Atman Will Cure Your Smartphone Addiction

Tricycle magazine would like to inform you, dear Buddhist practitioner, that meditation can cure your smartphone addiction. Of course, we wouldn’t want you to actually stop using your smartphone altogether, because that would put a dent in our mobile website traffic. Luckily, since meditation will merely cure the addictive nature of your smartphone usage, you will be able to continue doing the same things on it without all the negative side effects. If that sounds appealing, then read on!

The source of your phone addiction, Zen priest Kurt Spellmeyer so insightfully points out, is that unlike other machines, such as hammers and bicycles, smartphones aren’t designed to replicate or enhance the functions of our physcial body. What makes smartphones, iPads, and computers unique among human technologies is that they “are prostheses for our minds [sic]”. The mind, in case you need to be reminded, is entirely separate from our physical bodies and behaviors (don’t you know that the Buddha was a Cartesian dualist?).

Pinging, ringing, and vibrating all the time, phones can be annoying, but that’s not what sets them apart. Lying in my bed at the end of a day, I don’t feel so overwhelmed by anxiety that I can’t relax unless I run downstairs to do another load of dirty clothes. But anxiety, guilt, loss, loneliness—these emotions can arise when I’m unconnected to my phone, and I’m not the only one this happens to.

So rest easy, friend. The problem with your smartphone is not that it was partly assembeled by a (possibly child) slave laborer in China, or that it makes life in an exploitative capitalist society more convenient, or that smartphones are literally the perfect mechanism by which to reinforce dominant social practices and ensure that we have acccess to propaganda and mind-numbing, endless, distractions from reality at all times.

No, the problem is that, while scrolling through our twitter feed, our consciousness “merges with our phones and tablets as seamlessly as a painter’s hand fuses with her brush or musicians vocalize through their instruments”. Long before the internet, the Buddha apparantly discovered that “consciousness is formless and adopts the qualities of everything it ‘touches'”, and this discovery makes such a “fusion” possible. When we then disconnect from our phones, we experience emotions like “anxiety, guilt, loss, [and] loneliness”, not because we are in these moments forced to come into contact with the actual facts of our existence, but because we are addicted to this mind-fusing technology, and turning it off leads to withdrawal symptoms. The answer to this problem is, of course, our good old friend the atman, who we will, as usual, not name as such.

So what can you do to cure your smartphone addiction? Thankfully, you need not examine the effects of the technology on our social formation. Phew. There’s an easier way, which is, you guessed it, meditate! The instructions we should follow are such:

First, we must turn off our devices (or at least place them in “airplane mode”). Then, once “the screens in front of us go blank, we have a better chance to become aware of another screen ‘behind our eyes,’ the screen of the mind.” At this point, we have completely isolated our core self from any content (other than these instructions) that we previously consumed (which, one should recall, are not self), so that they can no longer affect us in this moment.

Now we can, in isolation, “sit quietly, watching the breath or reciting the Buddha’s name”. If you do this, then the “inner screen” of our uncontaminated mind “will empty out until it appears formless and radiant. And once we make contact with this bright, empty mind, our craving for fresh screens comes to a stop.”

Sounds simple enough!

Importantly, once this five-minute rehab program has been completed, we can feel free to go on with business as usual:

No matter what displays we encounter when we switch our devices on again, all of them will convey the same “one taste.”

There it is, folks. You heard it from a Zen priest himself. Using your smartphone, like sipping a cup of tea or staring mouth-gapingly at a flower, can be an enlightened experience. The same exact practice that you enaged in before will now no longer be the symptom of an “addiction” that causes you to suffer, but rather a completely equaimous and neutral experience. Even though what you are absorbing from the screen is still a host of implicit and explicit ideological messages and social practices, you have already uncovered your empty and unchanging essential atman, so “the mind behind your eyes hasn’t changed” one bit.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to inject some enlightened heroin. No need to worry; my atman carries enlightened naloxone at all times.


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