Buddhism, Well-Being, and Technology: a discussion from a non-western perspective


The discussion of the good life is one that humans of every time always tried to answer. Today from a western perspective, there are three major views on the good life. These views are respectively: hedonism, desire-fulfillment theories, and objective list theories. The understanding of the good life from these views has found a place for the application to the concept of technology, engaging with the question of what is a good technology according to the three views. Moreover, even though important differences are presented between the three theories, it seems that a background understanding is present, leading to a shared normative understanding that, besides the differences, technology is compatible with the idea of the good life. The essay attempts to pose the same question to Buddhism. The reason for the choice of it is that Buddhism allows us to explore differently the ethical question of the good life (Lele, 2022). Because of this, the essay tries to answer two questions: first, it is asked what is the Buddhist perspective of well-being and how this differs from western theories. Second, what is the role of technology is such an understanding. To do so, the concept of well-being will be defined at first. Second, a discussion regarding the three western perspectives and Buddhism is made. The aim of this is to present similarities and differences. In the third section, the essay attempts to explore how a Buddhism idea of well-being is reflected inside technology. Forth, limitations of the work and conclusions are made. 

What is well-being?

It is not easy to give an exhaustive definition of well-being. Well-being is about the good of the person, however, it is difficult to define what is meant by good. 

This is because in this case good is strictly related to the subject, where the subject stands for the single individual, therefore, what well-being might be for one person differs from one another. Moreover, well-being implies space-temporal coordinates. The well-being of a person should be applicable in all spaces and locations. A place does or does not have embedded inside the values of well-being according to a certain definition. Therefore, if the definition of well-being that the subject values as true implies the notion of freedom, the jail will not be a space that promotes well-being because the value of freedom from a physical movement perspective is not respected. On the contrary, a cabin in the woods where a person is free to move and explore the physical spaces around them could be considered a space that promotes well-being. Well-being also implies a temporal aspect. This is to say, that the notion of well-being should continue for a period of time. The temporal dimension is important to locate well-being on a higher level than ephemeral pleasure. Depending on the perspectives, pleasure can be considered a value for well-being, however, pleasure seems to be strictly limited by time. If well-being would not take into account the time continuation, it could be argued that the use of recreative drugs promotes well-being because they lead to pleasure. However, this is arguably not the case, therefore, well-being should imply continuity over time. From the above, it is obtained that well-being is a concept that concerns the good of an individual and it must be valid for different locations and continuity over time. Therefore, in a broader sense, the essay agrees with the definition offered by van de Poel (2012) which defines well-being as how life is going overall over a longer period of time. 

Having reached this broad definition of well-being the essay will now briefly discuss the three most common perspectives of well-being offered by classical western views, and these are respectively hedonism theories, desire-fulfillment theories, and objective list theories. After having presented them, the essay will present the commonalities. 

Three theories on well-being 

Hedonism theories

Generally speaking, hedonist theory holds that pleasure is intrinsically good, and pain is the only intrinsic bad (Brey, 2012). Well-being is therefore given by the greatest balance of pleasure over pain, and the good of a person is about maximizing pleasure and avoiding pain. Hedonism perspectives are rooted in western philosophy. Modern hedonism finds its roots in utilitarian philosophy, particularly in the work of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, who both argued for the centrally of pleasure in well-being (Brey, 2012). But earlier forms of hedonism can be dated back to the ancient greeks as in the teaching of Epicurus (Brey, 2012) and the cult of Dionysius (Kerényi, 1992). Because of the long tradition of hedonism theory, different approaches have developed along with time. Two major views can be seen that cluster all the others’ different perspectives, and these, respectively are quantitative and qualitative hedonism. Quantitative hedonism is the view that the value of pleasure is only determined by its quantity (Brey, 2012). This implies a centrality on the body, by maximizing body pleasure, pain is minimized, and a life with small or no pain at all is a good life. However, this type of hedonism has raised several critiques; on top of all, it seems that this type of body pleasure has an ephemeral and primitive nature, and as Mill puts it, if all pleasures hold the same value, then it would be better to be a satisfied pig than an unsatisfied human. The statement is debatable, as it implies a moral difference between the value of the existence of a pig compared to a human, a moral difference that could be constructed by human-centricity perspective rather than as objective facts. However, the critique of Mill is clear, pleasure is not of a unique type, therefore, there must be qualitative differences between pleasures. This brings to the second type of hedonism perspective, qualitative hedonism. The qualitative distinction divides pleasure into lower and higher types. Lower pleasures are those that involved bodily satisfaction, on the other side, higher pleasures are those that required higher major components to be reached as friendship, knowledge, and contemplation. Qualitative hedonism holds that a good life is not one in which pleasure is maximized, but rather one in which the higher pleasure is well-represented (Brey, 2012). 

Desire-fulfillment theories

Desire-fulfillment theories hold that well-being lies in the fulfillment of one’s desires (Brey, 2012). Historically, the genealogy of desire-fulfillment theory emerged during the 19th century as a result of welfare economic theories (Heathwood, 2015). This is understandable historically, the values that were developed during the enlightenment as freedom, and later, the increase of economic production given by the industrial revolution led to the creation of new social classes and lifestyles as the bourgeois. 

Therefore, a desire-fulfillment theory has an economic view of well-being in which it is seen as a utility function, meaning that value is attached to the satisfaction of preferences or desires (Brey, 2012). 

Desire-fulfillment theory can be divided internally into three types: simple desires, reflective desires, and informed desires (Brey, 2012). Simple desires hold that one is better off to the extent that one’s current desires are fulfilled; consequentially, the best life is one in which all one’s actual desires are fulfilled (Brey, 2012). Reflective theory gives priority to one’s reflective preferences that concern one’s life as a whole (Brey, 2012). This view applies a distinction between desires, the idea is similar to how qualitative hedonism sees pleasure. Therefore, the reflective theory holds that the good life is reached by satisfying those desires that require a reflective engagement. The third type is informed desire theory. As the name suggests, this view believes that a person can live the best life only if fully informed about the situation in which he lives. Therefore, the good life is given by the fulfillment of desires that a person has in a fully informed situation. 

As noted in Brey (2012) a general objection to desire-fulfillment theory is that it presents abstract characteristics that make it difficult to tell something about the sources of well-being in the first place. 

Objective list theories 

Contrary to the previous two, objective list theories hold that well-being should not be analyzed based on subjective experience, but it is rather the result of objective conditions in which persons find themselves. The objective conditions are listed by the related theory. Therefore, well-being is attained by living a life in which the person owns all or most of the goods on the list (Brey, 2012). The theory presupposes that what is on the list objectively increases the value of a person’s life, even if the person does not desire or want them. Several objective list theories exist (Brey, 2012) a common division is made by classifying them into bare and explanatory theories. Bare theories refer to lists whose elements have no single unified elements, on the other side, explanatory theories identify a fundamental element that unifies all the elements on the list (Brey, 2012). An important set of explanatory theories are perfectionism, which as a fundamental element holds the goal of the perfection of human nature. In this sense, one of the most famous ones is the Aristotelian theory of eudaimonia which aims to cultivate human virtues and personal flourishing (Kraut, 2022). 

Different critiques were moved towards objective list theories. One of the most frequent is that they are paternalists, claiming that things may be good for people even if they do not want them or value them (Brey, 2012). 

Discussion of the three theories 

The above three theories are the ones that are most popular in the philosophical western tradition on well-being. Even though differences are notable, a clear commonality is a direction that well-being has. It is possible to notice that the direction of the good life goes from the subject towards the outside. Therefore, well-being can be reached through the good life by relating the subject with something in the external world. For hedonism, this is pleasure, while for desire-fulfillment and objective list is the satisfaction or possession of the desires or objective items. This view assumes that humans on their own do not possess the possibility of obtaining well-being, and this can be achieved only if the person stands in a certain type of relation with the outside world. The direction towards the outside on reaching well-being seems to be a fundamental element that unifies the western tradition. Due to this type of directionality, it is understandable how these types of theories are related to technology. Technology is a possibility embedded inside them, from the moment that the theories assume that a person can reach well-being only if put into relation with a second entity in the outside world. Moreover, applying technology, to the theories we would find that hedonism theories would agree on the fact that the best technology is the one that increases pleasure and diminishes pain. The different perspectives would differ in the definition of pay and pleasure, which would impact the type of technological development. 

Desire-fulfillment theories would promote technologies that help satisfy a person’s desires. This perspective seems to have similarities to consumerism and capitalist values, in which social status is embedded inside material possession and related social-symbolic meanings (Lyotard, 2006). At last, objective list theories generally promote the view of perfecting human-nature. Therefore, technology would be seen as a means of perfecting human-nature. Possible technological development in this sense would be enhancement technologies in line with transhumanist perspectives, which believe that humans can be improved through technological intervention (Bostrom, 2005). 

From the above, the essay shows that, even though there are clear differences, the western tradition of well-being theories share the conception that well-being can be achieved only if the person is with something else in the external world. This makes them easily relatable to technology as the paper briefly shows. 

In the next section, the essay tries to change perspective by seeing how the directionality of well-being can be changed by shifting it from the outside world to the person’s inner world. To do so, a Buddhist perspective of well-being is presented. 

A Buddhist perspective on well-being

Buddhism can be seen not only as a religion but, in a broader sense, as a philosophical school that provides a “way of life” (Keown, 2013). In a very simple way, Buddhist philosophy rotates around the concept of suffering. Suffering is not only meant bodily suffering as physical pain, diseases, or the grief of death, but in a more general sense, suffering refers to its daily conception as the experience of frustration, disappointment, and disillusion that life presents when expectations are not fulfilled. Therefore, the ultimate goal of Buddhism is to put an end to suffering. Someone that achieves this arrives at a state of self-realization, and this is Nirvana (Keown, 2013). As Keown (2013) describes, the idea of Nirvana is both given as a concept and experience. Concept because it offers a vision of human fulfillment and nature. Experience because it becomes incarnate in the person who seeks it over time. Moreover, Nirvana can be reached by living a virtuous life followed by wisdom. Where for wisdom, Buddhism refers to a deep philosophical understanding of the human condition. Therefore, according to Buddhism, to reach Nirvana, both virtue and wisdom are necessary but none of the two is sufficient, only when the two are present together a person can reach Nirvana. 

Applying the above to the concept of well-being, it is possible to say that from a Buddhist perspective, a good life is one in which an individual develops a deep understanding of themselves, followed by virtuous behaviors. 

Buddhism and ethics 

Buddhism believes in following the laws of Dharma, thus making its teachings objectively true. Dharma can be understood as the universal law that governs all the universe. Because it governs the whole universe, it also embeds morality, therefore, according to Buddhism, making the related ethical system objectively applicable. The Buddhist ethical system is based on duties in which one of the core ones is the inviolability of life. Looking at the structure, it is possible to notice that Buddhism ethics is divided into two elements. On one side are the precepts, which can be considered lists of rules that apply to different aspects of life. On the other side, there are virtues, which are the reasons that justify the following of the rules. A virtue is supported by its understanding. Therefore virtues are essential because, without understanding of the reason, Buddhist precepts would be just a list of rules. 

For the aims of this paper, it is important to notice that Buddhist ethics is symmetrical: there are three cardinal virtues and three routes of evil. By following the three virtues, the person follows the path toward Nirvana; on the other side, the three routes of evil move away the person from it. The three roots of evil include greed, hatred, and delusion, the three elements aliment suffering in life, therefore moving away the person from the path towards Nirvana. Opposite, the Three Cardinal Virtues are non-attachment, benevolence, and understanding. Non-attachment means the absence of selfish desires, which taints moral behavior by allocating a privileged status to one’s own needs (Goodman, 2017). Benevolence is an attitude of goodwill toward all living creatures (Van Norden, 2019). Understanding is deep virtue that is connected to the Four Noble Truths. The Four Noble Truths play a major role in Buddhism philosophy as a constitutive component of Buddhist cosmology. However, for the aim of the essay, the focus will be on their ethical relevance. The Four Noble Truths can be seen as a set of interlinked axioms that build up the Buddhist ethical system. These are respectively: (1) life is suffering (Dukkha); (2) suffering is caused by craving (Samudaya); (3) suffering can have an end (Nirodha); (4) there is a path that leads to the end of suffering (Magga). 

To understand better how to see the Four Noble Truths, it is helpful to use a medical metaphor that illustrates the relationship between them (Keown, 2013). (1) can be seen as a disease that is diagnosed; (2) is the explanation of the cause of the disease; (3) is the determination of the existence of a cure; (4) it is the treatment to follow. 

Going towards a discussion, the essay has shown that Buddhism is a philosophy that is strictly concerned with suffering. Suffering is the biggest evil that goes beyond death itself because, according to Buddhist cosmology, the universe is a cycle of repetition, and existence is not different. This is reflected in the idea of reincarnation, which implies that after death, suffering presents itself again in a never-ending cycle. The only possibility to end the repetition in the universe (Samsara) is by reaching the state of Nirvana, which is a deep status of understanding that is reached by following a virtuous attitude towards life. If understanding is reached through a learning process and self-mastery, on the other side, the virtuous aspects find guidelines in the ethical systems that Buddhists use. 

The three elements that are present, suffering as the biggest evil, understanding as self-mastery, and a set of guidelines and duties, are arguably similar to the idea of the pillar present in hedonism, desires-fulfillment theories, and objective list. However, by enquiring about the assumption, it is possible to notice that there are important differences. 

Buddhism and the three western theories on well-being

Buddhism and hedonism

At first glance, both views seem to believe that pain (or suffering) is the only and biggest intrinsic bad. Moreover, it can be argued that both admit the possibility of ultimate good, which is, respectively, pleasure and the reaching of Nirvana. And it can be assumed that reaching Nirvana is rewarding and therefore gives pleasure. 

However, from a closer look, the similarities seem to fade. A reason for this, as Keown (2013) points out, is difficult for an accurate translation between ancient Sanskrit and modern English. 

Hedonism’s idea of pain is an umbrella term that includes several different elements (Moore, 2013); what is important is that pain is not an independent concept but one whose existence is necessary for pleasure. Therefore, according to hedonism, the focus is to achieve pleasure; pain is the opposite but not necessarily part of the person. For hedonism, a person could just encounter pleasure during life without ever experiencing pain. Opposite, for Buddhism, pain is the condition of existence. In Sanskrit, it is used the word dukkha is generally translated as suffering or pain, but a more accurate translation would be unsatisfactory (Keown, 2013). In opposition to hedonism, Buddhism actively engages with the unsatisfactory of existence, and it does it not by maximizing pleasure from a body perspective but rather with wisdom and virtuous habits. Moreover is difficult to support the view of Nirvana as a rewarding pleasure. Pleasure implies non-pleasure or a continuous set of different pleasures. It is difficult to imagine a continuous state of pleasure over a long period because it would become a new state of normality, therefore not being a pleasure. Nirvana, on the other side, as described by Goodman (2017), seems to be a state of both no-pleasure and no-suffering, a state of acceptance that leads to a transformation in the subject’s personality characterized by peace and awareness of one’s condition. 

Therefore, from the above, we see that even though there might seem similarities between Buddhism and hedonism at first glance when zooming in, we see that similar concepts acquire deeply different meanings. 

Buddhism and desire-fulfillment theories 

It is arguably understandable to associate Buddhism with desire-fulfillment theories. The supporting argument for this is that if Nirvana is the biggest goal in Buddhism, this means also the most desirable thing; therefore by fulfilling the state of Nirvana, the person obtains well-being. As stated, it is possible to see the plausibility of the argument; however, as reported by Keown (2013), by enquiring about the process that brought to the path of Nirvana, it is possible to see that Nirvana is a concept that is incompatible with the idea of desires. A desire implies that the person is searching for something that will improve their future conditions (Hershock, 2019). Therefore, desire-fulfillment theories hold that if a desire is reached, then the person will be happy; contrary, if a desire is not reached, then the person will be unsatisfied. Contrary, for Buddhism, suffering is a constant condition in life, and the only way to escape it is by reaching Nirvana. But the person cannot desire to reach Nirvana because the craving for desire would further bind her to the cycle of Samsara (i.e., reincarnation). Therefore, according to Buddhism, Nirvana is transcendent, and transcendency makes it incompatible with the concept of desire. The transcendency of Nirvana is given by the requirement of wisdom. As stated, wisdom is a deep philosophical understanding of the human condition. Understanding is connected with the acceptance of one’s condition towards existing based on the dichotomy between everything/nothing. You are everything, as all experiences and meanings are related to you, but you are nothing to the universe as a whole. Therefore, existence is an impermanent phenomenon (Sarbacker, 2020), wisdom and its understanding is a self-mastery process that leads to a certain mental-state form which then Nirvana emerges. 

Therefore, even though both Buddhism and desire-fulfillment theories share the view of having goals, how these goals are defined and the path needed to reach them makes the two ethical approaches incompatible under the view of what is a good life. 

Buddhism and objective list theories 

Objective list theories are the ones that share the biggest commonality with Buddhism. At first, both perspectives adopt an objective standpoint on their ethical views in which a list of duties or precepts is present. Second, explanatory objective lists theories as Aristotelian eudaemonia, aiming for human flourishing and perfecting human nature, which is arguably similar to Buddhism. Several objective list theories developed today can be seen as neo-Aristotelian (Brey, 2012), therefore, the idea of virtue plays a central role. Virtue, as explained, is important for Buddhism as well. Generally speaking, virtue is a disposition toward high moral standards (Stanford encyclopedia). However, the direction of the disposition is not fixed. 

Aristotle, in his works, explores the question, “what is good”? According to him, most people would agree on what is good; what is difficult is to see what is the most desirable good. Therefore, Aristotle developed the idea of eudaemonia, which can be translated into “happiness” or “flourishing.” Eudaemonia is, therefore, not a single thing but rather the ultimate goal that is composed of subordinate goals (Pettigrove, 2022). These goals include good health, the ability to experience pleasure, friendship, etc. (Pettigrove, 2022). It is possible to notice that most elements are related outside the person. Therefore, the compositional nature of eudaemonia and related neo-Aristotelian theories have a compositional nature that originates outside of the person. It is the direction of this composition that makes the difference from Buddhism. 

As described previously, Buddhism presents a list of duties grouped under precepts. However, without a virtuous disposition that counteracts the Three Rotes of Evil, the precepts would be just a simple list. Therefore in opposition to objective list theories that believe that a good life is given by a composition of external objectives that the person owns, Buddhism believes the opposite. The starting point is the person who acquires an understanding of its condition through the Four Noble Truths. From this point, a virtuous attitude is followed. Notable, the direction goes inside the person on an introspection level, making it different from objective list theories. 

Buddhism discussion

To answer the question of how Buddhism understands well-being, a brief introduction to Buddhism was presented, then a focus on its ethical system was made. From this, it emerged that a Buddhist well-being perspective includes a virtuous disposition toward rejecting the Three Rotes of Evil. This disposition is supported by a deep understanding of the human condition. Moreover, from this, a discussion between Buddhism and the three western theories on well-being was made. The discussion highlighted important differences, which all led to a major one. Buddhism and western theories differ in the directionality from which well-being is achieved. It seems that, although with the respective differences, all three theories (hedonism, desire-fulfillment, and objective list) understand that well-being is a condition that is to be found in relation to the external world. These theories understand that humans are incapable of reaching a state of well-being inner themselves; the only way to do so is to be in relation with something outside. Therefore, pleasure is only achieved by interacting with something that stimulates pleasure; fulfillment theories assume that desires are located outside the person, and the objective list assumes that a eudaemonia state is made of compositions. Contrary, Buddhism believes that well-being is a state that the person can reach internally, which is something “already inside.” Potentially, every individual can reach the state of Nirvana without the need for external entities. It seems that Nirvana goes in the opposite direction by suggesting that the person has to dissolve within the world to break the cycle of suffering (dukkha) and rebirth (samsara). According to Buddhism, this is possible through a self-mastery process in which the person acquires wisdom about their condition and, by this, a dispositional attitude towards a virtuous life is acquired. Thus, well-being has an inner relation within the person. 

Given this, in the next section, the essay will attempt to locate technology within a Buddhism perspective on well-being.

Buddhism and technology 

The central role of technology in today’s society can generally be accepted, making relevant a discussion concerning technology with well-being. What needs to be clarified is how technology relates to the individual. For this contest, the essay rejects the view of technology as a neutral tool or under a deterministic view. The adopted perspective is based on a co-determination (Brey, 2018), meaning that technology influences how the user behaves, and the user influences how technology is developed. In this view, technology is set inside a material context in which culture offers an interpretive framework that shapes both the technology and how the person uses it. 

In this paper, as a cultural example, the focus is on the concept of well-being from a Buddhist perspective. Therefore, this section will examine how the Buddhist conceptualization of well-being understands technology.

McGuire (2020) to develop a normative Buddhist view on technology, suggest a distinction between tech-dependency and tech-enabling. Tech-dependency refers to how a technology restricts the user, while tech-enabling refers to how the use of the technology creates new experiences leading to new knowledge and meaningful relationship (McGuire, 2020). The issue within this type of division is that several technologies can lead to both. An example is the internet, on one side it gives the possibility to knowledge and information as no other technology before, but it can also create dependency and restriction for the user. 

A second view is the one offered by Hongladarom (2022). For the author, a Buddhist Ethics of technology should invite asking whether such an ethical system can or likely help us realize virtuosic relational dynamics. Hughes (2021) suggests that a virtuous relationship should focus on ethical self-control as the basis for the path to Nirvana. However, the author does not offer a clear way to build such a system. 

A third interesting argument is the one presented by Sarbacker (2020). The author uses a justification of ascetic biopower of plants and spiritual ritual for building a framework that justifies the moral use of enhancement technologies. The idea behind the argument is that Buddhism would support technology that empowers humans and increase humans’ capabilities on a cognitive level. Following this view, there is no difference between natural substances used in spiritual rituals and cognitive technology implementations such as drugs or brain interfaces. The choice is just a result of what the historical time can offer, what is important are the higher capabilities towards Nirvana. However, the view of using technology to overcome humans and go towards a state of Nirvana is a misunderstanding of Buddhism. This is because using technology to overcome humans makes the person still bound to the samsara, therefore not representing a disruption from the condition of suffering (Sarbacker, 2020), but rather only a different condition of suffering. Therefore, it can be said that from a Buddhist perspective, technology cannot fully be used to achieve Nirvana. This is because technology is bounded in the samsara, thus making it impossible to fully reflect the idea of well-being according to Buddhism.

What the essay suggests is that in a general sense Buddhism is not so much interested in technology when talking about well-being. The reason for this, how it was mentioned previously, is a matter of directionality. 

For Buddhism, well-being is not something outside the person to be reached as the other perspectives presented to understand, but rather an internal state of the person that does not need external interference. However, Buddhism would not deny the importance of the use of technology for society. Transport systems, agricultural systems, healthcare technologies, communication technology, infrastructure, technologies for scientific development, and so on would not be problematic for Buddhism. In a certain sense, Buddhism is more clear about what technology should not do, rather than what it should do. On virtuous aspects, it is clear that technology should not be the cause of suffering, both on a physical level as killing or violence, then psychologically as with attachment and dependency. 

However, this does not mean that Buddhism rejects technology or that it has nothing to say about it. Technology can follow the virtuous components that are part of well-being. Moreover, technology should be developed and designed to follow the Three Cardinal Virtues, and so to promote a virtuous life that limits suffering as an unsatisfactory state of life. This is possible, according to Buddhism by not promoting an attachment relation towards the person and the technology, by supporting a benevolence use of it, and by understanding. No-attachment and benevolence are clear. The former refers to the relationship between the technology and the user, in which a state of independence is maintained. The latter refers to the use of technology that does not create suffering for others. 

What is not clear, is what understanding stands for in this case. As argued, Buddhism suggests that technology itself cannot lead the person to the state of nirvana. This is because technology can promote a virtuous life but not wisdom. The reason is that for Buddhism the process of understanding is inside the subject by an internal direction and discovery of themselves. Technology in this sense, can have the role of increasing knowledge and the possibility of experience. Still, technology does not lead to Nirvana, because it is a strictly personal path of self-mastery. 

From the above, we see that technology cannot fully embed the concept of well-being from a Buddhist perspective. And this is because technology is part of the samsara. Therefore, it has dukkha embedded inside it. However, this does not mean Buddhism has a negative attitude toward technology. As stated in Keown (2013), Buddhism can be seen as an empirical and practical philosophy because it acknowledges the experience and duties of everyday life. Therefore, even if technology cannot lead to wisdom from a Buddhist perspective, it can promote the virtuous aspects of Buddhist teaching. Given this, it is possible to state that for Buddhism, good technology is one that promotes virtuous conduct of life; moreover, is one that supports a non-attachment relation and a benevolence use. 

Limitation and discussion 

Reflecting on the work inside this essay two are the biggest limitations.

The first limitation regards Buddhism itself. Buddhism is an ancient philosophical school developed in India in the 5th century BCE (Gethin, 1998). Today Buddhism is still popular, making it one of the major religions and philosophies practiced in Asia; therefore, during history, several different schools and currents have developed from the original version of Buddhism. There are two major Buddhist groups present today, Mahayana and Theravada (Gethin, 1998). But even inside these two major groups other sub-currents and schools are presented. This is to say, that Buddhism during the centuries has developed a large and heterogeneous landscape making it difficult to track all differences. This variety present in Buddhism is something that the essay reflects as well, thus a not clear Buddhist school was followed. During the development of the essay, my original idea was to follow a Mahayana perspective that follows most closely the original teaching of the Buddha. However, even though the first section of the paper that regards the concept of well-being follows as much as possible a Mahayana view, the second section is less accurate from this perspective. This is because in the first place the papers that are used lacked a clear statement of which type of Buddhist school was used. Most of the research material was considering Buddhism as a unique thing without acknowledging the differences inside Buddhism. It is plausible to say that the papers that are used refer to different schools of Buddhism. It is plausible to say this because the papers that are used have different geographical origins, meaning that some cultural biases could be present. For instance, some papers were published by Thai Universities, and it is generally known that Thailand is closer to a Theravada understanding of Buddhism. On the contrary, another paper was taken from the journal of the Japanese association for digital humanities, and it is generally known that Japan is closer to Buddhism’s Zen and Mahayana traditions. It was difficult to track, recognize and consider all the differences, thus making it a limitation of the essay. 

The second limitation is given by the difficulties to relate Buddhism with technology. As already stated Buddhism’s history is centuries long, making it possible to say that when Buddhism was founded the concept of technology back then is different from what technology is today. Most probably, the concept of technology has changed over the centuries, therefore, requiring a process of translation to open a discussion between Buddhism and technology. The essay tries to do this by giving Buddhism the most charitable reading for the scope of the research, however, this was a result of a double translation, and the author does not have the skills and knowledge to be able to verify all the procedures. In a certain way, it can be said that in the essay there is a double translation of Buddhism: from Sanskrit to English, and from English to a charitable reading in modern terms for a technological discussion. In all this, it can be assumed that the loss of information or misinterpretations is present, therefore making the essay open to points of critique. 


This essay has presented a discussion around the concept of well-being and technology. This was made by presenting a different view of well-being compared to a more western approach. To do so, Buddhism was chosen as a no-western perspective. For the aim of the paper, two research questions were presented: the first one was asking what is well-being for Buddhism and how it differs from a more western approach. The second one asked how the Buddhist concept of well-being relates to technology. The first question was answered by offering a deep discussion between Buddhism and three popular western views: hedonism, desire-fulfillment theories, and objective list theories. For Buddhism, well-being is given by wisdom and a virtuous approach to life. The second question was answered by applying a co-shaping understanding of technology, meaning that technology both influences and is shaped by the user. From this view, it resulted that technology cannot fulfill the concept of well-being as Buddhism presents it. Still, technology can promote a virtuous relationship that is given by promoting benevolence and no-attachment. The last section of the essay has pointed out the limitations of the work done. Even though these are important to acknowledge, the essay makes an important point that is valuable to bring to the attention for further discussion. This is the difference in the directionality between popular views on well-being and Buddhism. The three western views that were considered understand well-being as something external to the subject; therefore, the subject has to relate to the external world to achieve it. Contrary, Buddhism sees well-being as an internal state of the person that can be cultivated through a virtuous life and wisdom. These differences are relevant when considering technology, this is because, according to the external views, technology can lead to well-being, in opposite for Buddhism, this is not the case because technology is part of the samsara and has dukkha embedded in it. However, Buddhism does not have a negative view of technology, it acknowledges its importance for daily life, and it believes that technology can be designed following the virtuous conduct of life. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s