BEIJING, Aug. 14 -- When thinking of Buddhists monks, words like traditional, secluded, ascetic and celibate spring to mind, but one Beijing temple is trying to overturn this cliche.
Longquan Monastery recently took to social networks to advertise an "IT Dhyana Camp" for employees of the capital's Internet companies. Indeed many Chinese temples invite in secular folks from all walks of life to try out the Buddhist lifestyle, but few adopt Longquan's niche marketing approach.
The three-day camp will first deprive all participants of their digital gadgets. It will include meditation training, Buddhism classes and farm work. The monastery charges no fees but everyone must follow temple rules including a vegetarian diet and simple lodging.
One theme of the camp is serving the greater good in developing technology. So far, more than 400 people have applied, according to Master Xianxin. The original plan was to recruit 150.
"Troubled IT workers who attend temple told us that despite advances in their careers and rapid company expansions, they suffer great anxiety and pressure. Some have lost their life goals and are confused about the future," he said.
"These are troubles facing many people. Unlike our Confucian ancestors who prioritized spiritual development, we now live in an era characterized by technological breakthroughs. Science and technology stress observation of the outside world, and many people today lack self-awareness."
Despite a certain limited degree of technophobia, the monastery sees the positive side of technological advances. It has opened a blog and microblog to reach out to the secular world and even runs a studio that produces Buddhist animations.
"Our abbot believes that Buddhism is an ancient religion, but Buddhists are modern people," Xianxin said. "We don't see an inevitable clash between Buddhism and technology. Instead, new technology can assist with the spread of Buddhism."
China has only about 100 million religious people in a population of 1.37 billion. Though Buddhists remain a small demographic minority, attendance at temples is increasing and there is growing enthusiasm for the Buddhist faith.
Last year, a temple in Zhejiang Province made a splash online with its "temporary monkhood" program and was swamped with applicants, including students and entrepreneurs seeking respite from their stressful lives, with a hint of religious wisdom.
Buddhist masters have huge followings online, sharing wisdom and offering psychological guidance to netizens in quandaries.
"It's true that Buddhism and other religions are more popular than in the past, partially as a result of improving living standards in China," said Jiang Hong, researcher with Guangdong Institute of Ethnic and Religious Study.
Xianxin agrees. "Chinese society has reached a stage where many people no longer lack basic necessities and want to pay more attention to their spiritual needs," he said.