Some in America are turning to Buddhism to counter the cultural and technological chaos surrounding them. About 15 people sat in meditation cushions on the floor of a Zen Buddhist worship space in an apartment building in Washington, D.C. They chanted sutras and meditated in complete silence for a full 30 minutes.
One of the lay leaders of the All Beings Zen Sangha conducted a “little exercise.”
“It’s very simple,” said Mark Stone. “If you could take out your screens, stay on them for 12 minutes, doing what you usually do.”
This was a part of the “Zen Practice and Screen Use” workshop which is part of a series that have been held at this “zendo” or meditation hall. The focus is helping participants have a more mindful experience online.
These workshops are a response to increasing concern over the amount of time people devote to technology. One study estimated that Americans are spending nearly six hours a day on their connected devices. If you add television to that, the total rises to nearly 10 hours.
In many places around the world, people are calling Internet addiction a public health crisis. Some companies in the U.S. are responding by developing code and apps to help limit screen use.
Mark Stone, a retired economist, is in favor of Buddhist principles like
mindfulness and intentionality. He told the members of his Zen sangha that when they’re online, they should be aware of their posture and take deep breaths.
Stone also recommends setting aside devices for meals and longer digital fasts, and making frequent use of airplane and “do not disturb” modes. He maintains that what is really helpful “is, when I pick up my screen [to] think about my intention, why am I doing this.”
After participants in the workshop have their screen time, they are asked to reflect on the experience.
“I did notice afterwards,” said one participant, Carlos Moura, “that I was focused, but I really wasn’t aware of you all.”
“I just physically noticed that my head really hurt, after looking at the screen and sitting, which I hadn’t really noticed the first time we were sitting,” offered another, Leslie Cohen.
At the Washington Buddhist Vihara, a monastic residence for monks, chief monk Bhante Dhammasiri says living in the U.S. for 32 years has been long enough to watch a society become hooked on technology.
“What we see today, is they don’t live the life. They forget to live the life, because they are addicted to cellphones — especially cellphones,” he said.
When he was asked whether he has a smartphone, the chief monk smiled and said a devotee gave him one. He conceded that he finds it useful for calling and as a calendar. And he likes the convenience of the built-in flashlight. But he doesn’t use Facebook or other social media because, he says: “You’re never getting satisfied. You will waste your whole precious time.”
Dhammasiri says the Buddha urged his followers to live a simple life, and rid themselves of luxury and attachments. Cellphones and other digital devices may promise happiness and fulfillment.
But, the chief monk says, it’s just an illusion.