Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Analyzing Social Media through a Buddhist Lens

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Analyzing Social Media through a Buddhist Lens

Article excerpt

The new book by Ravi Chandra, MD, is a concise introduction to Buddhism, and a forceful exposition on the power and danger of social networking--deftly interwoven with a moving account of the author's personal life and professional growth as well as his arduous quest for identity.

Social networking has exploded into a major global industry within the last decade, rapidly penetrating and dominating all aspects of our personal and social lives. Instead of promoting social interactions and connections, the lure of instant intimacy often proves illusory. For far too many, the virtual world deepens their sense of isolation and loneliness, fosters jealousy and narcissism, engenders a profound sense of insecurity, and leads to anxiety, depression, and much worse.

In his book "Facebuddha: Transcendence in the Age of Social Networks" (San Francisco: Pacific Heart Books, 2017), Dr. Chandra reviews the extant literature, convincingly shows the magnitude and urgency of the problems, and pleads for actions to minimize the corrupting effects of this new wave of technologies that threatens to take over our world and our lives.

By juxtaposing the Buddha with social networking in the book tide, Dr. Chandra expresses his hope and faith that Buddhism could serve as an effective tool for harnessing the force unleashed by these powerful new technologies, helping us to put the genie of our invention back into the bottle. Over the millennia, Buddhism has guided societies and individuals to overcome ("transcend") crises and adversities, and could play a crucial role in negotiating these still largely uncharted territories.

Despite the popularity of terms such as transcendence and mindfulness, Buddhism remains mysterious to most modern readers, and is laden with misconceptions and prejudices. This is regrettable, since Buddhism is the most clinically relevant of all major philosophical traditions, and its tenets are most compatible with modern neuroscience. The term philosophical is used here because, at its core, Buddhism represents an uncompromisingly rational approach to dealing with the "human condition."

Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), its founder, admonished against speculating on questions that are "unanswerables," such as existence after death. Instead, Siddhartha focused on identifying life's vicissitudes (Dukkha, "bumpy rides in life," commonly translated as "suffering"), clarifying forces responsible for these problems, delineating the ultimate goal, and specifying methods for achieving the goal (the "Four Noble Truths"). He then provided systematic paths for solving problems (the "Eightfold Noble Path"). His approaches are akin to what we clinicians strive to do on a daily basis, albeit on a grander scale: diagnosis, pathogenesis, treatment goals, and therapeutic approaches. The framework Siddhartha proposed is austere, rational, practical. It is exactly for this reason that Siddhartha has been called a great physician, a doctor, and a healer.

Rooted in the rich Vedic traditions and further enriched by major thinkers in the centuries after Siddhartha's life, Buddhist sutras contain insightful expositions on the nature of self, perception, cognition, and free will--issues that are just starting to attract the attention of neuroscientists. Despite the divergence in investigative methods (first-person contemplations vs. …

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