Of monks and social media

This piece about Cambodian Buddhist monks going viral on TikTok isn’t easily summarized via quotes, but the short of it is that plenty of well-intentioned monks have found TikTok fame.

I find the whole thing kind of sad. I get the whole argument that you have to go where the young people are, but I strongly disagree. The point of religion is to provide something beyond this world, to show that there’s another way of living.

I feel the same sadness when looking at most of Buddhism in America. It’s become a big marketing behemoth with rockstar teachers who have turned their McMindfulness™ teaching into a rather profitable little business.

There is another way, though. The teachers in the lay organization that I’m a member of receive zero renumeration for teaching. There are also monasteries that keep the traditional rule of not allowing monastics to handle money at all (Metta Forest Monestary and the Ajahn Chah monasteries come immediately to mind, but there are others). If you’re curious how this works in practice, these monasteries function as lay led foundations that take care of logistics with the monastics technically at the mercy of the lay foundation.

Behind all this is the question of quality vs. quantity. You can get thousands of followers with some slick videos on social media. You can hawk some watered down McMindfulness™ course to a huge audience, that will promptly forget it.

Or you can have a small, dedicated group. And that’s how these sorts of teachings have historically been passed on: from a teacher to small groups of students.

Historically, Christianity and Islam have focused on converting (or killing…) the entire world. There is no universalism of that sort in the older strands of Buddhism, and I’d much rather have a small yet vibrant Buddhist community instead of a massive McMindfulness™ thing.

There are universal values that I do think everyone should have such as basic morality and some spiritual sense that life goes deeper than the prevailing materialism and consumerism. But that can be done within pretty much any religion or as part of no religion.