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The contemporary issue of technology Essay

Buddhism is an ever-growing religion with approximately 350 million adherents worldwide, prominently found in Thailand, Indo-China, Burma, and Sri Lanka[1]. The word “Buddhism” comes from “Budhi” which literally means ‘to awaken’. This essentially makes up the basis for the belief system as it originated when Siddhartha Gautama, an Indian prince commonly known as Buddha, was himself awakened during his lifetime. It is every adherent’s goal in life to reach this same state of enlightenment, or nirvana. Not only is Buddhism a religion, it is often a way of life for many Buddhists[2]. Buddhism is a traditionalistic religion containing aspects that remain constant over time but is also highly adaptable and advances with current global progressions and issues. Many aspects of the belief system represent notions of continuity and change including gender roles, sacred places and scripts and the contemporary issue of technology.

Buddhism has been subject to both aspects of continuity and change almost from the time the religion originated. This was clearly highlighted in the role and acceptance of dissent in the belief system in 383BC. This was after Buddha’s death in a time known as the Second Council where a large change occurred and the significant split into two variants of the religion occurred. This was due to arising conflicting interpretations of Buddha’s teachings and the meaning behind them. The Buddhist movement divided into the Theravada (Teaching of the Elders), also known as Hinayana (small vessel), and the Mahayana (large vessel) movements.

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This division essentially arose from disagreements over matters of practice and doctrine. The most significant different between the two variants is the belief of the Theravadans that Buddha is a fully enlightened human teacher whilst the Mahayana’s developed a transcendental view of him. The Mahayana concept welcomes the idea of worship of a divine grace rather than the attainment of enlightenment through practice[3]. As well as this, there is also the slightly smaller Vajrayana variant, most prominent in Tibet. This variant is known as Tantric Buddhism, referring to the application of Buddha’s teachings in regards to unique explanations and meditation techniques used by Vajrayana Buddhists[4].

Gender roles in Buddhism have been subject to much change over time. At the time Buddha lived, women were placed in a domestic sphere, essentially denying them of authoritative positions. Women were expected to care for the family and men to provide for the family[5]. Siddhartha himself was not always accepting of women entering the monastery. His attitude solely changed when his closest disciple, Ananda, used the traditional Buddhist value of impermanence as a way to demonstrate how the position of women at the time should not necessarily remain this way. From this resulted the allowance of women into the sangha through acculturation.

Despite the ordination of women into the sangha as well as the Buddhist belief that both males and females are equal is however not necessarily the case in practice[6]. For example, In Theravada, a conscious effort is made to follow the Buddha’s lifestyle as closely as possible as outlined in Vinaya[7]. However, this can be viewed as merely a matter of culture. In many Buddhist communities it is often normal for a man to have more authority over a woman.

This was the restraint women felt for a long time until recent westernisation and modernisation. Through globalisation and the emergence of Buddhism into western nations, the status of women is now changing in many countries, even traditionally Buddhist ones. There is an acceptance that western women are no longer subservient as well as the equal address of both genders in recent teachings and books[8]. Western women have even had the ability to influence powerful figures including the Dalai Lama to support women’s spiritual practice and leadership[9].

Gender roles in Buddhism are quite obviously changing over time, at a slow but steady pace. In a world where gender stereotypes are slowly but surely becoming a thing of the past, women Buddhists, from westernised countries or not, will become more aware of the patriarchal society they live in and inevitably push for equal gender status.

Although, one aspect that may pose a setback to equal gender status is the fact that nuns must still serve the monks and cannot run services and have different roles in the monastery[10]. Although this slightly traditional notion continues, Buddhist communities are consciously making an effort to live out the Buddhist teaching that says both women and men are equal. In the Vajrayana variant there are many female Buddhas and bodhisattva including Green Tara, Kuan Yin and prajnaparamita who represents the mother of all Buddha’s as she is the anicca[11]. As well as this, the rapid increase of the religion, most notably in Australia, will undoubtedly create an incline in discussion of gender issues as it is a nation based on equality and multiculturalism.

Buddhist sacred places and scripts are a highly traditional and continual aspect of the religion. Despite the split into separate variants of Buddhism, the message of Buddha remains the same for all. Initially the teachings of Buddha were passed down through oral tradition although as time progressed the four major councils formed the sangha and dharma consistent in practice and doctrine and had them form a written canon, the Tipitaka[12]. This text has not changed in any way since 250BCE and continues to be the foundation of all Buddhist communities. This is one of only a few things that have remained constant despite divergence and change within the religion. As time progressed, the Mahayana variant also created sacred texts, usually attributed to bodhisattva.

These texts held a great amount of authority as they were held in likeness to the words of Buddha himself. These texts are an essential part of Buddhism as they are used in important activities and rituals that remain constant with tradition over time. The main story in the Buddhist tradition is the legend of the Buddha’s life and his search for enlightenment. This places high sacred significance on the location of Bodh Gaya and the Bodhi tree found there, where it is said Siddhartha found enlightenment and became Buddha. There are also many types of Buddhist shrines or temples visited by both monks/nuns and lay people for meditation and ritualistic purposes. Shrines often contain symbolic objects, helping one to keep in mind the ‘Four Noble Truths’ and the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’[13].

The continuous nature of the sacred texts and places visited can be expected to remain so in the near and distant future. In Australia; Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrana all assume the traditional practice and observation of the sacred texts and places. Being a western culture, this is highly significant as it is the one aspect of the religion that remains constant and traditional in a diverse culture. This is also the case with other western nations as well as the traditional Buddhist locations.

Contemporary issues have arisen relatively recently within Buddhism with the continual advancement of technology in today’s society. Due to Buddhism’s highly adaptable nature, it is becoming more welcoming of the world’s technological advances. Global communications such as the internet are now allowing for readily available and easily accessible information including Buddhist sacred texts. This allows for people from around the globe being able to access and translate texts at their own ease and from the comfort of their own home. Buddhists view technology in a varied light[14].

On one hand, the consumption of technology causes problems geared to feeding greed, hatred, and delusion. On the other hand, ‘constructive’ technology is beginning to be adapted to, within the constraints of three principles; technology which is moderate, technology which is used for creating benefit and technology which serves to develop understanding and improve the human being[15]. Essentially, the basic traditional principles of Buddhism are maintained through the safe, beneficial and constructive implementation and use of modern equipment.

Technology is inevitably an ever-growing facet of today’s society. Buddhism is learning to adapt to such changes. As Buddhists accept technology that does not harm sentient beings, it is having a significant influence in the western world. Buddhism is now the fastest growing religion in Australia. From 1991-2006 there was a 109.6% increase in adherents in Australia, making up 2.1% of the total population[16].

Much of this is reliant on the introduction of technology in Buddhism resulting in bringing people together through the communication devices such as the internet. Not only is this affecting Australians, it is evident throughout the world. As Buddhism is introducing more technology into their practices, information is readily accessible to millions of people worldwide. This allows for a greater knowledge and acceptance of Buddhism and so expansion of the religion will inevitably occur on a large scale. Buddhism is now ranked the fourth largest belief system in the world and will undoubtedly continue to rise.

In summation, Buddhism is embarking on a continual journey of adaptation to changing cultures and climates. With this comes the continuation of traditional aspects as well as applying these in ways to suit the consensus of different cultures, most notably western. Many influencing factors attribute to the continuity and change of Buddhism including gender roles, sacred places and scripts and contemporary issues. Each of these play a fundamental role in underpinning the belief system in contemporary society and the religion will inevitability continue to change given its highly adaptable nature.

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[1] Buddhanet, 2012, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., global, http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/bud_statwrld.htm

[2] Buddhanet, 2012, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., global, http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/5minbud.htm

[3] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[4] Vajrayana Institute, 2012, Vajrayana Buddhism, Australia, http://www.vajrayana.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=56&Itemid=81

[5] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[6] TSC Learning, 2012, TSC Learning Inc., Australia, http://www.tsclearning.catholic.edu.au/groups/societyculture/weblog/2953c/Belief_System__Buddhism__Gender_Roles.html

[7] Buddhanet, 2012, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., global, http://www.buddhanet.net/ftp07.htm

[8] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[9] Buddhanet, 2012, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., global, Buddhanet.com

[10] Enabling Organisation, 2012, BSQ Tracts on Buddhism No.7, http://www.enabling.org/ia/vipassana/Archive/D/DeSilva/WomenInBuddhism/womenInBuddhismSwarnaDeSilva.html

[11] Vajrayana Institute, 2012, Vajrayana Buddhism, Australia, http://www.vajrayana.com.au/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=56&Itemid=81

[12] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[13] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[14] Buddhism’s Impact and Appeal in the West, Culturescope Volume 79, April 2006

[15] Buddhanet, 2012, Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., global, Buddhanet.com

[16] Buddhism Australia, 2012, Census date from ABS, Australia, http://www.buddhismaustralia.org/census2001.htm

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