Revering the electronic dharma

I’m currently “downloading” 10.8 GB of “Buddhist ebooks.”

In Buddhism, there’s the idea of revering (as in, treating with reverence and respect) dharma materials, because they represent the Truth, the teachings passed down for thousands of years. For example, at a field visit recently, I and other students in a class were given our first printed guided contemplation instructions. The instructions were printed on nice paper (like a resume might be), and were handed to each of us with a bow as we each patiently waited in line, walked up to the teacher, paused a moment, bowed, and received the paper with the instructions printed on them. I held mine in my hands, and afterward asked the teacher if we could put the instructions on the floor. She said typically no, dharma materials are treated with care, and explained how she keeps her print materials like the one she just handed out, in a folder — she showed us the folder she’d been keeping the instructions in before she handed them out — so the folder can be placed on the floor but the dharma materials will not.

I’ve met others in my field work, specifically in the online Buddhist community, who have what I called “an office,” but what they called their “shrine rooms,” where the meditate, but also keep all their dharma books. It’s a place of reverence for the practice, but for the materials as well.

Anyway, as I download these ebooks from a less-than-reputable source, and I think also, for example, of the talks teachers have given at my in-person meditation center field site — talks that are recorded, then transferred to the office computer and uploaded somehow to the larger meditation network’s website, where students can access audio files of the talks — I wonder about how the reverence that is both instructed and felt by Buddhists and other meditators translates to electronic versions of the dharma.

My gut tells me pirating 10G of Buddhist ebooks does not align with the reverence I’ve been instructed to and I’ve seen others hold. Pirating is an obvious example, though, because it is illegal. What about materials I acquire legally? What about dharma podcasts, or audio files of the talks I’ve attended in person? What about legitimately acquired e-books?

What does reverence look like online? What does reverence look like electronically? Does it look different? Should it? Could it? etc., etc., etc.

This post originally appeared on Katie’s personal website. You can follow her blog at www.katieresearch.com/blog. View the original post.