Neo Buddhism emerged at the turn of the 20th Century arising from the West’s encounter with Eastern Spiritual traditions of China, India, Tibet and Japan. A co-joining of Western orientalism and Eastern Buddhist reform, Neo Buddhism sees the reconfiguration of Eastern spiritual concepts into soothing responses to the anxieties of individualism and modernism in the Western world. More than a malleable philosophy conjoining modern psychology and ancient wisdom, Neo Buddhism manifests as an aesthetic element in the late 20th century. It is detectible in the sci-fi genre of cyberpunk, in the psychedelic ambient drone music of the 1960s, as well as the psytrance music of the 1990s, each underscoring the affiliations of digital and electronic connectivity within ancient holistic traditions.
At the close of the millennium, Neo Buddhist philosophies and rhetoric become embedded into the techno-utopianism of the California Ideology (Barbrook & Cameron 1996). The trajectory of tech industry entrepreneurs seeking meaning in Eastern spirituality emerges as a rite of passage in Silicon Valley. Successful leaders like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Jack Dorsey have openly espoused the importance of Buddhist practices in their careers, while Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Jeffrey Skoll have travelled to the same an ashram in northern India that Apple guru Steve Jobs once attended. Jobs took Apple’s famous “Think different” slogan from the Dalai Lama (Weil 1998).
But the lofty spiritual and world-healing ambitions espoused by these Californian Neo Buddhists are at odds with the walled gardens, despotic manufacturing processes, and designed obsolescence found in the products and services they monetise. The Neo Buddhist ideology is devoid of the attainment of virtues and noble truths. Instead it represents a corrupted set of principles flexing to accommodate the tenets of neo-liberal capitalism and masking the military connections and applications undergirding tech culture (Purser 2019).
Buddhist Glitch encompasses the philosophical perspectives of Silicon Valley, the aesthetics of psychedelic-electronic and cyberpunk, as well as the speculative vaporwave and data bending practices of futurists, spiritual accelerationists, and artists alike. A spiralling circuit of counterculture and cyberculture (Turner 2008), a central notion in ‘Buddhist Glitch’ is looping. Circular loops are found in the mantras, Prayer Wheels, and pilgrimages to sacred sites as well as in the audio of Buddha Chant Boxes, in the electronic circuitry of both secular and religious devices (Davies, 2019) and in the structure of gif animations. Loops also evoke the Buddhist notion of the endless knot (Traditional Chinese) 盤長結, (Sanskrit) श्रीवत्स – whose various interpretations include the eternal continuum of mind, the endless cycle of suffering or birth, death and rebirth.
Barbrook, R., & Cameron, A. (1996). The Californian Ideology. Science As Culture. 6. 44-72. 10.1080/09505439609526455.
Davies, H. (2019). Religious Devices: A Survey of Technologies of Worship., communication +1: Vol. 7: Iss. 2, Article 5. Retrieved from https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=cpo
Purser, R. (2019). The mindfulness conspiracy, the guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/jun/14/the-mindfulness-con...
Turner, F. (2008). From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism. University of Chicago Press.
Weil, N. (1998). Apple drops Dalai Lama from Asian ads. IDG News Service; Boston Bureau (PC World). Retrieved from https://www.pcworld.idg.com.au/article/109066/apple_drops_dalai_lama_from_asian_ads/