The Developer of the 84000 Mobile App on his Offering of Wisdom to the World
Two years ago, Sun Fang (Brian Sun) approached us with an offer to develop an 84000 app from scratch. How to provide our readers and our community with easier and more intuitive ways to access the sūtras – and how to do so within our existing resources – was a question that had long lingered in our minds. So we were incredibly humbled by the magnanimity of Brian’s offer. We are deeply grateful for Brian and his team at XMind for their unwavering commitment in bringing this app to life, and recently sat down with him to learn more about the motivation and the process.
In 2008, Brian founded XMind. As the CEO, he insisted on keeping his company small and value-driven, focused on the quality development of one product: XMind, now synonymous with mind-mapping software. However, beginning in 2017, Brian and his team began pursuing projects of passion and dedication, developing a number of Buddhist apps and websites. One such app is the well-known,【Deer Park 漢文大藏經】 which compiles and makes available for users a digital library of the Chinese Tripitaka. While Brian says his favorite hobby is watching films, we think facilitating the transmission of Dharma in a high-tech world seems to be one too!
84000: You and your team designed and developed 84000’s brand new app, making the translated Buddhist texts of 84000’s online Reading Room accessible via mobile devices. This app just had its official launch — what are your thoughts now that this project, two years in the making, is finally seeing the light of day?
Brian: My thoughts are twofold: one aspect is in my capacity as an app developer, and the other is as a Buddhist.
As developers, of course it makes us very happy to see our efforts bear fruit. But I’m also a little bit anxious. Even though our team has operated apps with tens of millions of users, we still worry that there may have been details we didn’t consider. This is a Buddhist sūtra app after all, so if there are any problems I worry that we’ll be tarnishing our users’ wisdom.
As a Buddhist, I suppose this counts as a momentous occasion in the Buddhist world. You can now access the words of the Buddha through this piece of black glass in your hand — that feels really amazing! These days the time that human beings spend staring at a screen far surpasses the time we spend reading from paper.
84000: Before this project for 84000, which works with the Tibetan Buddhist Canon, you had already developed a mobile app for reading the Chinese Buddhist canon. Can you talk to us about your decisions to offer so much of your time and effort to developing these Buddhist sūtra reading apps?
Brian: Personally, I love reading sūtras. In the past I would wake up an hour earlier just to spend an hour reading sūtras. I wasn’t reading as part of my daily practice, nor did I do it for the purpose of reading the same sūtra over and over again. I was treating the sūtras like books. Some Buddhist sūtras are storybooks, some are philosophy books, some are psychology books—they’re actually really good reads. But young people these days barely have any interest in reading Buddhist sūtras. Because sūtras are always seen as inherently religious, people tend to think that those who read sūtras are foolish.
My wish is very simple: I hope that more people can have access to Buddhist sūtras, and I hope that those who really want to read sūtras can make use of the limited time they have. Every day on the subway there are a lot of people who read books—it might be a novel or perhaps some sort of spiritual self-help book. Maybe one day they’ll suddenly develop an interest in the Dharma, and I hope that when that time comes they won’t give up on that interest just because there isn’t a convenient mobile app for them to use.
84000: Do you have a favorite sūtra you would like to share with us?
Brian: My favorites are Heart Sūtra [The Essence of the Perfection of Wisdom], Diamond Sūtra [The Sūtra on the Perfection of Wisdom “The Diamond Cutter”], Lotus Sūtra [The White Lotus of the Good Dharma], and the Vimalakīrti Sūtra [The Teaching of Vimalakīrti]. But if you ask me which one I really love the most, I think it’s Vimalakīrti.
84000: Also, it’s worth noting that you and your team are based in China, and currently 84000 is producing translations of the sūtras into English, making the texts of the Tibetan Buddhist Canon available in a Western language for the first time. Can you speak a little about why you were so willing to dedicate two years of your team’s time to developing an app that really seems to be a gift for the English-speaking world?
Brian: I have to admit I am not a typical reader of 84000’s English translations. I just care about the development of 84000 and its success. As [Dzongsar Khyentse] Rinpoche said, we should worry about the sustainability of Buddhadharma. Actually, in 2018 Rinpoche was giving a teaching under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya and he mentioned that 84000’s online Reading Room had been receiving visitors from a number of countries, including those across the Middle East. I was deeply moved by the sense of contentment on Rinpoche’s face as he spoke about 84000, and the first thought that came to my mind was, ‘I want to be a part of this too!’ And the second thought that came to my mind was, ‘I can make an app.’
84000: For you, what are some of the distinguishing features of the 84000 mobile app? How is the experience of reading from the mobile app different from the experience of reading from the online reading room?
Brian: The 84000 app’s most unique feature is its offline reading feature. In other words, you have every sūtra that’s been translated into English saved on your cell phone. Even if you’re in a place with no signal, you can still continue to read and perform searches. We also refresh and iterate the contents rapidly, so the texts available in your sūtra library is constantly expanding.
Unlike the online reading room, accessed using your computer internet browser, on the mobile app you can adjust font styles and font size according to your own preferences. You can even change the color of the background. A lot of people are now accustomed to using dark backgrounds when reading in dimly lit spaces. This makes reading a lot easier on the eyes.
84000: Which functions are you most pleased with in this mobile app?
Brian: I actually don’t feel particularly satisfied yet about any of the functions [laughs]. But I really admire 84000’s translation teams. In the short span of just a few years they’ve translated and published a huge amount of sūtras in English. This compels us to raise our own standards so as to do justice to the publications produced by 84000.
84000: Well, not only have you so kindly offered us, and all our readers, this beautiful mobile app, you have actually committed your team to the continual development of it. Are there any features you are excited to add to our app in the future?
Brian: I look forward to the 84000 app becoming a private library for its users. So going forward, we will develop some more personal functions too, such as adding the ability to annotate the texts with your own reading notes and being able to track or record one’s own reading volume.
84000: And finally, you’ve said that – apart from developing apps that improve everyday access to the Buddha’s words – that you love watching films. Do you have one particular film that really inspires you?
Brian: I enjoy many types of films, but perhaps I enjoy science fiction the most. For a long time my favorite film was The Matrix. More recently, I was obsessed with Arrival which deals with the paradox of inevitable suffering even if one attains the ability to travel into the future. And of course, Blade Runner 2049 which I think reminds us that ‘I’ am not my memory, and my memory is not ‘me’ either.
To date, over ten thousand people around the world have downloaded the 84000 mobile app from 84000.co/mobile. Please join us in thanking Brian and his team at XMind for helping to connect the world with wisdom!
Posted: 30 Nov 2021