Regenerative Dharma Network Whitepaper


This is a whitepaper for creating a regenerative Dharma network (DharmaDAO) that supports the flourishing of the Dharma in our world, with the primary positive externality being a decentralized network of conscious, global citizens working together to restore human dignity and build a culture of awakening.

In this paper, first we explore the lessons of Buddhist history to locate ourselves in the present, developing a sense of where we have come from, and having a sense of the direction we want to go. With that foundation, we look at some lessons for understanding what a flourishing ecosystem might look like. Next, we introduce the key principles behind designing regenerative systems. With these principles in place, we can create an ecosystem where the Dharma flourishes by understanding the unique roles and relationships of the network, designing for wholeness in the system, and by working together to enhance co-evolutionary relationships that allow the ecosystem to thrive and to begin to accrue value outside the network.

Our thesis is that by working together to create a network that conserves and promotes the Dharma, values such as compassion, loving-kindness, interdependence, mindfulness, wisdom, and innate dignity will begin to take root in the collective consciousness and give rise to a culture of awakening.

A Brief History

Myth of the Age of Degeneration

One of the pervasive views of the Indian subcontinent is that we are living in an age of decline and degeneration, known as the Kali Yuga. The Mahabharata and other Vedic literature present the universe as moving through four cycles or ages. The first and best age is Satya Yuga, the golden age of truth. The fourth and worst age is the Kali Yuga, the age of discord, strife, and degeneration.

While this view of the four yugas started in the Vedas, the view ended up pervading Indian culture and even made its way into Buddhist cosmology. The Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, never mentioned the four yugas in his teachings, likely because during his lifetime the Vedas were being propagated to the west of where the Buddha lived and taught. Many historians have determined that the Shakya clan to which Siddhartha Gautama was born were likely sun worshippers, not subscribing to the beliefs of the Brahmanical society, which could be further supported by his lack of adherence to the caste system predominant in his day.

By the time of the dissemination of the Mahayana sutras a few hundred years later, this view of the four yugas had become pervasive. The view that we are living in an Age of Degeneration was adopted into the Indian Buddhist views, which eventually made their way to Tibet. The great 19th century Tibetan master and scholar Jamgon Kongtrul describes these cycles in his Treasury of Knowledge:

The history of our continent unfolded in four distinct eras. 

Gradually, people became predominantly evil and violated the king’s laws. Regardless how stringent the disciplinary measures, people failed to obey the laws, and so capital punishment was instituted. Fearing death, people began to lie and commit other evil acts. Eventually, the five forms of degeneration evolved, culminating in periods of plague, war, and famine.

Sound familiar? The Kali Yuga is the age of conflict and discord. We are destined for darker times, a decline in morality, and even the destruction of the universe. The pervasive belief is that during these times we are destined to see a decline in Dharma.

This view is further supported by modern trends like the decline of religious observance. It is common to hear modern day Tibetans describe what is the last generation of authentic practitioners from Tibet. You might hear descriptions of the past as being more pure, holy, or sacred. This perspective ends up conceding that present circumstances are not ripe, conditions are not supportive, and even that current times are too challenging for the Dharma to flourish.

This cultural artifact of the Age of Degeneration continues to shape Buddhist culture. It creates a sense of urgency in the living practice traditions to preserve the teachings and the lineages. There is strong motivation to preserve these traditions, but also the recognition that Buddhist thought and practice needs to find its place in a modern world.

The narratives in our head shape what we think is true. It is hard for individual consciousness to break out of the cultural perception and habituation of the collective consciousness.

It might be true that we are living through an age of degeneration and division, but what if the story is a myth? It is up to us to decide.

If a problem can be solved,
What reason is there to be upset?
If there is no possible solution,
What use is there in being sad?

Past generations of dharma practitioners have gotten us to the present day, but it is our actions and commitment that determine if the dharma continues to grow and flourish, or if it withers and dies. Just like in our own practice, we need to work with the circumstances of our own life and a changing world.

It is easy to think that better times are behind us, and darker days are ahead. But what if we have lived through the darker days, and the light of wisdom has given us a new vantage point from which to imagine our future and build a better system that promotes the flourishing of the Dharma?

We can learn from the lessons of the past to design systems that promote flourishing. We just need to figure out where we are, what has worked in the past, and reframe those lessons to figure out where to go next.

If we design the system correctly, we can conserve and promote the traditions of the past, while also facilitating the Dharma taking root in the modern world, ready to shape our thoughts and actions for generations to come.

The decline in spiritual traditions may be the result of outdated systems that need to be updated. Spirituality remains a central part of human life, for at the root of spirituality is the need to understand who we are and our place in the world. The problem of how to embrace a spiritual life has never been more urgent.

Practitioners live within a culture, and we know how hard it is to break out of cultural conditioning. We need to design a system that promotes the flourishing of the Dharma across the globe, operates on our values, and effects positive changes in the culture around us, shaping science, art, the way we work, and the way we live.

The myth of the Age of Degeneration can be replaced by the clear intention to build our way into the Age of Regeneration.

Lessons from the Past

Early Division of Dharma in India

Throughout Buddhist history we see mini-cycles of discord and regeneration. One of the earliest examples of this division happened during the Second Council about a hundred years after the Buddha’s death. This council saw the first disagreement as to the code of the Vinaya, or the rules and procedures that govern the monastic Sangha. The conflict led to the creation of two schools, the conservative majority of the Mahāsāṃghikas, and the smaller reformist school of the Sthaviras. By the time of the Third Council about two to three hundred years after the Buddha’s death, the Sthaviras school had further subdivided into 18 (or 20) schools, which included the Sarvāstivādins, the Dharmaguptakas, and the Vibhajyavāda. The Sarvastivadin tradition would later divide to form the Mulasarvastivadins, which is the monastic code that came to be preserved in Tibet. The Dharmaguptakas school ended up being adopted in China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The Vibhajyavada school would eventually evolve through various schools to become the present day Theravada tradition.

The lessons we can learn:

  • Division and branching were commonplace throughout early Buddhist history.

  • Disagreements in the code and governance procedures often precipitated the branching and forking of traditions.

  • Early majority traditions ended up going extinct, while the present day living traditions were born out of conflict and discord.

  • Collaboration and coordination amongst the Sangha posed significant challenges.

  • A mono-culture (one predominant group) was quickly supplanted by a diverse ecosystem of thought and practice.

Early Dissemination of Dharma in Tibet

We can find similar examples of these mini-cycles of discord and regeneration in Tibet as well. Buddhism first flourished in Tibet in the 8th century during the time of Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava. During this time, the Nyingma or Ancient tradition flourished in Tibet. In the 9th and 10th century, the Dharma came under attack from King Langdarma, a time in Tibet with widespread political upheaval and conflict.

At that time, three monks set out eastwards towards Mongolia with the texts of the Vinaya on a mule. In the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, they met a man who wanted to receive full ordination, but the necessary quorum of five fully ordained monks being present was not complete. The monks sent away for two monks from China to join the assembly, so Shakya Gewa Rabsal (SGR) could receive full ordination.

Five years after his ordination, five students from western Tibet and five students from central Tibet were sent to Kham to receive full ordination from SGR to repair the deterioration of the remaining teachings. The Vinaya code states that a fully ordained monk must complete the requisite ten year supplementary qualification to be an elder who can officiate ordination. However, due to the circumstances and the pure intention to preserve the doctrine during a time of disappearance or re-emergence, the full ordination was granted and those present deemed the ordination appropriate. This lineage of the Vinaya is preserved to the present day through the Mindroling tradition and its various branches.

In the 10th through the 12th centuries, having made its way through a period of decline and near extinction in Tibet, Buddhism entered a period of regeneration and began to flourish once again during what is now known as the Sarma, or New Translation period.

The lessons we can learn:

  • Throughout history there are periods of decline followed by mass cultural adoption and flourishing.

  • The actions of a few can preserve traditions for generations to come.

  • The protocol by which rules and governance procedures are implemented and acted upon is an important part of the system.

  • Sometimes in order to keep living systems, we need to reach consensus to change the rules.

Branching in the Kagyu Lineage

One of the four major lineages in Tibet was the Kagyu lineage, which traces its history from India to Tibet through Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and Gampopa. Gampopa had four main disciples, who each ended up forming their own branch of the Kagyu known as the four primary Kagyu lineages (Karma Kagyu, Barom Kagyu, Tshalpa Kagyu, and Phagdru Kagyu). From the Phagdru Kagyu lineage, eight minor Kagyu lineages ended up forming from the disciples of Phagmo Drupa, the founder of the Phagdru Kagyu. Each of these minor branches was formed based on holding and preserving different streams of teachings at monasteries that were founded by their respective teacher.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

The Karma Kagyu was distinct in the way in which the lineage is passed from generation to generation through a line of reincarnations known as the Karmapa, who were further supported by Tai Situ and Sharmapa lineage holders. Over time, the four major and eight minor Kagyu lineages ended up being reabsorbed back into the three Kagyu schools that exist today, the Karma Kagyu, Drikung Kagyu, and Drukpa Kagyu.

Lessons we can learn:

  • Leaders often don’t know they are creating a branch, they are just doing their best to preserve and carry on the teachings they have received.

  • Sometimes branches are not seen for several generations.

  • Centers of learning were often the nodes by which traditions passed from generation to generation.

  • Innovative forms of governance, like the tulku tradition in the Karma Kagyu, can create resilient lineages.

  • Continuity of the practice lineage is important for the long-term, and sometimes that means traditions being reabsorbed into predominant lineages.

Movement towards Preserving and Promoting Diverse Spiritual Traditions

Throughout the history of Tibet, there were many prominent teachers like Longchen Rabjam, Rangjung Dorje, and Tsongkhapa who studied widely across the main Tibetan practice lineages. However, in the 16th and 17th century, political division and religious sectarianism began to dominate the Tibetan spiritual traditions, with the politically dominant Gelug tradition suppressing the teachings of other traditions.

In the 19th century, Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and Jamgön Kongtrül started to compile the teachings of the Sakya, Kagyu and Nyingma, many of which were near-extinction. This movement to conserve the teachings of the various practice lineages became known as the Rimé movement.

The Rimé movement was based on values of respect, tolerance, understanding, and the freedom to choose a spiritual path. It was a non-sectarian movement that recognized the validity of authentic spiritual traditions. The validity of spiritual paths is important, and the Rimé movement recognized that while you don’t need to accept the tenets and practices of other doctrines, you can maintain respect and tolerance toward other traditions.

One important feature of the Rimé movement is that while it sought to preserve a variety of lineages and spiritual paths, it did not attempt to mix those paths and techniques together in the name of ecumenicism. It was not a movement to say everything was the same and equal, but to recognize that each lineage was different but each had their own value on the spiritual path. The Rimé movement initiated a context for honoring contemplative life in all its variety.

The work of Jamyang Khyentse and Jamgon Kongtrul initiated a broader movement that continues in Tibetan Buddhism to the present day. Many prominent teachers like the Dalai Lama, Dilgo Khyentse, Dzongsar Khyentse, and Younge Khachab Rinpoche among others, continue to act on Rimé values and the preservation of the many diverse Tibetan practice lineages.

Lessons we can learn:

  • Centuries before the Rimé movement, Tibet experienced a tendency towards codification of various schools, which led to rigid thinking and strained relations between schools.

  • The Rimé movement was founded on a desire to preserve and promote all manifestations of spiritual life.

  • By compiling collections, the movement served to bring back traditions into the mainstream.

  • This vision will contribute to an increase in mutual understanding and open-mindedness between various schools of spiritual thought and practice (Buddhist and otherwise).

Building on What We Know

Diversity and Legitimacy

This is by no means an exhaustive summary of Buddhist history, but it provides insight into the way the tradition adapted and changed throughout time. There are important lessons that we can take from these examples to inform how the Dharma can flourish once again in the future.

What we see again and again when we look back at the history of the Dharma is that diversity of the view and code of conduct have been built in since the beginning.

Diversity is a feature, not a bug.

Ever since the first generation of the Sangha, there has been disagreement about the Vinaya, or the code of conduct, by which we live and practice the Buddha’s teachings. We have many present day living traditions that date back to the time of the Buddha because of the branching and forking of the tradition throughout history. Generation after generation, the traditions are passed on, branch off, adapt to changes. New schools formed, while many others have went extinct or become reabsorbed into living traditions.

The ability to map an authentic line of teachings remains important to this day. It is important for the lineages to establish legitimacy. As Jamgon Kongtrul writes in Buddhism’s Journey to Tibet:

Whether or not the Victor's doctrine exists in any country is determined entirely upon whether or not the training and practice of the vows of individual liberation exist there.

Based on the diversity of living traditions that are present today, we can argue that degeneration and division promote resilience and durability. Branching and forking of the tradition are a feature of growth and development, so long as there is legitimacy around the process.

In a Concise History of Buddhism, Andrew Skilton describes how the shift from the wandering monks at the time of the Buddha to monastic centers of learning led to more disputes. When four or more monks disagree, they could form their own Sangha by forking the tradition and becoming a separate nikaya or school.

This raises a critical element into the branching of traditions: what stays and what changes?

Changes in the View and in the Code

Since the earliest days of the Buddha’s teachings we witness changes to the code of the Vinaya, or the rules and procedures that govern the monastic Sangha. The Vinaya has rules for how the code is passed on from generation to generation, as well as how to handle disagreements and division.

There are numerous examples of how division and disagreement led to the creation of new schools, but because the process by which the new schools formed adhered to the established Vinaya code the schools were seen as legitimate. Legitimacy validates the existence of the new school and the ability of its new members to continue that line of transmission.

In India, we also see numerous examples where differences in philosophical view also led to the creation of new schools. One prominent example of this is the Sarvāstivāda Vaibhāṣika and Sautrāntika subschools.

You may recall from above that the Sarvāstivāda were one of the earliest Buddhist schools that emerged a few hundred years after the Buddha died, based on disagreements about the code of the Vinaya. Within the Sarvāstivāda school, there were further subdivisions that emerged based on debates and division based on the view, or the correct philosophical interpretation of the teachings.

The Vaibhāṣika were one of the most prominent subschools of the Sarvāstivāda, creating centers of learning and receiving royal patronage throughout northern India and Central Asia. The Sautrāntika emerged out of the Vaibhāṣika due to disillusionment with their philosophical views, and came to prominence in western India. Both of these schools followed the same Vinaya code of the Sarvāstivāda school, but came to occupy different subschools based on divergent views and the distinct geographical regions in which their founders established centers of learning.

While there is no process in the Vinaya code by which to legitimate subschools forming based on the view, what we witness throughout history is the significance of geographic location for centers of learning which received broad community support or royal patronage. Centers of learning become an epicenter for activity, leading to the teaching and transmission of a particular view and practice over time. Students can only carry what they have received, and in a world where geographic location was a limiting factor for receiving teachings, established seats of learning often ended up getting codified as their own practice lineage.

In Tibet, the Mula-sarvastivadin Vinaya code was well preserved and didn’t experience the branching and forking that was prevalent in India. While the monastic code was resilient over many hundreds of years, Tibet gave rise to many different practice lineages based on the emergence of different streams of teachings or disagreements as to the correct view and practice.

Similar to India, many of the Tibetan practice schools emerged due to centers of learning and geographical remoteness. Earlier we discussed the example of the Kagyu lineage which ended up forming four major and eight minor branches. Each of those branches arose out of established learning centers and slight variations in the teachings preserved in each of those centers.

In Tibet, they discuss the legitimate transmission of teachings from generation to generation according to the Indian master Vasubandhu:

Our teacher’s doctrine has two aspects–
Epitomes of scripture and realization. 
These can be preserved only through articulating the teachings
And through meditation practice.

The transmission of scripture occurs through what is described in Tibetan as the lung, wang, and tri, or oral transmission, empowerment, and instruction. The transmission of realization occurs through the practice tradition based on preserving the continuity of the wisdom, blessings, and heart essence of the teachings as a lived experience. Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche describes the real meaning of 'empowerment' in Not for Happiness:

"The most common description of abhisheka is that it is a transfer of power during a ceremony to give recipients the authorization to hear, study and practise the teachings of the vajrayana; we therefore “receive an empowerment.” But the problem is that receiving an empowerment suggests someone is giving us a power we previously lacked[...], and is a long way away from the true spirit of tantric initiation. During an initiation we are introduced to an aspect of ourselves that already exists within us but that we have yet to recognize, and it is the activation of this recognition that we call 'empowerment' or 'initiation'. This is the real meaning of abhisheka."

By adding legitimacy to the process by which the scripture and realization are transmitted, the Tibetan tradition was able to give rise to a diverse and thriving spiritual environment.

What Does Flourishing Look Like?

The Dharma is a living spiritual tradition. The experience, wisdom, and blessings of the Buddha’s teachings have been passed down from generation to generation for over two thousand years.

Living organisms want to propagate themselves, to develop and grow. Life begets life. Ecosystems thrive and flourish when they are diverse and able to break down older systems into functional units that can be recycled and reused to give rise to new life. Some things are lost and die, but new growth is born and the cycle continues.

The key to a flourishing ecosystem is that all processes work together to create a sustainable, functional, and resilient network. Diversity within the ecosystem gives rise to greater stability, adaptability to changing circumstances, and increased productivity between systems.

When we think about ecological ecosystems, we can find roles for capturing and storing energy, food production, predator-prey relationships, decomposition, cycling of water and nutrients, control of invasive species and pests, and micro-climate regulation. A diverse ecosystem is stable, productive, and able to accommodate stress.

Compare this to a mono-culture system like we see in crop production. These systems experience a loss of biodiversity, which leads to the spread of disease, pests, poor soil nutrients, and a loss of habitat.

When trying to promote healthy ecosystems, evidence shows that conserving natural habitats produced significantly better results than habitat conversion. The overall benefit:cost ratio of global conservation programs is estimated to be at least 100:1 compared to converting habitats.

Natural ecosystems show us again and again that diversity matters, that systems need to work together to be sustainable and resilient, that each role in the system is important and serves a unique purpose, and that conservation is most likely the best way forward.

If the Dharma as a living system is going to continue to flourish and thrive, it needs to adopt some of these principles. We have seen that the Age of Degeneration really is a myth, and that throughout Buddhism’s history it has gone through many cycles of decline and flourishing. We have witnessed how the diverse spiritual traditions have created more stability and adaptability as the Dharma takes root in new cultures. We have also seen how mono-cultures of view and practice have given rise to the disease of rigid thinking and sectarianism between traditions.

In the Dharma as a living spiritual tradition, each practice lineage has a specific role and function in the ecosystem. Each tradition has its own view, meditation, conduct, and cultural expression. This accommodates a wide variety of seekers with different affinities for the teachings. Some people are interested in taking formal vows and spending their life as a monastic, others are committed lay practitioners who live and work in the world. There is no one right path, nor one right teaching. All teachings are instructions for practice.

Designing Regenerative Systems

Regenerative design is a systems approach to design that is intended to revitalize or restore communities, human, and natural resources. The goal of regenerative design is to develop systems and networks (communities) that are restorative and emergent, benefitting both humans and the broader ecosystem. It does this by focusing on creating circular economies for sustainable consumption and to improve resource efficiency in the system.

Based on key insights from living ecological systems, the regenerative movement describes the following Regenerative Design Principles:

  • Holism: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

  • Interdependence: Inherent value of all relationships.

  • Uniqueness: Original and the possibility of individual genius.

  • Evolutionary: Maintains a dynamic balance with ever-changing environmental conditions.

  • Nodal: Decentralized and distributed.

  • Developmental: Growth and health of all members.

These design principles can then be simplified into three key principles for designing Regenerative Systems:

  1. Understand the system and its unique relationships. This includes things like the local culture, environment (physical or digital), and the interactions that play out in the system.

  2. Design for wholeness within the system.

  3. Enhance co-evolutionary relationships within the system that extend to the broader world over time.

Understanding the System and its Unique Relationships

Begin by Creating a Map

The first step of designing a regenerative system is mapping the relationships within the system and then focusing on conservation and the promotion of diversity within the system.

Broadly speaking, there are three main schools of Dharma that exist today, the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana, each of which has further branches and subdivisions. The first step would involve mapping those systems and their connections to develop a sense of their relationships and connection. Mapping of the ecosystem would reveal the Regenerative Design Principles listed above, making explicit how interconnected the Dharma network is as well as showing how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Source: James Kennedy
Source: James Kennedy

On a smaller scale, the uniqueness of practice traditions would become apparent, as well as the evolutionary relationship by which they emerged. As the map of the Dharma network is further developed, the decentralized and distributed nature of the network will become apparent, as each node (practice tradition) gets broken down to smaller sub-nodes with many connections. Eventually, you can imagine how the network could extend down to the level of people, going as far as to map out the connections between students and teachers.


How Does Secular Buddhism Fit In?

The process of mapping out these systems will also reveal questions about the presence and position of secular Buddhism. As the Dharma spread to the West, it has been commonplace for groups to form without any basis in either the transmission of the view or the code of conduct. Secular Buddhism currently exists on a spectrum, with some groups adopting part of the code like refuge or bodhisattva vows, while others intentionally omit all vows. Regarding the teachings, some groups form through some connection to a living practice lineage, while others are self-formed based on individuals interests and intention. Then there are apps like Headspace or Waking Up, which may have some ties to a practice tradition, but do not actively promote or connect back to those systems.

With no established source of legitimacy, secular groups have been described as the wide path compared to the deep path of living traditions. The wide path is not explicitly concerned with the transmission of the Dharma, but serves as a bridge for getting people started on their own spiritual journey in an environment in which religion is viewed as political, sectarian, and dogmatic. While those on the wide path may not subscribe to being Buddhist, they do connect with Buddhist thought and values and many end up committed to a daily practice. So while it is difficult to locate their place within the network, to the extent that the Dharma lives in them it is safe to say they are part of the network.

The downsides of secular Buddhism also become evident. Without being connected to a source of legitimacy, many of these groups end up mixing teachings and practices from all kinds of traditions, creating a spiritual materialists chop suey. Similar to mixing all of the food on one’s plate before eating it, the result is often unappetizing, inappropriate, and too random to produce consistent results. This form of cultural appropriation is often based on unconscious personal, ideological, and cultural prejudices that end up placing limits on spiritual growth and development.

In India, there was a similar form of Dharma propagated by pratyekabuddhas, or solitary realizers. These are individuals or small groups that are characterized as having no teacher, living in solitude, having arrogant demeanor, and leaving behind no Sangha.

The current secular trend may be similar to the Indian Dharma transmission, where it was not always clear how certain schools or approaches would affect the living tradition of Dharma until several generations passed. Simply being aware of their place in the network, secular groups may start to establish sources of legitimacy, or find ways to collaborate with other living traditions. They may also simply be transient in nature, springing up out of inspiration and dissolving once they have run their course, much like pratyekabuddhas of the past, forgotten in the annals of history.

One last thing to contemplate is that maybe the secular Buddhist trend is itself a positive-externality of a living and flourishing ecosystem extending to a new and unrelated culture. With Dharma values like interdependence, mindfulness, self-autonomy, wisdom, and compassion taking root in new ground, secular Buddhism might simply be an expression of Dharma values reaching the broader culture and transforming the collective consciousness. While this connection and relationship is not yet clear, the promotion of human dignity and a culture of awakening fits well within a regenerative Dharma network.

Focus on Conservation and Diversity

Regenerative systems focus on conservation and diversity with the goal of creating small, resilient, and regenerative systems that network together to create a flourishing ecosystem. There are three elements to conservation and the promotion of diversity:

  1. Protection and management: preservation of current monasteries, retreat centers, and learning centers throughout the world.

  2. Maintaining and restoring: Adopting a global perspective for the maintenance and restoration of monasteries and retreat centers, as well as the promotion of students taking up practice in culturally native environments.

  3. Enhancing services: In a distributed network, support is far-reaching and resources can be shared quickly and easily. Increasing access to grants, pools of funds, and online services (for teachings, events, content production, fundraising) will create more resilient nodes within the network.

If not self-evident, it should be recognized that certain forms of practice struggle to receive support in the West. Without a community of support, monastics and people aspiring to do long-term retreat struggle to thrive. A Regenerative Dharma Network shifts away from local, national perspectives to embrace the opportunities of a global, distributed network. In this network, historic locations of learning and retreat can be restored and begin to thrive. With support extending beyond local communities, there are favorable economic incentives for both institutions and individuals looking to live a life committed to practice.

While many of the institutions in Asia are similar to feudal systems that control the wealth and land of a community, with proper incentives these systems might adopt best practices in order to benefit from being an integral part of a broad network. Identifying these core values and procedures through decentralized governance is an important part of maintaining and restoring these traditions so that they can continue to flourish.

By first focusing on the conservation and preservation of diversity, the network of spiritual traditions becomes more stable, adaptable to changing conditions, and more productive. Next, the focus shifts to creating regenerative systems that work together to create a flourishing ecosystem.

Creating Regenerative Systems

The intention behind designing regenerative systems is to restore and revitalize society as a whole. They do this by creating circular economies that give rise to new markets and opportunities, increased sustainability, and improved resource efficiency.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

Circular economies rely on three principles:

  1. Eliminate waste and pollution

  2. Circulate products and materials (courses, teachings, materials, statues, books)

  3. Regeneration

In ecological systems, the elimination of waste and pollution tackles challenges of wasting resources, a loss of diversity, and contamination. For a Dharma network, wasting resources takes the form of wasted time, energy, and capital in all its forms. A loss of diversity can appear as losing practice traditions, rigid or sectarian views, and prejudices related to cultural or social-economic status. Contamination can appear in Vinaya code, teachings, practice lineages, community values, and the broader culture at large.

In a regenerative Dharma network, circulating products and materials has the benefit of making courses, teachings, books, artifacts, and resources more available. This virtuous cycle of reusing and recycling material throughout the ecosystem gives rise to more efficient use of time, energy, and capital.

The last principle of a circular economy is regeneration, or the creation of positive-externalities within the system. Positive-externalities occur when a system gives rise to positive effects in unrelated third-party systems. Positive-externalities can take many forms, but for a regenerative Dharma network the main outcome is conscious, global citizens working together to restore human dignity and build a culture of awakening.

Through the natural interaction of nodes within the network interacting with the external world, we find Dharma values being expressed through fields like science, healthcare, politics, and art. These interactions can be intentionally cultivated through partnerships and collaboration, or manifest serendipitously through the play of dependent origination.

The first principle for designing regenerative systems was to understand the systems and its unique relationships. This starts by mapping out the system and focusing on conservation and diversity, and then through creation of circular economies that eliminate waste, circulate resources, and lead to regenerative benefits.

With these building blocks in place for composable network effects, we can turn to the second design principle which is designing for wholeness.

Design for Wholeness

Designing for wholeness within the network means to design for the whole person, whole community, and whole network. If each person and community is a node within the network, how does the system meet the needs and wants of that node? How does the network support meaningful connections, incentivize contribution, and promote self-expression?

Preserving the autonomy of each node in the network is a priority. The network itself would ideally be composed of a widely distributed collection of communities and individuals, each of which is self-managing and able to act on its own internal values. The network exists to support connections and enhance the relationships so that everyone is stronger together.

Whole Network

Digital technologies open up new opportunities for creating this type of network. Web3 values and technology offers users and communities a unique set of intrinsic and extrinsic incentives for participating in the network. The emergence of the organizational structure of decentralized autonomous organizations (DAO) has created a new way for groups to collaborate and communicate by bringing communities together behind a shared purpose or mission.

DAOs are decentralized because they are a distributed network of nodes (individuals or communities), with each node having the power to influence the decision making and governance procedures of the network. Decentralization gives users of the network freedom and agency in helping to shape the direction of the organization.

As a DAO, the DharmaDAO might share the vision that promoting the flourishing of the Dharma is where we want to go, but no one in particular knows the best way to get there. Decentralized governance simply encourages collective wayfinding and recognizes the power of each user in helping us reach that goal.

DAOs are autonomous because each node is self-managing and self-determined. Each node can choose their level of involvement and engagement with the network. Since they operate under their own rules and procedures, these nodes could be established legal entities like nonprofits, small grassroots community organizations, or collectives that align with the network's mission.

The most important element of the DAO structure is identifying its mission or purpose. A distributed network of nodes needs to be aligned behind a shared mission in order for decentralized governance to work. When self-forming collectives are aligned behind a shared mission, they can organize the tools, infrastructure, resources, capital, and culture in a way that supports the users of the network. This increase in resource efficiency allows nodes within the network to thrive, leading to positive externalities that spread throughout the network and create virtuous cycles that extend to the public.

Designing the Regenerative Dharma Network as a DAO creates unique incentives for participants to enter the network. One of the primary design goals of the network is to promote conservation and diversity. Existing communities and Dharma centers would benefit from a coherent strategy for preserving physical, intellectual, and cultural capital.

Another primary design goal is to create circular economies that eliminate waste from the system, circulate resources, and promote regeneration. This improvement in operational efficiency promotes resilient and sustainable communities that are able to adapt to a changing world.

While DAOs are an emergent organizational structure, they actually share a lot of the core elements with what are known as Evolutionary or Teal Organizations. Traditional organizations are hierarchical and tend to be profit-driven. Evolutionary organizations are more like living systems or superorganisms and tend to be purpose-driven.

Evolutionary organizations are complex organizations that are based on sense and respond dynamics rather than command and control mechanisms. They are characterized by three main breakthroughs when compared to traditional organizations:

  • Self-management: Persons and teams actively promote healthy and conscious ways of working.

  • Wholeness: Allowing members to reclaim their freedom and agency and work towards self-actualization.

  • Evolutionary purpose: The organization has a life of its own that continues to evolve by sensing and responding to its environment.

The Ready, which is an organizational design firm that reinvents organizations around Evolutionary Teal elements, has identified twelve domains to rebuild organizational operating systems from the ground up.

One way to understand the twelve domains is that each domain encodes the values and principles related to a particular aspect of the organization. The domains of the OS are composable building blocks upon which DAO tools, governance, teams, projects, products, and culture are all built. By learning the key elements of the OS, members can consciously update and upgrade their current system in a continual process of sensing what is broken and learning to respond with new ways of operating.

Credit: The Ready OS Canvas
Credit: The Ready OS Canvas


As a mission driven organization, the north star of the DharmaDAO is to support the flourishing of the Dharma in our world, with the primary positive externality being a decentralized network of conscious, global citizens working together to restore human dignity and build a culture of awakening.

This clearly stated purpose allows organizations to organize around a shared vision and fosters wayfinding. It is unlikely any single person in the organization knows the next best step, but with a clear purpose, DAOs can collaboratively ensure the steps taken are in the right direction.


Nodes within the DAO are self-managing and autonomous organizations. Decision-making is distributed throughout the DAO using NFTs to verified persons using sybil resistant verification. Those NFT voting rights could be delegated to persons or organizations to represent larger collectives. For example, members of a Sangha might choose to delegate their governance NFTs to the organization's leadership, or even to larger structures representing the whole tradition. One could imagine larger organizations like Insight Meditation Society or Karma Kagyu tradition having a pool of delegates to whom members can delegate their voting rights.

While each node within the network is self-managing, the DAO has its own governance structures and operations. Governance, operations, compensation, and evaluation are core components of the DAO structure that would need to be clearly defined and developed. Issues like membership models, fundraising, variable compensation strategies for DAO contributors, how to handle project revenue and sales, as well as exploring fundraising, grants using quadratic funding, or running ETH nodes, are all part of the operations and compensation puzzle.

Basic governance structure could include member NFT voting, advice-based consent processes, multisigs for each community, Orca pods for specialized DAO projects, as well as rules for member perks like discounts, airdrops, free courses, skills development and training, and value aligned work.


The regenerative Dharma network would be a decentralized network of nodes and circles.


DAOs can be thought of as multicellular organisms, where many people, projects, and teams create a dynamic lifeform. As decentralized organizations, DAOs tend to be flat rather than hierarchical and the DAOs that will thrive will be built upon open, composable structures. In many DAOs, self-managed teams are responsible for their own governance processes and determine how and why they work. Individuals often hold multiple roles across the DAO, and even in different DAOs.

In many ways, the structure of a DAO can be compared to fractals, which are complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. Self-managed individuals work in self-managed teams, in self-managed projects, in a self-managed community in pursuit of a shared vision.


When it comes to understanding the strategy of DAOs as superorganisms, we need to start thinking about infinite games rather than finite games. The goal of infinite games is to keep playing, not to win or maximize profit. Similarly, the goals of a superorganism are to thrive and survive, that is, to keep playing for the long term.

Evolutionary organizations often talk about sense and respond, rather than command and control strategies. Persons and teams are encouraged to develop awareness and sense tension and opportunity in the organization, and then find workable solutions and iterate on how best to take advantage of an opportunity.


In Evolutionary Organizations, profit is not made for profit’s sake. Profits fuel purpose, and allows the organization to scale its impact and fulfill its purpose.

In DAOs, resources like time, money, attention, energy, and skilled labor nourish potential and possibility. Ecological systems are very efficient at utilizing resources, moving energy through the community, and recycling waste. What does nature have to teach us about how DAOs should invest our resources?

In nature, healthy soil enables a flourishing ecosystem. In DAOs, healthy humans, a nutrient-rich layer zero, facilitates human flourishing. DAOs need to create regenerative systems and continually reinvest in human potential.


Everyone is encouraged to form a squad around ideas. Before going through the proposal process and seeking funding for a project, start with building something and see what sticks.

DAOs should encourage ideas to percolate and for groups to form around ideas. Many of those groups will dissolve, but some will go on to produce loonshots. Often, we think about innovation as the work that happens in the organization, but sometimes the most important innovation is working on the organization.


Projects are where the magic happens. The value created by projects is what powers mission-driven organizations and this is where people spend most of their time and energy.

Self-managing teams in DAOs often struggle with basic project management. Coordination is hard, and in teams where members are free to come and go, getting the work done to spec and on time can be a challenge. High-performing teams often have a core group of contributors that promote a strong cultural dynamic that consistently delivers.


Meetings provide an opportunity to build connection, amplify the community vibes, foster trust, and provide a space for the wisdom of the collective conscious to find its voice. Meetings should have a clear purpose, even if the agenda is built on the fly.

At a DAO wide level meetings could include governance meeting, project meetings, daily group practice sessions from various traditions, as well as cross-community promotion. The vibes of the community is what keeps members coming back and contributing, so culture is one of the most important values.


DAOs are open-source, transparent organizations, and therefore it is standard practice to make all information available and to work in public. DAOs utilize collaboration tools like Notion and GitHub to distribute and store information, create Community Handbooks to align contributors behind a shared mission, often host AMA (ask-me-anything) information sessions, and operate most efficiently when using pull-based information systems.

Creating open-source culture can be difficult in traditional organizations, but by encouraging communities within the organization to open up and share information the DAO can start to shift expectations. There are likely ways to incentivize this type of action by increasing access to grants or additional resources.


The DAO would be composed of individuals, small groups, lay and monastic Sanghas, as well as for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Community and culture are the glue that hold DAOs together. DAOs that fail to create a strong vibe also struggle with growing their community and keeping members engaged. Designing intuitive and opt-in onboarding systems can move new members into working teams, where they can quickly shift their focus to contributing and finding or creating roles. Members should be encouraged to hold roles on projects, and even multiple roles across the DAO.

Status and affiliation are the core building blocks of our identity in relationship with other humans, and it is easy for decentralized, self-managed teams to fall into centralized, top-down command and control mechanisms based on our deeply ingrained cultural habits. Teams that organize around central actors and status will often have difficulty onboarding new members, because new members can quickly sense how the group structure and authority affect decision-making and the distribution of power. A good onboarding experience will equip the member with the knowledge and confidence to know what they want to commit to.

The DAO would also need to establish criteria for evaluation and participation within the network. Historically, legitimacy was an important part of the process for branching and forking practice lineages. The DAO would need to establish basic governance processes for recognizing or categorizing communities, define core values, and determine a process for conflict resolution. Qualifications for students, teachers, pods, as well as traditional institutions would need to reach consensus. What does it mean to verify a teacher? What qualifies as a pod? These are all difficult questions that would need community agreement. Eventually, one could imagine the vast historical record of teacher-student connections and the lineage history of each practice tradition could be brought on-chain as an immutable record.


The future of work is less about filling a role than it is about role-playing our way into the life we imagine. Members should be encouraged to stretch beyond their comfort zone, explore the edges of how they can contribute, and learn to work with tension and resistance. Much like children learn when playing, members should learn by doing, taking on roles and growing into them, only to hand them off and keep exploring.

This type of role-playing fosters self-sufficiency and competence, but it also creates a flexible community where many members can step in to fill a gap when needed. This agility reduces the risk of founder syndrome, where one person or a core group of people hold the keys to the organization’s success. Buddhist lineages have a longstanding tradition of training and transferring knowledge between generations. This type of practice can continue to be implemented and clarified as it relates to work within the DAO.

As people explore new ways of working in DAOs, they also need new reputation and decentralized identity tools which can serve as your Web3 passport. Onchain reputation through NFTs, and POAPs can serve as a proof-of-work resume in a distributed ecosystem.


Self-managing nodes would continue to operate under their current practices and not be responsible for compensation within the DAO. They could get involved in participatory budget process to the extent that they were interested.

While actual money is a primary motivator for work, DAOs offer other motivators that are often hard to find in traditional organizations. Many people who work in DAOs emphasize the recognition they receive for their contributions, personally find the work meaningful, enjoy being involved in decision making, and witness and undergo the rapid personal growth and development that happens in DAOs.

Most self-managed teams in DAOs develop participatory budgeting practices, where team members work together to develop compensation structures. By making compensation and pay transparent and open for discussion, consensus forms on the various levels of compensation appropriate for the type of work done. DAOs would do well to transparently tabulate compensation across projects and teams in order to standardize compensation and work to shift the organization to internal growth-based incentives rather than external money-based incentives.

Whole Community

The largest nodes of the network will be the existing Sanghas and Dharma communities. These communities will continue to be self-managing, autonomous organizations, but by participating in the network they gain voting rights and exposure to the network benefits. Besides efforts that promote conservation and diversity, they would also gain access to additional resources, talent pools, various forms of capital, and concerted efforts of cultural preservation and promotion.

Over time, some of these nodes would adopt web3 values like decentralized governance, open-source information, or adopting blockchain based incentives for the communities like onchain reputation, airdrops, or token gating content.

Within the network, project pods might form for onboarding traditional nonprofit organizations to onchain organizations, providing them basic governance structures as well as assisting them with becoming DAOs themselves. It is easy to imagine a dashboard being developed displaying where an organization exists within the spectrum: decentralized: centralized; open-source: closed system; off-chain: on-chain.

Each of the existing traditions and communities have intrinsic and intangible value that they bring to modern life. The impact on human well being, mental health, and an alternative way of living and being in the world creates significant value throughout the world. By building a system that recognizes the interconnected nature of Dharma communities and the rest of the world, we can create a system that captures that innate value and directs it with intention.

Whole Person

Designing for the whole person means creating a space that supports each person in their journey towards freedom and wholeness. The challenge is designing a network that supports the inner work of our own practice, but also gives us opportunities to contribute to the outer work of the organization. Designing for the whole person means creating a place where you have agency over your own growth and development, and the network supports you on that journey.

Organizations thrive when individuals within the organization continuously develop and grow. When individuals are able to effectively contribute within the ecosystem there is more growth, productivity, and resilience. A flourishing ecosystem must create the conditions for every individual to show up with their whole person, for the whole community.

For most people, entry into the network will start with an interest in joining a practice community.  As such, the DAO would focus on the three pillars of onboarding, education, and culture.

Onboarding is the first step on a person's journey into the DAO. Cohort-based learning groups could allow members to self-select for interests like meditation groups or foundational coursework. Specialized pods could form around each practice tradition, giving new members a contact point and easy way to explore different traditions. There would likely also be a DAO specific onboarding process, where new members would learn the mission, values, and basic operating systems within the DAO. A successful onboarding system welcomes people in, gets them settled, and gets them plugged into programs or communities where they can continue to grow and develop.

Education is the next core pillar of the DAO, with members being in charge of their own learning, growth, and development. Members should have access to a variety of 101-type content, as well as pathways into more traditional systems of learning, whether monastic or academic. With communities working together to pool talent and resources, these materials could be promoted to a wider audience and be stored in a way that they could be available for generations to come. The last element of education is meditation retreat, giving members access to a variety of retreat formats across a global network of retreat centers.

The third pillar is culture. While each community or practice tradition will have its own culture, the DAO will also have a culture or a way of doing things. Culture shapes the way we think, act, and work together. The DAO might create collective moments of self-reflection and meditation, promoting the concept of a daily practice and a life committed to practice. It might also foster common experiences to create an internal sense of community and a common language. Storytelling is a critical component of creating culture, so taking time to learn about each other, share stories of our past, as well as sharing Dharma conversations are just a few of the ways to start building a coherent sense of ‘who we are’ within the organization.

With well developed systems for onboarding, education, and culture, members will be able to find their place within the DAO. Having found their place in the DAO and made a strong connection to the inner work of their own practice, they might start contributing to the work of the DAO.

Within the DAO, members are encouraged to practice the outer work of bringing their talents, skills, expertise, time, and energy into the DAO in the form of contribution. This form of actively participating in the network creates a sense of abundance within the DAO that has regenerative effects within the network and for the broader public.

DAOs as emergent structures do not have clearly defined roles or jobs. Roles emerge based on the needs of the organization, and evolve or change as needed. Some roles within the organization will resemble traditional jobs, like operations, marketing, content production, and organizing events, while others will emerge based on specific project needs.

Active DAO members will find they get involved in governance decisions, share ideas, create teams around ideas, which could turn into proposals or initiatives that the DAO supports and acts on. In this way, the DharmaDAO takes on an entrepreneurial spirit with creativity and innovation exploring the edges of what is possible. Leaders will start to naturally emerge within the community, and members will turn into trainers though they hold no formal job title or description.

The realization that we are not our job or our position is a liberating insight and gives members freedom and agency to act on their values and aspirations. The effects of this are beyond imagination.

Working together to meet the needs of the organization is hard work though. Collaboration and communication are hard. Efforts need to be taken to create a safe workplace, establish ground rules for working together, and promote non-violent communication. Drafting a basic constitution or bill of rights is a powerful way to create culture and shift the expectations of what we are here to do.

Status symbols are one last challenge for designing the system around the whole person. Reverence, respect, and honor were early values of the Buddhist tradition. Elder monks held a special place in the Buddha’s Sangha. For many centuries after the Buddha died, the Buddhapada, or Buddha’s footprints, and stupas were the only depiction of his presence that were objects of reverence. Titles and status are tricky domains to navigate, because they can bring us together or drive us apart. The status of affiliation should always be greater than the status of dominance, based on the principle that we are all better working together.

With the design of the network on the whole person, whole community, and whole network, we come to the third principle of regenerative system design: enhancing co-evolutionary relationships that extend to the broader world.

Enhance Co-Evolutionary Relationships that Extend to Broader World

Having mapped out the unique relationships of the network and designed the network around wholeness, the last step in regenerative systems design is to enhance co-evolutionary relationships. This is when a culture of community, connection, and shared values becomes a decentralized network of conscious, global citizens working together to restore human dignity and build a culture of awakening.

DharmaDAO is an interconnected network that exists within and interacts with the broader culture and world. Having mapped out the unique relationships within the DAO, it is easier to identify areas of opportunity to impact change and create a positive-externality, or benefit that accrues outside the network.

Those external benefits might impact the following:

  • Culture

  • Art (digital, physical, music, fashion)

  • Science (mental health, longevity, medicine, physics)

  • Rituals

  • Developing a shared language

  • Holy days

  • Praise

  • Storytelling

  • Professional development

Coevolution plays a key role in shaping the biodiversity on Earth. By working to conserve and promote the flourishing of the Dharma, Buddhist values like mindfulness, compassion, and interdependence start to impact the broader culture, transforming minds, improving well being, and changing the way we act and live.

At the individual level, the network includes roles such as teacher, student, translator, and public nodes where the network meets the broader world. Public nodes could include areas like science, health and wellness, environmental protection , interpersonal relations, politics, and cultural centers (lifestyle, work, and art).

DAO network at individual level
DAO network at individual level

At the community level, the network includes larger structures such as the DAO itself, self-forming pods or collectives, donors, and public nodes.

DAO network at community level
DAO network at community level

At the community level, some like-minded pods like traditional Sanghas might aggregate together and have many connections between them, but fewer connections with other parts of the network.

Traditionally, monasteries in Asia were limited by geographical location, limited resources, teachers, and by the local language. By participating in the network, these centers would gain access to common tools, infrastructure, resources, and capital. The network would facilitate being able to make better use of the resources they have and promote their teachings and practice to a larger audience. By embracing a global perspective of a distributed network, these traditions can benefit from conservation as well as promotion across cultures, social status, and location.

The main Buddhist traditions already have monasteries, retreat centers, and learning centers distributed throughout the world. These centers could increase their resource efficiency by networking these together and working to circulate products and materials. Having stronger connections within the network can help promote conservation and diversity, while having connections outside the DharmaDAO can create new funding mechanisms and allow organizations to scale their impact more effectively.

For example, many traditions describe a decline in intensive, long term retreat centers. How can the network work to provide alternative funding models to support long term retreatants? How can technology be better used to help monasteries increase the transmission and preservation of their teachings? By bringing transparency to the process, the DharmaDAO can work to increase enrollment, engagement, and design the system to support these critical aspects of the traditions.

The DharmaDAO could also incentivize participation through the use of dashboards or ratings, with pods that are value aligned receiving more grants matching or other benefits like being able to access support or resources.

The Buddha thought a lot about places where his monks and nuns could find rest, have access to food, water, and a safe environment. Many of the early viharas were established with this intention, to promote places of practice and learning. The DAO could use this same intention to define what basic coverage looks like in the modern world, creating opportunities for community insurance, shelter, passive income, access to education, community health centers, and career development opportunities.

The end result is a global network aligned with Buddhist values, working together to promote a culture of awakening.

Regenerative Dharma Movement

By understanding the complex relationships within the network and designing a system for working together, we are able to enhance the relationships within and beyond the network such that the ecosystem thrives and benefit begins to spread outside the network.

This is the essence of a regenerative system: that a flourishing ecosystem produces external benefits. How is this different from the way Buddhist traditions and values currently impact the world? It all depends on how we work together.

Collaboration and communication are essential to the creation of a flourishing ecosystem. A network that is fragmented leads to wasted resources and most energy being used for self-preservation. For those deeply rooted in Buddhist thought and practice, it is evident that this is the current state of the tradition. There are organizations that promote the flourishing of the Dharma on many levels, but there is limited concerted effort to work together on a global scale to conserve traditions and impact change.

The lessons we can learn from Buddhist history show us that the place we are currently in is not so different from the past. The present day living traditions were born out of difficult circumstances and required finding new ways of working together, new models of governance, as well as overcoming collaboration and coordination challenges. Throughout history we have seen that a diverse ecosystem of thought and practice is more resilient than a mono-culture, so we should work together to promote diversity as a core feature of the Dharma continuing to flourish. Working to increase the mutual understanding and open-mindedness between the various traditions will promote the adoption and flourishing of the Dharma, with the actions of a few able to preserve traditions and create impact that will be shared for decades or even generations to come.

A regenerative Dharma movement starts by creating a map, organizing around shared purpose, painting a picture for what the flourishing of the Dharma looks like in our world, and then building our way towards that better future we know is possible.

Dharma is entering an age of regeneration, and it begins with us.

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