Addicted to social media?!

A term for Buddhist is “inner being” because, theoretically at least, we have decided to seek happiness from within rather than from without.

Geshe-la prostrating to Buddha high resWe are making a shift from trying to solve problems in our body and mind outside our body and mind to solving the problems of our body, and especially our mind (because all our problems come from there), inside the mind. And that basic shift in emphasis, or change of direction, is what I would say makes someone a Buddhist, or inner being.

Changing direction

An inner being can have a job, take showers, bring up families, help society, and all the rest of it. But their interest is in developing their minds, increasing their capacity for freedom and happiness from within. Realizing their inner potential or Buddha nature, inner beings are interested in getting rid of all the delusions, limitations, and sufferings from their mind, and helping others do the same.

For this we need renunciation, understanding the faults and pitfalls of samsara. For without renunciation, despite any amount of intellectual understanding of Dharma, we have an overwhelming need to grab our happiness and solve our problems “out there.” This is even when part of us knows — full well really — that it is not working. “Let me just send one more text! Let me try once more to change their view of me! Let me just tell this person what I think of them, they need to know …”

The eight worldly concerns

8 worldly concernsWorldly beings have what are called the “eight worldly concerns“, where we are overly interested in garnering praise while avoiding criticism, trying to make people like and admire us rather than dismissing us, getting hold of material stuff while avoiding loss, seeking one pleasure after another while avoiding the slightest unhappiness. We’re all at it!

But an inner being knows that this is a bit like drinking saltwater to quench our thirst – the most we can ever get is a little short-lived relief. One of Gen Losang‘s sayings used to be (maybe still is): “Leave the object alone.” Point being, we don’t need to keep chewing on the objects of our desires or our problems, trying or wishing to make them change or cooperate. If we know how to change our thoughts through Dharma, these problems automatically disappear and our desires for happiness are automatically satiated, all without the object having to do anything from its own side.

It is such a relief to know this. It puts us back in control of our own moods, rather than being like a puppet on the strings of someone else’s behavior or random inpenetrable thoughts. An object of unrequited attachment can become an object of renunciation or compassion, for example. An object of jealousy can become an object of rejoicing or of wisdom. With Dharma, we get to choose. We can go through the day happy rather than sad. We are free. maxresdefault

Renunciation for mistaken appearances

Dharma, as you may have noticed, goes deep. Bottom line is that we need renunciation for self-grasping ignorance AND for all mistaken appearances, that is, things appearing to exist dualistically, outside our mind. As we request in this prayer in The Oral Instructions of Mahamudra:

I request you … liberate me from dualistic appearance. ~ page 72.

This renunciation may take a while because we have the habitual tug of attachment to the things outside our mind that we like and aversion to the things outside our mind that we feel are in some way doing us wrong; and we are kind of attached to these delusions themselves, as well as the ignorance that underpins them. We are used to employing them to sort out our problems and get what we want. Plus we don’t necessarily want things to be mere appearances to our minds, as explained in this article.

Shadow-Projection-Night-LightBut we come to see over time, by applying this Dharma wisdom to our own experiences, that any mental movement outwards toward a “real” world — a world outside our mind and indeed pretty much outside our control — is subtly painful, and sometimes of course incredibly painful.

Plus, it is grasping at these appearances has kept us trapped in samsara since beginningless time. We have been fighting so hard and so long on behalf of this insubstantial I against all others, with the endless mental push and the pull toward the appearances that seem to harm or help it; and this internal struggle has caused us nothing but bad karma and pain.

The pain we feel as we wander around does not inhere in the object, as it appears to, but in the way we are holding the object. Even allowing our thoughts and their objects to settle via simple breathing meditation helps this dualistic appearance dissolve so we find ourselves experiencing a natural inner peace. And if we take it further — to switch attachment out for love, say — the pain we were so convinced came from the object goes away and stays away. Both the mind and its object have changed simultaneously, co-dependently. This is because, as Geshe Kelsang explains in the Mahamudra teachings, objects are not outside the mind. Subject minds and object things arise simultaneously from the ocean of the root mind, like waves. 

The pitfalls of social media

Maybe because retreat season is coming up for Kadampa Centers everywhere, which means that a lot of people might be switching off their Smartphones for awhile, I was thinking today of Facebook and other social media as a classic example of fleeting insubstantial mistaken appearances that have sucked us all (me) in, engendering the eight worldly concerns.

And then this article appeared, with Facebook itself acknowledging that social media use can be bad for users’ mental health, a sign the company is feeling pressure from a growing chorus of critics raising alarms about the platform’s effect on society.

before-facebookSo many of us these days are hopelessly addicted to the push and pull of social media, feverishly logging in to see what we have missed and whether other people (especially those we currently have a thing for) liked our posts. We can get into Facebook surveillance, aka stalking too, which this study discovers is (not surprisingly) a major impediment to moving on with our lives.

Social media can seem so innocent, partly as everyone is doing it, and partly as it does have a good quality of conveniently connecting us to others when it is working well. Or, rather, when we are working well, such as when we’re not consumed with insecurity, attachment, FOMO, and when we genuinely want to bring some happiness to those we interact with.

Social media has its uses, for sure. Social media has allowed me to write this blog and reach people, for example, all over the world. Simple and easy communication even across the globe is also a result of good karma, as opposed to this environmental effect that comes from the action of divisive speech:

Since divisive speech makes smooth and harmonious relationships between people difficult and painful, we have to inhabit a hard and inhospitable environment where communications are difficult to establish. ~ Joyful Path of Good Fortune, p 250

Electronic communication also creates a more level playing field for all parties to get involved regardless of their gender, age, race, social standing, and education.

But attachment to it is painful and frustrating, just like any attachment, and it can b0bf5c9a73b9d34a1919e55e1d9e5091dominate our waking hours if we’re not careful. It’s hard to get much done if we are constantly scratching the itch — “I’ll just check my Facebook feed before I start this …” — and then we feel cheated and bad about our unproductive days.

Can I control my mind, switch off, go deep each day? Can I drop all thoughts? Our motivation may be to help others, but we cannot tame the minds of others until we have tamed our own, as Atisha put it. That entails the ability to concentrate. And concentration is about staying on one object, as stable as Mount Meru. Surfing the internet is about perpetual motion. Can we reconcile the two?

I have fallen prey to the lure of social media from time to time. I find that although I really appreciate the ease of communication we can have these days with people all over the world, I don’t like having a dependency. So I try to resist the urge to passively read everything, and limit the amount of time I spend online. I am currently watching my mind to see how often I have the urge to scratch that itch of wanting to check my feed/texts/gmail/etc, even when I am in the middle of a perfectly nice moment. It is challenging at first, but if we stop scratching itches, they go away. How long is that going to take?! I will let you know. You can let me know too, if you try something similar 😁

Going cold turkey can also be a very good idea and useful way to see where we’re at, especially during retreat season. Just sayin’.tweeting

As it says in this article:

The Social Network is an amazing phenomenon, an amazing opportunity to see the truth of interdependence, that none of our lives occur in an isolated vacuum. Social networking is also, possibly, the most widespread addiction on our planet right now, sucking billions of hours we’ll never get back again.

Studies I have read indicate, amongst other signs of our collective addiction to screens: kids under the age of eight apparently use screens for 2 hours a day; preteens and teens for an average of 7.5 hours; and adults for an average of 8.5 hours a day. We tend to check our phones 150 times a day. 150 times!!! In an international poll taken by Time magazine, one in 4 people check their phone “every 30 minutes, 1 in 5 people every 10 minutes.” Some of those services we use on our phones have become more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes, and make us feel worse about ourselves, even when we use them. Not to mention, when we use them at night, the light from our screens can ruin our sleep.Funny facebook addiction image pics


A poem

Here is a poem written by HT, a London musician and Kadampa Buddhist, that sums up some of this pain of attachment:

When you’re scrolling on your phone and you’re all alone
What are you looking for?
When you’re browsing online and you’re clicking one more time
What are you searching for?
There’s a hole in your heart from which you’re never apart
Which reminds you that you’re in need
There’s a crack in your smile that’s been buried for a while
In the place where no one else can see

When you’re opening the fridge choosing something rich
What are you looking for?
When you pour another drink before you’re over the brink
What are you searching for?
There’s a pull from a place that has never seen grace
And lures you into desolate land
There’s a voice in your head that keeps you up in bed
And mocks that nothing is going to plan

When you’re staying up late and your desire escalates
What are you waiting for?
When your body’s in a mess and you struggle to get dressed
What are you living for?
There’s a hole in your life full of struggle and strife
Which makes you question every step of the way
There’s a void in your mind which lingers behind
Every action and each word that you say

When you’re out in the street seeking someone to meet
What are you looking for?
When you’re trying to catch the eye of the people passing by
What are you searching for?
There’s a perpetual wish that can never be fixed
For an end to the bittersweet quest
There’s a dream of a world and a forever girl
Who can finally let you rest

But what you don’t see is that you have everything you need
Right now, in this moment, in your heart
If you recognise this truth then you will have no use
Of seeking that from which you must part
The river flows on, and yet it never was:
You can’t step in the same river twice
So surrender to the peace that will only increase
And that never comes to you at a price

What are you seeking, what are you wanting,
What are you searching for?
You have it all within you, waiting to be realised
So, come on in: you can close the door.

Another friend, CB, who is, incidentally, a highly successful public speaker and all-around lovely guy, posted this poem on Facebook (ironically!), with a photo and explanation:


“How I feel late at night after just a few minutes on Facebook comparing myself to others. Judging my insides by other people’s outsides. “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” (the Desiderata)

My dear brother HT has articulated the absurdity and danger of social media beautifully in this poem. What happens when we forget how to be happy without the approval of others?”

As modern Buddhists, inner beings, we want to learn to transform everything into the spiritual path. We are living at a time when everything could distract us and addict us, or we could learn somehow to transform it to our advantage. My question is, given that this technology is not going away, how can we get on board while understanding it is a tool, not a refuge? The answer to this seems crucial if we are to find inner peace and liberation.

Over to you. Comments, insights, all help welcome 😄

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

14 thoughts on “Addicted to social media?!”

  1. Thank you for this article. I’ve been struggling with this digital addiction and I have considered going back to the dumb phone, but then will I miss the important stuff? I listened to an audio book recently called Irresistible. It was a deep dive into digital addiction. Everyone is impacted in some way—Shopping, email, social media, online deals, gaming, texts… The author does give some good advice about how to use it responsibly. Especially for parents of young children. It is an itch I’m sooo going to stop scratching it. Sometimes I leave it in my room, then I go looking for it to capture one of the incredibly beautiful sunsets at IKRC.

  2. This is such a crucial article. I find the greatest challenge with social media is that it solidifies our self cherishing. Each post is a deepening of the indentation of unjustified self importance. All spiritual progress in all spiritual traditions depends precisely on the dissolving of “self” and the emphasis on “other”. So the task of being “in” the world of social media, but not “of” it is ever more important.

    1. Yes, I agree. We need to watch our motivation whenever we do anything, and social media is no exception — are we using it to show off or to help others.

  3. Thanks so much for this, Luna! A couple suggestions for social media addiction: the “Moment” app tracks your phone use: and “Freedom” can cut off your computer’s Internet for specified periods of time… as for me, at my request my 13 year old put child restrictions on my phone to block all internet except for email. It’s super useful as I just don’t check the phone so much anymore. And another friend uses a habit tracker to write down his Buddhist commitments and track how he’s met them during the day…. And (can you tell this is a bit of an issue for me???) since I always “like” tweets from Geshe Kelsang Gyatso and Luna Kadampa on twitter, often the first thing I see when I open twitter is a tweet from Geshela’s twitter feed — a really wonderful way to shift your mind right away and stop oneself from falling down the samsaric rabbit holes.

  4. Thank you Luna for addressing such modern day problems.

    I find certain situations like this one hard to transform as they are not explicitly addressed in the books and there are no inspiring examples from the past practitioners in similar situations. I love and greatly appreciate the examples of Angulimala and Lam Cheung, my all time favorites of how they really turned things around. Geshla says Angulimala was the most angry person of that time and Lam Cheung was the most intellectually challenged person of that time. I feel if they could do it, I can do it too. Are there similar examples of practitioners who were very attached and turned things around? I’d love to read more about them!

    Another problem that I find hard to transform is the wish to look attractive. I’m guessing that it comes naturally to all of us, regardless of gender, age and relationship status. Why is that? How could one go about transforming this seemingly natural wish that doesn’t seem to come from virtue, not in my case at least. I’d love and appreciate it if you have or will have an article on it! Thank you!

  5. Hi Luna, your posts on emptiness have helped combat a lot for me including tackling social media. Also looking up from the screen every now and then seems to help 😉

    Thank you for sharing your Dharma insights!
    Wishing you peace and joy 🕊

      1. Thanks for asking Luna. Facebook can really bring out my attachment to wanting to impress others.

        So many of my friends are high achievers and I grew up thinking that your career will make you happy. I had pretty high expectations of that too, it had to be something extraordinarily and creative or else I would never be happy.

        So when I meet people or see people on Facebook achieving these things all my delusions come out! Shear panic! I’ll never be happy!

        It was only by pondering emptiness that some of these layers of delusions started to dissolve and only then that I started to get some sanity and direction in my work life.

        I suppose emptiness helped me realize there is something more fruitful than all this useless striving. But it’s only when I really focus that I feel it otherwise I remember on an intellectual level and keep practicing.

        I’m so thankful for the teachings. Dharma is the best gift of all 🕊

        Ps it’s a long road I’m still striving. I have landed a new job working to help others in the community sector but old habits die hard and I have to remain watchful. Social media can be a good training ground for this.

  6. Guilty. Yes, when I’d used Facebook (in particular) I was as “worldly” as a being can become. It was horrid; delusions overtook my mind completely and my self-grasping was off the charts. I suffered needlessly, because Facebook was not only injuring my mental health, it was poisoning me spiritually. So…I quit. A year and a half ago and I’ve never logged in since. Now, I relish REAL life more and my addiction to a virtual life has diminished. My applause goes out to those that can handle it, manage it well. Kudos, too, for being able to eat just one potato chip. 🙂 There’s a real world out there; it’s time to enjoy it. P.S. Were your ears burning recently, Luna? Last week, I enjoyed sharing memories of you, Gen Lhamo and Kadampa Center SF with Kelsang Chogyop and the folks at the Compassion Kadampa Center-Sacramento. Can’t wait to go back on Monday. I hope you’re doing well.

    1. Yes, one potato chip indeed. Point taken.

      Offline life is not that real, either, though 😉

      There is nothing better than feeling deeply peaceful and connected, however we are to accomplish that, and wherever we find ourselves.

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