Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Right speech does involve some degree of being truthful, not truthiness.  I'd have appreciated it if Rev. Fisher had picked up a couple of the points I make below, but I guess that's my perspective.

I hope this isn't seen as picking on Danny Fisher or Rohan Gunatillake  in particular, but this interview with Rohan Gunatillake is problematic for me.  More particularly, I've issues with this bit:

You're very clear in the FAQs on the website that buddhify is not meant to be a comprehensive meditation system. Can you say something about your understanding of the limitations of format--like a mobile app? Also, are there things you think are not fully appreciated yet about what a format like an app can do?
As you say, buddhify is not a complete system since that is not what it has been designed to be. It is an accessible and different approach to teaching meditation to new audiences.
While some of the more tech-wary members of the practitioner community see digital as a threat to dharma practice, I think this fear is misplaced.  I'm a firm believer that technology can only augment, and not entirely replace, other forms of teaching and delivery.  Nothing beats face-to-face teaching from a qualified instructor, nor indeed the support of a local community you connect with. But the fact is that for many people, even if they do have a local community, it's not for them - that's certainly why I myself have found the community around Buddhist Geeks so valuable since even in London there wasn't really a scene I felt was speaking my language.  Digital tools can, of course, take meditation and so on to a scale never possible before and for many people.  This is especially true, I think, for Gen Y: to have an online community or a digital training tool can feel better and more relevant than a local one if it is designed well and the content is strong.  It might even feel worth the trade-off of it not being local or physical.
And when it comes to buddhify, I'm very clear: all it tries to do is introduce people to meditation, and says that if people want to explore more they should do that through deeper more personal modes of delivery such as more advanced courses, the great meditation literature we have, and also local teachers.  As meditation providers, we all need to know where we sit in the system and what our limits are - that's really important to me.
Something I'd also just like to add is that people underestimate the power of a mobile phone.  It is a very intimate device - with us pretty much all of the time - and very personal and tactile.  Therefore it is in a way much more suitable as a vehicle for teaching meditation as things like laptops.  How we relate to our mobile phones was part of the design thinking behind buddhify for sure.
"Urban" is an important adjective for you in much of the work that you do. Can you say something about what you mean "urban," and the importance of that distinction for you?
Yes, urban is perhaps the most important word when it comes to buddhify.  So much of the meditation tradition - especially in the Theravada/insight/vipassana school that I know the best - is designed for forest or remote or retreat environments. As such, many of the meditation delivery models we see are just taking systems designed for a rural or stylized environment and placing them in an urban one and expecting them to work perfectly.  They don’t...

 First, let me say right off: if Rohan's making money from this (or even if he's doing "the socially responsible" thing) and pointing people in a general direction towards a practice that keeps them from going into murderous psychotic rages against those with whom they dwell, great!

But...as a guy who's been practicing for a while, who's practiced in urban settings as well as rather far from the madding crowd, as a guy who's certifiably tech savvy, I've got a perspective. 

I've a colleague who's Gen X, who's been doing some new popular video game.  It's apparently "very real;" in his description of the game he said, "I've gotten really good at shooting arrows." I replied, "I don't think so."

Augment? It's not the same thing.  It's like "augmenting" real strawberries with artificial strawberry flavor on some level.

Buddhify is no more a threat to Dharma practice than shooting an arrow in a video game is a threat to archery.

Maybe it's useful in a bompu Zen kind of way, but a Buddhist  Dharma practice it ain't.

Rohan's idea that "urban" must be an impossible venue for mindful practice is also pretty wide off the mark. I used to practice at both the Zen Studies Society and the MRO Zen center when the latter was in downtown Manhattan. Both were pretty noisy due to the urban environment.  With both practice would extend after the sitting quite well - it's possible to be very mindful on the subway.

Last night in 詠春 the training place was quite cold.  In quite a few martial arts the training is done under rather non-ideal conditions, for obvious reasons if you think about it - real life is a non-ideal condition.  It's also where we are.

So it is with many traditions of practice. 

Like I said, for what it is, it's probably OK for what it is (though I've a general reservation about "guided meditations" in general, as I've written before), but it doesn't even augment Buddhist practice.  It's more like it's like the Sil Lim Tao (小念頭)app on my iPhone - it's useful as a beginning tool, but it's no substitute for watching it done by Ip Man or Ip Chun on Youtube, let alone being instructed by a guy who's been doing it for over 40 years.

One more point I'll make, and it's on this sentence:

The history of meditation is one of evolution and change and this is just another chapter in that.
 That's a pretty grand statement, but I must point out the the "history of meditation" - like lots of other histories (economics, social ideologies, etc.) is also one of fads. Proof is in the pudding,  they say.  Hope the pudding's good, but doubt's part of the practice.


Petteri Sulonen said...

I've got a meditation timer on my phone. Sometimes I even use it. Three dings to start, one ding to stop. Handier than an egg-timer, and it doesn't got tick-tock.

But that has bugger-all to do with learning meditation, whatever that may mean, and I am highly skeptical about any app, mobile or otherwise, being very useful at that.

Could go on for more, but I'll leave it at that for now.

Mumon said...

Petteri -

I've thought of getting that app, but when I need to I just use the timer function on my phone.

Yeah. What you said.

Mumon said...

One other point I'll make re: urban, though.

Once upon a time while I was sitting where I do nowadays, the horses from the adjacent farm breached a fence somehow and were galloping all around the Zendo.

There's no less a potential to distract in the country than in the city, fire and car alarms and all.

Arun said...

The proof of the pudding is in the eating :)

Mumon said...

Arun -

Thanks. I mangle many things.