KeywordsBuddhist meditation online, internet, ritual, religion online, online religion, online ritual, community, cyberspace, religious experience, religious use of the body, authority, authenticity, religion and the internet, meditating in cyberspace, zen, buddh
22 Philosophy and Religious Studies
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AbstractSince its inception, the Internet has served as a powerful medium for the dissemination of religious information and the creation of religious communities. Cyberspace now represents an important global paradigm shift in the way religion is conducted. This research provides a sociological account of the affordances the Internet contributes to religious life by examining the ways in which it has influenced the conduct or practices associated with Buddhism. In particular, it assesses the extent to which the rituals constitutive of the Buddhist practice of meditation have been achieved by the Cybersangha, the term Buddhists use for the online Buddhist community. The thesis argues that the Internet is not well suited to the facilitation of particular types of religious understanding and that there are clear limitations to its ability to provide the shared ritualistic experience necessitated by meditation. This is due to the fact that current technology can enable ritual only to a limited degree, and to the ways in which the textual nature of the Internet poses problems for religious experience of an intuitive, non-mediated nature. For these reasons, despite the fact that many websites advertise ‘online meditation’ and despite the strong attempts of some communities to use the Internet as a meditational medium, online meditation cannot be fully facilitated by the Internet. Since a key method by which a Buddhist attains understanding of reality is the use of the body in a meditative act, the inability to provide for embodiment means that the Internet can never offer an experiential equivalent to that of an offline environment. The lack of this experiential aspect means that it cannot in turn provide for holistic, religious communion. As such, there needs to be a further philosophical and practical appraisal of the capabilities of the Internet in general, and as a medium by which a religious experience can be engendered.