Monday, April 30, 2012

Diverted (temporarily) by Buddhist Geeks and Computing

This day has to go into the archives of "sometimes reality is stranger than fiction": in my last post I said I was contemplating writing something speculative about how Buddhism could integrate with computing. It was an exercise in stretching my brain into the "what if" and "why not?" based on the little I know about Buddhism. (and "little" is the operative word here)

Then, this morning, look what landed in my email: The Buddhist Geeks Conference . Wow. Interesting. "aha, Buddhist computing professionals. They must be doing interesting things. Maybe I won't have to do as much speculating as I thought!"

Wanting to share the interesting information, I wrote a tech-savvy Buddhist friend and shared the conference link. That is when I found out things are complicated. Not because doing beneficial things with computing is difficult (heck no) but because of the tension between making money and the intentions behind making that money in a capitalist world. My friend wrote: "...the buddhist geeks are not very popular amongst most Buddhist circles due to the fact that they are all about money and ... There was a blow up on FB, G+, and Twitter a while back". 

The "problem" from some quarters seems to be (and now I'm doing a combination of paraphrasing, informed guesswork, uninformed guesswork and jumping out on a limb) that in much of the Buddhist world, it is considered counterproductive (on multiple levels) to charge money for "things Buddhist". Thus if you visit many Buddhist temples and monasteries, including here in the US, you will find their activities are free, and no one hits you up for "a donation" at the door. Therefore... holding an expensive conference (registration is up to $500) of "Buddhist Geeks" can be perceived as... well... not good. Very not good. Antithetical to Buddhist precepts. To quote my friend again: "...a big blow up on the internet about their intentions a while back. Basically any Buddhist thing that asks for money in return for Dharma [teachings] as their game plan should be avoided..." It's hard to imagine that they wouldn't talk about Dharma at a gathering of Buddhists or Buddhist sympathizers. On the other hand, intention is a big deal in Buddhism as well; the intention behind holding a professional level conference of hi-tech Buddhists could be very good! 

I feel like I'm walking on thin ice by bringing this whole thing up. But I don't want to lose sight of the ideas I started from. 

I wasn't going to suggest anyone has to be a Buddhist. Definitely not. But I was going to take a leap - I was going to speculate about how to integrate Buddhist values into hi-tech corporate America. I was going to point out that Buddhist precepts aren't exactly "out there" (e.g. don't steal, don't kill, don't engage in sexual misconduct, don't lie, don't take intoxicants). I was going to talk about the challenges when the rubber hits the road. 

The rubber hit the road before I had the car door closed. If holding an expensive conference for Buddhist geeks is a "no-no" (I'm not yet ready to take a stance on this...just wondering aloud) yet conferences are a tried and true method of networking and sharing in the tech community... and hi-tech professionals presumably prefer to network and communicate using the mechanisms they use in other aspects of their career... what do we suggest? What are the greater implications of one's stance on the issue?

After running the gamut of thoughts on what to say here, things have changed yet nothing has changed.  Whether you believe the Buddhist Geeks conference is ok or not ok, my intention to stretch our collective minds into considerations of integrating Buddhism and computing remained. A last word on those precepts, in case that part of the conversation made you squirmy: Do we want people in influential and powerful places in corporate America who follow them, whatever their religion or lack thereof? Is there anything truly objectionable about suggesting it is laudable to strive not to  lie, steal, etc? 

Assuming you agree that the answer is "yes we want people like that" how do you think we should get there? That is where I started this conversation: I toss the ball into your court.

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