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HVK Archives: Hotline to heaven

Hotline to heaven - The Telegraph

Samita Bhatia ()
9 February 1997

Title : Hotline to heaven
Author : Samita Bhatia
Publication : The Telegraph
Date : February 9, 1997

Salvation seems to be just a mouse-click away. For now if you
browse the Internet for "God", you hit as many as 25,15,438
occurrences. Or if you seek "Christ", you come up with 7,09,268.
And if you are among those who think the cyber church phenomenon is
peculiar to the West, surf the Net to find Krishna and Buddha and
Guru Nanak and Mahavir rubbing shoulders other Indian deities.

Indian religious groups have rushed on-line establishing
theological news-groups and setting up home pages to answer the
barrage of questions that descend on them from the devotees. No
matter where you are in the world, just by accessing the Net you
can set forth on a divine journey of the Indian kind.

A Hare Krishna devotee stationed in Umea, Sweden who feels this
sudden and intense need for spiritual guidance can get it instantly
for the Hare Krishna community is firmly plugged onto the Net. He
can zoom into the Bhagvad Gita by logging into
yogindra.acbsp@com.bbt.se. It is also no problem even if he is in
Bishkek, Kyrgizstan. In that case he has to travel down
root@lotus.bishkek.su.

But Internet is a meeting ground of all religions, and not only the
worshippers of Krishna. Jains can explore the history of their
religion in elaborate details and even get hold of a good
collection of texts on Jainism, some introductory, others
analytical by checking-into the Jain Data Base on the World Wide
Web (WWW) at http://sunsite.unc.edu/jainism or
http://www.jainism.org. "It's a wonderful way of reaching out to
those interested in. the religion worldwide," says Pravin Shah,
editor, of Jain Internet and BBS Committee based in Cary, Raleigh,
North Carolina (he can be reached at enhb34a@prodigy.com). With the
phenomenal growth of the World Wide Web. The Jain Internet and BBS
Committee has developed the Jain Data Base Home Page from 1992
"offering a wide range of information on Jainism that should be of
interest to those just wishing to have an overview of Jainism as
well as for those desiring a deeper understanding and study of the
religion, " says Jain. For some, the Net also acts as a springboard
for exploring Islam.

A veritable spiritual bazaar where the faithful and perhaps an
equal number of the faithless meet, the Internet, of late, is
helping a large number of Indians in search of God to move online
as fast as the rest of the world. The WWW sites on Indian
religions and religious texts. But most prominent seem to be the
religious groups.

Along with the entire Bhagvad Gita As it Is, the books, lectures
and conversations of the founder of International Society for
Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), Srila Prabhupada are on-line on the
searchable data base titled "Folio". The Hare Krishna followers at
the Indian Institutes of Technology at Delhi and Kanpur and those
at the Jawaharlal Nehru University who are part of the Bhakti
Vidhanta Club no longer have to find time to go out to attend
discourses at the temples. Explains Ram Nam Das of ISKCON, "Since
the busy academic schedules of the students kept them away much
against their wishes, we launched the spiritual Q&A on the
Internet."

Today, ISKCON has several sites on the Internet (http: //aristotle.
algonet. se/Krishna or http: //www. Krishna. com/btg among others)
where seekers can access any of the 25 to 30 ISKCON home pages for
religious literature and spiritual knowledge. Devout followers
like Ved Prakash Aggarwal (alias Ved Vyas Das, his spiritual name),
managing director of Prakash Industries, are regular visitors
there.

For a religious institution ISKCON is early into global networking.
Its many devotees worldwide have their individual Internet
accounts and use E-mail as a more commonplace mode of communication
to stay in touch with one another. To encourage spiritual
discussions ISKCON's magazine Back To Godhead BTG has put up a
mailing list on the Net to facilitate communication among
subscribers. When you send E-mail for information on how to
subscribe (bgt-talk-request@world.std.com) the system rewards you
with an automated reply.

With 650 pages available on the Net, Osho followers too have plenty
to choose on-line. Log onto http://www.osho.org for Osho and study
Kundalini meditation and go shopping for Osho publications. Or read
the on-line magazine and even "listen" to Osho's meditation talks.

And it doesn't stop at that. Osho devotees can plan trips to the
commune with the help of tips on how to get there, where to stay
and how to make reservations. Bus connections from Pune to the
commune too haven't been left out. Boasts Swami Yogendra of the
Osho Commune International, Pune, "We update the information every
day."

The Osho commune has met with some success in preaching the Osho
doctrine through Internet. The Osho Zen Tarot is rumoured to be
the most discussed item on the "Body, mind, spirit" section of the
World Wide Web.

Mainstream religions too do not fare so badly. Besides a site on
Aryasamaj (http://www.aryasamaj.com) at
http..//www.yahoo.com/text/society and culture/religion/Hindusim,
there's a wealth of information on the historical background of
Hindu festivals, biographies of saints and Gods in the Hindu
"dharma". You can take your pick from Hindu art, bhakti yoga,
vedanta, astrology and Sanskrit mantras. In addition, there's
Sikhweb which features Sikh news, links to Sikh sites and a
marketplace for Sikh products while Sikhnet gives a gallery of the
Golden Temple pictures.

Why have religions been adapted to the Internet? Swami Chaitanya of
the Osho commune explains, "Though Osho spoke to the congregation
gathered before him, his vision was humanity. He wanted to
communicate to the whole world by sitting in one room which is why
the Internet works perfectly. Besides, as long back as 1967 Osho
was talking about using state-of-the-art technology to reach out to
more people. The Internet reaches out to a worldwide audience and
gives immediate access to information and keeps people abreast on
the Osho Commune in Pune." Who says technology and religion are
incompatible?

For ISKCON it all started in the early Eighties when one of its
devotees was given the task of creating awareness about the
organisation's mission in Eastern Bloc countries in Europe. Thus
the idea to set up a system for global connectivity gained ground.
And so a core team of developers put up three networked nodes -
one each in Sweden, Washington D.C and Moscow - that connect all
the centres worldwide. As part of ISKCON's future plans, similar
nodes are to be set up in Australia and India. Worldwide, ISKCON
boasts of 500 centres with E-mail facility. Says Ram Nam Das, "It's
reliable, much quicker and economical. And being a charitable
organisation we have to look at the bottom line too."

So while the Osho commune is set to usher in a revolution by
introducing "audio-video" discourses on Osho which might go on-line
soon, the Parshvanath Research Institution at Varanasi is slated to
put a seven volume encyclopaedia on Jainism in English on
cyberspace. According to R.P Jain, India co-ordinator for promoting
Jainism abroad, "With as many as 40,000 Jains located in North
America, 30,000 in UK and at least a 1,000 in Kenya the need to
keep in touch is overwhelming."

Religion, therefore, is fast changing the character of Internet.
But can Internet change ideas about God? Maybe yes, maybe no, for
the Net itself has such a brief history, and that too which is
changing shape so fast, that no easy answer is possible. But
technology and this global network could help religions immensely
by preserving scripts and texts which run the danger of being lost
with time. Says Jain, "There are thousands of palm leaf
manuscripts that need to be scanned and digitally stored before
they fall to vandals or are lost."

But religion on Internet could do more. If it fails to change
ideas about God, it just might change seekers on the Net and bind
different peoples from different religions on a common platform.



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