Monday, August 22, 2011

Everything's Dhamma

We went shopping yesterday - believe me or not, one of my least favourite pass-times. But, it had its dhamma moments, as does everything. And so, it came back that really, everything is dhamma.

We got a semi-automatic laundry machine for meditators, a new water filtration system, a cabinet for keeping pillows, etc., and a small printer for basic document printing. Manju wanted to get a refrigerator as well, but I've always been shy about them - they suck up power and just lead to storing stuff unnecessarily. Eventually, I guess, we'll need some way of keeping juice for meditators, but for now I think it's a bit silly.

My first story to relate, though, surrounds the printer. When we got back, I found out that the print service wasn't starting on my computer. But, this is Ubuntu, and it is backed by an army of users and developers kind and generous enough to offer their support. I filed a bug report, and within ten minutes I had a reply from one of the top developers. Not a solution, but a reply that they were looking into it. So, I thanked them kindly for their attention, and went on to the forums to poke around, looking for other people who had the same problem. In under an hour, I had an answer and a working printer.

The point of this story is not how great Ubuntu is, it's how great people can be. I paid nothing for this operating system, and yet

  • I have full rights to use and distribute it as I see fit

  • I have full access to the source code to modify and redistribute as I like

  • I can even claim ownership of the modifications and rebrand the product, provided I follow basic guidelines of attribution, etc.

  • I receive full "customer" support from the creators in a kind, friendly and timely manner, completely free of charge, and full support from a grateful community looking to give something back in return for the gifts others have given them

I bring this up only because it strikes me that the Buddhist community could learn alot from the open source community, as I mentioned recently, especially if we intend to make use of modern technology. Rights of redistribution and modification held little importance 2500 years ago, mainly because the medium was incredibly limited. If we choose to stick to purely oral transmission of the dhamma (which I agree might be a good idea for some aspects of the teaching), then these questions don't arise. But when we make the dhamma available in an impersonal form whereby anyone can copy and redistribute it, barred only by formal legal copyright law, it doesn't suffice to place draconian restrictions over the works and pretend that we are following the dhammic precedent - there is no precedent in the Buddha's dhamma. Surely refusing to teach someone who is disrespectful cannot be equated with denying all recipients of a work the right to copy text from a PDF or reformat it for viewing on eBook readers (for example).

Now, please don't see this as a continuation of a rant about the recent cease-and-desist letter thing; really, it's not, it's something I've been interested in for a while, part of something much bigger than an argument over a single Buddhist text. The important thing is that this points out how great people can be, even people whom one might look down upon as not interested in meditation or enlightenment. How many of you reading this knew there was a Bodhi Linux? Yep. it uses the Enlightenment desktop. No joke! Maybe it's a bit crass to name your operating system after the sumum bonum of existence, I don't doubt that it is; the point being many high-minded people are involved in the open source movement, who at times and in certain cases warm the heart more than card-carrying Buddhist leaders.

The second story does relate to the recent posts. First, I'd like to apologize for offense taken by anything said recently on this weblog. No one is perfect, and it seems to me this whole incident has been nothing more than a great learning experience. Okay, now on to the story. A kind soul sent me a link to the Sri Lankan Intellectual Property Law Code, which happens to be on Wikipedia:

and so, I thought I would have a read through it. I came to the part where it talks about the transfer of property rights. Now, I'm not a lawyer, but here's what it says:

Duration of Economic Rights
19.—(1) Unless expressly provided otherwise in this part, the rights referred to in
section 10 shall be protected during the life of the author and for fifty years after his death. (p. 13, emphasis added)

Okay so far? Note that the word "author" includes "translator", as per section 8.1(a), as best as I can tell. Okay. So, the author of the Visuddhimagga has been dead for at least 1500 years. No contest there. What about the translator of "The Path of Purification"? Well, if Wikipedia is correct:

Ñāṇamoli Bhikkhu, born Osbert Moore, (1905—March 8, 1960) was a British Theravada Buddhist monk and Pali scholar, educated at Exeter College, Oxford.

he's been dead for 51 years.

Any thoughts?

EDIT: Sorry, false alarm... the PDF above was from 2000; in 2003, they extended it to life + 70 years, along with most of the rest of the world. How sad.


  1. Linux and great people rock! ;)

  2. why don't you send the same printer to Access to Insight and the BPS, maybe then ...they realize how important is full rights to use , access and distribute !! :'),,,

  3. My little silly thought is that the heirs of both the deceased author & translator are the rightful ownership of the deceased's work and copyrights to held by them, if ever there is such a thing as ownership or copyrights of dhamma work. It would have saved you a lot of hassle if the different formats were available & provided for in the first place. :)

  4. So true about open source and open content projects - I am not a programmer really but as soon as I discovered Linux - I stopped using Windows - and a few years later I started a little community in my town to explore the idea of open source. It was called OpenCafe and I ran it for almost 10 years ( The open source community is truly a great example of sharing things in different ways worldwide.