Published on Thursday, 05 July 2018 13:00
Written by Saigoneer.
Boon or bane: spiritual service delivered to your nearest digital device.
According to Tuoi Tre, a website called Chuaonline.com (literal: online temple) has been gaining attention on social media recently due to a unique function: the website is a virtual place where busy temple-goers can access the atmosphere of being in a temple and use its services without the need to travel to the physical space. Chua Online belongs to Tuvien.com, an internet portal for many Buddhism-related resources and materials.
Accessing Chua Online’s homepage, one is greeted with a picture of a temple hall, and a soundtrack of amitābha chanting on autoplay. A running text on the bottom of the page instructs online visitors through a typical procedure of a praying session: put their mind at ease, recite amitābha 108 times, then move on to chanting. The era of overdecorated blogs and kitschy websites might be long gone, yet infamous auto-play background tracks has been adapted for a different context.
On the bottom left lies a “Settings” menu where visitors can choose their background sound from a plethora of 19 sutras or move to other “Rooms.” Each room has its own functionality such as mass intentions offering, mantra chanting for the dead, and even memorial services, where visitors can input names and information for loved ones.
Next to the “Settings” menu is a button that reads “Burn Incense.” Clicking on it will fill your screen with animated smoke.
The digitized temple-going experience has garnered mixed opinions. A university student in Saigon told Tuoi Tre that “Buddhist thinking places a strong emphasis on learning from each other. Therefore it’s more important to go to a physical temple to worship, hear teachings, and pray.”
Thich Nhat Tu, head of the cultural department of Buddhist Sangha of Vietnam, has a different thought. Tu is not against the trend as it can help “people who live far from a temple and cannot afford to travel to the temple in person, or busy people who couldn’t fit temple activities into their working schedule.”
Instead of “watching reality game shows, they can spend their free time listening to Buddhist teachings online. It’s a positive replacement,” he elaborated.
Opinions aside, this phenomenon is a telltale sign that digital technologies are becoming more and more ubiquitous in our everyday life practices, even religious ones.[Images via Tuoi Tre]