Saturday, October 03, 2009

Dalai Lama on Technology

(Photo Credit: Vancouver Sun)
The Dalai Lama is in Vancouver this week. My children's school even provide tickets for some students to attend one of his talks. Well known as an exiled Tibetan leader, he was given celebrity status as he opens the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit on the 27 Sep 2009. Present was Canada’s Head of State representative, Governor-General MichaĆ«lle Jean and several well known figures such as Mary Robinson, the Irish Prime Minister and Maria Shriver. His speech was widely covered by the media. He speaks the usual staff about the need for peace, the call for a social movement from “Me to We” and various nice stuff about living peacefully with messages that warm and cuddle the heart. However, the press decidedly picked up on an interesting comment from the religious leader. The free newspaper, METRO headlines it as
“Technology may block peace, says Dalai Lama”
Almost instantly, Vancouverites were up in arms over the spiritual leader meddling with one of the sacred cows of modern society. Comments such as:
  • . . . but we can’t leave, look, we’re on twitter” (@morfinictrauma)
  • Technology’s a tool for connecting with others. The more connected you feel with others, the more invested you become in peace.” (starglazer_girl)
  • Technology helps people to communicate and therefore helps peace, not hinder it.” (ngislop)
The blogsphere is also buzzing with comments about this small portion of the spiritual leader's speech. Most of them are defensive about technology. Reading the comments made me laugh at the gulf of understanding of the contexts people are from. When people start to zoom in on the minor details of a major speech, we will know what are the things that bother the general public. What about the injustice and lack of compassion happening around the world? How many people will be up in arms over innocent children being massacred by a cruel dictator, compared with the loss of our TV connection over an NHL hockey game?

Technology and Peace
Sometimes I wonder, if people absolutely has to vote, will peace win hands-down over technology? Despite the rave reviews from people all over Vancouver, I am not a fan of the Dalai Lama, but his comments about the technology being a barrier to peace need to be understood from the context of his speech. He says:
“I think technology may have some benefits for a smart brain, but no capacity to produce compassion.”

I feel that the press has again used this as a way to sensationalize Dalai Lama’s words on technology. He is not against technology. He was basically warning people that there are LIMITS to what technology can bring., specifically producing compassion. In other words, technology may connect people, but by itself cannot PRODUCE compassion. Unfortunately, the tech-generation people appear more worried about losing their technological toys than peace itself. Others remain baffled that the comparison of technology and peace is absurd, just like one cannot compare an apple with a toy squirrel. I think there is a similarity. Technology becomes a barrier to peace when it becomes MORE IMPORTANT than peace per se.

Another Spirituality of Positive Thinking
Apart from the critic of 'technology' usurping the mindshare of people over peace, there is another deficiency. Spiritually, the message that peace has to be from the inside-out needs further probing. While I do not doubt the powerful effects of good teaching, spirituality is not simply something that can be pumped into a person via "Me-to-We" Rah-Rah cheer. The Dalai Lama's teaching is another of those theories of the power of positive thinking to change the world. This contrasts sharply with the Christian teaching that before something good can take root, the heart needs to be touched first. The Dalai Lama's kind of teaching assumes that people are like programmable chips. Once the right program is downloaded into them, they will function correctly. Christians themselves sometimes do practice such a philosophy. I want to argue that we need something more. People may be likened to programmable chips in a sense. However we still need the following:
- Who programs it?
- How do we decide what programs to use?
- When do we use it?
- Is it not true that people are more than programmable chips?

Christian spiritual discernment is much more than such externally driven positive thinking. Christian spirituality recognizes that we all need help. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and lead us in the way that we ought to go. We pray for guidance and we act on the Word of God. Our feelings are kept in check via Experience, Reason, Scripture and Tradition.

This little episode is rather telling about our modern culture.
1) Technology is here to stay. You can talk all you want about peace but don’t touch this sacred cow.
2) Peace is important, but for many, holding on to their Internet connectivity or tech-gadgets is even more important;
3) 'Without technology, how am I going to connect with my friends?' argument is unconvincing.  [I wonder if this is the case, how on earth did our grandfathers and great-grandmothers connect with their peers during their years?]

In summary, the Peace Summit is good and creates a nice feeling for many people. My question will be:  "How far can the message go?" Let me end with the programmable chip analogy. Assuming we manage to download the program of peace into our memory banks for free. Assuming we install it into our computer. Will we ever use it? More crucially, with so many different programs inside our computer, how often we run the PEACE program over all other programs determines whether technology itself is a barrier to peace. Would it not be better if we do not see ourselves as technological machines that can be programed, but to recognize that we are human persons that can love and be loved?


No comments:

Latest Posts