Consisting of 87.1 percent of all convert Buddhist events, Second Life’s Zen’s chief activity was such silent online meditation, frequently called zazen or more often just sitting ( Figure 6.1 ). As I explain in this chapter, during such events residents rested their avatars on virtual meditation cushions for twenty to thirty minutes and usually remained inactive in front of their computer screens just counting their breath. Often, as the technologist David Levy argues, in “No Time To Think: Reﬂ ections on Information Technology and Contemplative Scholarship,” there is an assumed negative correlation between digital media and authentic spiritual practice. 4 While digital media may afford distraction, however, others argue that there are mindful methods to using digital media. The American monk Bikkhu Suwattano writes in “Mindfulness and Insight on the Internet,” “When we begin to cultivate mindfulness it is enough to just pay attention to our movements . . . When we click on a link or a function
on our monitor screen, we know we are clicking – we can say to ourselves ‘clicking.’” 5
In this chapter, rather than assuming that digital media practices determine authentic spirituality, I look at the practice from an insider’s emic perspective and ask: How does online silent meditation work, what spiritual labor does it do, and what is its historical genealogy? The key to unlocking these questions is to make sense of silence. If, as many convert Buddhists hold, the core of Zen is a transmission outside of words and scripture, how can it be communicated, let alone communicated over the Internet? Often to answer this question scholars either pose “Zen” as the essential religious experience or reduce popular forms to a false consciousness. I take a middle path, however, and maintain that Second Life online meditation is a spiritual media practice that ritualizes silence, and while socially constructed and culturally contextualized, is an authentic response to contemporary Network Consumer Society. As I stated in Cyber Zen ’s introduction, authenticity indicates media practices that allow users to innovatively explore and create alternative identities and communities in relation to what they perceive as divine. Networked Consumer Society, as explained in chapter one , refers to the cultural system that arose in the last quarter of the twentieth century based on the desire to purchase goods and services, which do not merely fulﬁ ll biological needs but cater to consumer desire.