While mooks gawked the nether parts of starlets all weekend long at Adultcon downtown, another, radically different group of conventioneers gathered at the University of the West in Rosemead to lube up their third eyes and wax philosophic on the state of modern Buddhism.
Buddhist Geeks, are not as the name may suggest, cosplay devotees decked in Shaolin monk robes or Jedi garb...they are instead the Western face of an eons old religion. They are teachers, psychologists, professional bloggers, scientists, lawyers, et. al. trying to reconcile and integrate an ancient and contemplative practice with a contemporary culture that seemingly values neither.
The group started as the brainchild of Vincent Horn and Ryan Oelke -- two Boulder, CO religious studies students -- in 2007. They started with a podcast geared towards techie dharma devotees and it has since grown into a digital magazine and now this, their first ever conference. Their podcasts have reached millions of downloads and the gathering itself drew a few hundred attendees -- including some that trekked from Europe and Asia. Oelke left the group a few years ago (though he was kind enough to come back for the conference and run sound).
The kick-off speaker, teacher and Buddhist innovator Shinzen Young, highlighted why the marriage of geekiness and Buddhism works -- both science and Buddhism strive to elevate the human experience. Speaking in proper scientific geekese, he explained that the increase aggregate human happiness is a positive feedback loop that is resulting in an exponential growth curve. While we won't see the really cool effects in our lifetimes, we're getting there; he had the charts to prove it.
Like typical conferences, the weekend was filled with individual workshops, but with atypical themes like, "You are What You Download," "The Internet is Not Your Teacher" and "What Science Can Teach Us About Practice," among others.
For those of us who had college philosophy classes where the best discussions took place at smoke breaks, the conference featured "unconference" spaces to facilitate just those type of discussions. We (naturally) joined the bloggers in an unstructured but engaging session on Buddhist bloggery. As one might imagine, peace-loving Buddhist blogging is not without its trolls and flame wars. Surprisingly, Buddhism does lend itself perfectly to the short parables and shots of wisdom that fit into the 140 characters of a tweet. Unsurprisingly, a majority of Huffington Post's top Buddhist tweeters were on hand this weekend.