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From what I've gathered, in a lot of Buddhist countries the populace views the various buddhas and bodhisattvas as deities and pray directly to them. I'm not sure what the majority of American Buddhists believe. I know my lama has mentioned nagas in a very real and personal way, and he clearly believes in them. But he has also said is unnecessary to believe in deities and spirits to practice Buddhism.
Personally, I focus on the Buddhist practices and maintain a healthy agnosticism when it comes to the supernatural and metaphysical.
Living in the south is another world. If I had to live in fear of being ostracized or whatever for my beliefs, I think I'd have to move. I couldn't do it.
Indeed it is another world. I neither broadcast nor mention it in casual conversation. One or two people have caught me meditating, and I've pled guilty to the practice, but even then the topic of religion didn't come up. If you're not a Christian in the South, it's a lonely and secretive path.
I had similar questions about karma when I first came to this forum. It seemed like a blame-the-victim philosophy. Surely that poor beggar on the street deserves his fate because he was greedy in a past life and has now gotten is comeuppance.
I got quite a good answer to this question in this old thread: http://newbuddhist.com/discussion/5821/karma-and-blaming-the-victim
My poor summary of this would go something like this: the karma you 'earn' (good or bad) in one life doesn't pay off in the next in the form of material rewards and/or punishment. Rather if you accumulated good karma in your past life, you strengthened your positive attitude and you will be able to deal will with the vicissitudes of this latest turn of samsara with great equanimity. Or if you planted negative karmic seeds, you will approach life with a poor attitude and cause much unnecessary suffering for yourself.
In short, the abuse you experienced is not your fault, nor the fault of someone who lived decades ago. Please do not think that you deserved such a horrible fate, or that Buddhism supports such a view.
I love video games, especially Skyrim, though I don't play it nearly as much as I used to. And, yes, with a few graphical mods and an ENB the tundra and mountains could be stunning. There were times that I would turn off the auto-run feature, and casually stroll through the countryside taking in the sights. But I've seen every square foot of the game, so it has lost its magic for me.
I don't really think video games promote mindfulness. It's like any entertainment or diversion; it distracts us from reality or the emotional turmoil in our own minds. An illusion within an illusion. That's not to say it can't be useful; video games have kept intense, unbearable emotional pain at bay for me. In other words, it may have prevented suicidal thoughts from having their way with me when I was younger and didn't have better coping mechanisms.
What scares me about 'Big Data' as its called is not so much what they're doing with it now (marketing), but the potential for future abuse. What if a totalitarian/theocratic/fascist/whatever government comes to power, and orders Google, Facebook, etc. to start dumping all their tracking data into a government database? They can then target their opponents (or anyone they don't like or just disagree with) for persecution.