Sure, the historical Buddha lived about 2,500 years ago, but aspects of contemporary Buddhism are just that -- modern and current. I found a slew of Buddhist apps in the store, and most can be divided into two categories: book-style references and lifestyle apps like meditation timers. It gets repetitive and digging through the heap to find the best took some work, but I've come up with a decent list.
If you're looking to add your iPhone or iPod touch to your practice, check out these five apps. No matter which school you subscribe to, you should find something useful (all prices are USD).
I just had to link at least one meditation timer, and this is the best one I could find. A key part of nearly any Buddhist's practice is sitting meditation. Since most modern practitioners (lay ones at least) can't afford to sit for most of the day, a timer is essential. You can certainly set a stopwatch or egg timer, but Equanimity makes it worthwhile to spend US$4.99 on a dedicated app (here's our full review).
Use it to time your sessions with both a prep period and cool down warnings. When you're finished, you can journal about your session and note the number of consecutive sessions you've logged and the total number of hours across weeks and months. Plus, there's no distracting "new-agey" audio to get between you and your practice.
Not ready to commit the five bucks? Here's a free lite version and even a browser-based version.
Click below for the next four apps.
The Ultimate Buddhism Library ($3.99)
This truly is a huge collection of books. Specifically, 50 books on Buddhism are crammed into this one app. Many, like A Buddhist Bible ($.99) and The Creed of Buddha ($3.99) are available as stand-alone downloads. The Ultimate Buddhism Library puts them all in one app for just four bucks. It features that fancy page-flip that the kids like so much as well as bookmarks and a thorough search function.
Zen Koan Study and Meditation Center ($0.99)
This app does two things. First, it provides a Koan (a sort of Buddhist "riddle") in the Zen tradition. There are a huge number of Koans included, some of which may be new and some that veteran practitioners have undoubtedly heard before.
After selecting one, the app prompts you to hold it as the focus of a meditation. Set the timer to begin your practice.
Daily Buddhist Prayers ($1.99)
Here's an app in the Tibetan/Mahayana tradition. Daily Buddhist Prayers provides a number of prayers in Tibetan, also offering the Wylie transliteration and English translation, so you can read along as you listen to the audio in Tibetan. If you're short on time or away from your home or usual practice center, Daily Buddhist Prayers is a good companion for under two bucks.
Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism ($14.99)
Finally, an app that's less about practice and more about reference. The extremely comprehensive Oxford Dictionary of Buddhism provides a wealth of information on nearly all schools and traditions. You'll find beautiful photos, definitions and explanations, terminology and a lot more. In fact, there are more than 2,000 entries covering topics like major texts, important historical scholars and contemporary issues.
You can add your own notes, share your findings via email and more. It's a bit pricey at fifteen dollars but well worth it if you're looking for a portable, comprehensive guide.
There you have it, the best of what I could find among the growing mountain of Buddhist apps for iPhone and iPod touch. I hope you found one or two that you like.