I’ve set up a DIY video streaming service of my own. It’s embedded right into this website, and shows Live-Streamed Dhamma Talks.
Motivation and Back-Story:
I asked myself: how would one go about doing online Dhamma Talks, having pretty much no choice from this whole Covid-19 thing? After all, no monk (with enough seniority to teach), in his right mind, would want to completely lose the ability to teach the Dhamma.
Well, first of all, it’s bad enough to have the Internet, between myself and the laypeople. For a very, very long time now, monks and nuns have always had personal interactions with their supporters IRL, which goes a long way to the relationship having nuanced, subtle “vibes” (for lack of a better term) being sensed through the interaction. The Internet makes this much more difficult, when you miss out on much of the body language, emotional tenor, etc. Many people in Zoom don’t turn on their microphones or webcams either! They are just a silent black box, often labeled as their incorrect name.
To make matters worse, middlemen want to get in on that Internet meeting conduit, and take advantage of their position (say, Zoom, Microsoft, Facebok, Google, etc). They want to profit off these interactions, bringing undue distractions upon the laypeople. They make money by selling highly targeted and privacy-violating advertising, after profiling the words used, and they want to attract attention over to the rest of their offerings as aggressively as they can get away with. Buddhism suffers from this extra competition for attention, being built right into these slimy, law-skirting communication platforms.
I’m feeling fatigued by using these so-called “free” accounts any longer, from giant corporate services who get to change their terms of service whenever they like, and furthermore know that they are effectively above the law in several ways. They aren’t sorry for all the millions and billions of dollars they know they are making. By using their service, they are the ones who hold all the power, and I hold no power. They know just how to nickel-and-dime me into being just short of wanting to react very negatively towards them. They get to endlessly play a game of cat-and-mouse with me.
Have you ever noticed that when you actually visit a Buddhist monastery, the place is very meticulously kept free of clutter? Notice that all your favorite worldly delights are kept out of your easy reach (not within your easy reach, as is the case with all social media platforms)? This distraction-free environment in a monastery is on purpose, as it helps people take a desperately-needed mental break from all their desires and obsessions. I suggest we copy this paradigm: as we take our Buddhist teachings online, keep it very simple and spartan. If monks try to teach the Dhamma online, displaying themselves right alongside all the wordly delights which their congregation are easily distracted by (say, on Youtube), tailored to their psychological weaknesses, then Buddhism is in deep trouble indeed.
I tried a few video-chat services, and I wasn’t happy. The bandwidth used by these apps is poorly managed, making for undue limits on how many people a monk can reach at once. These video-chat platforms unfortunately send the entire contents seen by a webcam, not just the interesting part: the other person’s face. Then they apply a quick and dirty compression to these overly-large video “canvases”, making the voice and video poor quality (low frame rate), with obvious artifacts that make it cheap-looking. The experience of listening to a monk or nun can get really unenjoyable, as their voice gets garbly. Who would want to hear a Dhamma Talk like that?
For how poor the image and audio quality was, I was surprised that Zoom was gobbling up huge amounts of bandwidth, like more than 250KB/sec, having added together upload and download. That’s way too much, especially during the peak busy internet times, when my lay congregation are all generally available to meet (right during prime-time hours, at 8pm).
After investigating different ways of streaming video (giving me a chance to control and fine-tune the video settings), I was able to avoid sending the unnecessary surroundings (around my face), and get much nicer audio and video quality, for about 1/8th the bandwidth!