A History of DhammaTime (2015-2021)
hello world (May 7, 2015)
Today, DhammaTime.com sees the light of day. For now, you can't see a lot here, except take in the design and sign up for the newsletter. Here is a peek of what is to come, and when.
On this website, the Dhamma will be explored from three major angles. Traditional Eastern views, Western scientific views and the pragmatic view of practice. In case you have no clue what Dhamma (also Dharma) actually means, let me define the Dhamma as a collection of concepts and techniques that help you increase well-being and diminish suffering, in a rather universal way. It is usually taught in the context of Eastern wisdom traditions and seems particularly clearly formulated in the tradition of early Buddhism. Note how this definition naturally allows for the Dhamma to be extracted from tradition and embedded in a new context, one that might be more suitable to the modern world. This is what DhammaTime is about. The mission of this website, in short, is to revisit ancient meditative techniques and ideas from a rational and scientific point of view, to filter out folk belief and superstition, but to keep what is helpful and holds up under scientific scrutiny. From this, a new formulation of the Dhamma emerges, where meditation practice is seen as mental training that shapes your mind and brain. You know how regular exercise is wholesome for the body? Meditation is like that for the mind.
Sometime this summer, if you are subscribed to the newsletter, you will receive an email about the “5 minutes to DhammaTime” program. This is an early access for brave pioneers, who are not shy to contact me when they see something odd on the website, and who enjoy giving feedback on the content. Everything is expected to work fine, but as most programmers would agree, this is an expectation that is rarely met by reality. Once the website is polished, DhammaTime.com will be opened up to the rest of the world, with fascinating content to come your way.
I remain with best wishes for your well-being.
5 Minutes to DhammaTime, Welcome all Pioneers (Sep 13, 2015)
DhammaTime.com is ready when you are. Everything is in place and we are looking for brave pioneers who want to be the first to take our meditation course and have their feedback shape the content that is yet to come.
DhammaTime will officially release when some more content is ready, but if you'd like to be a DhammaTime pioneer, please contact us!
Want to be informed when everything is ready? We have a newsletter, RSS feed and social media profiles, you can find the links just below the main menu.
It's DhammaTime (Sep 23, 2015)
This blog post marks the official public release of DhammaTime.
I announced DhammaTime to be scheduled for release in late summer. It's a close call, on the day of the equinox, the astronomical end of summer and beginning of autumn. But, it's done! Thanks to everyone who participated in the pioneer program and helped polish the experience. DhammaTime is now open to the world, including the free meditation course [2017-10-15: link removed because the course is now the book]. Over the next months there are plenty of more video lessons and recordings of guided meditations coming your way.
Because this is such a historic event, I shall now share the origin story of DhammaTime with you. It's a story about me figuring out how things work, from funding to recording videos. I'm personally looking forward to reading this a couple of years from now.
The making of DhammaTime
Developing DhammaTime started about two years ago. I noticed during my teaching how often I would repeat myself. Repetition has always been a part of teaching, but when I see repitition, the first thing that comes to mind is automation. Why should teachers have to repeat themselves that often? 2500 years ago, the early Buddhists had to expound the Dhamma verbally, over and over again. Then people started writing things down. I was able to learn what I needed to start meditating from recorded talks and books by many different teachers. These teachers, or in some cases their students, where smart enough to record or write down their words for others to read or listen to. This way I learned from many teachers without ever meeting most of them in person. It has its perks, but it's not a particularly comfortable mode of learning because it requires the student to actively search out content and then weed out what isn't helpful. There is plenty of misinformation out there and learning like this it's not easy for a beginner to tell the good from the bad. So now that I am teaching myself, I figured I would make full use of what technology has to offer today.
I knew it wasn't enough to just put the information out there. Human communication is so fragile, often times what I say is understood in quite surprising ways. I don't want the meaning of what I have to say distorted to that degree. Also, I had to factor in how little people enjoy reading these days. I coupled that with some tricks regarding how people learn best and then mixed it all up into a business model that I hope will sustain DhammaTime in this world as it currently is. This process alone took many months, many ideas, many talks with dear friends. I ended up with a model where I would guide a student through a series of lectures over a couple of weeks. Could be months, could be days, depending on the student. If there were questions, I would be there to answer them. There would also be a community of like minded people that support each other in learning and understanding meditation.
As a person I require what I work for to be something good, something helpful for the world. Ideally, I would like to teach meditation for free, you know, because it's good and good things should be free so everyone can enjoy them. But this isn't how this world currently works. If I want DhammaTime to succeed, it requires money and so do I. So I created a basic meditation course that could turn a person from a newbie to an adept meditator, someone who understands what meditation is about and how to do it properly and I decided that this much had to be free. Advice I couldn't offer for free because it would require so much more time and energy than the course and for the forums I need spam protection, there's no better spam protection than having to pay money, no matter how little. For good measure I added special topics and guided meditations as another incentive for people to support DhammaTime financially. I put all of that in membership package that members pay for on a monthly basis, no strings attached, being able to cancel their memberships any time. Because I wanted everyone to be able to afford DhammaTime, I created a flexible, social payment system in which the wealthy can support the poor (if they want to).
Then I began looking at the technology I would require. I realized that I would need more money to do this properly than I had ever had at any point in my entire life. But that is mostly because I never had a lot of money. I thought maybe I could get DhammaTime crowdfunded.
How (not) to get funded
Funding is difficult to come by and while I generally believe that crowdfunding is a pretty good idea, I had to find out the hard way that it's not for niche projects such as DhammaTime. I only asked for the amount of money I would need to invest into equipment, services and licenses, I didn't even factor in living expenses. At the end of the campaign, I had 5% of the funding I thought I'd need. I told most, if not all of my friends and family about the campaign, as well as all of my existing customers and I even emailed a few select people I didn't know personally, but whose work I respect and of whom I thought maybe, just maybe, they'd be interested in helping out with this project. But, alas, despite my best efforts I came out 95% short of what I needed. Mind you I wasn't asking for millions either, €6500 I asked for and some nice perks where offered too. But 5% is more than nothing and I am grateful to everyone who participated. Using this money I maybe couldn't afford the video equipment I was hoping for, but I was able to pay the most crucial service fees and buy an old graphics tablet on Ebay, this is why in the video lessons you never see me talking, but they have these nice little whiteboard animations instead. I am extremely grateful to my friend Norbert who took me in to live with him rent-free. He made it possible for me, despite being rather poor, to afford to buy middle class audio equipment over the course of a couple of months. As for software licenses, I was able to build DhammaTime exclusively on free open source software. All of it is free as in freedom and most of it is free as in free beer too. There are too many projects to list them here, but I know that as soon as DhammaTime can carry itself financially, I'll start making some donations.
The challenges of creating stuff
After the planning phase and throughout the funding phase, there was the programming. Despite being able to use some pieces of free open source software for this website, there was plenty of programming work yet to be done. And it was done. Then, as the workload on programming lessened, content creation began. And while I know my way around writing software, making videos and recording quality audio was completely new to me. Recording was extremely frustrating at first because most of the recording consisted of retakes that had to be cut and pieced back together. Lucky for me that could be fixed with a little bit of programming. Now I use my presenter, that's a little gadget from my university days to click back and forth between slides during a presentation. Pressing “Previous Slide” cancels and retakes from the last safe point and “Next Slide” creates a new safe point. Recording like that, there's only the clicks from the presenter buttons to remove from the audio.
But I had to do re-recordings of whole lessons quite regularly. I believe I recorded the first lesson in full about 13 times. Each time I found a major flaw just when I thought I was finished. The first thing I discovered was that I couldn't do this live. Even after having taught in German and English many times, speaking freely for a recording didn't work for me. So I wrote a script of what I wanted to say. Then I discovered that hearing someone breathe is much more annoying in a recording than in real life, but that was easily dealt with by quieting each breath in the audio. Then I had trouble with plosives (meaning that every ‘p' and some ‘b's would cause a very noticeable low frequency thump) because I didn't know how to properly use a pop shield or work the mic. After fixing that as best I could I realized that ‘f', ‘th', and ‘s' couldn't be told apart because the microphone I was using wasn't sensitive enough. After having bought a new mic, I found that my mouth makes funny clicking noises that I had never heard in real life but that at times were quite prominent when recording with this more sensitive mic. And then the mic sounded “sandy”, so I did a couple of experiments comparing tons short recordings to find the best angle for the mic. After many hours of trial and error and researching voice processing on the web, I found a workflow that perhaps isn't perfect, but seems to be working okay. I'm not completely satisfied, but my recordings are now at least fulfilling the ACX audiobook requirements. Thanks to my makeshift home studio and the fact that I was able to fit parts of Norbert's couch into my window, I now have a noise floor that is low enough to not require additional noise reduction after recording. Pretty decent for a newbie, eh?
The video recording underwent a similar process and my terrible handwriting still makes for a challenge today. Whenever I have to write more than three words, I have to record it about 10 times before I can assume that most people will be able to decipher what I have written. I was very close to use a computer program to create a regular slide show, but whiteboard animations have so much more charme, I'm glad I sticked with them.
Testing, testing, testing
With the first videos recorded and online, it was time to go into Beta. The Beta phase launched as the “5 Minutes to DhammaTime pioneer program”, with all backers and a couple of select people invited. While quite possibly the smallest Beta on the planet, we found and ironed out a couple of bugs. We ran out of bugs to fix and so it's time to release, and just in time too!
Have a free membership for scrolling all the way down here
In order to get a nice community started, I wrote a software that enables me to hand out free memberships, so watch the DhammaTime Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus pages closely as there will be some giveaways. My current goal with DhammaTime is to get at least a handful of nice people before autumn is over. To that end, here are 10 codes for 3 month memberships. These codes can be redeemed any time in autumn, that is between today's equinox and the winter solstice at the end of December. They are first come first serve, so if you're interested in DhammaTime, now is probably the best time to join.
Here are the codes:
[2017-10-15: codes removed]
You can redeem them for three months of free DhammaTime membership on this page. Time is up. :) [2017-10-15: link removed because DhammaTime no longer has members-only areas]
It's DhammaTime, Version 2.0 (Apr 28, 2016)
The DhammaTime online course [2017-10-15: link removed because the course is now the book] has received a complete do-over, it is no longer just a meditation course, but a fully fledged Dhamma course, delivering the pragmatic essence of the teachings of the Buddha and his contemporaries in a modern and secular format. This initial release comes with the first five lessons of the new course, with more to come.
Here are the details:
All lessons are now free to watch, as I have integrated all planned special lessons into the free course. This is because when I was working on lesson 11 of the old course, I realized that the teaching was incomplete without the information that I previously deemed optional. I don't want to spoil the fun of finding out for yourself, so suffice it to say the new course doesn't just teach you how to meditate, it takes you on a personal journey of discovery.
The course now accommodates the times we live in, in which many of us feel too busy to sit down and meditate before we can see the value in that. Instead of teaching you how to sit properly in meditation, the new course teaches first how to train your mind in daily life, so that you can get some practice time without changing your busy schedule. From now on, any time can be DhammaTime.
The old videos contained some Pali terminology, the new ones are held in plain English. I realized that I had to explain all of these Pali words anyway, so I might as well use simpler ones. For those interested, I have moved all the Pali nomenclature and other non-essential information from the videos to attached notes.
There are three main types of notes that come with the new video lessons: A transcript, tradition notes and science notes. Every video now features a transcript to increase accessibility and so that you can just use the Web's most time saving keyboard shortcut
ctrl-f to find what you're looking for instead of having to skip through the video. The tradition notes are where all the Pali went and where you can find further reading on traditional accounts of the Dhamma. The science notes contain further reading of a scientific nature and scientific research related to the topics discussed in the video, complete with proper academic references.
The "a letter for you" user guidance has been filed under "it seemed like a good idea at the time" and made way for a pretty overview of all lessons and guided meditations, complete with an animated timer indicating when the next lesson is available.
There have been numerous other little tweaks and improvements to make the site more easy and fun to use.
I hope you enjoy the update. Check out the new course introduction [2017-10-15: link removed because the course is now the book]. I've distilled it down to about 5 minutes of pure, undiluted awesome.
It's DhammaTime, Version 3.0 (Mar 26, 2018)
For the past six months I have been molding DhammaTime 2.0 into the new vision I shared with you last year. Since then, I announced several updates via newsletter and on the forums, and worked my way through the TODO list you may have seen on the front page. If you have kept up with my progress updates, the present release is not at all spectacular, but compared to version 2.0, DhammaTime has changed dramatically.
DhammaTime started out in 2015 as a website offering a free online video meditation course, and some more content available only to members paying a monthly contribution. However, that business model didn't quite befit my personality. I like my Internet open and free. Also, I prefer reading text over watching videos and writing text over creating videos. That's another thing that didn't feel quite right. I realized I made DhammaTime the way I did out of fear not to be able to sustain the project, or even my livelihood. Last year, I was temporarily free from that fear, and able to see things more clearly (nope, I didn't come into money; it was a change in perspective). I was inspired to create a new DhammaTime that is true to the fearless parts of my mind. This is DhammaTime 3.0.
The most prominent changes are as follows.
DhammaTime.com is now DhammaTime.org
To celebrate and affirm the new vision for DhammaTime, I changed the domain from "www.dhammatime.com" to "www.dhammatime.org". In case you are unfamiliar with the history of domain names: ".com" is short for "commercial", and ".org" is short for "organization" and was originally intended for non-profit organizations. I thought it was a nice sentiment for DhammaTime to "go .org".
The DhammaTime Book
The DhammaTime Online Video Course and some of the articles from the DhammaTime Blog have been reworked into The DhammaTime Book. It's still a work in progress, but I think it's already worth a read. The theoretical chapters are pretty much complete, and the practical chapters something to look forward to.
Guided Meditations Archived on YouTube
If you are missing the guided meditations from the online course, you can now find them on the DhammaTime YouTube channel.
The DhammaTime Community
The community forums are now public and free for anyone to join. I added a beautiful Markdown editor and polished the look on mobile devices. I have revisited and posted on the forums the blog articles that could not be integrated into the book but seemed useful enough to keep around.
No More Social Media
I used to believe it was important for DhammaTime to have a social media presence. Then I changed my mind. Goodbye Facebook, goodbye Google+, goodbye Twitter, and good riddance. I never liked dealing with social media.
DhammaTime Learns New Languages
I have always had plans to someday release a German-speaking version of DhammaTime (German is the only other language I speak fluently). I think it's time to follow through! If you speak German subscribe to the German newsletter to receive updates related to the German-speaking DhammaTime.
It's DhammaTime, Version 3.1 (Jun 21, 2018)
It's that time again: Time for the next iteration of DhammaTime. This time there aren't any sweeping changes to the project itself or how this website works, but the DhammaTime book is receiving a massive update. Welcome to DhammaTime, version 3.1.
To transition from the video lessons and notes from DhammaTime 2.0 to the book format of version 3.0, I extracted all of the theory and organized it into chapters. Then I added even more theory. Having published six theoretical chapters, I was now planning to write the practical parts. The idea was that with all of the theory out of the way, it would be a breeze to explain the practice. As it turns out, there might be a better way to go about this.
The direct feedback from friends indicated that it may not be wise to throw all that theory into the reader's face like that. My mind sees things a certain way, which appears to be quite different from how other minds see things. When teaching in person, I receive immediate feedback on my words, and can explain things differently if necessary. This is a luxury I don't have with this book. Therefore, it would make more sense to start with just enough theory to motivate to practice, and then provide pointers to guide the practice in a way that the theory naturally emerges. That's what I'm trying to accomplish with DhammaTime 3.1.
The indirect feedback from usage statistics was also quite eye-opening. As it turns out, many visitors don't read the book from cover to cover, but pick the chapters that sound most interesting from the table of contents. Often they went straight to a section within a chapter. Currently, if you do that, more likely than not, you are not going to learn anything, because you are missing key concepts explained in previous chapters. For version 3.1, I'll try and keep such "knowledge dependencies" to a minimum.
The new introduction is already online.
It's DhammaTime, Version 4.0 (Apr 19, 2019)
DhammaTime 4.0 is here, and there are significant changes to how this community works.
The short version is: All current user accounts are being deleted. If you like, you can sign up to the new and improved community. More about that on www.dhammatime.com.
Now for the long version, in case you feel like reading.
I believe it was October 2017 when I opened up the DhammaTime forums to the public for free as part of the DhammaTime 3.0 release. It was both a liberated and liberating decision, and it was the right decision at the time. One and a half years have passed since and - nothing. Well, little. A few people signed up, you among them, and even fewer people posted something. This wasn't the community I envisioned for DhammaTime, and I felt it was time to try something new.
For the past two months I have been working feverishly. Long, hard hours, every day, seven days a week. It was like DhammaTime 4.0 just couldn't wait to be born. This wasn't anything like the slow, easy, rolling release of DhammaTime 3.0. This needed to be done and it needed to be done now. This may have to do with the fact that I am still on unemployment pay and about to be assigned a new person in charge of that. They may well force me to take on a job that pays better than being a meditation teacher, or, as some would say, a "real job". I know what this mind is like when it has a "real job", and I know that DhammaTime 4.0 wouldn't see the light of day if I had one. But now it's done, and I would say it was done well.
The vision for DhammaTime 4.0 really emphasizes the "pragmatic" in "rational and pragmatic spirituality". It's about getting people together to go for the spiritual gold: enlightenment.
I researched modern tools to support online communities and ended up with what I believe to be the currently best technological solution. I have set up an instance of the "Discourse" forum software, which is years ahead of the old one ("bbPress"), and doesn't require a ton of custom coding just to get some of the features we take for granted today. It is a bit different from traditional forums, but once I got used to it, I have to say, it was and still is truly a pleasure to use. While a forum is great for meaningful discussions and consolidating knowledge, it lacks the sense of being present with others. Of course there is only so much you can do about that when communicating electronically, but something can be done. For instance, chats or video conferences. I looked into it. A lot. Since this is a community about spirituality I will spare you the technical details. Suffice it to say that I ended up with a slick and easy-to-use chat system you can use in your browser ("Rocket.Chat"). It feels a bit experimental still, but it works. One feature I really like is that you can join a video conference on jitsi.meet with just a click. This should make for some fun and memorable community experiences.
Going forward both DhammaTime and Markus require sustenance. Living on unemployment pay isn't so good. People who don't know me well have accused me of being a slacker who lives off the fruits of the labor of others. Of course people will always talk, whether you are rich or poor, but I feel like having some money would make things go smoother both for Markus and for DhammaTime. So, with that in mind, I reinstated the DhammaTime community as a paid community (which also explains the move back to the .com domain). €10 per month will get you in, but you can pay more if you can afford it and feel that it's worth it.
After sending out this email I will delete the present user accounts for two reasons. First, you signed up for a free and public community about rational and pragmatic spirituality. The new DhammaTime community is paid and private, so this might not be what you are looking for. And second, for DhammaTime 3.0 I made it so that usernames were automatically generated and not really used, so that you could easily change the way your name was displayed in the community. The new chat and forum support that out of the box but they also rely on proper usernames to get the best of both worlds. By deleting the current userbase, each of you can sign up with the username of your choice.
Okay, that's it. Feel free to explore the new DhammaTime and if you have any questions or comments, feel invited to reply to this email and start a conversation.
It's the End of DhammaTime (Mar 31, 2021)
All things come to an end. The DhammaTime project ended on the 28th of March 2021. There was no newsletter, no forum post, no notification of any kind. That's because there wasn't really anyone to notify. All content on www.dhammatime.org just quietly imploded into a short poem I wrote for the occasion on the same day (Edit 2021-04-04: I moved the poem to this blog post).
The past two years nothing much happened for DhammaTime, except some more work I did on the book (the German version of the book, that is, which was ahead of the English one). In May 2020 I closed the new and improved community of DhammaTime v4.0 again. Nobody was making any use of it, but I had to pay for and maintain all the systems regardless. I kept the site around for almost another year, thinking I would eventually finish the online book, but I didn't.
There were two things I wanted out of DhammaTime: Making a living from teaching meditation online and meeting like-minded people. I thought if I built it, they would come. But they didn't. Maybe the years of hard work and yet achieving neither of my two goals finally got the better of me, but that's not the only reason DhammaTime ended. Back in late 2013, when I first conceived of what I would eventually call "DhammaTime", my truth, my teachings, my Dhamma if you will, were drawing heavily on early Buddhist teachings and neuroscientific research. Even though I had been practicing meditation for some time, I had yet to experience for myself what it was all about, i.e. the ultimate goal of it all. To avoid religious jargon here, let's just call it "self-transcendence" (as in experiencing a perspective beyond the regular division of reality into what is me or mine and what is not). I have since gotten a good taste of it and it certainly lives up to the hype. However, having had this experience I realized that it's way bigger than Buddhism. I saw the same truth in many other religions, just explained differently and sometimes quite obscured (humans being human and all). Not everyone who has had this experience can see that because they may only have the one conceptual framework of their particular religion to make sense of it all - if any. That's where neuroscience may be able to help. If the signatures of brain activity during experiences of self-transcendence can be measured accurately enough and turn out to be comparable across religions (as they seem to be), then we can arrive at a common understanding and a shared language to talk about it. Moreover, neuroscientific research may eventually enable technologies like at-home transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to bring about an experience of self-transcendence in spiritually naive humans. This would grant everyone access to a larger perspective than the narrow points of view that usually accompany our human lives, and it would certainly put a stop to the spread of depression (hint: this is how to get this research funded!). We are well on our way.
So what can I do to contribute? Since technologies like the one mentioned above are not yet where they'd need to be, I could do research on that. The current circumstances of my life make it unlikely, but who knows. The other thing I can do is to continue teaching. I have learned a lot about teaching meditation and spirituality. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that the best teaching happens below the threshold of consciousness. Some spiritual traditions make a big esoteric deal out of this, but it can be explained in very simple and rational terms. Humans constantly broadcast their current state of mind through body language, facial expression, way of speaking, and even their body odor. Others unconsciously pick up on these cues and experience them summarized as someone's charisma or "vibe". A human being that is in or at least very close to a state of self-transcendence is very charismatic for various reasons (e.g. not having ulterior motives and being very happy and easy to talk to), and when we like someone, we tend to imitate their body language, facial expression and way of speaking (not sure about body odor). These changes, in turn, affect our states of mind accordingly. As a consequence, merely being around another human that is in a state of self-transcendence can propel our own minds closer to having the same experience.
Understanding this has been a really important step for me. Due to my lasting unemployment, I am frequently being pressured to earn my own livelihood. However, in my regular, non-transcended state of mind, I seem to be what has become known as a highly sensitive person (HSP), which makes finding a suitable job astoundingly difficult (it makes so much sense to me that spiritual monastics often are beggars). In this state of mind, the only real option to make a living (that I can currently see) is teaching mindfulness, meditation and spirituality. Since I would do that so much more effectively in a state of self-transcendence, it follows that practicing meditation is the appropriate response to the pressure of having to earn money. This is the best news because instead of focusing on making better websites and publishing content online, it means it would be way more productive to focus on my own spiritual practice. So that is what I'm going to do. That being said, I do have plans for another online meditation project. We'll see.
That's all. Even though it may be a bit of a clichée to end this final DhammaTime-related post in this way, I'll say it anyway: May you be well.