logo.gif (9413 bytes)

Vedanta in Cyberspace

The Vedanta movement and the electronic frontier

There are many to whom Vedanta is not well know. There are equally many who are not so familiar with the benefits of computers. Vedanta is the product of the best human minds which probed the mystery of the unifiers and found a spiritual unitary basis underlying all apparent phenomena. Computers are a product of science, which first used for number crunching, have now become indispensable in the lives of many. Today,Internet has become a common word with much ponetial for communication and sharing of information. This lucid article discusses the application of this petential to the spread of Vadantaic ideas. Religion, especially Vedanta, has entered the Cyberspace in a big way. It has become a popular area of visitors to the various Web sites. But as rightly observed by the learned author, a nun of the Sarada Convent, 'like almost everything else in this word of many, the Internet has both good and bad points... We in the Vedanta movement now have the choice either to use it as a means of spreading the message of Vedanta or to ignore it -perhaps at the peril of the Vedanta movement's future growth.'    

As we begin the countdown to the millennium, several unmistakable trends in American society are increasingly making their presence felt. The first and most obvious is the electronic revolution which is profoundly changing the way we live. The second glaringly obvious fact: America is in the midst of a religious revival. Both trends have been analyzed and discussed to the point of fatigue, so there is little point in belaboring either their existence or their scope in these pages. What concerns us here is how these two powerful, parallel movements intersect and how their convergence affects one another. More importantly, we should examine what this convergence means for the Vedanta Movement's future growth and viability - in America as well as worldwide.

But to have a worthy discussion, we first need to clarify our terms. Although we have all heard of  computers and the internet, most of us - even those of us who use computers - don't fully understand what they do or what their potential is.

What, for example, is 'cyberspace'?The term 'cyber' comes from the '60s term 'cybernetics'  which means the science of computers. 'Cyberspace' refers to the place - the virtual locality - we inhabit when we use the internet. You may notice that the title of this article does not speak of 'American Cyberspace' or 'Indian Cyberspace' because such a thing does not exist. Cyberspace can not be boxed in: the internet is global and borderless. But before we get into the internet, let's back up a few paces and look at the internet's home village: computers.

Computers are a recent invention, created only fifty years ago for us military purposes. Enormous machines that crunched numbers first for government then later for corporate and educational uses, computers lived in a rarefied, dust-tree world that seemed to have little in common with the daily bedlam most of us inhabit. Then everything changed when a couple of  kids-Steve jobs and Steve wozniak -built the first personal computer in a wooden box in job's parents' garage in the Silicon Valley (before it was called the Silicon Valley ). The year was 1976 and  the corporation and other powers that Be declared that there was neither need nor use for personal computers. Undaunted, the to wonder boys incorporated and thus the Apple personal computer was created and introduced to the public. Slowly but very surely the little creatures ingratiated themselves into the fabric of  daily existence. The Apple corporation created the hugely successful Macintosh computer and chastened IBM rushed personal computers into the marketplace. Inexpensive clones of the latter promptly appeared; personal computers were no longer the toys to the gentrified set: they were cheap, fast, and highly addictive. They did our finances; typed our ;letters; created our stationary; organized our schedules as well as our addresses, telephone numbers, and recipes; they were our partners for chess and bridge; they provided video games for our entertainment.Personal computers accelerated from luxuries to necessities:soon grammar and high schools, colleges, and universities began to install them as basic educational equipment. Children demanded their own computers to help with their homework (and they also wanted their own video  games).

Were these changes not dramatic enough, another, little-noted development at four American West coast universities in 1969 was to prove to be one of the most far-reaching of the century. At the time seemed fairly innocuous; in order to share data, the four universities connected their computers to one  other. This mild innovation was to become the prototype of the Internet. Then in 1991, CERN- the European Laboratory for Particle Physics in Geneva, Switzerland-developed the World Wide Web which allowed the exchange of information across the Internet through the use of 'hypertext' (more on the later) documents. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Although governments, educational facilities and  corporation have had their own uses for computer and Internet technology, no government controls the Internet and no private corporation owns it. A dictator's nightmare, the Internet is a study in creative anarchy. This is not to say, however, that a particular country's laws do not apply to its resident computer owner. The Dalai Lama, for example, has a popular Web site in America. No problem here. If, however, a person in Tibet 'downloads'- that is, transfers a file from the Internet to his or her own home computers -that Tibetan will probably be in hot water if he or she is discovered.

What exactly is the Internet (or simply the Net) and what is the World Wide Web abbreviated as WWW and otherwise simply known as the Web?

The Internet is a worldwide collection of computer networks that are interconnected with one another through high speed connection. This wildly disparate collection is a bubbling cauldron of private, public, commercial, and educational networks that share information with one other. The Internet is also called the Information Superhighway since in anyone connected to it can find information, or share information,on any imaginable (or unimaginable) topic. The World Wide Web is called the Web because it connects linked computers worldwide in a spider-like web that loops in and put of millions of computers networks at the speed of light.

How do the Net  and the Web relate to one other ? We can think of the Internet as being the total electronic universe -an extraordinary large, complete circle: the while pie of a pie chart. The largest proportion of that pie will be taken by e-mail or electronic mail. The second largest piece of the pie will be absorbed by the Web. The rest will be taken by news groups, chatrooms, and bulletin boards.

None of this, of course, is free. To connect to the Internet, a person usually pays around $20.00 per month in the U.S.-Not including the initial software costs, etc. This situation will no doubt change in the near future: Internet access is becoming so critical that new computers will arrive at our door-steps pre-equipped with Internet capability. 'According to one of the most comprehensive studies yet on Net usage,' says a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle,. 'the number of Pcs [ computers hooked up to the Internet jumped fl per cent over the past year to 82 million and is expected to more than triple to 268 million by 2110;...The percentage of Pcs worldwide with Net access is expected to grow from 30 per cent today to more than .50 per cent four years from now.' why is the Internet so popular?
Once a computer is connected-'online'-it can 'talk' to every other connected computer in the world-assuming, that is, that the telephone infrastructure is adequate! Once online, a person can find a job, locate an out-of-print book, write a friend in Paris, order pans for a car or browse through the New  York Times or the Times of India. A person can visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York or download the entire Pail Canon or the Bible.
One can also join a virtual diocese such as the one Bishop Jacques Gaillot created.Gaillot was bishop of a large diocese in Evreux, France, and in the early 90s spoke out fearlessly on a variety of controversial issues. His liberal views led him to be removed from the Evreux bishopric and he was given a new assignment: Partenia, Algeria. There are no Christians -let alone Catholics- Partenia. Partenia, in the Sahara desert, is largely inhabited by lizards, scorpions, and a few stray Muslim nomads. But the intrepid Gaillot wasn't dismayed; he created a virtual diocese on the Web [ /www. partenia.org] where today he continues to preach his own brand of Catholicism.
The diocese of Partenia is but one intersection where spirituality and cyberspace meet. While the Internet has developed a reputation for being a receptacle for uncensored sleaze, spiritual topics, in fact  out-number sex by a vast margin. Religion-it all its healthy, wild diversity-is one of the Net's most popular topics. As Time magazine's religion Web site [ /www.GOD.com] notes on its home page: 'Ask the Internet search engine Alta Vista to locate sites related to 'Sex', and it returns 683,643 documents.   Request 'God' and it lists nearly three times as many: 1,772,945.' How is this relevant to our concerns. One of the major problems with the Vedanta movement in North America is the paucity of Vedanta  centers compared to the vast:ness of the land. Where India has a lack of infrastructure with  telecommunications, America has a lack of infrastructure with Vedanta centers. There are currently nineteen official Vedanta centers (excluding sub-   centers and unofficial centers) in North America-the majority clustered on the two coasts. Most of North America's vast expanse remains without a Vedanta center, and most of North Americans have little or no access to information about Vedanta, Sri  Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda or Sri Sarada Devi.
Until now, through the Internet. The Internet brings the message of Vedanta into any home that has an online computer.  How ? All a person has to do is to type in some very general words- 'Vedanta',  'Ramakrishna', 'Vivekananda', 'Sarada'  any one of those words, and a list of Web sites will appear on the  computer screen.

| What is Vedanta | California Site |

| Ramkrishna Ashram | Ramkrishna Mission | Swami Vivekananda |
| Ramkrishna Order | Audio & Video | Home |