A Volunteer's story - Writing Code
Take a Break
How Writing Code Became a Hobby
A Volunteer's Story
For those who spend their working hours behind the computer, researchers have looked into how to reach an optimum in productivity while maintaining well-being. Although different theories vary on the details, most endorse a method of alternating blocks of tasks with breaks. We need to pause regularly to recharge, refocus, and stay fresh. Here at the Pariyatti Outreach department we like to work anywhere between 30 and 60 minutes on a particular task and then take a short break to meditate for a few minutes and make a cup of herbal tea.
If you work on a PC, make sure to check out the Words of Dhamma application. You can download it from our website. We love this tool as it allows you to start your breaks off with Dhamma inspiration!
Once you’ve downloaded and installed the program on your Windows computer, you can choose to receive a pop-up every one, two, or four hours, with words of insight and encouragement from the Buddha, his disciples, and teachers in our lineage of Vipassana meditation.
John Luxford, currently Center Teacher of the European Long course center, was the brain behind this wonderful application almost two decades ago. One of the early Western students to receive the Dhamma from S.N. Goenka, John has been involved with the Vipassana organization of this tradition from near the beginning; one of the tasks he took on was editing material by Goenkaji. John, along with his wife Joanna and the founders of Pariyatti, compiled and edited the first edition of the Sayagyi U Ba Khin Journal (published in 1991). He edited The Transmission of the Dhamma and For the Benefit of Many (for students of S.N. Goenka). Along with a team of Indian and Western Acariyas (Teachers), John compiled the AT Kit as a training resource for newly appointed Assistant Teachers of S.N. Goenka.
Due to this involvement, John was aware of the wealth of inspirational resources available, and that’s how the idea for the application was born. “I knew all the dohas [Dhamma verses by S.N. Goenka] had been translated… and verses and stories from the Dhammapada were scanned and converted to text,” John said. “There were about 1,000 different verses in total.”
John said he’d started coding the application “completely with no experience whatsoever”. “It was still early days of programming,” he said, adding that although the program does what he intended it to do, and has various built-in features, he does not consider it to be extremely “sophisticated”.
Living in Japan at the time, John said it had been another staff member of the Japanese company he worked with that had influenced him in what tool to use. “He said ‘You’ll like this program Visual Basic; it’s a stand-alone easy-to-learn program, made available for free by Microsoft.”
When visiting Goenkaji not much later, John told him about the project while walking in a park together. “I don’t think he understood it all completely, but he said [in the way that was so typical for our teacher]:”Yes, yes”, indicating his approval.”
“Goenkaji did not use the computer,” John added, “although he was very much interested in technology.” Technology has indeed been an important factor in how the Dhamma was spread by him. The recordings made it possible to have the 10-day retreats offered in the same format across the world, and (although much later, especially in India), digitalization has had a huge impact on the streamlining of course applications.
During the several years John worked on and off on the project, he said it turned into quite a hobby. “I would work on it for a while, put it aside, pick it up again… I created a few versions; each one was a little better.”
Even though it was early days of computer programming, the amount of detail John put into the application resulted in the quality of well thought-through features we see nowadays in mobile apps. Once the inspirational pop-up is set for the preferred interval, the software provides additional customization options.
There is an option to adjust the display time (how long the pop-up will stay on your screen), and one can chose whether it pops-up over the already opened applications and documents, or not. There is the option to have the sound of a gong played when the inspiration pops up (this is handy when the pop-up doesn’t open on top of the other applications). John also built in swatches to give users the opportunity to change the color scheme to their liking.
Using default settings, all content pops up in random order, but this can be adjusted to have just the Dhammapada content displayed (and even in order). With the Dhammapada verses an option is included that allows the user to open the background story.
When the pop-up is visible, the user can scroll through the content by clicking the wheel icon. There is also an option to print or save content via the ‘send to clipboard’ feature.
Besides the dohas and Dhammapada verses, a variety of inspiration will pop up. “I was trying to incorporate some inspiration about daily sitting, so I came up with the ’sitting reminder’.” Randomly users can be asked whether they have completed the first or second (depending on the time of day) of their two daily sittings. Depending on the answer, an inspiring and encouraging quote from Goenkaji, Sayagyi U Ba Khin or Webu Sayadaw pops up.
From the enthusiasm with which John spoke during our conversation, it seemed coding was there to stay. But John said he never continued programming after that.
“To be honest, I expected Words of Dhamma to have been consigned to the annals of history a long time ago. It is nice to see people are still using it.”
For those not working on a Windows PC, or for everyone just interested in the inspirational content: the Words of Dhamma content can also be viewed online.