Karma and Smartphones: How to Use Technology From a Buddhist Perspective

One of the founders of Jolla company, Sami Pienimaki, presents the new Jolla smartphone in Helsinki, on May 20, 2013. The pho
One of the founders of Jolla company, Sami Pienimaki, presents the new Jolla smartphone in Helsinki, on May 20, 2013. The phone uses Linux-based Sailfish operating system and it is compatible with Android applications. AFP PHOTO/ LEHTIKUVA / Kimmo Mantyla FINLAND OUT (Photo credit should read KIMMO MANTYLA/AFP/Getty Images)

Since the mind can endlessly produce thoughts, clearly it has the potential to endlessly produce new products. Like thoughts, they may not necessarily be helpful or beneficial. In the past, technological culture-changers like the telephone and electricity took a long time to produce and cultures had more time to absorb and contemplate their impact. Now, especially with electronic media, new cultural and ethical values are being developed and challenged, and things are changing so fast that we have little time to contemplate and absorb their impact.

Like many other things, technology can serve us well or not serve us well. If we approach it with vision, we can utilize it. If we lack vision, technology can prey on us, detecting our weakness or lack of resolve, such as discursiveness or desire for gossip. Or it distracts us from nowness.
In this way, it seduces us for a few minutes, which become hours, days, months and years.

We can tell if we have been served well by technology if we feel uplifted, informed or delighted by it. These are signs that the encounter was virtuous. However, if we feel dull or disconnected, then clearly that technology has numbed our senses. We are mentally less sharp and emotionally distant. We know we were used by the technology, as opposed to using it, because it has drained our energy. Technology can be a great expeditor of virtue, or it can create negativity. With the telephone or email, we can easily comfort, console or celebrate with others. At the same time, because we are not face-to-face, we might say or do things that we would not normally say or do. Thus, our negativity can become exponential due to the effect and power of technology. We may also tend to hide behind the electronic medium because we are less exposed.

Even though technology has advanced our ability to communicate, the five basic parameters of karma are still in place: raising the intention, deciding to do the action, preparing to do the action, doing the action and having no regret. We can decide to either apologize or to chastise an individual, and once the "send" button is pushed, the karma has been initiated. Afterward, if we sit there satisfied, it is a complete karmic act. That action does not go unnoticed.

In the modern era we need to be even more convinced of virtue, having resolve in terms of who we are and how we want to manifest. Generally, the best approach with technology is to consider our dignity and concern for others.

Thus, as we produce new programs for our laptops and applications for our smartphones, the principles of virtue must be clear in our minds. The point is to cherish the mind and not abuse it. If we remain mindful of our principles and priorities, just as we do in meditation, we can use technology to awaken our discipline and dignity, instead of letting it take over our lives.

The above is an excerpt from Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche's new book, 'The Shambhala Principle' (Harmony, May 2013).