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The Internet of Dharma
Dharma, in the age of the network, is facing a crisis of irrelevance. Humanity is facing a meta-crisis of survival. Open Source Dharma is one response to these overlapping crises.
In the West, during the later half of the 20th century, Buddhist Dharma was an avantgarde movement. It was made up of young artists and creatives who had an oversized impact on culture. These young people introduced contemplative values from the East into the mainstream West, while questioning conventionality in ways that shook the homogeny of the day.
In the late 1970s a young molecular biologist, named Jon Kabat-Zinn, imagined a secular translation of the meditative methods he had learned from the Zen and Theravada Buddhist traditions. This translation became known as Mindfulness Based Stress-Reduction ("MBSR"), and it was taught as a medical intervention for those suffering untreatable chronic pain. It worked wonders where other interventions didn't.
As many critics of have pointed out, the mindfulness movement is largely untethered from the same commitment to selfless ethics and radical awakening that Buddhist traditions have often aimed for. What's often called "McMindfulness" has been able to reach entirely new audiences because of this untethering, while becoming a hot bed of innovation for those willing to recombine mindfulness with other streams of human knowledge. Evolution is a process driven by recombination.
Mindfulness-based technologies are also far more advanced, in terms of design, development, and adoption than Buddhist ones. This is because Mindfulness is a perfect bedfellow for what many call late-stage capitalism. The most technologically impressive mindfulness projects, mainly in the form of meditation apps, are backed by large amounts of private & institutional capital.
Because non-judgmental mindfulness can be applied so flexibly, and in so many different contexts, in addition to being a genuine secular salve, it has also been co-opted by the very systems driving our planet toward the brink of a climate apocalypse. "The world may be ending, but at least we can breath through it." The strength and weakness of mindfulness, it turns out, is its radical adaptability.
Many Buddhist institutions find these hyper-capitalist models to be out-of-sync with their deeper values, and so remain under-resourced and impotent. Many have become increasingly conservative, stodgy, and out of touch with present-day realities, even while what makes them most exciting, namely awakening, has yet to find its way into popular culture. And while the critics of the mindfulness movement make very good points, they don't often offer alternative visions. Instead they offer us a bittersweet combination of cynicism and romanticism. "This is all terrible, we should go back to the way it was." But there is not going backward, only forward, one moment at a time.
The heart of dharma practice opens us to the profound interconnectivity of life. Realizing what Buddhists call emptiness means realizing that we don't exist in isolation, ever. The awakening of all beings is intimately intertwined. Generosity, far from being an ideal, is a natural response to the patently obvious. Collaboration is what we do when we realize our interdestiny.
This may seem obvious, from a philosophical or even personal perspective, but how well are we actually doing, as a community, to realize this?
On the whole, I'd say that we're failing to actualize our interconnectivity, and at creating spaces of deep collaboration and true generosity of heart. We're more caught up in the failings of traditional Buddhist institutions, and in preserving what's already dead, then we are in dreaming new dreams of what could be. It's ok to acknowledge this painful truth, and it's understandable, given how the structures and values of the larger systems we're embedded within are built on nearly opposite principles. That said, we can and must do better. We need new visions to light the way.
One of the visions we can find deep inspiration from, is the birth of the World Wide Web. Launched in 1990, by an eccentric, humble, and open-hearted Brit named Tim Berners-Lee, the Internet is interconnectivity made real. While Tim could have easily commercialized the open protocols that made the web possible, he sensed that this was far too important for him, or anyone else, to own. He gave all of the protocols away to the public domain, essentially gifting the World Wide Web to humanity. ♥️
Even today, we have to fight for that gift, as the net becomes less and less neutral. Large private companies like Google, Facebook, & Amazon have continued to innovate on these original web protocols, but largely keep those innovations to themselves, creating walled algorithmic gardens that threaten to disconnect us from one another.
As we enter a period of runaway climate destabilization, the internet simultaneously opens up the possibility of living without scarcity. With the growth of the creative commons, new post-capitalist visions of abundance are coming online. This presents a huge opportunity for dharma-based projects to do things differently, to leverage our values as a strength, rather than seeming them as weakness. We can, if we so choose, retake the torch as innovators and influencers of culture. We can help inspire, not just better communities of practice, but a better planetary culture. That's what it's all about.
We aim to actualize this vision by coming together and creating an Open Source Dharma Protocol & Network. Think of this protocol, and the ecosystem that could arise around and through it, as The Internet of Dharma. It's a new open protocol, just like the web, designed to help unlock deep collaboration and exciting new ways to practice. It's an inruptive vision, which is designed to destabilize withering hierarchies, empower peer-to-peer connections, lift up the most skilled and talented among us, so they can lift everyone else up. We invite you to contribute to this vision, by learning more in the pages ahead, and by participating in whatever way you can, because without you, this is only an idea.