Read some recent thoughts of wisdom we received from Oliver Benjamin (the Dudely Lama) specifically for this course:
1. What impact do you believe technology has had on spirituality?
Due to the implicit opposition that has long existed between the “spiritual” and the “material,” it’s only natural that a lot of people might think that technology is anti-spiritual. And yet as technology develops it’s clear that it is only a means of amplification. That is, it can enhance both our spiritual as well as our materialist tendencies. Since we’re in the early days of the technological revolution, it’s understandable that we’re still trying to figure out how to use it. Every major revolution (agricultural, industrial, political, etc) has started off being damaging to the human psyche and social organization, but when the kinks were worked out they often helped advance the growth and development of humanity.
Technology has made my own spiritual projects more possible – before the internet it would have been impossible to get hundreds of thousands of like minded people together to form a philosophical movement in such a short time and with such modest effort. And yet when our online pages get swamped by trolls who are interested in making a mess of things, it’s clear that there are downsides as well. On the aggregate, however, I think that systems like these are self-correcting and so usually go forward, albeit in fits and starts. My particular brand of spirituality is founded upon the idea that reason and rationality are more spiritual than intuition and impulse (i’m in the minority in that sense) so technology (which is hierarchical and pragmatic) suits me just fine. It must be a lot harder for those who believe in unseen influences to reconcile technology with their brand of spirituality. We’ve seen how hard it’s been for the Catholic Church.
2. What similarities do you see between spirituality and technology?
I’m leery of the word “spirituality” because I think it can mean too many things to different people (like “God”). When we discuss the idea, we’re often talking about different things, so discussions can be a bit misleading unless we define the term precisely. Most people have a limited view of the broad panoply of human spirituality due to the fact that their own view usually eclipses all the others, and is even normally pitted against the others by their spiritual leaders–the way that new agers distrust established religions and vice versa.
Anyway, spirituality for me has more to do with metaphysics, in the original sense of the word. Not spirits and the afterlife, but theories about systems of organization and ideas. That is, sciences of “the way things tend to unfold in the world.” I think that the Tao Te Ching was the earliest and in many ways still one of the best projects that tried to analyze this – it doesn’t say “this is this” but rather “here are the patterns.” Most popular spiritual systems seem to suffer from the human need to find answers to things rather than merely identifying patterns and testing them the way a scientist would. Ironically, there’s way too much ego in most spiritual traditions–the very thing they claim to rail against themselves. Most spiritual schools of thought give too many answers and don’t provide enough skepticism. I think skepticism is just spiritualism purged of ego.
Where technology comes into play is that, like science, it truly helps us to see beyond our own personal egos. Nothing has inculcated humility more than technology. People used to have incredibly narrow viewpoints about what the world was. Now we know so much more. It’s funny how we think we’ve got it all figured out, when a hundred years from now people will look back at us and laugh at our ignorance. I think that the more versed in technology you are, the more you are confronted with your own ignorance every day and the more you’re able to imagine future possibilities. In many ways the development of tech is not that different from the development of human psychology. The problem, of course, is that just as it can expand and empower us, it can also turn us into raging narcissists. Technological development can empower us, or it can corrupt us. Maybe the trick of mastering “spirituality” is to know how to navigate the knife edge between empowerment and corruption, much in the way a species would have to navigate through a dense forest of competitors and predators to continue to live, thrive and evolve, or a web company would have to find out the most elegant and functional solution in order to stand out amongst its peers.
3. How big of a role does technology play in your belief system? Is it a big part of your life?
I’ve always been a big fan of technology because it provided ways of experiencing new things and exercise my mind. There’s a lot in common with satori (the brief flash of enlightenment in Zen) and the amazement you get when you discover a new way of seeing things as a result of technology. But on the whole I have to say maybe I’m not handling it so well – i think i might have been better off before I had a smartphone in my pocket and instant connectivity with everyone. I spent many years traveling the world and being incommunicado for months at a time. It was great. Today my brain feels overloaded. That might just be because I’m getting older. So I try to meditate to “reboot” and “defragment” my brain, just as I do my computer. I believe that in the future people will be better adapted to their technology and vice versa so it won’t cause the headaches and neuroses that it sometimes causes today. Also, I imagine that people who were born into technology are better adapted to it. I didn’t have a computer until I was finishing up university so my brain might be a bit ill-adapted.
4. How do you think social media has affected the way you communicate with people within Dudeism?
I wouldn’t differentiate between social media and the Internet in general because before social media got big people still did the same stuff, only on bulletin boards and forums and comments threads of blogs. But if we take all that as basically the same thing (Internet communication) then I’d have to reiterate that Dudeism would not have been possible without it. Though we have almpst 400,000 ordained priests, we’re actually a very fringey group — non-theistic spiritualists who happen to love the movie The Big Lebowski. You could stand on a street corner all day shouting that message and you’d be lucky to attract a handful of followers. But with the “long tail” of the Internet, it’s possible to transcend geography and population densities and gather like minded folks from around the globe. Just as other technologies have allowed us to physically transcend the limits of space and time, so has the Internet allowed our belief systems to do the same.
5. What do you see for the future of Dudeism?
Currently i’m planning to develop the basic message of Dudeism outside of the liturgy of The Big Lebowski. Not everyone digs the Dude (sadly), and I think the world really needs to understand his style, even if they don’t love the character. Having said that, Dudeism is really just a modernized form of Taoism, so its roots are very deep, even if the flowers might end up differing.