Digitalizing tibet A Critical Buddhist Reconditioning of Hjarvard’s Mediatization Theory
Gregory Price Grieve, Christopher Helland and Rohit Singh
Na svato nāpi parato na dvābhyāṃ nāpy ahetutaḥ utpannā jātu vidyante bhāvāḥ kvacana kecana.1
On 7 July 2014, on day two of the Preliminary Teachings of the 33rd Kalachakra, we observed his Holiness the Dalai lama read from the 2nd century Indian Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland (Ratnāvalī) and Letter to a Friend (Suhṛllekha). We were participating in the 33rd Kalachakra ceremony, which was an esoteric Tantric empowerment centered on the Kālachakra Tantra, held in leh, ladakh, India, between 3 and 14 July 2014, and led by the 14th Dalai lama, Tenzin Gyatso. The immediacy of the Dalai lama’s charisma was palpable. Ironically, however, what drew us three to this remote
Himalayan location was that the ceremony was being digitalized – tweeted, blogged, Facebooked and video-streamed over cyberspace and across the globe (Figure 9.1). Moreover, we found that the digitalization of the Kalachakra, and the Dalai lama’s charisma, were not an afterthought, but had been calculated in advance and had been incorporated into the ceremony’s discussions, community building and symbolism. For example, as the teachings began that day, the Dalia lama thanked “those who are here physically, and those who are not.”2 Because of the assumption that Buddhism concentrates on a mindful awareness of the body, digitalization might seem antithetical to authentic practice (Grieve 2017). As the oldest proselytizing religion, however, Buddhism has always had a penchant for utilizing the latest developments (Grieve and Veidlinger 2016). One might assume, mutatis
mutandis, that the 2014 ceremony was merely transmitting the same old analogue dharma in new digitized bottles. Does not all communication, even the spoken word, rely on physical vehicles that extend communication practices (cf. Grieve 2006, Krotz and Hepp 2011, 143, Sorokin 1947, 51–52)? History shows, however, that the Buddhist use of different media technologies is not a neutral transmission of content, but
conditions how the teachings (dharma) are communicated (Grieve 2017, Grieve and Veidlinger 2016, Veidlinger 2006). For example, dharma screened on a television would not be received the same as read in a book, which in turn would not be the same as played in a video game (Campbell and Grieve 2014, 1–21, Grieve 2017). This is not simply the assertion that active media determine and penetrate passive religious messages (Goody 1986, Havelock 1986, cf. Innis 1951, Mcluhan 1964, Ong 1967, Postman 1985). We found that the Kalachakra and digital technologies mutually conditioned one another (Campbell 2010, Grieve 2006, Hoover 2006). In this chapter, to analyze the mutual conditioning of the Kalachakra and digital media technologies, we theorize the distinction between digitization and digitalization. What does the small grammatical difference of the al add to our analysis (Derrida 1988)? As opposed to analogue media, such as films and newspapers, which use a physical or chemical property to communicate, digital media consist of electronic, programmable bits (Grieve 2017, 217). Digitization refers to creating a digital copy of a physical phenomenon or an analogue object. For example, one can click on www.dalailama.com/teachings/kalachakra-initiations and see a digital image of the Dalai lama.3 Digitalization, on the other hand, is not the mere translation of the analogue into the digital but is furthermore the conditioning of social structures and practices through
Figure 9.1 Geshe lobzang Samstan reviewing live broadcast at the HHDl media center in leh, ladak (photograph by Christopher Helland, July 2014). Digitalizing Tibet 141 the process of being digitized. Usually, digitalization is used to describe the disruption to economies by digital media (McChesney 2013, Weinelt 2016). We extend the term to also refer to other social fields, particularly religion. For example, in the 2014 ceremony, the placing of colored grains of sand by the Dalai lama to begin the construction of the
Kalachakra’s maṇḍala was scripted to allow for its video-streaming to a global audience.4 This chapter chronicles our first steps toward creating a theory to describe, analyze and understand Tibet’s digitalization. To begin the process we undertake a critical reconditioning of the work of the Danish scholar, Hjarvard (2011), who describes mediatization as a long-term process by which media transform society and culture. We maintain that Hjarvard’s overemphasis on secularization occurs because of his reliance on a Protestant understanding of religion as a more or less reliable communication with the supernatural. Our chapter is not a rejection of Hjarvard’s theory, per se, but rather a Buddhist reconditioning (cf.
Dissanayake 2009b, 453). A critical Buddhist reconditioning of Hjarvard’s theory of the mediatization of religion is significant for two reasons. First, it affords the tools to understand the digitalization of the Dalai lama’s charisma, and thereby to understand the Tibetan diaspora’s contemporary multimedia, multifaceted, and multi-situational virtual conditions. Despite geographical Tibet being subsumed under the Chinese State, these conditions have allowed the Tibetan government in exile, official religious organizations, and politically and religiously motivated individuals to imagine a nation. Second, a Buddhist reconditioning expands Hjarvard’s theory beyond the Procrustean bed of its Protestant normative framework and affords a theory of mediatization for analyzing Asian religions.5 Reconditioning Hjarvard’s theory illustrates how scholars’ own religious backgrounds shape research not only by affording particular content and symbolic forms, but also by privileging particular types of theorization (Grieve 2006, 11–13). Being aware of the second order categories through which we interpret religious phenomena allows researchers to be conscious not only of how society and culture shape religion but also of how religious media contribute to social change. Furthermore, it addresses how local theories of religion and media affect the understanding of the category of religion itself.
142 Gregory Price Grieve et al. spectators. The 2014 ceremony was also digitalized and disseminated across the globe. Since 1954, either in India or abroad, the Dalai lama has conducted the Kalachakra teaching, usually every year or every other year, with the 2014 ceremony in ladakh being his 33rd initiation.6 The event in 2014 lasted 12 days, commencing on 3 July and concluding on 14 July, and consisted of three main components: ritual performances by monks, public teachings and the Dalai lama initiating disciples into the Tantric traditions. Monks performed numerous rituals associated with Kalachakra
including the earth-offering dance, the construction of a sand maṇḍala, apotropaic rites to ward off evil spirits, the production of talismans and offerings to deities associated with the Tantra.7 The initiated disciples gained authorization from the Dalai lama to practice and study the rituals and traditions of the Kālachakra Tantra, specifically under the guidance of gurus within the Kalachakra lineage. In 2014, between the Tantric ritual ceremonies, the Dalai lama also gave a series of teachings on Buddhist philosophy, aimed at the global audience, that emphasized Buddhism as a universal mind science (a term used in english) (Singh 2016). Time is a key aspect of the ceremony. The Kālachakra centers on a deity and maṇḍala that are replete
with temporal significance and present a cosmology based on three connected temporal frameworks: inner cycles of time, outer cycles of time and the alternate cycles of time (Singh 2016). The inner cycle refers to internal states of the body including energy points (chakras) and channels. The outer cycles of time are associated with the movement of astrological entities like the sun, moon and stars. The alternate cycles of time are associated with Tantric meditations aimed at enabling practitioners to obtain enlightenment. These three cycles are unified within the cosmic body of the tutelary deity (yidam) of Kalachakra.8 During the Kalachakra initiation, the consecrated grounds for the empowerment ceremony are ritually generated as the universe or
maṇḍala of Kalachakra. The audience present become enveloped into the deity’s sacred space. In the course of the rituals, the Dalai lama, as Vajra Guru, assumes the identity of Kalachakra at the maṇḍala’s center. The ceremony concludes after he invites disciples to become symbolically reborn into the Kālachakra maṇḍala through a series of seven initiations, after which the Dalai lama authorizes the initiates to practice traditions connected with the Kālachakra Tantra, such as the six-session Guru Yoga, and generation and completion stage rituals. Besides offering a fascinating mythological drama, what drew us to the ceremony was that it took place not only in physical and mythical locations, but also in a digitalized mediascape, a term that describes the virtual environments created by digitized global media flows ( Appadurai 1990, Helland 2016, cf. Baudrillard 1995).9 Although ladakh is a remote and isolated community in the Himalaya Mountains, network connectivity with the event was prioritized by the Indian
AU: This part of the sentence seems abrupt and incomplete. Please consider revising this sentence for clarity and readability. Digitalizing Tibet 143 Government and an enormous effort was made to allow the live web streaming of the ritual. A dedicated team of people working for the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama ensured that the ritual practices were beautifully presented online for anyone to witness. This included the several rituals associated with preparing the site, the preliminary teachings, empowerments and a special camera above the Kalachakra sand maṇḍala so people could see its construction and development as the ritual progressed. By allowing for this form of intimate connection to occur through the Internet, new media
allowed new observers to participate in fundamentally new ways. Because Tibet’s mediascape no longer merely augments actual geographic locations and physical events, and is not limited to synchronous time, but holds together and maintains (dhṛ) a global community (sangha) of practitioners, it can neither be understood through the categories of center and periphery, nor referent and represented (Appadurai 1990, de Saussure 1916). Yet, as we argue below, this is not merely the transmission of content, but the conditioning of distinct practices. For example, on that same day, a deeply devoted
practitioner from the USA rested in a hotel room in leh, located about eight kilometers from the teaching site. She had been lying in bed, exhausted, watching the Dalai lama’s teachings live on her computer. She held her prayer beads and a book of teachings on Nagarjuna’s texts that had been handed out during the first day of teachings. At the same time, she was online and supplementing the live teachings with additional materials, looking up terms and concepts and even posting information to her friends. That afternoon she told us that she was deeply grateful for the live webcasting of the teachings and that her exhaustion had not caused her to miss any of the day’s important events. When we asked her if she felt part of the ceremony, she answered with no hesitation: “Oh yes, I was definitely there with you” (personal communication).
Hjarvard’s theory of the Mediatization of Religion In order to analyze the Kalachakra’s digitalization, our chapter aims to recondition Hjarvard’s theory of the mediatization. Our first step is to describe it straightforwardly in this section, and critically recondition it in the following section. At its core, mediatization argues that media plays a part in the shaping of society and analyzes the long-term effects that media have on human life worlds (Hjarvard 2014, Krotz 2009, 2014, 137–139, Krotz and Hepp 2011, lundby 2014, 7, Martín-Barbero 2003, 88, Schulz 2004). The driving purpose of Hjarvard’s particular theory of mediatization, however, is to describe and analyze the role that religion and media play in what he calls high-modern societies – the current globalized, highly mediated, and neoliberal consumeristic world (passim. Hjarvard 2008a, 2011, 124).
144 Gregory Price Grieve et al. Hjarvard’s theory of the mediatization of religion can be analyzed through two propositions and three outcomes. He builds his theory of mediatization of religion upon an analytic and a synthetic proposition. The analytic proposition is the distinction he makes between the merely descriptive term mediation and the transformative mediatization (Couldry and Hepp 2013, 191, livingston 2009, 6–7). As a theory, the descriptive term mediation analyzes how different types of media influence the content of their message. As Hjarvard writes, “mediation refers to the act of mediation via a medium, the intervention of which can affect both the message and the relationship between sender and receiver” (2011, 123). For example, in politics, mediation describes when a Tweet’s 140-character limit changes the message that politicians deliver. For Hjarvard, mediatization is analytically different because it evaluates the transformative effect that media have on society and culture, and how media colonize other institutions. As Hjarvard writes:
While the study of mediation pays attention to specific instances of communication situated in time and space (e.g., the communication of politics in blogs during a presidential campaign), mediatization studies are concerned with the long-term structural change in the role of the media in culture and society. (2013, 2–3 [italics in original])
These transformations allow media to dominate other social fields. As he writes: “mediatization denotes the social and cultural process through which a field or institution to some extent becomes dependent on the logic of the media” (2011, 119; cf. Hjarvard 2008b). In this case, Twitter and other social media become a “part of the very fabric” of life, not just on an individual political message, but on the field of politics more generally (ess 1996, 9). While analytic propositions point to a theory’s internal logic, synthetic propositions refer to how the theory interprets the world. Hjarvard’s synthetic proposition is that media and religion are similar because they play a part in constructing the reality of lived social worlds. This synthetic framework reflects early theories concerning the social construction of reality of the sociologist of religion Peter Berger (1967, 3–28; cf. lövheim 2011, Schulz 2004). Citing Berger, Hjarvard maintains that “‘religion has been the historically most widespread and effective instrumentality of legitimation’ of socially defined reality’” (citing Berger 1967, 32, Hjarvard 2011, 130). Relying primarily on european survey data, Hjarvard posits that media, like a secular canopy, has taken over this role as a modern commercial version of the traditional religious world-constructing “sacred canopy” (cf. Berger 1967, Couldry and Hepp 2013, lövheim 2011, 155–156).
Digitalizing Tibet 145 From his analytic and synthetic propositions, Hjarvard delivers three outcomes, the first of which is disciplinary. He maintains that media theory about religion has been dominated by two major paradigms. On the one hand are those effect-paradigm frameworks concerned with how people are affected by exposure to various media, while on the other, the audience centered framework explores how people make use of media for their own purposes (passim. Hjarvard 2011, 121, 2013, 2, cf. Jenkins 1992, Preiss et al. 2007). Skeptical of these approaches, Hjarvard posits mediatization as a third approach, which stresses the interaction and transaction of actors and structures. “According to mediatization theory, media are not outside society, but part of its very social fabric” (2011, 121, cf. 2013, 3). As such, “mediatization studies move the focus of interest from the particular instances of
mediated communication to the structural transformations of the media in contemporary society” (2013, 2). Hjarvard’s second outcome is that mediatization leads to secularization by colonizing many of the cultural and social functions that organized religious institutions traditionally held. Citing Berger, Hjarvard defines secularization as “the process by which sectors of society are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols” (citing Berger 1967, 107, Hjarvard 2011, 130). Hjarvard maintains that in high-modern societies media are an all-embracing force ( Hjarvard 2008b, lövheim 2011). Yet, the problem is not less religious content in the media (cf. lash 2005). As Hjarvard writes, “with the help of the most sophisticated media technology,
supernatural phenomena have acquired an unmatched presence in modern societies” (Hjarvard 2013, 78). Rather than less content, secularization occurs because “a series of structural transformations of religion in the modern world, including a decline in the authority of religious institutions in society, together with the development of more individualized forms of religious beliefs and practices” (2013, 79). Hjarvard knowingly sidesteps Berger’s later work in which the American sociologist denounces his earlier secularization thesis (cf. Berger 1999, 2, Hjarvard 2011, 130). Hjarvard supports Berger’s original secularization hypothesis by arguing that “increased public visibility is not to be equated with a growing support for religion, or involvement in religion” and that “secularization is still an important component of the modernization process of contemporary societies in Western europe, USA and elsewhere” (2011, 131). Hjarvard argues that secularization leads to an increase of what he terms banal religion – that process by which religious practices become loosed from the authority of organized religion, and become more and more individualized and subjective because they are guided by the logic of a commercialized media. “Banal religion is banal in the sense,”
146 Gregory Price Grieve et al. that it is unnoticeable and does not constitute a highly structured proposition about the metaphysical order or the meaning of life, and it is religion in the sense that it evokes cognitions, emotions or actions that imply the existence of supernatural agency. (2011, 128) Hjarvard argues that banalization occurs because “media may not only provide information about religion but also create narratives and virtual worlds that invite people to have experiences of a religious-like character … and community-building among people with similar religious orientation” (2011, 126). For Hjarvard, banalization occurs in a three-step process. First, he argues that data shows that banal religions serve media logics and not religious logics. As Hjarvard writes, popular culture’s “religious representations serve the particular media genre in question and the religious meanings are not to be taken too literally” (2011, 129). Second, Hjarvard maintains that because they are not meant to be taken literally, banal religions are inauthentic. As he writes, “despite their pervasiveness and very explicit nature, the religious representations do not constitute a coherent religious narrative, nor are we, as an audience, to take them seriously as real religious symbols, practices or meanings” (2011, 129). Third, banal religious practices are anomic because, they “challenge the authority of existing religious institutions by disembedding specific religious meanings from their original context and rearticulating them in new ways” (2011, 129).
A Necessary Provincializing of Hjarvard’s Mediatization theory like a lens that focuses on a particular phenomenon, social scientific theories are second-order semiotic, analytic, synthetic frameworks that abstract, organize and interpret lived worlds in order to rationally explain, understand and predict types of human behavior (Morton 1980). At its core, Hjarvard’s theory seems straightforward. “Our inquiry takes its point of departure in the classical question in the sociology of the media, namely, how the media come to influence the wider culture and society” (Hjarvard 2013, 1). This would seem to be the perfect tool to understand the digitalization of the Kalachakra. Theories, however, are not free-floating principles that exist untethered to the problems of human lifeworlds (Davidson Reynolds 1971). Theories of religion, no less than the religious phenomena they are theorizing, are bound by, entangled with and constituted by their historic-geographic location (Grieve 2006). Hjarvard’s theory is limited for understanding Asian religion because it was fabricated in, and built to analyze, as Hjarvard himself writes, the “historical developments in the north-western part of europe” (2013, 27). Digitalizing Tibet 147 He understands the mediatization of religion, both as phenomenon and sociological theory, as stemming from and defining of modern Northern european society (2013, 5–7, cf. Thompson 1995). As Hjarvard writes, “the theoretical framework and analytic outline presented (…) may be more suitable to describe developments in north- western europe than elsewhere in the world” (2013, 80). Hjarvard maintains that “media are not a unitary phenomenon” and he argues that “the mediatization of religion may take different forms and generate different outcome in, for example, the USA, Brazil, or India, depending on religious, social and media context” (2013, 81, cf. Hoover 2006). Hjarvard is pushing in two directions. Mostly he wants to differentiate the Nordic experience from that which appears in North America (2013, 81). Hjarvard, however, also sees the Western experience as unique, and implies that if mediatization appears in the developing world, it is a product of european culture being exported through globalization (2013, 18). Because of its unabashed eurocentrism, to be useful for analyzing
Tibetan Dharma, and Asian religion more generally, Hjarvard’s theory requires provincialization, a term which recognizes the limitations of using Western social sciences to explain and understand modern Asia (Chakrabarty 2000, cf. eliade 1961). Provincialization, however, does not reject european thought out of hand, but rather reconditions it, as the anthropologist Chakrabarty, writes “from and for the margins” (2000, 16). Provincialization is not antithetical to Hjarvard’s understanding of mediatization as a “meso-theory” (2013, 3–5). His “ambition is not to build a ‘grand theory’ in order to establish universal definition” (2013, 3, Hjarvard 2011, 124, cf. Krotz and Hepp 2011, 137–138). As he writes: “By considering mediatization theory as a middle-range theory, we have sought to avoid the pitfalls of both the grand claims typical of macro-level theorizing and the celebration of heterogeneity typical of certain micro-level analysis” (2013, 153). Hjarvard is skeptical about making broad meta-theories, because he is conscious that media’s influence on religion will differ depending on historical and geographic location. “For instance,” he writes, “mediatization may imply something rather different if we compare the use of media by Pentecostal movements in India” (2011, 120). Hjarvard’s theory, even for its stated awareness of its own limited nature, needs provincializing because it naturalizes a Protestant framework, which occurs because of the dominance of european survey data in his case studies, but also because of a crypto-Protestantism that informs and has shaped social thought since the late 19th century (engelke 2012, Grieve 2006). Hjarvard defines religion as the “human ability to ascribe intentional agency to unexplainable occurrences, to make anthropological projections into a metaphysical world” (2011, 129). His substantive definition implies a transmission theory of communication that of AU: Please confirm whether the edits made to the sentence retains the intended meaning.
148 Gregory Price Grieve et al. content being transmitted more or less reliably through different media (Shannon 1948, Shannon and Weaver 1949). The substantive definition forces him to make a distinction between banal and institutional religion, between the small folk practices of a “common religion” and the greater institutionalized orders of “official religion” (Hjarvard 2011, 129–130). He defines banal religion as “the beliefs and practices held by ordinary people,” and institutionalized religion as that which reflects “official religious texts and practices advanced by the priesthood” (2011, 130). Because his theory necessitates a church, Hjarvard’s institutional understanding of media needs to be provincialized as well. True, he poses his theory as pure social science. “Mediatization is, in our understanding, a non-normative concept” (2013, 18 [italics in original]). In the end, however, his use of mediatized religion is not a neutral sociological category. It is normative, because, as Hjarvard writes, “media are not in the business to preach” and “media’s representation of religion does not originate from the institutionalized religion or have close resemblance with religious texts” (2011, 126, 132,
cf. 120–121, cf. Grieve 2017, 79–87, Hjarvard 2013, 9–10). Hjarvard wants to understand media’s effect on institutions, which he describes as social fields which organize “a number of very central aspects of life,” and allocate both material resources and authority (2013: 21, 22, 43–44). This concentration on church reflects the strong role that organized institutions, such as the National (Peoples’) Church of Denmark (Den Danske Folkekirke), have played in Nordic countries. One can also see the role emile Durkheim has had in Hjarvard’s sociological understanding of religion. As Durkheim writes, “the idea of religion is inseparable from the idea of a church, it conveys the notion that religion must be an eminently collective thing” (1995, 44). A Buddhist theory of Religious Mediatization To recondition Hjarvard’s theory of mediatization so that it is usable for understanding the Kalachakra’s digitalization, we need to pry apart his core insight from his theory of religious communication. Hjarvard’s core insight is that media influence society because their affordances “make certain actions possible, exclude others and structure the interactions between actor and object” (2013, 27). In fact, Hjarvard “recognize[s] the media as technologies, each of which has a set of affordances that facilitate, limit, and structure communication and action”
(2013, 28 [italics in original]; cf. Grieve 2017, 48–50). While his overall theory focuses on the functions of religion, his model of religion is a normative one that requires a substantive or transmission theory of religious communication often assumed by many Protestants (Jennings 1969). In the postwar period, communication models have been dominated by the transmission theory of communication, pioneered in 1948 in an Digitalizing Tibet 149 influential article by the American Claude e. Shannon. A transmission theory of communication describes the communication of a message as a unidirectional signal from an informational source, through a transmitter, and noise source, picked up by a receiver and finally decoded at its destination (A ⇒ B) (Table 9.1). A transmission theory of communication is unidirectional, has one outcome, is causal, has discrete variables, transmits information, is message centered, has a fixed sequence and communicates separate events. A transmission theory leads to the analysis of communication either as a more or less reliable transmission, or as an ideological distortion from the information source. AU: The sentence seemed incomplete and from the context, to be in sync with the chosen field of Claude E. Shannon, the word ‘electrical engineer’ has been added.
=> Transmitter => Medium as Noise
=> Receiver => Destination
Table 9.2 A Buddhist Theory of Communication
Medium as Affordance
=>Condition (Pratyaya) 1
Condition (Pratyaya) 2
Painting with a broad brush, we describe what we call a Buddhist theory of communication as bidirectional, processional, reciprocal, continuous, meaning- and actor-centered, with flexible sequences and inseparable events (Table 9.2). Buddhist communication is distinct from a transmission theory, because it employs media practices to spread the Dharma through mutual conditioning. Rather than being a transmission theory of communication that models communication as the unidirectional transmission of data from source to destination, a Buddhist theory of communication models mediatization as the mutually dependent relationship between two different conditions (A ⇔ B) (pratayaya). In a transmission theory of communication media are neutral conveyers of information whose presence must be figured out as noise (A = m ⇒ B). In a Buddhist theory of media practice, media must be approached mindfully (smṛti) because they afford different types of interactions, which, depending on the mediascape, allow for the skillful teaching (upāya) of different types of Dharmic messages (A ⇐ m ⇒ B) (Table 9.3). AU: Please review and confirm the edits made to this sentence for coherence and clarity.
The difficulty with modeling the Kalachakra through a transmission theory is that rather than clarifying the ceremony, it further mystifies the highly digitalized mediascape that we encountered. During the
Kalachakra, the Dalai lama often referred to the religion (dharma) as a shield, and that its effectiveness depended on the context in which it was delivered. In Buddhism, dharma usually refers to the Buddha’s teachings, which indicates not simply the transmitting of information, but also, with varying degrees of skill, the creation of efficient conditions that lessen suffering. Dharmic messages are not perceived by Buddhists as universal, but are dependent on the skill and means (upāya-kauśalya) of those that deliver them (Matsunaga and Matsunaga 1974). A transmission theory of religion leads to an interpretation of the Kalachakra’s mediascape as a loss of fidelity to the essential teachings. Yet, while there was contention over the digital broadcast of the ceremony, the arguments given by the officials assembled were not about a loss of fidelity to the original sources, but about the dangers that the teaching might offer to those unprepared for the initiation (personal communication). The concern was not about the corruption of the message, but that the message might cause harm (duhhka) to the untrained (personal communication). While the aim of Protestant communication is the transmission of symbols of belief about the supernatural, the aim of Buddhist communication is not merely to transmit content, but to create conditions which lessen suffering (Dissanayake 2009a). Because the Kalachakra did not just communicate information, but was aimed at lessening the suffering of its audiences, what we found was a complex relationship between event and digital communication. The communication was not the transmission of a passive referent (svabhāva) that was projected through the media, but rather a mutual conditioning (pratyaya) in which the ceremony and its mediascape were dependent on one and other (pratītyasamutpāda). With this in mind, to analyze the Kalachakra, we turned to a Buddhist model of communication that emerged from the ceremony.
Unidirectional Bidirectional Outcome Process Causality Reciprocity Discrete variables Continuous variables Meaning transferred Meaning created Message-centered Actor-centered Fixed sequence Flexible sequence events separable events inseparable
Digitalizing Tibet 151 Following the groundbreaking work of the media scholar Dissanayake, we assemble a Buddhist Theory of Communication by focusing on the work of the 2nd-century Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna (Dissanayake 1983, 2009b). Nagarjuna is the founder of the Mādhyamika (Middle-way) school of Mahayana Buddhism, and we are particularly interested in Chapter 1, Examination of the Conditions, from his magnum opus, the Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā). In this treatise, Nāgārjuna makes a distinction between causes (hetu) and conditions (pratyaya). By cause (hetu) he means that something has as an essential quality of its nature to bring about an effect on something else. For example, one might argue that in high-modern
societies media have caused (hetu) changes to religion. By condition (pratyaya), on the other hand, he indicates that phenomena are not essential, but that different phenomena bring about each other’s state of existence. In this case, while distinct, religion and media would not be essential separate phenomena, but would mutually determine each other. Key to understanding a theory of Buddhist communication is the concept of dependent co-origination (pratītyasamutpāda). Pratitya translates as “having depended” and samutpada as “arising”, and is the notion that everything that comes into existence is dependent on something else ( lopez 2001, 29). Often argued to be the defining ontological heart of Buddhism, dependent co-origination states that all phenomena (dharmas) arise only in relationship to other phenomena, nothing exists on its own (Majjhima Nikaya 1.90). Rather than causing data, information that can be stored and transmitted, to be sent from a source to receiver, a Buddhist theory understands communication as mutual conditioning. While distinct, poles in a communicative act are not different. Conditioning indicates how person, event or process plays a role in generating, and being generated by, another person, state or process.
A Buddhist theory of communication, then, analyzes media practices not as the broadcasting of data between sender and receiver (A ⇒ B), but rather as the mutual conditioning of two or more communicators (A ⇔ B).
Digitalizing the Kalachakra The Kalachakra’s digitalization creates an oscillation between the desire for transparent immediacy, the experience of what it was like sitting at the Dalai lama’s feet, and the opaque hyper-mediation of multiple media that highlighted mediatization. Rather than being transmitted as information from source to destination, the ceremony made visible how media condition each other by commenting on, reproducing and replacing one another. Kalachakra practitioners wanted to both multiply media sources – printed books, the use of translation radios, large television screens and the Internet – but at the same time to erase all apparent mediation, and experience the Dalai lama’s teachings directly AU: Nagarjuna is also given as Nāgārjuna. Please confirm which one would be the preferred form for consistency.
152 Gregory Price Grieve et al. in all their charismatic immediacy. What holds the Kalachakra’s knot of media together is the Dalai lama, who stands at its center? Yet, rather than acting like a broadcast tower, which unidirectionally transmits a single message, the Dalai lama conditions between distinct audiences using distinct media channels. This mediation is interactive, flexible and between two or more people, and is not merely the one-way exchange of information but rather conversely, is a bidirectional exchange in which the message conditions both the sender and receiver. On 10 July, after days of teaching, the first day of the actual initiation began. Around noon, The Dalai lama explained that these were an engagement between master and disciple, in which he becomes the deity at the center of the Kalachakra. The Kalachakra’s immediacy arises (samutpada) from the Tantric empowerment that emerges between the ceremony’s physically assembled audience and the Dalai lama as a
Buddhist protector deity. Immediacy refers to a feeling of being with the Dalai lama. As Ong writes, immediacy “the existential relationship of person to person (I am in your presence; you are present to me), with the concept of present time (as against past and future)” (1967, 101). As the French moral philosopher levinas (1985) theorizes, in such face-to-face encounters, people are responsible to one and other as people rather than because of roles, institutions or other social structures. In other words, the immediacy of Tantric empowerment functions because, as the Dalai lama said, on 7 July, during the second day of teachings, he looked straight at the camera and pointing to his eyes and then to the assembled initiates, “You see me. I see you.” (personal communication). Transmission theories of communication are complicated by secrecy. The Kalachakra was described by the Dalai lama as secret.10 The use of secrecy in the ceremony indicates the difference between a Protestant influenced transmission theory of communication and a Buddhist influenced
conditioning theory of communication (cf. Guhyasamājatantra). In a transmission religious model, secrecy would indicate when content was not delivered. This model does not work for the Kalachakra for two reasons. First, there were over 150,000 people assembled for the Kalachakra. In fact, because of the large numbers, the ceremony was televised on enormous monitors to the assembled crowd. Second, the ceremony was broadcast and simultaneously translated into a number of languages that could be listened to over small transistor radios. In other words, even the face-to-face immediacy was always already mediatized. In a Buddhist conditioning model of communication, secrecy is not merely the stoppage of content, but the blockage of media affordances in
order to influence and affect the mediatization. For example, on 3 July, from our position just outside the main stage, we could see movement and hear chanting from the inner sanctum. The chanting was being broadcast over the radios, and the large monitors displayed close up, Digitalizing Tibet 153 televised images of the Dalai lama and his senior monks. A transmission theory of communication could only describe this as a loss of signal. A conditioning model of communication could indicate how such secrecy was used to heighten immediacy. Many of the people in the crowd that we spoke to, felt as if they were having a direct and personal, even secret, conversation with the Dalai lama. Many people said that they felt as if the Dalai lama were speaking directly to them, and many claimed that the Dalai lama had made eye contact just with them. For example, a German woman sitting next to
us, thought at this point that the Dalai lama had invited to her to the stage, and pushed through the crowd until stopped by security. The Dalai lama was both very intimate and at the same time unreachable. For example, when the Dalai lama spoke with the chief oracle, he leaned in close and pulled a curtain-like cloth over his head and around the two of them, but at the same time there was an extreme close up of the event that was broadcasted on the big screens. Conditioning is key for the Kalachakra, because the ceremony was not merely the conveying of information but (ideally) a transformative,
empowering and salvific Tantric ritual. Tantric rituals feature practices associated with specific classes of Tantric deities: tutelary deities (yidam), ḍākinīs (khandroma), and various types of Dharma protectors (dharmapāla). These invocations and use of these deities are ideally aimed toward soteriological ends, specifically, ultimately transforming the practitioner into the enlightened tutelary deity (yidam) residing at the center of its particular universe (maṇḍala). The Tantric specialist visualizes himself as the yidam residing in a maṇḍala surrounded by retinues of other deities
including ḍākinīs, Dharma protectors, and lesser mundane gods and goddesses. In Buddhist Tantric theory, by using the Tantric yidam to harness the power of the mind, one obtains spiritual powers (siddhi) to aid others in mundane matters that include healing, rainmaking, averting disasters and helping others to achieve the state of enlightenment. All practices, however, first require initiation by a guru. The guru takes on the persona of the yidam. Acting as the yidam, through a series of ritual empowerments they bring disciples into the maṇḍala and authorize disciples to engage in the practices of the yidam’s corresponding sādhana. The current Dalai lama’s Kalachakra initiations, such as the one held in ladakh, signals important shifts in this particular empowerment. The Dalai lama positions himself not only as a Tibetan addressing a
Buddhist community, but also as a member of a broader global humanity (usually a term used in english). This is apparent by the fact that in the context of preliminary teachings for the Kalachakra initiation, he addressed global concerns, such as the limitations of science and modernity, the need for inter-religious harmony and the significance of
secular ethics (a term used in the english) (Singh 2016). As a practitioner 154 Gregory Price Grieve et al. of mind science, the Dalai lama positioned himself as a post-secular teacher, and presented Buddhism as fundamentally ecumenical, secular and scientific. everyone, regardless of their religious background, may benefit from the scientific and philosophical aspects of Buddhism, while foregoing what the Dalai lama calls Buddhist religion (a term used in the english). Scientific and philosophical Buddhism offers interreligious and nonreligious audiences with secular means of transforming the mind. For the Dalai lama, Buddhist science (a term used in the english) and Western science thus become mutually enhancing forces for improving modern humanity, the
former capable of transforming the mind and the inner capacities of humans, and the latter a medium for material progress and development (Singh 2016). While one could argue that mediatization is occurring, and one could argue for secularization, just the opposite of Hjarvard’s prediction of anomie is occurring. Digitalization is increasing feelings of community and the authority of the central clergy. When the Dalai lama commenced the Kalachakra ceremony, he began by claiming that all religions are ultimately united under the concept of Dharma. Here, he appropriates the concept of Dharma not as
constituting religious values per se, but rather as a source of protection, specifically a defense against negative mental states and immoral actions. For the Dalai lama, this sense of Dharma manifests in all religions and acts as a post-secular moral force for transforming human consciousness (Singh 2016). When all religions find this common post-secular Dharma, they can work together to foster shared human values such as compassion, love and tolerance. In this framework, the Kalachakra initiation in ladakh – like most of the Dalai lama’s large public teachings – is not merely a Buddhist ritual ceremony; it is a period for all people, regardless of religion, to engage in dialogue and reflect upon their shared secular ethics. For the Dalai lama, this secular ethics is both traditional, in that its precepts and ideals, including compassion, love and generosity, manifest in all religions, and modern to the extent
that it provides what he calls an ethics for a new millennium (a term usually used in english).11 Conclusion later that evening, after we had left the ceremonial grounds, we analyzed what at first blush appeared the privileging of the digital representations of the ceremony over the ceremony itself. We puzzled over why Tibetans allowed the face-to-face ceremony to be overshadowed by its digitalization. Yet, as the night wore on, and we explored the data more closely, we started to reflect on how images of the Kalachakra are treated by
Tibetan Buddhists themselves, and we realized that the fault might lie with our own biases, and not with the use or abuse of digital media technologies. Still, a central question remained. In the rich, dynamic,
Digitalizing Tibet 155 hyper-mediatized hubbub of the Kalachakra’s digitalized mediascape, between the face-to-face interactions, enormous video monitors, amplified sound, websites, streamed videos and other social media, as well as radios used for simultaneous translation, printed books, even mass produced sacred images, it became unclear as to where the actual ceremony stopped and its representations began. What was the thin skin between sign and referent? Between the virtual and the actual? Between the object and its mediation, not to mention the effects of its mediatization? To answer this cluster of questions, our chapter has turned to the notion of digitalization, which models not merely the translation of the analogue into the digital, but the
conditioning of social structures and practices through the process of being digitized. Think, for example, of how Amazon.com has conditioned the economy of local bookstores.12 To build our model, we have relied on Hjarvard and his theory of the mediatization of religion conditioned by Dissanayake’s critical Buddhist theory of communication. For Hjarvard, the mediatization of high- modern society is a “‘Trojan horse’ that challenges the authority of institutionalized religion”, and ultimately Nordic culture (2011, 132). We found just the reverse happening for Tibet. Digitalization increased the Dalia
lama’s authority and charisma, ran against banalization’s anomie, as well as created if not a virtual, at the least an augmented Tibet. Yet, our goal in this chapter has not been mere critique. Instead, we have taken the first steps to recondition Hjarvard’s theory of mediatization so that is productive as a theory by which to analyze Buddhist mediascapes such as the Kalachakra. Conditioning Hjarvard’s theory of mediatization with critical Buddhist communication theory has illustrated how a scholar’s definition of religion affects how they theorize its mediatization. We maintain that since Protestant models of communication remain deeply embedded in how many scholars of communication approach mediatization, if one wants to understand non-Western
religions, one cannot simply add token Asian content. Instead, one needs to rethink the theories by which we model communication. Our observation and analysis of the Kalachakra ceremony necessitates a theory of mediation not as a one-way transmission of information about an essential referent (svabhāva) from source to destination (A ⇒ B), but as media practices that mutually condition (pratyaya) each other (A ⇔ B). As the chapter’s epigraph hints, while built upon the research of Dissanayake, our model is ultimately indebted to the Indian philosopher Nagarjuna’s ontological viewpoint that maintains that phenomena lack any intrinsic and self-arising nature. Instead, everything conditions everything else, and relies upon numerous causes and conditions. We have spilled much ink illustrating what Nordic theories of mediatization can learn from critical Buddhist theories of communication. In this denouement, we assert that Buddhist communication theory
can learn two important lessons from mediatization. First, mediatization models how Buddhist social worlds, like all social worlds, are imagined by their inhabitants through technologies of communication, and that these social worlds are conditioned by these media practices.
Accordingly, mediatization theory enables researchers to analyze the effect media have on determining Buddhist content, to map the social worlds held together (√dhṛ) by digital media, and also to illuminate the historic transformations caused by digitalization of Tibetan ceremonies such as the Kalachakra. For example, mediatization theory allows the understanding of the 2014 Kalachakra ceremony’s mediascape and its religious practices, as well as trace a shift by the Dalai lama from media as information, to an increasing use of cyberspace as a place of participatory and interactive media practices. Second, generalizing from the case study of the 2014 Kalachakra, we can now extend our theory of digitalization to understand how Tibetan Buddhism, in diaspora, uses online religious practices for nation building. A reconditioned mediatization theory gives us the conceptual tools to explain (1) why far more than other religious traditions, Tibetan Buddhism flourishes in digital spaces and affords the use of the Internet not just for the transmission of information but for ceremonial practice, and also (2) how long-distance religious practices afford a diaspora community. Obviously, there are both historical and technological conditions in play. Historically, living in diaspora creates a situation in which long-distance forms of digitally mediated religious practice are not a choice but a necessity. Technologically, digital media allows for the types of interactive, real time communication that ceremonies such as the Kalachakra require. Beyond the historical and technological, however, a reconditioned mediatization theory reveals that a religion’s ontology also plays a major role in its digitalization. Key to understanding a theory of Buddhist communication is the concept of dependent co- origination (pratītyasamutpāda), which maintains that everything that comes into existence is dependent on something else. As the Dalai lama said on the second day of the Kalachakras teachings, “Nothing exists objectively, nothing exists on its own side.”
Oxford University Press. 2 Cf. 33rd Kalachakra empowerment Preliminary Teachings. 3 Cf. Office of His Holiness the Dalai lama, n.d., Introduction to the Kalachkra. 4 Cf. Office of His Holiness the Dalai lama 2014. Kalachakra Initiation – Part 1 [online video]. 5 A Procrustean bed describes a scheme that produces uniformity by arbitrary, often violent methods. It is named after Procrustes, the villain from
Digitalizing Tibet 157 Greek Mythology who stretched or amputated the limbs of travelers to make them fit to the length of his bed. 6 For a full list of initiations, see www.dalailama.com/teachings/ kalachakrainitiations, accessed 4 October 2017. 7 For more on the rituals of the Kalachakra, see: Dalai lama XIV, 1999a. Kalachakra Tantra: Rite of Initiation 3rd edition. Translated by J. Hopkins. Boston: Wisdom Publications. See also A. Berzin, 1997. Taking the
Kalachakra Initiation. Ithaca: Snow lion Publications. 8 For a nuanced treatment on the themes of selfhood, temporality, and embodiment in the Kālacakra Tanta, see V. A. Wallace, 2001. The Inner Kālacakra: A Buddhist Tantric View of the Individual. New York: Oxford University Press. 9 To examine the 2014 Kalachakra, we draw on three sources: Field notes we wrote while attending the ceremony; news reports of the event by local ladakhi media outlets and news reports issued by the Office of the Fourteenth Dalai lama; and english translations of the Dalai lama’s teachings found at the following websites: www.dalailama.com/ webcasts/ post/323-33rd- kalachakra-empowerment-preliminary-teachings, www.dalailama.com/webcasts/post/322-his-holiness-the- dalailamas-79th-birthday-celebration, and www.dalailama.com/webcasts/ post/321-introductory-teaching—kalachakra-in-ladakh-2014. 10 Kalachakra: The Public and The Secret Initiations. 11 For more on the Dalai lama’s take on ethics, religion, secularism and modernism, see Dalai lama XIV, 1999b. Ethics for the New Millennium. New York: Penguin and Dalai lama XIV, 2011. Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 12 Cf. Amazon to Scuppernong Books.
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