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In terms of availability of technology, the modern world is very different from the world in which Buddhism arose, and the Buddhist suttas were written As a result, these days, people do things differently from the past, for example:

  • performing multiple tasks at once
  • using medication to try to improve attention
  • working with headphones on, listening to music or radio
  • constantly using smartphones and tablets

Are there any consequences of all of this for Buddhist practice? For example, does technology impact meditation and insight? Are we becoming more distracted and therefore adding more suffering to our lives?

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    still seems off-topic? I would vote if my vote wasn't final. – Andrei Volkov Sep 11 '14 at 19:08
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    Hello Andrei, more of less, we had this discussion before, let's keep it for a while and see if the answers are useful :) – konrad01 Sep 11 '14 at 19:35
  • I think this is, at core, a useful question but I agree it is off topic as it stands (even with @yuttadhammo's edits). I'm going to take the risk of blootering konrad01's meaning and make some changes. konrad01, just revert if I break it! – tkp Jan 4 '15 at 17:48
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When it comes to developing concentration modern technology is definitely a distraction as devices tend to seek your attention. This leads to being scatter brained. This is the reason many meditation centres don't allow you to have them.

Also modern life style has a lot of responsibilities, and leaves little time for spiritual practice.

The society as a whole is becoming materialistic and sensualised. This means that you are always in in the process of getting attached to different products and services as well as the more morally loose life style. This hinders development of insight as it is kāma-taṇhā, or "sense-craving".

Mode education and scientific thought has made people to be more inquisitive and skeptical towards traditional or unfamiliar teaching. This is a double edged sword as this can lead to Vichikicha also.

In a modern world our quality of life has increased due to these technologies. Hence the onus is on the user to use them for ones benefit. E.g. if there is a kitchen knife and you use it to cook you are getting utility. You can use it for a very negative cause like killing or committing suicide. It is the user who is to blame and not the knife.

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In "The Distraction Addiction", Alex Soojung-Kim Pang reports something on this that surprised me. My initial reaction to the question of modern technology distracting us and making mindfulness hard was to say "absolutely". I agreed (still do to some extent) with Nick Carr in "The Shallows", that the Internet is making us stupid.

But Alex Soojung-Kim Pang talked to several Buddhists who were active on the Internet, including, I believe, our very own @yuttadhammo, and got a reaction of surprise from them on this question. Their overall answer seemed to be, no, of course modern technology is not any more or less distracting than anything else, because distraction is an internal state -- i.e. it is our reaction to the external stimuli that matters, not the external stimuli themselves.

To square that with my own experience of Clear and Present Distraction from e-things, I note that the people he talked to were experienced meditators. So my current theory is that if you have achieved a certain level of advancement in meditation, you may well be able to operate without technology being a problem; but until you have reached that level, distracting modern technology may act as an obstacle to you even reaching that level of advancement.

In summary: newbies should explicitly guard the sense doors -- a.k.a. turn your phone off sometimes!; but advanced meditators may not need to be as cautious (because they implicitly do it anyway).

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  • agree. The "issue" here is with the new generation, the original question was related to generation Y and Z but was changed because some considered it to be offensive somehow. – konrad01 Jan 4 '15 at 19:15
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    The problem is never the external, ever!! It's always the individual and their mind. To blame anything or anyone for our distraction or for our pain and suffering, that is complete ignorance, that is lack of wisdom, that is wrong-view!! – user476 Jan 5 '15 at 23:31
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This makes me think of two quotes I once read.

I think that technologies are morally neutral until we apply them. It's only when we use them for good or for evil that they become good or evil.

-William Gibson

It is as you say, we do things differently than we did in the past. We grow up with technology, it is commonplace. When something is common, it is not uncommon for us to take for granted the advantages and disadvantages.

This quote will capture the essence of what I'm trying to say far better:

We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us towards death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.

-Albert Camus

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In his book The World Until Yesterday Jared Diamond compares traditional societies (i.e. tribal societies in places such as the highlands of Papua New Guinea) with our Western capitalist society. One of the things he noticed about traditional societies was how much they talked to each other. They apparently have a running dialog with each other about achingly trivial things - what they've eaten. how they've slept, what's this, what's that, what's she doing etc... It is a lot more than Western society - we are very quiet by comparison. They didn't spend their time being very very mindful.

So to believe that without modern technology we would all be a lot less distracted is wrong (IMO). We would just distract ourselves with other things. Without smart phones, we would watch TV. Without TV we would listen to the radio. Without the radio we would crowd round to piano for a sing and read books. Without any of this we would just talk and talk and talk and distract each other.

It's not technology that's the problem it is us. I really think there is something deep inside us that doesn't want to be connected with the present moment and it will grasp at anything to avoid it - smart phones, internet, TV, wittling a piece of wood, anything.

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I like the neutral tone of the ideas by "the hermit". We are in this world and we can use technology as we are doing now to awaken ourselves to our real nature or we can use it to increase our sense of personal self. What seems apparent is that we cannot make someone practice that feels in their bones the calling to live out their personal sense of life. Nor can we, or would we want to, tear a bikhu from the practice of awakening to the Buddha nature. Technology is a tool. We can use it to enhance our understanding and practice, or we can use it to crystallize our self-conceptions and self-deceptions. What we cannot change is the inner drive a person feels to reach their destiny in whatever form that is, be it worldly or spiritual. If they feel the spiritual fire nothing will stand in their way. Let us not demonize technology or idealize Buddhism. Is this not what having compassion for all is about, acceptance without judgement?

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That is a very difficult distraction, and I think it is best pre-faced by saying, we have a lot of leisure time and a lot of incoming data. I don't know, if I were a subsistence farmer in 11th century England, if I would be mindful, or just struggling a bit more viscerally. I am getting rid of all my stuff, though. Especially the distracting technology stuff. Like the "TV". :)

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