There is a generational shift taking place in much of American Buddhism, with members of Generation X and Y differing from their baby boomer Buddhists, particularly on the importance of technology and their eclectic approach to the religion.
In the online Journal of Global Buddhism (Vol. 15, 2014), Ann Gleig writes that the formation and growth of the Buddhist Geeks network in 2007 was the clearest indicator of generational change in Buddhism. Buddhist Geeks is an online Buddhist media company, consisting of a popular weekly audio podcast, a digital magazine component, and since 2011, annual conferences.
From analysis of the podcasts and web site, attendance at the conferences and conversations with leaders, Gleig finds that these younger Buddhists stress the spiritual benefits of technology; they are at the forefront of Buddhist communities’ utilization of technology “as a spiritually transformative tool rather than [dismissing] it as a hindrance to practice” or seeing it as a necessary evil of modern life. This relates to their democratizing approach; as technology allows direct access to Buddhist teachings without the mediation of a teacher or community, they downplay traditional hierarchical Buddhist structures.
Unlike previous generations, these younger Buddhists don’t automatically adhere to any one Buddhist school of thought and practice. They utilize whatever “teachings and practices are helpful to end suffering,” and also try to bring Buddhist ideas into everyday life, including business. There is an attempt to incorporate evolutionary thinking into Buddhist teachings, whether through the findings of neuroscience or the “spiritual evolution” philosophy of Ken Wilbur. Gleig agrees with proponents that the above views represent a “postmodern Buddhism,” even though baby boomer Buddhists also sought to fit their religion in with science and democratic practice.
But the efforts to reconcile neuroscience and “technoscience” with Buddhism comes in for sharp criticism in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle (Spring). In an interview, Curtis White, author of The Science Delusion, argues that government and corporations are using Buddhist concepts of “mindfulness” to “optimize impact . . .”
In this view of things, mindfulness can be extracted from a context of Buddhist meanings, values and purposes. Meditation and mindfulness are not part of a whole way of life but only a spiritual technology, a mental app…” It should be noted, however, that the postmodern Buddhists Gleig profiles, are also critical of what they call the “McMindfulness” industry that divorces Buddhist practices from its way of life.
(Journal of Global Buddhism, http://www.globalbuddhism.org/15/gleig14.pdf; Tricycle, http://www.tricycle.com/magazine).