The Tao of Twitter: The Spirit in the Machine (by Lama Surya Das)
August 05, 2009 21:40


The Spirit in the Machine

by Lama Surya Das


He who stands on tiptoe
doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light....
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
~Lao Tsu, “Tao Te Ching”, chapter 24


The TAO OF TWITTER is—like a standup comedian’s good one liner, haiku poetry, and the old fashioned singing telegram—rich with the magical power and incandescent immediacy of nowness, which is part and parcel of the power of Tao. People are genuinely feeling this invisible yet palpable pulse, its heartbeat the ambient chatter of hyper-connected mini-commentators and 24/7 viewers surrounding us all on a level playing field. This river of participatory being-in-touchness helps an increasing number to experience being part of ongoing public dialogues they’ve long been struggling to access in a traditionally stratified and hierarchical media environment reflective of society-at-large. Side by side rather than top down, social networking opportunities amplify and strength the possibility of virtual community and mass action today; whether for good or ill time will tell.

Though lacking the juicy face-to-face energy of more intimate interpersonal relations, this Paower—the evident, undeniable Tao-power surging in the very heart of the zeitgeist, like some sort of mystical relational growth hormone—is found flowing right though usi ndividually and collectively, coursing through our fingertips at this very moment. Moreover, it’s totally here and now, on the sociopolitical, educational and spiritual dimensions, visible and invisible, outer and inner. Seize this moment, and connect with the timeless. It’s now or never. Here is timeless beauty. The very spirit in the machine.

Thousands of people are tweeting prayers to a website in the Old City of Jerusalem ( to be printed out and placed between the two thousand year old stones of the Western Wall, which is the last vestige of King Solomon’s temple. The Tao teachings point out that you don’t any longer have to try to get into the flow, Joe; it’s right through you every moment. Like the timeless Tao—the fundamental energy or spirit of the universe, well expressed in the wisest book ever written, Lao Tsu’s Chinese classic, over two millennia in age yet totally timeless—the Tao of Twitter is closer to you than you yourself are most of the time. Though you may feel far from it yourself, it is never far from you. It is the amount and quality of attention you bring to bear here and now that counts. This is wisdom’s timeless, evergreen secret. Help yourself.

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
You can see the essence of the Tao.
~Tao Te Ching”, chapter 47

In Korea, text messages sent to millions of cell phones significantly influenced a national election; Switzerland too is experimenting with direct communication to the Thumb Generation. The felt thrust and torque of tuning in to this subtle, invisible yet powerful magic is driving the new media, especially since the recently burgeoning phenomena of social networking. The mutual reciprocity of this instantaneous connection is showing up as dynamic power, from social networking’s power in influencing significant political events in Iran to everyman becoming a writer, communication and commentator far beyond the major media outlets—as has been much commented upon lately. There is no headier brew than finding oneself part and parcel of the greater participatory mandala of people exercised within by nowness.

The young people and their tribal communities are thriving in this new, level playing field of media and communications. The prana (vital force of life energy) may be very thin in cyberspace, as John Perry Barlow famously opined, but ubiquity of spirit can more than counterbalance that qualitative limitation. Science and spirit are nowise at odds with each other; one rightly considers heaven, what it is and how to get there, while the other deals mainly with solving more practical engineering problems here on earth. Utility, speed and opportunity rule this new e-world in our digital over-information age. Not unlike in our own celebrity culture, sizzle and buzz often outperforms substance—at the moment at least.

I believe that technology is pure spirit. It is not just a tool but can be a transformative force. Some experts, such as Ray Kurzweil and Ken Wilber, say that The SingularitY (when computers evolve to reach the level of the human mind and its evolving consciousness) is all but imminent, and that technology will be integrated into all facets of the world, including consciousness. Kurzweil, a noted technology thinker, has extolled the coming of ultrasmart machines, saying they will offer huge advances in life extension and wealth creation. “Something new has taken place in the past five to eight years,” Eric Horvitz of Microsoft has said. “Technologists are replacing religion, and their ideas are resonating in some ways with the same idea of the Rapture.” The neuroscience-minded monk and meditation master Dalai Lama of Tibet has suggested that, given the proper conditions, a person could be reborn as a computer. (“Consciousness could take rebirth with the support of the five elements <—earth, water, fire, air and space—>in the form of a computer; why not?”) This raises the evergreen question of human identity. I feel it’s worth looking at the emergence of this new social networking industry along with the entire realm of instant communications and explore together its potential and possibilities in terms of authentic interbeing and synergy, so we can co-create a more deeply interconnected community, society and world. Education is the silver bullet to alleviate many of our societal ills, and modern media communications exhibit all the various characteristics of both the best and the worst of traditional delivery systems. Like thought, tools are good servants but poor masters. The Singularity that forward thinkers apprehend may very well put such dichotomies to the test.

American democracy is at risk because of our withdrawal from public life coupled with the coarsening of collective consciousness. Like fanaticism, apathy comes at great cost. No one can do it all, alone, but no one is exempt from participating. In this instant-communications age, spiritual seekers have greater mobility and can more easily link personal beliefs and practices to broader political, social engagement and intelligent, nonviolent activism to make a difference in today’s volatile world. Today we have the enhanced ability to mobilize swiftly as a group through new technology. New technology and media communications are easily applicable to my own mission of transforming the atmosphere of spirituality in this country by providing a reliable refuge and spiritual solace to seekers, and furthering a truly “higher education” based upon universal metawisdom-for-life training. Like Gutenburg’s printing press, industry’s original killer app—whose first and most popular and lasting product was nothing less than The Bible—these new developments are presently being applied to content distribution. Some people (as in, businesses) try to avoid a trend and hold out with their old way of doing things (imagine a newspaper that doesn't post any content on a website or a radio station that doesn't have their stream online, which there are some). It is imperative to adapt the way you do things in order to stay in "the now" of the competitive environment, speaking practically.

There are interesting philosopher-teachers who are learning to leverage the new media, such as Ken Wilbe and Eckert Tolle, pushing the envelope, seeking better ways to transmit their redaction of the perennial philosophy’s edifying universal message. It’s important to understand, however, that just as newer and faster may not necessarily be better, the power of now is not necessarily an unmitigated good. Distance learning tools including streaming media are just one more modern wave of the stream of consciousness constantly reaching, straining forward and evolving like plants stretching for the sun. When we truly awaken from the sleep of ignorance and delusion, the dream of the separate self and its vestigial tail-like victim story, we realize that we have been knocking on the door from inside all along and need go nowhere special, lack for nothing! It is all within. One click of your red shoes—or mouse, as it were—and you can get where you’re going on this worldwide web facet of Indra’s all-embracing Net.

On the downside, I instinctively fear—perhaps incorrectly, afflicted as I am by anachronistic habits and conditioning, not to mention the unfair onslaught of grey hairs obscuring my vision—that the speed, relentless tsunami-like pace of new media’s technological developments and rising popularity of social networking is not only daunting but conducive to mindlessness as well as other unintended counterproductive side effects. For example, the fractured concentration and ADD-enhancing nature of instant communications coexistent with epidemic multitasking—including the CNN crawl diverting our attention from the main screen, the remote control bar and the split screen, the hundreds of channels to surf constantly though in an orgy of shopping mania; all this conspires to further entrain an already attenuated attention span for most of us while we incessantly seek instant gratification without ever quite finding it. Somehow, the "medium is the message" aspect of such must be overcome and balanced—or at least skillfully modulated—to help us be enlivened through the Tao of Twitter and embody the centeredness spiritual aspirants seek to experience as a serene refuge amidst the welter, burgeoning diversity and mindless cacophony of modern experience. Who today knows the bliss and simplicity of just doing what you’re doing, wholeheartedly, one hundred per cent and one single moment at a time?

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.
~Tao Te Ching, chapter 63

IM, text, Blackberry;
tweet to your heart’s content.
This is the Tao of Twitter,
the Zen of Now.
Many are called,
But few awaken.
The Secret is being fully present.
And aware. Nothing new
under the sun.



Got Twitter?


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