Cornered by riot police at both ends of an underpass in central Kuala Lumpur, Vienna Looi smelled the smell of tear gas beginning to fill the enclosed space. Panic spread among the group of political activists and electoral reform supporters who had been pushed into the tunnel after a peaceful protest. Dropping to the ground to breathe some clean air, Vienna, an emerging tech researcher and youth organizer at her local Buddhist temple, narrowly escaped through an escape hatch before police began arresting protesters muffled.
Stunned by the experience, Vienna left Malaysia for a conference of geeky Buddhists in the United States, seeking to connect with a like-minded community inspired by contemplative values to build technical tools for positive systemic change. . However, it was only after learning that some of her friends back home had been tracked down and arrested for sedition that she chose to stay in the United States, beginning a chapter of near-exile and pioneering work in the intersection of Dharma and emerging technology. .
Coming from a Malaysian-Chinese family, Vienna grew up practicing a fusion of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, and ancient folk religion that exposed her from a young age to different flavors of spiritual practice. As an active member of the Subang Jaya Buddhist Association in Kuala Lumpur, she began coordinating youth programs at the temple to help herself and her peers connect to Buddhist concepts in a more relevant context .
Although this benefited her on a personal level, Vienna soon realized that a large gap remained between the values and practices she encouraged within the temple walls and the broader reality of life in Malaysia. Particularly concerned about the legacy of political hegemony left by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, Vienna decided to devote its energy to civic engagement and began advocating for electoral reform. Soon after turning her eye toward political activism, she connected with KV Soon, a neighbor and member of the Subang Jaya Buddhist Association, who then introduced her to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists (INEB ).
In 2013, Vienna supported KV Soon as National Coordinator of the bi-annual INEB conference in Malaysia, an experience that proved instrumental in galvanizing her commitment to Engaged Buddhism as a vehicle for change both personal and structural.
A pure land in silicon
Eager to broaden her understanding and technical expertise in emerging technologies such as blockchain, cryptocurrency and regenerative finance, Vienna flew to the Western birthplace of digital innovation: Silicon Valley. While traversing this idealized terrain, Vienna encountered a motley crew of mild-mannered techies, academics, hackers, founders, and meditators who resonated with her intent to use technology as a skillful means of personal and social transformation.
One such group, in which Vienna is still involved, merged in 2013 to form the Consciousness Hacking Movement, a global network of technologists, scientists, psychologists and spiritual practitioners who collaborate in the development of tools and practices to improve human well-being. Playful and heartfelt, the consciousness hacker community explores integrative approaches to technology and contemplation that will be particularly explored in Part XNUMX of this series. For now, suffice it to say that techno-Dharma is alive and well in Silicon Valley, led as it is by a generation of talented expats, hip engineers, and self-aware millionaires.
While hackathons and incense-infused rallies filled his free time, Vienna continued to support Malaysia's electoral reform movement from abroad by diving headfirst into the development of blockchain technology as a structural safeguard against various forms of corruption.
Blockchain is a catch-all term used to describe digital accounting systems designed to store information securely while ensuring transparency. This is achieved by organizing the data into blocks, each containing a set of information and a unique code called a "hash". These blocks are then linked together sequentially, creating a chain-like structure, hence the term “blockchain”. Blockchains are unique in that they are fully decentralized systems that depend on a large network of computers, called "nodes", that work together to validate and record transactions.
Feeling in a Buddhist blockchain
Since blockchains are neither owned nor operated by a single entity, they represent a significant advancement in public Internet infrastructure, with many applications for financial transactions (cryptocurrency), digital identity verification ( universal basic income) and decentralized organizational management (DAO), to name a few. In general, any shift away from centralized control in favor of co-created networks tends first to highlight and then shift harmful top-down structural dynamics toward the more sincere values of reciprocity and mutual respect.
Deployed in the context of electoral reform, blockchains offer a transparent and highly tamper-proof way to account for large-scale sensitive data sets, such as poll results, that operate beyond the reach of any ruling government or a influential media conglomerate. In this way, blockchains help to establish verifiable trust in the fundamental instruments of democracy, which are increasingly weakened by the manipulative policies of the “post-truth” era.
Realizing that blockchains can be used as programmable ledgers for economic design around virtually any form of data, Vienna joined the research team at Stanford's Kometsky Global Collaboratory to work on Project Kelvin, a pioneering effort at the confluence of Buddhist economics and climate change mitigation. With the intention of "building a financial system aligned with the first Buddhist precept: do not take away life", the arc of Project Kelvin, from theory to practical experience, will be detailed in Part Three of this series.
Welcome to Digiyana
Having spent the better part of a decade in the Bay Area, Vienna is firmly rooted in a network of friends and collaborators seeking ways to coordinate their combined technical skills for the benefit of all beings. From learning communities such as KERNEL to fledgling virtual organizations such as SanghaDAO, Vienna's enthusiasm and determination to integrate contemplative values with emerging technologies is most clearly expressed in its articulation of ChiPunk, a dharmic foundation for culture and regenerative finance.
ChiPunk mixes “ who”, a way of characterizing the unified life force of Taoist spirituality, with “punk”, a principled philosophy of rebellious expression in the face of oppressive power structures. Drawing inspiration from Solarpunk, a modern vision of techno-utopianism rooted in the potential of renewable energy and regenerative community practices, ChiPunk is a contemplative philosophical framework, design methodology, and nascent community nurturing the coordination of who (both personal and structural energy) for positive systemic change. An ever-evolving interdisciplinary space, ChiPunk warmly invites collaborations with artists, programmers, NGOs, and all kinds of people interested in directing technology toward harmonious inter-being.
Today, Vienna continues to pollinate Ethereum conferences, meditation centers, and hackers around the world with her ideas and passionate curiosity. To read his latest thoughts or tune in, you can follow @viennazero on X (currently renamed from Twitter) or by e-mail (protected email).