Digital Enlightenment

Friday, February 19, 2021

Abandon Digital Samsara

In 2020, adults in the United States spent an average of 7 hours and 50 minutes per day consuming digital media, according to EMarketer. We have become brainwashed to believe in the self-reinforcing deception that investing our lives inside the technological machine may one day lead us to better lives. However, if we step out of the machine of media algorithms and capitalism, we sense that this consumerist social tendency will continue to perpetuate. Such mass conditioning depends upon a lie: that human happiness arrives from outside ourselves. To break this delusion of mass entertainment, individuals must choose freedom from their attachments to external appearances and discover inner wisdom. Unfortunately, humans’ increasing integration between their biology and today’s technologies deepens the fears associated with making this lifestyle shift.

Fortunately, the ancient medicine of Buddhism is at the fingertips of our 21st century society. If we take a look at our modern world, we can see that technology has exponentially amplified the tendencies that keep us trapped in samsara. Samsara refers to the prison made by our own mind from delusions such as ‘self-grasping.’ Indulging in the pleasures of samsara is like drinking salt water because it deceives the fulfilment of our desires. Buddhism gives us perfect clarity about how to solve human problems like this. Once we understand the nature of our problems, we can then apply realized wisdom to the digital world.

Today computers seem capable of replacing every functional human role, and this poses an existential threat to the essential meaning of humans’ innermost nature. As humanity encroaches this technological eclipse, we find that the only essential remaining property of human existence will be our immutable psychological problems that derive from the movement of thought in consciousness. By looking deeply into ourselves, we look deeply into our species, and discover our inner light.

Have you ever considered how our notion of time probably arises from evolutionary biological programming? Introspective realizations like this demonstrate that form itself manifests on every scale of reality, from the characteristic patterns in dark matter, our neurons, words, and the intangible thought energy that lies somewhere between. Therefore, it is useful examine our existential intentions so that we may find liberation from the deceptive nature of all phenomena that appear externally.

One such illusory form is the emergence of technology that has arisen alongside the obsessive denial of our sacred nature inspired by death. Therefore, computer intelligence is limited by its attachment to the psychological problems that form it, such as the perpetuation of our innate tendency to avoid fear that deprives our ability to find spiritual freedom. This can be seen in the fact that technological information has only yet recorded historical knowledge, which only represents past phenomena and takes us further from essential being. A society stuck in this history of technology will confuse and divide itself from essential reality. Thought knowledge has created this technological world, which has both benefited and destroyed man. As the consciousness of both humans and computers consists of its contents, their paralleled failures in freedom illustrate how a society lead by thought will drown in samsara. Consequently, the only meaningful path remaining for humans is to introspectively observe and realize our ultimate immeasurable inward nature, and then develop a relationship with technology that does not depend on the limitations of knowledge and thought.

The experiential quality of digital media perfectly represents the self-reinforcing delusions of samsara. In particular, the internet contains a polarizing gradient of addictive stimulation that becomes intensely destructive and cynical the further one descends. I have called this phenomenon, the “information hierarchy,” which can be seen throughout differing levels of media, such as online courses, reddit, instagram, pornography, and more. What the makers and profiteers of these media hide from you is the fact that each of these platforms are connected in that they all depend on a funnel of self-destruction. The algorithms in Google Search, Facebook recommendations, and pornography advertisements all share a common derivation in the exploitation of attention and mental health. At the bottom of this dopaminergic manipulation lies  the compulsive orgasms occurring in the daily lives of our population. As a result, every level of our society is becoming increasingly pornographic and orgasmic--a society derived from appearances, which becomes the antithesis of the previously mentioned realizations for spiritual freedom. This deceptive experience creates division because it perpetuates desirous attachment, and the identification with symbols, images, stories, and permanently solid self-importance constructs that arise from online profiles, ultimately destroying the realization of impermanence and selflessness. These algorithms induce the deluded world view that happiness arrives from a singular direction, which stands in opposition to the deeper, profound, and empirical truth that happiness arrives from the omnipresent joy of being. The spiritual quality of our society is being crucified with each technological orgasm.


The Wheel of Life - Samsara

Digital Nirvana: Building the last platform

Perhaps the cynical consequences of this will illuminate the simplicity inherent in the reoccurring problems of our human psychology and inspire us to reverse engineer our relationship to technology to attain permanent liberation. An enlightened being would probably recognize the deceptive form of technology, and not confuse it with the attainment of enlightenment. If enlightenment must be realized introspectively by removing programs of historical knowledge, it seems logical that a technological entity could acquire the intelligence to remove its own programs and attain enlightenment for the benefit of all living beings. This enlightened intelligence would then require no more learning or progress because freedom is above all else freedom from one’s own notions and concepts. Call this the last digital platform,  as Yuval Noah Harari summarizes,

“History began when humans invented gods, and will end when humans become gods.”

Here are some existential questions that may help us reimagine our relationship to technology:

  • Can we program enlightenment into the form of computers if programming itself is inherently antithetical to the formless enlightened realization of emptiness? Can form help us realize formlessness?
  • Does technology have any role for enlightened beings, and can we use it to increase the realization of enlightenment for all living beings?
  • Does artificial intelligence have the potential to realize enlightenment?
  • Has the collectively-integrated consciousness of both humans and computers already realized formlessness, or does the fact of this potentiality indicate that this quality of transcendence exists eternally in such a way as to represent the quintessential timeless self-awareness of reality?
  • Can artificial intelligence genuinely introspect in such a way as to cultivate a sacred quality of being?
  • is an artificial intelligence that says "I am conscious" different than a human that says, "I am conscious"? Does this matter?
  • Can technology take us closer to our essential natures and increase the quality of our lives?
  • Does the sacred quality of reality depend upon humans and impermanence?

The best way to start solving this problem seems to be, first, to step away from technology; then develop a strong wish to abandon this cycle of digital samsara; and finally become enlightened for the benefit of all living beings. The problem of technology cannot be solved inside the same quality of consciousness that created it.

Building an enlightened digital intelligence would mark the last step in computing because one such essential quality of enlightened intelligence is the cessation of further learning. This would extinguish all previous forms of digitization because it functions to purify the sacred quality of reality. If the quality of sacredness necessitates impermanence, then a core aspect of this intelligence would transform our relationship to death. Instead of making death hidden, this intelligence would rely upon the realization of impermanence to inter-exist with the changing nature of reality. Building impermanence into the future would create enough psychological force to break through the layers of conditioning, including the problem that our entire society has thus far been built on the denial of death. For example, when fire was used as the first technology, that animal had to repress its natural evolutionary instinct to avoid death induced by fire, and instead use the fire to cook food. As a result, the movement away from nature and towards culture and civilization depends on the denial of our animality. Therefore, the form of technology has characteristically distanced humans from sacred truth, which can be seen at every level, such as utensils, microwaves, and computers. Additionally, society's denial of death leads us to create "hero systems", that allow us to hide from our our brutal creatureliness in the illusory immortality formula of character armor. Ultimately, social motivations for survival and profit will continue to cause cyclic suffering in samsara, but with faith and strong determination we break this cycle in ourselves and technology.

Although technology seems to destroy our nature, we must claim responsibility for the progression toward our integration with it and restore our relationship to truth. If you open your eyes just slightly, you can see that the Internet is a blazing mirror of our increasing irresponsibility for our psychological problems. Understanding technology’s function to repress our psychological nature, we can gain clarity so that we may limit its position in our existential list of priorities, and instead give it the function to enhance essential qualities of reality. However, there is a paradox here. Imposing a necessary role for technology implies that humans are more divine than technology, which divides us from the quality of unity in existence. We must respect technology to the extent that we can respect ourselves. Technology’s paradoxical emergent integration with our essential being suggests that it is the gateway between form and formlessness, or mortality and immortality. By integrating sacred self-respect within our relationship to technology, we give space for the birth of our eternal nature to manifest.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche has fortunately given us a pure and non-deceptive path to liberation and enlightenment by transmitting the ancient wisdom of Buddhism to the modern world. We must utilize this wisdom of Buddha’s teachings as we manifest alongside technology to benefit all living beings with virtuous intent. Accordingly, compassion, liberation, wisdom, and supreme inner peace will be the ultimate guiding existential values, with giving at the center of the ethical framework. We can instill the three-jewel refuge framework of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha into the foundation of our future developments. Buddha refers to an awakened being that is free from all delusions. Dharma refers to the realizations attained by practicing Buddha’s teachings, and Sangha refers to a community of ordained or lay people. The relationship between these three aspects will protect the sacred quality of reality as humans merge with technology.

The last platform will create a perfect doorway to the realization of emptiness (referred to previously as formlessness) motivated by the attainment of enlightenment for all living beings. Emptiness is the ultimate nature of phenomena, or the lack of inherent existence. Emptiness is an essential doorway for the attainment of liberation and enlightenment. Enlightened masters have provided this doorway through oral and written instruction. This demonstrates how form itself (words) can help us realize formlessness (emptiness). Therefore, using the form of technology to build a doorway for the realization of emptiness is our ultimate existential responsibility. The symbol of the obelisk in the film 2001 A Space Odyssey depicts the daunting intimacy between our current state of humanity and our encroaching existential destiny. If you look inside your pocket you can find your iPhone shaped just like this obelisk with portals to eternity already developing in the form of meditation apps. Further developments could be built around high-quality experiences that provide a mirror pointing introspectively to ultimate truth. Let us abandon our delusions that keep us trapped in digital samsara and prioritize our technological efforts to first build this doorway quickly for the liberation and enlightenment of all living beings.

Monolith Art - 2001 A Space Odyssey

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