STRAITS TIMES SATURDAY VESAK SPECIAL
BUDDHA IN THE DIGITAL AGE
BUDDHIST GROUPS ARE USING THE INTERNET TO SPREAD THE DHAMM AMONG TODAY’S YOUTH
BY ELIZABETH SOH & GWENDOLYN NG
BUDDHA attained “enlightenment” as he sat under a Bodhi tree in north-eat India about 2,600 years ago.
That rustic scene contrasts strikingly with the high-tech means used by modern-day adherents of the Buddha’s teachings to spread the “dhamma” or the Buddhist truth and way.
In Singapore, these include daily sutra readings on Facebook, Buddhist-themed blogs and movie screenings.
At the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society in Balestier, which organises talks and courses, as well as publishes books on Buddhism, the use of technology is standard practice in reaching out to the Buddhist community.
Resident monks the Venerable Shravasti Dhammika, 58, and the Venerable Chuan Guan, 36, have incorporated the use of high-tech gadgets into the carrying out of their calling.
The Venerable Chuan Guan has an active Facebook profile onto which h regularly uploads photographs of his experiences, and has developed a Facebook application where users can read daily Buddhist scriptures or eve download them onto hand-held devices.
“The Facebook application idea came when the young people I was working with pointed out that there were no Buddhist applications developed for Facebook,” says the Venerable, who holds a degree in computer engineering from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
“So I thought, why not I come up with one?”
The response has been positive: There are now 338 users of his Facebook application.
“I feel that it is important to connect with the young through mediums which are familiar to them,” says the monk, who works closely with youth from the Singapore Buddhist Federation and corresponds regularly with them via e-mail.
The Venerable Dhammika, a spiritual advisor at the society, blogs almost daily at is site, Dhamma Musings, at sdhammika.blogspot.com. it gets up to 14,000 hits a month.
“I find his blog very frank and informative,” says Mr Liew Shi Xiong, 24, a Buddhist NTU electronic and broadcast media undergraduate, who read the blog every day. “its straight approach appeals to the youth of today, who might feel confused by the number of opinions and ideas on offer.” Mr Liew is the vice-president of operations at the Singapore Buddhist Mission’s youth arm, which works to bring Buddhist youth together through camps, sharing sessions and classes. “We try to use technology to connect the youth,” he says. “But we also try to balance it up with the simplicity of life that is taught in the Buddhist teachings.” For example, the youth committee holds its biannual youth camps in less developed areas such as Lim Chu Kang, to bring the participants back to nature and the simple life. At the same time, they take videos of the camp activities, which Mr Liew later uploads onto video-sharing site YouTube. “Watching the videos together brings back the sense of camaraderie, and bonds the young people,” explains Mr Liew.
Over at Kong Meng San Monastery at Bright Hill, its Youth Ministry, which has more than 4,500 members, is working hard to launch a new youth-oriented campaign aimed at spreading Buddhism in a young and lively way.
“It’s called the Gum campaign, where gum stands fro solidarity we have as a group,” says Mr Cell Tono, 29, a full-time assistant manager of the ministry. “It’s meant to encourage Buddhist youth to stick together.”
The campaign will involve sharing sessions, fellowship and lifestyle talks on keeping a positive mindset, and will be publicized through Facebook groups and blogs.
In addition, both the Singapore Buddhist Mission and the Kong Meng San Monastery Youth Ministry hold regular commercial movie screenings for their members at the temple’s activity centre, and try to weave in Buddhist teachings and themes in their discussions of the shows.
So far, movies screened include The Matrix trilogy, Groundhog Day, An Inconvenient Truth and even Super Size Me, which was shown to raise awareness about vegetarianism.
Buddhist leaders agree that more needs to be done to reach out to youth here, and that modern technology is the way to go.
“Youth today have so many more things to consider, so life is not as straightforward for them,” says the Venerable Chuan Guan.
“We try to reach out to them in a way they are comfortable with, and show them that Buddhism can do something for their lives.”