21st century Buddha

From the pen of James Wolfaardt (AardWolf). Shared with his kind permission.


He looks a little nonplussed. Buddha on Facebook?


That’s because no matter what angle he holds the phone to take a selfie, his head still comes out looking lumpy!



As I see it, this innocuous little picture in fact presents the most difficult obstacle facing Buddhist monks in the world today.

Clearly the Buddha presented in the picture is distracted. He is yet attached to a device, and as such, is attached to the world. He does not present to us the image of a great Arahant, nor of the ‘world-honoured one’. It is almost impossible that he is one who dwells in that perfect clarity of mind, that state of utter freedom from craving which is final enlightenment.

Technology has insinuated itself into this world to such an extent that to live without it now seems a near impossibility. And yet, if monks are to realise true enlightenment, then the ultimate challenge they will face in this particular age will be to let go of their attachments to their phones, their computers, their social platforms; in short, to live without technology at all.

Please understand: I am not talking about lay-people here, nor about monks who devote themselves to disseminating the teachings. I am also not upholding a claim that there is anything ill or evil in the technology itself. I am speaking specifically of monks who, having left the world behind, wish to realise that final liberation which is the culmination of the Buddha’s eightfold path. I am speaking of monks who happily forego all attachments, who give up all manner of harmfulness, who practise celibacy, who eat but little, who abstain from the chatter of the marketplace, who leave the grasping of the world behind.

For such monks, to be holding to a device which is so utterly distracting, which in fact tethers them to the market place of the world, is unacceptable. The Buddha gave up his luxuries and his title, he gave up his own wife and child, he neither rode on horse nor on chariot. He travelled the world on foot to spread the good dhamma. He did not resort to writing anything down.

Is it likely, that if phones were available in his age, that he would have consented them to his monks for their use? Can we see a Sangha of monks walking barefoot, asking for alms, yet toting laptops or with phones in the folds of their robes?

In this day and age, those who have walked far on the path, who have renounced much, will find the final obstacle awaiting them to be the renouncing of technology. I myself am a recluse. I am celibate and happily so. I eat but little. I practise harmlessness as a joy. The Buddha is my teacher, and will always remain so. I am one who is easily reprimanded. I seek nothing but the final state of freedom, which being unshakeable freedom of mind.

Yet here I sit writing these words. I have a phone in my hands.

And yes, it is a constant distraction.

This image of the Buddha with a phone in his hands sits squarely in the path in front of us. He will not be truly liberated until the device is removed from his palms. How heroic will be the one who can put it down, and walk away, never to look back again. This is the enormous challenge of our times.

Fellow monks… what are your thoughts on this matter? Surely it is of concern to us all?

Or are we happy to be the Arahant in this picture? This, I have no doubt, the Buddha would reprimand.


@sujato, @Brahmali, @Dhammanando… and any other monks of true conviction… can you give me your opinions on this please?

With love only, and best wishes.


I am so very grateful for this clear concise description of an issue which I tried so clumsily to describe in another post a while back. Yet here you have stated the problem perfectly. I am merely a lay person who tries to understand Buddhism’s relationship to technology which has become, as you indicated, a kind of unfortunate imperative which causes as much suffering as it does liberation. at least to my flawed thinking.

Thanks for the smile.
With Metta


Backatcha, my friend!



Yes, I think you are largely right, perhaps with some provisos. The ideal for a monastic is to be a recluse, whether this entails seclusion from humans or the internet. Yet seclusion is something one needs to develop gradually and naturally. If you force it, you might end up bonkers. (And yes there are many examples of this.) I think this is why the Buddha advises Upali not to go into seclusion until he has achieved the jhānas (AN 9.99). In the meantime, says the Buddha, he should stay with the Sangha.

So what is required is a gradual weening off socialisation. As your meditation improves, you gradually lose interest in company. Your own company is the best. (It’s not three that’s a crowd, two is a crowd. And one is company.) To help monastics incline in the right direction, monasteries will often have rules on the usage of internet, mobile phones, etc. At Bodhinyana Monastery, for instance, we have a monastery rule that monk should not have mobile phones and the internet in the monastery is restricted to 3 or 4 monks who really need it. Anyone else who wishes to use the internet may do so, but they have to walk to Jhana Grove (our retreat centre), which is just over a kilometre away. That restricts usage quite naturally.

As with so much else, a nice middle way is what is required. :slightly_smiling_face:


I would just add to this that I have come to believe that a computer should be a device that lives in a set place—call it a “desk”—to which one walks, turns it on, uses it for what is needed, then turns it off and walks away.


There seems to be some subtle distinctions involved. Does not equanimity require a transformed socialization?

Yes, for most people you never stop socialising, you just gradually lose interest. When you do socialise it tends to be less needy and more purposeful. Arahants are quite happy to spend all their time by themselves, but they also realise they have an important message for the world.


:slight_smile: I enjoy / appreciate your thoughtful post, inspired by this cartoon. I appreciate the cartoon as humorously inspiring self and social examination.

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The modern arahanths might all require computing ability! They might be safe to use it, as they don’t have sensual cravings!