Here are some of my highlights from the recent Buddhist Geeks conference in Boulder, CO. Al posted a fuller description of the event and some photos on his blog.

Ken McLeod offered a way to look at technology and innovation drawn from Marshal McLuhan. Each new technology, he said, enhances some skills or capacity; makes obsolete something that’s existing (although it may not completely disappear); retrieves something from the past and brings about its own negation. It’s interesting to apply this way of thinking to innovations in the contemplative field:

MBSR reduced meditation to something that is trainable in 6 weeks and made it available to many people. It obsoletes meditation teachers (one no longer needs 20 years of meditation practice to be a teacher). Retrieves a sense of personal path. The negation is that everything becomes highly specialized, loses the original sense of wholeness.

Innovation was a running theme throughout the conference, coming up in multiple connotations. At some point I speculated, based on Julie Melton‘s description of innovation at IDEO, that awakening may be an attitude of constant innovation. A couple of points regarding the possible dark side of innovation:

  • How do we know that we aren’t losing the heart of the dharma? Living in a way that is compatible with the two wings of Dharma: wisdom and love.
  • The dharma is in a constant process of evolution. In fact, we are each constantly engaged in a process of translating the dharma into our own experience.
  • A question that is still unanswered: What does a system that supports and encourages innovation yet maintains authenticity and commitment to values look like?

Tami Simon, founder of Sounds True, spoke about selling the dharma. Tami speaks from years of experience running a prosperous business that is dedicated to inspiring spiritual awakening in the world. Here are some rough notes from her talk:

Separating the religious and profane – common theme in religious history but is there really a separation? How can we bring those worlds together in a way that is helpful, positive?
Answer: Commerce moved by a spirit of service.

Charging money in the open brings the relationship with money and dependency on donors out of the shadow. NOTE: this is likely why it feels uncomfortable.

Sustainable sounds like being just above water. Prosperity creates a fountain and a flow of possibilities.

Regarding access: we can charge and make the teachings widely available at the same time. The two models can coexist. Example: the entire conference was live-streamed for no charge.

Transparency is important. There’s nothing hidden about how we use the money.

An organization that is about making money is not gonna be loved by people. Businesses that are about service feel different to the customer – they organize around service not around money. Lovemarks v trademarks.

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