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Revisions of Slavery

What the Web accomplishes that neither Hollywood filmmakers nor PBS documentarists can.

Liberty and Linux for All

Microsoft's worst nightmare may not be a courtroom in Washington, D.C.

Everything for Sale

In the world of online auctions, anything (and everything) goes on the block.

The Numbers Game

Baseball's days as our national pastime may be numbered.


On the neurological underpinnings of geekdom.

It's the Medium, Stupid

Amidst all the clamor over the Starr Report, one Webzine reminds us what journalism on the Net was supposed to promise.

Psychotherapy on the Net

Boldly going where Freud never went.

Celebrity Trades

With the market in turmoil, the only safe bets may be at the box office.

For more, see the complete Web Citations Index.
Dharma Geeks
November 5, 1998

Consider the Buddhist properties intrinsic to the Internet. In Buddhist cosmology, there's no beginning, no middle, no end. Instead, everything is contingent upon everything else. And on the Net, too, there's no top, middle, or bottom. All nodes are equidistant from each other -- and potentially interlinked.

Buddha would put it thus:
As a net is made up of a series of ties, so everything in this world is connected by a series of ties. If anyone thinks that the mesh of a net is an independent, isolated thing, he is mistaken. It is called a net because it is made up of a series of interconnected meshes, and each mesh has its place and responsibility in relation to other meshes.
Buddha in the machine Sublime enough? There's more. Consciousness was implicit in the original mythos that the science-fiction novelist William Gibson envisioned when he coined the term "cyberspace" (circa 1984) -- that humming, glowing realm we all inhabit when we're "online," be it with long-distance phone or ATM, Internet or fax -- a kind of etheric consciousness pool. However you stack it, our screentime is largely nonphysical, nonmaterial, a place of pure mindstates which Buddhism is innately apt at understanding.

Evidence of this can be found even in the light-hearted submissions to a Webzine's recent "Error-Message Haiku" competition, where Buddhist and Taoist imagery was prevalent. Jason Willoughby, for example, is obviously no stranger to BuddhaLand, as he begins his entry with a traditional Buddhist catch phrase for material reality ("the ten thousand things") and goes on to evoke the Buddhist recognition of the impermanence of all things:
The ten thousand things,
How long do any persist?
Netscape, too, has gone.
Ian Hughes's entry (technically, these are not really haiku) equates Buddhism and computer usage as mental states:
Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind.
Both are blank.
And then there's Bill Torcaso's metaphysical entry:
The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao, until
You bring fresh toner.
Mandala Were these entries written by practicing Buddhists? Perhaps. Did the Computer Age make Buddhism more accessible to them? Quite possibly. And haven't many computer gurus, themselves, been influenced by the East? Mitch Kapor, for instance, didn't name his software company Lotus for nothing. Which makes us wonder if the Tao, or the Buddhist path, is software for "wetware" -- that is, a program for living.

Meanwhile, just as the first known application for movable type was a Buddhist canon, so are today's Buddhists spreading the word (or the wordless) online. Anonymous cybermonks build Internet retreats, monasteries, and libraries without walls. Buddhist activists engage the Net. Buddhist sites, Webrings, mailing lists, Webzines, and chats proliferate. There are even such cross-posted apocrypha as Alt.Wisdom.Scripture.Is.Is.Is, Buddha's teaching translated into GeekSpeak.

Like the man said: no beginning, no middle, no end ...

--Gary Gach

Join the conversation in the Technology & Digital Culture conference of Post & Riposte.

Gary Gach is editor of What Book!? -- Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop, which continues on as What Web?!.

Copyright © 1998 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
Image of Buddha from eDharma. Animated mandala by Lisa Konrad.

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