cyber-buddhism1

In the garden outside Wat Buaniwet, Thailand’s most important Buddhist temple, Abhinito, a young monk, sat with me under the shade of a large tropical plant. Together, we discussed Abhinito’s emigration from Indonesia to Thailand, the horrific Bangkok traffic, and other topics. But after thirty minutes, Abhinito appeared distracted. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, “but I have to go update my website.”

Abhinito is hardly the only Southeast Asian monk venturing online. Fearing that Buddhism is becoming irrelevant in the garden outside Wat Buaniwet, Thailand’s most important Buddhist temple, Abhinito, a young monk, sat with me under the shade of a large tropical plant. Together, we discussed Abhinito’s emigration from Indonesia to Thailand, the horrific Bangkok traffic, and other topics. But after thirty minutes, Abhinito appeared distracted. “I’m sorry,” he apologized, “but I have to go update my website.”

Abhinito is hardly the only Southeast Asian monk venturing online. Fearing that Buddhism is becoming irrelevant to young Southeast Asians, monks as well as laypeople in the region have begun utilizing the Internet to spread the Buddha’s teachings. Yet as these groundbreakers embrace the new technology, they are stirring controversy about whether or not the Internet is a suitable spiritual medium.

From virtually no online presence five years ago, Southeast Asia’s Buddhists have recently exploded onto the Web. The number of Buddhist websites in the region has more than quadrupled since 1996, and in Thailand, where 95 percent of the country’s sixty million people are Buddhist, there are now over one hundred Thai-language sites focusing on the dharma. Popular monks in Thailand have set up personal homepages in order to connect with their followers, answer questions, and organize retreats. Buddhist temples in Singapore and Taiwan host extensive web pages and send out daily e-mails reminding followers of dharma lessons. Farther north, South Korean monks work as DJs on local Internet radio stations.

For many Southeast Asian Buddhists, this foray online has been timed exquisitely. “Recently, we have seen that young people are losing interest in Buddhism, since they have so many distractions,” Abhinito says. “But the Internet will help get them involved again.” Indeed, Southeast Asian Buddhism faces a serious quandary. Monks in the region point out that the number of men entering the Buddhist clergy for the traditional three-month period during adolescence has dropped precipitously in recent years—a decline that is due in part to public dismay over a series of financial and sex scandals involving Buddhist clergy.

Liberate this article!

This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Log in.