I had a conversation recently about technology and its ability to effectively disseminate spirituality. On the one hand, there has never been a moment in human history where more information about more wisdom has been more accessible. People who otherwise might have never gone to an ashram or a zendo or a spiritual retreat in order to spend time with a teacher can at this point download their podcasts and watch them on YouTube. I’m obviously biased (and humbled by what’s being offered on the Net), but I believe that technological spiritual offerings, on base, is a good thing. Clearly, both my sangha and I benefit from what we can share with the world with a simple click. The technology we use has allowed for a physical manifestation of interconnectivity, where many are beginning to intuit, dare I say, a global mind beginning to reveal itself. From this global mind there is an opportunity for recognizing what’s beyond the global mind’s digital reflection. Realizing what’s beyond it, on a massive scale, can’t help but stoke an amazing evolutionary fire in all of us. I look forward to this. But we need to be willing and able to keep going past the limits of our technology so that we can uncover its deeper offering. The problem is that there is an amazing potential for confusion if we simply stop at the screen and keyboard and thus miss the opportunity of direct Dharma experienced being passed from, as Joan Halifax recently said, “warm hand to warm hand.”
Unfortunately, technology is only ever the delivery mechanism for the gifts offered by sages, ancient and modern. In the same way, neural pathways are only the conduits for an unfolding awakened perspective. Networks of any kind, for that matter, are merely the extension of community, both virtual and real. As such they can only represent the third of the Three Jewels: Sangha.
The Sangha is community. It’s what both shows us the inherent connection of all things and it supports the offering and the deepening of awakening. This applies to everything from our Facebook friends and our “Likes” to our blogrolls; our podcast and YouTube subscriptions to our spiritual communities, our brains and our bodies. But all of these communities are inherently incomplete delivery systems if we mistake them for something more than they are. Buddha and Dharma, or shall we say “deepest self” and “authentic teaching” must also be nurtured through all of our experiences of Sangha, of community, or else we end up thinking that our limited view is complete and self-sustaining.
Technological contributions have made so much of life convenient. But in terms of spiritual offerings, the low risk and arm’s length availability of connectivity, needs to be rounded out with real, face-to-face intimacy if we’re expecting to awaken. Without this humanity, a deep and lasting partiality can cloud the wholeness of any wisdom offering. The giver, the receiver and the gift are all there, but practicing without real contact in some capacity is like attempting to learn to play a guitar without ever holding it, feeling the strings or knowing how to tune it. It’s possible to do, I’m sure. But a significant shortcut to an awakened perspective arises as we augment whatever teaching comes to us through books, CDs, videos or podcasts with some kind of full participation.
This is a difficult and yet thrilling path, one that means learning to give to world what we most want for ourselves. It means letting our digital lives support, but not confine, our inner-most work. It means using our technology instead of getting tooled by it.