Is the Silicon Valley Buddhist Movement a Disgrace to Enlightenment?


“Everybody knows this [Emotional Intelligence] thing is good for their career,” Google employee and meditation teacher Chade-Meng Tan tells Wired. “And every company knows that if their people have [Emotional Intelligence], they’re gonna make a shitload of money.”

Words of the enlightened! Wired recently explored the ‘Search Inside Yourself’ movement at Google, which has spawned an entire Buddhist subculture in Silicon Valley. Mr. Tan was Google number 107, and helped develop the mobile search function before moving into his current role as ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ and in-house-guru.

Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar says he came up with the “It’s embarrassing” photo-flagging tool through his Zen studies, and the Wisdom 2.0 conference — led by yoga teacher Soren Gordhamer — attracted over 1,700 people this past year and featured speakers like Arianna Huffington, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.

Eastern religion has roped throughout the Bay Area ever since Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s, and Steve Jobs, of course, was ever-searching for Zen guidance. The current Buddhist movement is focused entirely on self-improvement and productivity, and some say ignores the ascetic, humbling mysticism of true enlightenment.

At one point in the article, Kenneth Folk — another meditation leader in the Valley — tells the reporter that their dinner companions are all enlightened. ‘Enlightened’ literally means sainthood and a triumph over material urges; the engineers in the article are currently polishing off their second bottle of red wine. Folk started his meditation path after taking LSD in the ’80s, and lived with his mother-in-law until 2011, when a high-profile VC invited him to the Valley. He believes that “Sainthood is a relic of the past,” and says that the self-denying aspect of religion — abstaining from food or sex — are myths.

So seeking enlightenment is admirable, but not if you’re going to ignore the crucial aspects that make you enlightened — like humbleness and asceticism. What do you guys think”?