many Buddhist centers and groups use it to promote their teachings. Nowadays, one does not have to take an arduous journey to India or Tibet to hear a Lama’s sermon, when the sermon may easily be accessible in one's living room via YouTube. Moreover, different groups that traditionally were ignored by the Buddhist institute, such as women, homosexuals or social minorities, can now take an active part in the Buddhist discourse and even alter it. The panel will discuss various aspects of the interaction between the Buddhist Dharma and the internet it will examine the potential magnitude and significance of such influences. The panel will venture to assess the many possibilities this new information-driven era holds for the future.

Building a Buddhist Research Knowledge Base Through International Cooperation: The SAT Project
A Charles Muller, University of Tokyo, Japan

The SAT Taishō Database project, headquartered in the Center for Evolving Humanities at the University of Tokyo, achieved its first major breakthrough in setting a searchable full text database on the Internet in the spring of 2008. This was followed soon after by the adding of interoperative functionality with the article database of the Japanese Association for Indian and Buddhist Studies (INBUDS), and then with the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism (DDB).  From here the SAT project is working toward the continued expansion of the project. The DDB and INBUDS database of course each continue to expand as individual entities. But we will henceforth be continuing in the development of heightened interoperation with several other major projects including: The online collected works of Korean Buddhism (Hanguk bulgyo jeonseo) and the modern Korean translation of the Korean Tripitaka, both based at Dongguk University; the Sanskrit text database at the Indian Council for Philosophical Research (New Delhi), as well as several other Pali, Tibetan, and Sanskrit text database projects. We are also supporting the development of a number of smaller XML-based textual analysis projects at our home institute of the University of Tokyo, and these projects will gradually be integrated into our system as they develop to fruition. This presentation will report on the present developments and future plans of the SAT Project, focusing on some of the more significant technical developments to be released shortly.

Queer Voices, Social Media and Neo-orthodox Dharma: A Case Study
Burkhard Scherer, University of Canterbury, United Kingdom

This paper looks at the intersection between queer activism and Social Media within a Tibetan Buddhist Convert movement, the neo-orthodox Diamond Way of the Danish Karma bKa’ brgyud teacher Ole Nydahl. Like many other convert Tibetan Buddhist movements, the Diamond Way successfully uses the web for the web-based self-marketing, e.g. live-streaming of teachings and youtube placings. The Diamond Way’s founder, Ole Nydahl (*1941) is both a charismatic and controversial figure within contemporary Tibetan Buddhism (Scherer 2009). Nydahl is well known for his pre-feminist gender stereotyping and heterosexism; the moderately homophobic tone and content of Nydahl’s teachings pose a grave challenge for the small group of his queer (LGBTIQ = Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer/Querying) students who have either felt aggrieved and excluded by Nydahl’s attitudes and consequently retreated from further participation in the Diamond Way, or who have been struggling to emancipate from the Diamond Way’s neo-orthodoxy within the organization itself. This process is illustrated by the dealings of the internal Social Media site Virtual Sangha and its LGBT group Queer as Kagyu and the impact of Nydahl’s repeated open letters on the use of Social Media. Through ethnographic research, Foucauldian discourse analysis and emic readings of published and internal material, this papers gauges the opportunities and challenges of dissident queer voices within neo-orthodox Tibetan Convert Buddhism in the West.

Online Zen
Erez Joskovich, Tel Aviv University, Israel

The Internet is becoming an indispensable aspect of modern life made it also an important arena for religious activity. Whether it is for the distribution of texts, propaganda or fund raising, religious organizations utilize the Internet’s potential and Buddhism is certainly no exception. The article explores the use of internet by lay Buddhist organizations, as well as formal religious institute in contemporary Japan. The article considers two main questions: First, in what ways is the internet being used to promote the Buddhist ideology among the laity in Japan? And, second, in what way do such new formats alter the message and content of the ideology and narrative? The article will show how the internet is becoming a major instrument for the spreading of the Zen ideology. This change in media has inevitably brought about a change in massage. The article will illustrate the ways in which the Zen doctrines and practices were molded and reshaped to fit this new medium as part of a bigger attempt to modernize Buddhism and make it relevant contemporary Japanese society. The article will examine this phenomenon both as part of contemporary Japanese religiosity and as part of a wider context, that of the Buddhist use of the internet.

Dharma in the Age of Internet
Debika Saha, Independent Scholar, India

In this age of Internet the practice of dharma faces a big challenge. In the early Buddhist literature this concept is known as `dhamma' and it stands for something sublime and peaceful. As it is well-known, the teachings of Buddha is totally embedded in the four noble truths, but the question that arise how to present this teaching as a meaningful alternative to the masses whose life-styles have been shaped by the values of the consumer society. This globalized world reduces the individual to a mere consumer on the assumption that happiness can be achieved through acquisitiveness and the enjoyment of goods. There is a social aspect of Buddhism that can address global problems. It can offer a healing touch to the wounds of the world. Dharma in the age of internet could bring a social revolution in values by creatively using the technology. In this stressful rapidly changing digital world, there is a need to know the contribution that the dharma can offer. One of the characteristics of this digital world is its inter-connectivity global interdependence. And this is a fundamental Buddhist understanding, a universal truth. Its appreciation leads to the path that moves from self-love to an inter-connectivity that emphasizes with all suffering life.