A Buddhist Guide to WordPress Development

Below are the slides from my WordCamp Montreal 2018 talk A Buddhist Guide to WordPress Development. 

It’s an unusual WordCamp talk for sure, as it is mostly about an ancient religion rather than a state-of-the-art website app, so I hope some can find it valuable.

FWIW if you just want to learn about Buddhism, and don’t care about WordPress, this would probably be useful to you either way ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Jer & Buddhism

  • “If any religion is right, it’s probably Buddhism” -everyone
  • Visited Sri Lanka in 2017, needed help with life
  • Joined Refuge Recovery, Buddhist sobriety community
  • Meditate 30 mins every day
  • 170 days in a row on Insight timer

On Pāli/Theravāda

  • Theravāda (“School of the elders”) based on earliest Buddhism, found in Sri Lanka, Thailand etc.
  • Source for modern movements like Vipassana, Insight, Against the Stream
  • Contrasted with Mahāyāna (“Greater Vehicle”), a diverse branch found in China, Japan etc.
  • FYI: Words here are in Pāli (Theravāda) not Sanskrit (Mahāyāna)

Religion or Philosophy?

  • Buddhism is both metaphysical and pragmatic
  • Most teachings apply directly to material life
  • It’s an ancient science, and got a lot of things right
  • Ancient Indian cosmology is weird, but metaphorically useful
  • Is it a religion or a philosophy? It’s a series of very useful lists. Here are some of them

Meditation

Ānāpānasati

  • Breathing in, know you are breathing in
  • Breathing out, know you are breathing out.
  • Breathing in and out, experience your body right here in this place
  • Breathing in and out, experience your mind right here in this moment

Questions

  • Is there anything in this world that can fully satisfy you, that will never let you down?
  • If you could have no expectations about how things should be, accepting things as they are, would life be harder or easier?
  • When you do things you know are wrong, how does it feel? How does it feel to do what you know is right?
  • [seeing things as they are]

Tilakkhaṇa – The Three Marks of Existence

  • Everything is impermanent
  • Everything is stressful
  • Everything is lacking in essential self
  • Ignorance about these causes clinging and suffering
  • Accepting these lets us face life without denial

Anicca – Everything is Impermanent

  • “Whatever is subject to origination is subject to cessation.”
  • Everything changes or ends
  • Everything we have is borrowed
  • We are all going to die

Dukkha – Everything is unsatisfying and painful

  • Dukkha means suffering, pain, and dissatisfaction
  • Things don’t match our assumptions, leading to disappointment and stress
  • Bad things are present whether we like it or not
  • Good things come and go and we have no control
  • We need to accept things as they are, including the inevitable suffering they bring

Anattā – Everything is lacking in essential self

  • There is no inherent meaning or essence (soul) in objects or beings
  • Everything and everyone are “conditioned phenomena” arising from causes
  • Our sense of “I am” is a delusion that holds us back
  • Your body is not you, your thoughts are not you, your opinions are not you

The Three Features of every CMS, Plugin and Theme!

  • Impermanent: This shit won’t last forever!
  • Unsatisfying: Guaranteed to disappoint!
  • Essence-Free: Just a bunch of code that happens to compile!
  • Accept these things and let them go!

Four Noble Truths (cattāri ariyasaccāni)

Liberating insight that sets us free. Needs to be experienced by each person not just learned

  1. Stress is inevitable
  2. The cause of stress is clinging
  3. The end of stress is freedom from clinging
  4. The way to freedom is the noble eightfold

Put differently:

  1. We crave and cling to impermanent states and things, which are incapable of satisfying
  2. This craving keeps us caught in the cycle of desire and disappointment that makes us suffer unnecessarily
  3. There is a way out of this cycle, through awakening to these truths and ending our craving
  4. This can be accomplished by following the eightfold path of wisdom, morality and meditation

Dukkha: Stress is inevitable

  • Problems are going to come up and there will be bad surprises
  • Having what you don’t want, not having what you do want
  • Aging, illness and death all bring dukkha
  • Updates are dukkha, spam is dukkha, browser compatibility is dukkha

Samudaya: The cause of stress is clinging

  • The reason it hurts so much is our clinging to expectations
  • When we try to control the world, we suffer pointlessly
  • Both desire and aversion hold us in this cycle of clinging and disappointment
  • It’s when we imagine that WP won’t challenge us that it makes us crazy

Nirodha: The end of stress is freedom from clinging

  • If we accept everything, without clinging to good and bad, we don’t have to suffer
  • Notice the impermanence of situations and relinquish control
  • Letting go of expectations, roadblocks become surmountable

Magga: The way to freedom is the Noble Eightfold Path

  • We end clinging and achieve enlightenment by living with virtue, wisdom and mindfulness, by following the eightfold path

Eightfold Path

Paññā wisdom

Right view
Right intention

Sīla virtue

Right speech (internal and external)
Right action
Right livelihood

Samādhi concentration

Right effort
Right Mindfulness
Right concentration

Key Concepts

Dhamma – Truth

  • “Dhamma” means the teachings, the truth, “Buddhadhamma”
  • It also refers to all phenomena, the way things are, and things themselves
  • Buddhism tells us to know things as they are, impermanent, conditional and impersonal
  • To live at ease, we accept all “dhammas”, without judgement or preference

Kamma – Cause and Effect

  • Kamma refers to cause and effect, how our actions determine our future
  • The word means “action” and “intention” not ethical score
  • Karmic fruition are the effects of your karma
  • Intention is key, if we know we are trying to do good, we can live a peaceful life

Saṃsāra – Rebirth

  • Saṃsāra is the cycle of being reborn over and over, always suffering
  • We are reborn as new people, but keep our kamma (good or bad) which continues to impact us
  • Jer: Rebirth happens each day and in each moment as you are affected by past intentions
  • Accept that your past actions lead to the present, but we can change and grow for the future.

Sati – Mindfulness

  • Being aware of yourself, body and mind, in each moment
  • Remembering, over and over, to see things as they really are
  • Frees you from false perceptions, wakes you up to the truth
  • Learn how to use the debug.log, and check it every day

Samādhi – Meditation

  • Samādhi means “concentration”
  • We meditate to develop focus and control our minds, practicing active mindfulness without distraction
  • Set aside time just for this training
  • Meditate on wholesome states to develop altered traits
  • Like any skill (e.g. web dev), regular focused practice is how we get better

Mettā – Lovingkindness

  • When we understand things as they are (impermanent, painful, impersonal), we understand that compassion and love are the only appropriate reactions
  • Compassion for others and compassion for oneself go hand in hand
  • The four brahmavihāras 
(“divine abodes”):
    • Mettā – Kindness
    • Karuṇā – Compassion
    • Muditā – compersion
    • Upekkhā – equanimity

Conclusion

Paññā – Wisdom

  • All experience is created in our minds, we are what we think
  • Be mindful of your thoughts, cultivate wholesome traits
  • Accept and let go of what’s painful, don’t suffer the second arrow needlessly
  • A clear conscience and open heart can do any task with joy
  • Meditate daily, to keep all of this in mind

Resources – Insight Timer

  • Insight Timer: Free, simple timer with various bells
  • Thousands of free guided meditations (look for “Buddhism” category)
  • Social network and stats for motivation (add @jerclarke)
  • Recommended “teachers”
    • Andy Hobson (esp. “Accept & Let Go”)
    • Bodhipaksa
    • Josh Korda
    • Tara Brach

Vijjā – Knowledge

  • Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Buddhism
  • Doug’s Secular Dharma https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPIyEJzvW7SsbiIrooixjNA
  • SuttaCentral https://suttacentral.net/
  • Podcasts:
    • Against The Stream https://www.againstthestream.org/podcasts/
    • Joseph Goldstein https://beherenownetwork.com/joseph-goldstein-gift-awareness/?gclid=CjwKCAjwkrrbBRB9EiwAhlN8LxEbVYmVzkpwP5lqDg3zpy6QFdMrTuzAZeZdlCP54-bFB-KFbwDxoCJD0QAvD_BwE
    • Dharmaseed http://dharmaseed.org/talks/

Saṅgha – Community

  • True North Insight – Weekly meditation and multi-day retreats (by donation)
  • Refuge Recovery – Weekly addiction recovery group (by donation)
  • Vipassana – 10-day intensive meditation retreats (by donation)
  • Secular Buddhism Association

Description / Summary

Sometimes the best advice on the latest and greatest technology is very old, even 2600 years old.

Buddhadhamma, the philosophy and religion founded by Siddharta Gottama in ancient India, is broad and deep, offering a path to emotional liberation as well as common sense advice for getting through everyday life with as little suffering as possible. In this talk, we’ll walk through the essential proposals and conclusions of Buddhism and find ways this wisdom can help us in our WordPress and web development practice.

How do our denial of impermanence, our aversion to discomfort and our identification with the material world get in the way of doing good work? How can we be free of the suffering that inevitably comes from disappointment? How should we act in each moment to be effective and at peace in the long run? These questions will be answered through the lens of the challenges and frustrations inherent to building sites with WordPress.

The talk will also include a short guided meditation and advice for incorporating meditation into your WordPress life.

Bio

Jer Clarke has been using WordPress since version 1.2 in 2005, when there were no menus, widgets or even pages. Jer builds Global Voices, a non-profit journalism site with thousands of contributors, and works on all aspects of WP, from design and workflow to backend programming.

Jer has spoken at WordCamps in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and was an original founder of WordCamp Montreal in 2009.

More recently, a trip to Sri Lanka for work set Jer on a path to explore the many nuances of early Buddhist philosophy and practice, which has turned out to be a very rewarding and life-affirming experience.

through core tenets of Buddhadhamma like the Three Characteristics, The Four Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path.

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