Buddhism in the 21st Century
Buddhists have always been at the cutting edge of new technologies in spreading the Dharma throughout the world. Before there was writing monks committed to memory all the sutras – the words of the Buddha – so that they would be preserved over the centuries. When writing was developed, the monks were right there putting down the precious words of the Buddha on tree leaves because no one had invented paper yet. When paper was invented, Buddhists began collecting commentaries on the sutras and published them, some of the first books in history. The libraries in India, China and Tibet became full of books about Dharma.
Now in the 21st Century the ability to communicate instantaneously throughout the entire world has become as easy as clicking a mouse, and Buddhists are still there at the forefront, exploring new technologies as they emerge, whether they be oral, video, or electronic. One of the most innovative communications technologies at present is Twitter, a fairly simple and straightforward medium that limits statements, or tweets, to only 140 characters. Several major Buddhist teachers have taken up this new medium and have been exploring its ability to teach the Dharma to those who might never have heard it otherwise. Such teachers as the Dalai Lama, Tsem Tulku and Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo, have been pioneers in this effort. Last year Ahkön Lhamo introduced a simple Amitabha practice that was done with her active participation every day on Twitter all over the world, introducing Buddhist practice to thousands.
Some Buddhists have come to use the internet as their virtual sangha, particularly those who live in places with no sanghas or temples. These people are also busy exploring ways to use this medium to improve their practice. One such organization is called Buddhist Geeks, and they have lively discussions of innovative new ways to practice online.
However, as anyone who has spent any time at all on the internet knows, it can be a wild and crazy place with all sorts of anonymous psychopaths and other dangerous sorts lurking in the shadows. Twitter is a favorite place for these types to hang out and exercise their pathologies as it is essentially unmonitored and uncontrolled. Spammers proliferate, hate mongers spew their vicious bile, bullies intimidate and destroy with virtual impunity. When these sick individuals start attacking Dharma, it becomes very disturbing as they can spread whatever lies and gossip they want without fear of retribution and without limit. We have documented such cases on this blog. It is sad to see Dharma being exposed to such filth, but the Dharma has always come under attack from those who feel threatened by anything good and positive in the world.
It is also sad to see imposters and con men on the internet pretending to be spiritual teachers and attempting to lure students. If one reads Bill Cassidy’s blog, Digital Tibetan Buddhist Altar, you see that he claims to be the “12th Urgyen Tenpa Tulku”. Of course, he makes this claim without one shred of evidence. Tulkus have a lineage, and they must be officially recognized and enthroned to be legitimate. He has none of these qualifications. There were no predecessors, no first or second or third or eleventh Urgyen Tenpa. In fact, there have been no tulkus known as Urgyen Tenpa in the entire history of Tibetan Buddhism. You do not have to take our word for it; investigate for yourself and you will see.
This imposter should not be confused with the real Tulku Urgyen, a well-known and well-loved teacher in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions who was born in 1920 and died in 1996 in Kathmandu. He was recognized at an early age and taught his entire life. You can read about him here. His legacy lives on in his sons, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche, Chokling Rinpoche, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, and Migyur Rinpoche, and who are also well-known Buddhist teachers. Compare this marvelous lama with the imposter, who has no students, no temples, no monasteries, no lineage, and no good works and who will soon be forgotten after he dies.
Such a case study is useful for any student of Buddhism who ventures onto the internet. It is always important to investigate who you are talking to or reading about because there are many out there who are not who they pretend to be and who do not have your best interests at heart. The message is take full advantage of the marvelous tool the internet is but do so always with caution and prudence!