BuddhaNet's Magazine Articles

Should Monks Surf the Internet? No!

Dear Venerable Pannyavaro,

I don’t think monks should surf the Internet. I don’t have any problem with monks posting their teachings onto the Internet. But a monk writing HTML or whatever else seems like a bad idea to me.

The reason I claim this is because of personal experience. I work in an investment bank. Most of my day is spent in front of a computer. I analyse data, write short programs, send tonnes of email, all day long. When I come home in the evening, there’s nothing I’d like to do more than continue to sit in front of my home computer, surf the internet, send some more email. I’d be better off talking to my girlfriend, taking a walk, playing my cello, reading a book. In the cold light of day, I believe anyone would agree that working with a computer is unsatisying most of the time. I mean there’s something about computers that exagerates this “desire brings suffering” paradigm. Could it be that with computers, you have the shortest possible connection between the mind and outside the mind. I mean there’s only a keyboard and a few small circuit boards between what’s going on inside (in the mind) and what’s going on outside (in the computer).

Either this is ringing true to you, or it’s something that only I experience. I love learning and intellectual stuff. You might say that’s why I “enjoy” using computers so much. However, I also enjoy learning languages, playing my cello, exercising, cycling, other stuff. With the other stuff, there comes a certain point when I say enough is enough, and put it away and move onto something else. There’s definitely pain in these areas too, when I doubt whether I’m making enough progress. But with computers, although there are times when I can great satisfaction after designing some great system or other, much of the time is sent sending stupid email, empty the trash can, deleting unnecessary files, trying to create perfection, and being frustrated in the end because there’s always the desire to make it better.

Let me ask you something. When you write your HTML, and then someone calls you away from your computer, do you not find, that more than most other things, residual thoughts of computer work linger in you mind. Do you not find that the computer fills you full of fuzz, disturbing thoughts throwing you off balance, making you wolf down your meal. And when you return to your computer, do you not have those moments when you realise that caring so much about whether the left margin is 1 inch or 2 inches doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

I absolutely don’t mean to critisize what you’re doing. I’m just wondering what’s your take on things. Looking back, when you put all that effort into setting up the Buddha Net, when it was all you could think about, do you not think in circumspect that you would have been better off trying to remain balanced and maybe doing some physical work, something where there is more distance between your internal thoughts and what was in your hand.

The thought has occured to me that my own physiology may be behind the special nature of computers in my own life. I could well be a bit neurotic (not medically, I just mean I went to graduate school and in my experience such people are often a bit neurotic, a bit obsessive about things). However, if this isn’t the case, then this would be my suggestion as why computers present a special distraction to Buddhists. And as such why they should be shunned by monks. As a Buddhist, you’re trying to see things as they really are. What they really are, is shaped by the reality around us, by the physical nature of things (ok, whatever that is) around us —- Not by your internal thoughts. I would say that as a Buddhist, you don’t do things because they feel right (what’s going on inside), you do things because they fit right (what’s going on outside). Now, a computer is a pretty unique tool because it’s a tool of the mind. It’s the closest link possible so far between computers (which exist outside the mind) and our own thoughts (which exist inside the mind). When we manipulate the data inside a computer, we’re spending time manipulating things inside our minds (like a patient spending years on a physciatrist’s couch), rather than spending time letting the outside world manipulate things inside our minds. The latter, I would say, is what we should be doing. (My writing is not expressive enough: what I mean by the latter is not to be confused with the hussle and bussle of the daily world. I would say this is not at all the hussle and bussle of the daily world, but rather the hussle and bussle of our minds in the daily world. I mean it’s not the cars whizzing by, nor the telephone ringing off its hooks that’s so disturbing and uncalming, rather it’s all those other minds and our minds whacking off each other and disturbing one another’s thoughts.)

In short, by all means post stuff on the Internet. But should you post it yourself. (Yah, I know you’re going to ask, who then should post is. Maybe find someone who isn’t at all interested in computers?!)

Good luck with your work, and kindest regards,

Patrick Gillen

Hampstead Heather, London.