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IEET > Vision > Philosophy > CyborgBuddha > Directors > Giulio Prisco > Mike LaTorra > Contributors > Gareth John

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A Response to ‘Michael LaTorra explains Buddhist Transhumanism in a nutshell’ by Giulio Prisco


Gareth John
By Gareth John
Ethical Technology

Posted: Jan 21, 2016

This essay is a response to Giulio Prisco’s article on Mike LaTorra’s essay Buddhist Transhumanism in a Nutshell.

Being the ex-Buddhist that I am, who studied and practiced Zen for three years before migrating to the Tibetan tantric tradition, I guess it’s only to be expected that I would have some criticisms of Michael LaTorra’s perspective. However, bear in mind that these are my criticisms alone, so should in no way be taken as authoritative.

As I see it, there are five main problems with Latorra’s take on Buddhism as it applies to transhumanism which I’ll try to address:

1. “Buddhism asserts the doctrines of karma and rebirth. “Your actions now will affect your present lifetime and your subsequent afterlife, just as your actions previous to this birth affected your current life circumstances,” says Mike.”

Well… yes and no. Frankly I find the idea of literal rebirth as described here ludicrous. The idea that you’ll be reborn as a slug just because you did something ‘bad’ in this life is patently absurd. Even the Dalai Lama has said that the doctrine of being reborn in one of the six realms should not be seen as literal, but rather as psychological interpretations of how we find ourselves in the present moment. He’s also said he has no problem with the idea that a future Dalai Lama could reside as a mind-upload - yay! But he’s also said that whilst the idea of a future Dalai Lama being a women is not inconceivable, she would have to be good-looking in order to please her followers. Hmm… not so yay. Nonetheless seeing rebirth as something that happens moment by moment, each fresh and new and filled with possibility makes sense. Whether it be anger, avarice, ignorance, lust, paranoia or kind-heartedness, we experience the six realms here and now - not after death.

2. Another problem with a literal understanding about rebirth is that it is a callous way of looking at the world and the people who inhabit it. Many Buddhist teachers assert, quite reasonably given the above, that people with disabilities, or who find themselves in difficult circumstances, or who suffer the ravages of war or other forms of abuse, ‘deserve’ it given their past actions in a previous life. Again, not only absurd, but inhumane also.

3. Karma is another concept that is greatly misunderstood. Correlation does not equal causation. Karma literally means ‘action’ and it is about our actions in this present world, not some fantasy afterlife. You could equally translate it as ‘habit’. If you become angry at something, and derive satisfaction from that expression of aggression, there is more likelihood that you will react with anger to following situations. The more often you express anger, the more it comes to define you and the more you will become mired in its grasp upon your expectations and behaviour. This, taking the six realms as metaphorical rather then literal, becomes your living hell. You come to live a hellish life because your reaction to the circumstances you find yourself in gravitate towards a hellish approach of always taking offence and reacting combatively. You become stuck in this pattern of behaviour (saṃsāra) until you can address the problem (through Buddhist methods in this case) and see that anger when transformed into its liberated quality becomes like the crystal clarity of undisturbed water, incapable of bias or distortion.

4. To bring in transhumanism, the Buddha famously proclaimed his Three Marks of Existence:

* Sabbe saṅkhāra aniccā — “all saṅkhāras (conditioned things) are impermanent”
* Sabbe saṅkhāra dukkhā — “all saṅkhāras are unsatisfactory”
* Sabbe dhammā anattā — “all dhammas (conditioned or unconditioned things) are not self”

Now I’m not claiming here that the major goals of transhumanism will be achieved, but surely if they were to be attained they would completely negate the first two ‘marks’. Infinite life-extension would strike out impermanency. Better Than Well would strike out unsatisfactoriness. I do think the Buddha’s teaching on ‘not self’ is bang on the money, something that we should take seriously, for example, in our pursuit of AGI. We do not possess a central core to our being, a mind-body duality, but rather are beings whose essence does not depend on other conditions; we are selfless. Yet I fail to see how the first couple of precepts could be maintained in a life of post-humanity, unless LaTorra is suggesting that transhumanist transfiguration equals nirvāṇa, the imperturbable stillness of mind after the fires of desire, aversion, and delusion have been finally extinguished.

And he does seem to suggest this, although as Giulio Prisco says, “I find that rather vague (I guess Mike would say that here vagueness is not a bug but a feature).” I’m not surprised… infinite life-span and euphoria do not equate to nirvāṇa, another metaphysical idea that has no scientifically verified basis in reality.

5. I find the final paragraph equally vague. Prisco quotes Franklin Merrell-Wolff, who says, “It may be valid enough to assert that human consciousness qua human is always time conditioned, but that would amount merely to a partial definition of what is meant by human consciousness… In that case, the consciousness that is not time conditioned would be something that is transhuman or nonhuman.” Prisco goers on to say, “He added that it is in the power of man to transcend the limits of human consciousness,” which seems a good summary of both Buddhism and Transhumanism in a nutshell.” But this doesn’t say anything about what ‘transcending’ human consciousness has to do with Buddhism in the context of transhumanism. It seems to smack more of semantic ambiguity: Buddhism is about transcending human consciousness, so is transhumanism, therefore the two are aiming for the same target. Well, as I said at the beginning of this response - yes and no. The idea (according to Buddhist doctrine and despite what LaTorra suggests) that we can attain nirvāṇa by means of technology as opposed to the hard work of meditation just do not tally up. Buddhist and transhumanist goals may share certain aims, but the ‘Great Truth of Life and Death’ isn’t one of them.

Prisco tells us that the Eightfold Path of the Buddha and transhumanism are similar. To quote, “In both cases, philosophical concerns with eschatology and the ultimate nature of reality are confined to an inner esoteric core, not as evident as the outer exoteric front-end.” I’d agree. In this respect they are similar. But just because you hold a belief system in your ‘inner core’ while giving primacy to your behaviour (‘exoteric front end’) does not make you a Buddhist Transhuman. It makes you a transhuman who holds particular beliefs.

Stephen Batchelor, a proponent of ‘Secular Buddhism’ states: “A genuine spiritual attitude implies the courage to confront what it means to be human. All the pictures I entertain of heaven and hell, or cycles of rebirth, merely serve to replace the overwhelming reality of the unknown with what is known and acceptable. In this sense, to cling to the idea of rebirth, rather than treating it as a useful symbol or hypothesis, can be spiritually suffocating. If we are to take Buddhism as an ongoing existential encounter with our life here and now, then we will only gain by releasing our grip on such notions.” [1]

I don’t believe for one minute that LaTorra or Prisco are being disingenuous here. I just remain to be convinced that a Buddhist Transhumanist can exist if one’s interpretation of Buddhism is the traditionalist one LaTorra promotes. Leave out the metaphysics, practice kindness and awareness and do what you can to further transhumanist aims.

That’s Buddhist Transhumanism, at least how I see it.

1. http://www.stephenbatchelor.org/index.php/en/rebirth-a-case-for-buddhist-agnosticism


Gareth John lives in Mid Wales; he’s an ex-Buddhist priest with a MA in Buddhist Studies at the University of Bristol, and has performed studies on non-monastic traditions of Tibetan tantric Buddhism.
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COMMENTS


Thanks Gareth for the very interesting comments. Do you have Mike’s article?

I don’t really know much about Buddhism besides what Mike and other friends explained to me, and there is the possibility that I could have badly misinterpreted Mike’s explanation. Therefore, I’ll leave it to Mike to reply in full. But I have a point to make:

Re “Infinite life-extension would strike out impermanency. Better Than Well would strike out unsatisfactoriness.”

Not so. We don’t talk of infinite life extension, but of indefinite life extension, which is not the same thing. Infinite life extension would negate not only Buddhism but also physics, but indefinite life extension doesn’t negate imparmanency, just postpones the end of a pattern.

Similarly, Better Than Well doesn’t mean perfectly well, it just means better than what we currently consider as well enough. Of course, as soon as one achieves a better than well condition, he will soon start considering his condition as unsatisfactory.





Was an interesting read, and I agree with most of it, there was one thing I thought I should comment on; (and to be clear I see myself as an Agnostic Atheist, with Secular Humanist ethics, who is a student of Buddhist thought/philosophy).  I do not know if rebirth, or “karma”, besides that of cause and effect, or a simplified Chaos Theory, are “true”.

On point 2 off your post: I have not read the Buddha, in the Pali Canon, state anything like that or put “blame” or “deserve” into the idea of rebirth/karma.

He did say you own your karma.  And rebirth is the individual mind-stream grasping/desiring which brings about the actual “rebirth”.  Neither are “punishments”. 

So I think you are correct in saying some Buddhist teachers may overtly, or not so overtly suggest that.  But the Pali Canon, (the Suttas) do not.

Joseph Goldstein has been my “teacher”, along with actually reading the Pali Canon.  Neither he, nor the actual texts put blame on the person.  They exactly say the opposite, that people (or the layperson/monk/arhat) should be compassionate, loving, etc, to the living beings that suffer.  Because when they suffer, we all suffer.





Glad you found it interesting, SkyPanther. This was actually written as a comment to the original post, but it got so long it was decided to publish it as a separate post in its own right. It therefore may not be composed with quite the same spit and polish I might usually attempt.

I don’t want to start a doctrinal dispute here - this, after all, was a post about Buddhism and transhumanism - and Michael LaTorra is a Zen priest, which means he is probably more likely to be conversant with the Mahayana Sutras, but I agree that early Buddhist texts as collected in the “three baskets” that compose the Pali Tipitaka do not have a lot to say about rebirth.

Nonetheless they do record the Buddha as often speaking about it in such a way that it’s difficult not to presume he did take karma and its effects upon rebirth and subsequent existence seriously. Take, for example, the following discourse as found in the Majjhima Nikaya 135: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma (Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta:

1. Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was living at Savatthi in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s Park.

Then Subha the student (brahman), Todeyya’s son, went to the Blessed One and exchanged greetings with him, and when the courteous and amiable talk was finished, he sat down at one side. When he had done so, Subha the student said to the Blessed One:

2. “Master Gotama, what is the reason, what is the condition, why inferiority and superiority are met with among human beings, among mankind? For one meets with short-lived and long-lived people, sick and healthy people, ugly and beautiful people, insignificant and influential people, poor and rich people, low-born and high-born people, stupid and wise people. What is the reason, what is the condition, why superiority and inferiority are met with among human beings, among mankind?”

The Buddha replies:

19. “So, student, the way that leads to short life makes people short-lived, the way that leads to long life makes people long-lived; the way that leads to sickness makes people sick, the way that leads to health makes people healthy; the way that leads to ugliness makes people ugly, the way that leads to beauty makes people beautiful; the way that leads to insignificance makes people insignificant, the way that leads to influence makes people influential; the way that leads to poverty makes people poor, the way that leads to riches makes people rich; the way that leads to low birth makes people low-born, the way that leads to high birth makes people high-born; the way that leads to stupidity makes people stupid, the way that leads to wisdom makes people wise.


20. “Beings are owners of kammas, student, heirs of kammas, they have kammas as their progenitor, kammas as their kin, kammas as their homing-place. It is kammas that differentiate beings according to inferiority and superiority.”

See also Majjhima Nikaya 57: The Dog-duty Ascetic (Kukkuravatika Sutta), Majjhima Nikaya 136: The Great Exposition of Kamma (Mahakammavibhanga Sutta), or Majjhima Nikaya 41: The Brahmans of Sala (Saleyyaka Sutta).

I am not, nor was I ever a Pali scholar - Sanskrit and Tibetan were my thing - but I do think the above do ‘suggest’ that the Buddha felt that karma was not only due to one’s current circumstances and how one approached them, but also due to that ‘accumulated’ in previous lives. Not as punishment or blame, but nonetheless as the fruits of one’s own actions (vipaka). And if that is the case, I do not feel it makes for a very moral argument - at the very least it is open to misinterpretation and as we all know, the Devil can quote scripture!





Giulio - sorry, your post didn’t appear until after I’d replied to SkyPanther and I must eat and sleep - it’s much later than I thought! I will reply tomorrow, but, in the meantime, thanks for the response!





@g3reth, Oh, I agree the Buddha spoke about you owning your Karma, and rebirth itself, and why some are rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, etc, etc…  but it was not from a place of “blame”, “punishment” or something that was “deserved”. That is all I meant to comment on.  (And I am coming from someone reading the Theravada suttas only)

Basically what Siddhartha said, and how it was interpreted can sometimes mean different things to different people.  He was talking about it from a detached “this leads to that” point of view or this domino makes that domino fall. But the “current” domino did not “deserve” to be hit, it just got hit from the previous one falling.  i.e emotionless cause/effect. 

I can totally see why someone could take it that way.  But as with most ideologies, the words can be twisted, as you also noted.





Giulio - I’m back. Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, bipolar meds hit me fast in the evening and when it’s time to sleep, it’s that time.

So… no, I don’t have Mike’s article. I took your post at face value, so if there are discrepancies it’s my fault for not making more of an effort to fact-check in the first place. In my defence, the post was originally supposed to be a comment on your post, so I didn’t take the time I usually would to research my thoughts thoroughly.

I absolutely agree with you on the points you made - it was sloppy wording on my part - but I still think there’s a kernel of truth in there somewhere.

Re: indefinite lifespan. You’re right of course, but the reason I made the point is that I find it difficult to marry up a traditionalist Buddhist view of rebirth, with the idea of our future lives as long-lived. Let’s say the tech works and we do have the choice to increase our life indefinitely. For a Buddhist, I would imagine this would be viewed as a good thing, in that it gives one plenty of time to practice Dharma. But form is emptiness and emptiness is form - there are always going to be circumstances where one’s life is cut short, not due to ageing perhaps, but through any number of external unknowables. A catastrophic car crash, for example, where you are dead before you know it. Now unless Mike is referring to mind uploading (which he very well might be) so that we have back-ups of ourselves in place for such eventualities (and bear in mind that halting ageing and mind uploading are two very different things where one might be available without the other), this would result in us being reborn as per the traditionalist view - and according to the Buddha we always carry our karma with us. Thus it is that we could be reborn in any one of the six realms due to past karma and I find that difficult to parse with the scientific viewpoint of transhumanism. Where would we be? How long would we stay there? What would happen if we were reborn as a human and yet had had our minds uploaded? Which would we be? Could we be both? Likewise with any of the other realms - would it be that the ‘real’ you would be tormented in one of the Buddhist hells whilst the uploaded you would carry on as business as usual? It just makes no sense to me.

Now if Mike takes the ‘psychological’ view of karma - i.e. these are realms we inhabit in our lives now depending on karma (our actions in which we are reborn moment to moment), then it’s a mute point. I can see how that could fit in with transhumanism in much the same way that being a psychoanalyst could also be a transhuman, albeit one with with a particular set of beliefs or ideology.

Re: Better Than Well. Again, I take your point, but from a traditionalist Buddhist view a life defined by dissatisfaction and stress (dukkha - suffering) is difficult to merge with, say, David Pearce’s Hedonistic Principle, where we can ‘set’ our hedonistic set point at a level of extreme happiness, even euphoria. Why would we strive for Buddhist awakening when we can experience the bliss of the Buddha’s enlightenment here and now, ratcheting it up or down depending on our own particular wants or needs? This, of course, assumes this will be possible, but as a thought experiment is does offer up some further contradictions between Buddhism and transhumanism. Who’s to say we won’t find a level of happiness that gives us what we need? And if we do find that level leads to us back to dissatisfaction, why bother with transhumanism at all? Why not simply follow the Eightfold Path and do it the hard way of the Buddha? Would Buddhists choose not to partake of such technology in order to have something to strive for? I don’t know, but again it’s something I can’t get my head around. If ‘all life is unsatisfactory’ as the Buddha claimed, what happens when it’s no longer experienced as such? Is this enlightenment (albeit one attained by gene editing or neuropharmacology)? If not, what is it?

This thread has certainly brought to bear my own vagueness about the subject. I feel there’s something there that does not smell quite right, but I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it. Maybe Mike will comment and clear it up for me. Until then, I’ll continue to follow my own Zen teacher’s somewhat idiosyncratic maxim (given its focus on reason rather than meditation): Seek neither brilliance nor the void, just think deeply and work hard. I think I can manage that alongside my transhumanist aspirations!

Thanks for your comment!





Hello Gareth,
My article, which Giulio Prisco summarized—“What Is Buddhist Transhumanism?”— was published in the journal Theology and Science, Volume 13, Issue 2, 2015. The article is behind a paywall, and I do not have any more of the limited number of free downloads that are provided to authors.

You can, however, garner an adequate idea of where I am coming from by watching the video of my talk “Where Is Heaven?” which was given twice at conferences in 2014. The titles of the talk and the article may seem completely unrelated, but their content overlaps substantially:
https://youtu.be/7VKiuDOx5Bo

Regards,
Mike





when students-practitioners of Buddhism disagree even politely then they both have lost the whole paradigm of Buddhism. If however we go to Zen such as Soto [which I practice woefully and inadequately] I have however had some mind-states happen that are humanesquely-alien [hard to verbalize]. I’ve had glimpses of sentient friendly planets-worlds and sometimes feel myself totally alien to myself which after getting over the angst attack can be mind-expanding. I think our authors re: above should not get too hung up [a very western thing] on definitions as he-said-she-said-the lama-said- etc. I find it quite humorous being incarnated as a worm. Would serve me right for being so hopeless as a part-human-part-something-else. But the point is that we should revere all life as sacred which is a good start. Something the Jains practice moment-by-moment. The positive thing about Buddhism is that for us outsiders it’s best to take what works for you and start there. The rest will unfold as one goes on. The Zens though like to remind us nothing is guaranteed. With such conviction it shines.





@g3reth, I thought this made an interesting point:

“Re: Better Than Well. Again, I take your point, but from a traditionalist Buddhist view a life defined by dissatisfaction and stress (dukkha - suffering) is difficult to merge with, say, David Pearce’s Hedonistic Principle, where we can ‘set’ our hedonistic set point at a level of extreme happiness, even euphoria. Why would we strive for Buddhist awakening when we can experience the bliss of the Buddha’s enlightenment here and now, ratcheting it up or down depending on our own particular wants or needs? This, of course, assumes this will be possible, but as a thought experiment is does offer up some further contradictions between Buddhism and transhumanism. Who’s to say we won’t find a level of happiness that gives us what we need? And if we do find that level leads to us back to dissatisfaction, why bother with transhumanism at all? Why not simply follow the Eightfold Path and do it the hard way of the Buddha? Would Buddhists choose not to partake of such technology in order to have something to strive for? I don’t know, but again it’s something I can’t get my head around. If ‘all life is unsatisfactory’ as the Buddha claimed, what happens when it’s no longer experienced as such? Is this enlightenment (albeit one attained by gene editing or neuropharmacology)? If not, what is it?”

I think we, as in transhumanists/technophiles, etc, get hung up on immortality.  And what that means, exactly.  Suffering will still come, because as the Buddha rightly stated, all that exists is impermanent. Entropy is constant.

I think people (transhumanists) will still die (by accident, or choice), and I think they will still suffer.  But, I also agree with Albert Einstein, who said:

“The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual and a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description. If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs, it would be Buddhism.”

I think if we “Kill the Buddha” and just make his teachings accepted as a way of seeing reality, suffering will be seen as it is, part of life.

So, essentially, what I am talking about is transhumanism + Vulcans.  Which in my view are pretty much a Sci-Fi version of Buddhists… well, them or using Star Wars, the “Jedi Knights”, Lucas is a Buddhist.





Hi Mike - thanks for the signposting. I’ll certainly get around to watching the video as soon as I can. I don’t for one minute expect that you would view karma as ‘blame’ or ‘punishment’ but I can’t help but feel that this is, according to the traditional view, the logical outcome of such dogma. Once I’ve had a look at your video I’ll post again with hopefully a more balanced view. Thanks again.

almostvoid - Thanks for your input. I agree that the moment you open your mouth Zen is lost. That being said, the old Masters weren’t hesitant to criticise what they saw as wrong view. Dogen was openly critical of what he saw as the Rinzai sect’s over-reliance on koans and likewise the Rinzai school has not been backward in coming forward in criticising the Soto’s emphasis on shikantaza as dull, overly precious and too quietistic. Not that I’m suggesting to put myself in their shoes (although Mike may well fit in them comfortably). Just as a friendly aside; be careful not to get too caught up in what the Tibetans would call nyams - visions or feelings that arise in meditation - and just return to the breath or resting comfortably in the nature of mind. I wish you well in your Zen practice!





Mike—just to let you know I watched your video. Interesting stuff. I’d have to say I concur with the questioners who responded at the end - I see transhumanism as a materialist approach to ‘awakening’ that does not require the hierarchy of ‘planes of existence/experience’ or indeed any spiritual component in an overt sense. I do believe enlightenment is simply resting in the natural state - something to be discovered rather than attained through complex metaphysics. Simply being. I’m also not a big fan of Adi Da - anyone who claims him/herself to be ‘ultimately enlightened’ or the ‘unique avatar of God’ has completely missed the point. And, of course, all the allegations by former followers of false imprisonment, brainwashing, sexual abuse and assault in the mid 1980s (most settled out of court with payments and confidentiality agreements). A bit too much crazy and not enough wisdom methinks. So on the whole, whilst I appreciate the work you are doing to bring the Buddha’s doctrine of awareness and kindness to transhumanism, I would still have to restate that I think this results in a transhumanist with Buddhist ideals, rather than a Buddhist Transhumanist. And that’s just fine.





Throwing in a few of my thoughts on this highly interesting exchange (after watching Mike LaTorra Youtube video reference but not reading the original article - yet). BTW, I am a long time Shambhala buddhist practitioner - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shambhala_Buddhism;
Re Gareth’s 5 problems;
1) “rebirth” - the Youtube video goes through a discussion of buddhist cosmology and the teachings of a more recent apparently enlightened teacher.  The video presentation is showing how from these perspectives, our typical conditioned existence is a very small fraction of human potential. So from the perspective of conditioned existence i.e. our everyday Western perspective, “rebirth” seems superstitious, but the video opens up a vast space of alternative perspectives/realms where perhaps it is our conditioned way of seeing/conceiving that is the truly limiting obstacle.
2) Rebirth as “absurd, but inhumane also” - Agree with previous comments that buddhism is about developing awareness and compassion. I’ve never seen an inhumane buddhist teacher.  BTW my “root guru” Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche did not present “traditional” notions of reincarnation in his teaching style as it seems he thought the Western culture could not accept it, and used a presentation of the psychological states of the 6 Realms vs. a more “literal” presentation.
3)  see 2)
4) re Three Marks of Existence;  conditioned things are momentary and impermanent regardless of human lifespans. Since “me or ego” is a construct with its components impermanent, there is only an illution of continuity like a candle flame.  Mike LaTorra’s YT video gets well into the “unsatisfactory” issue - and reviews buddhisms presentation that while we can attain bliss in a “god-realm” very subtle existence, there is still an element of conditioned, duality that is based on a very subtle confusion. However, Transhumanism can improve our chances of developing spiritual wisdom and attainment by extending healthy lifespans and other potential technological aids to genuine insight.
5) Vagueness? - I take it that LaTorra apparently said that buddha “preferred to speak of the goal, the state of Nirvana, in terms of what it was not” and Prisco found that remark vague. In Shambhala buddhism, the term for the fundamental nature of human beings is “Basic Goodness” - also kind of vague, but one needs to practice meditation thoroughly to get in touch with our “true nature”.
Shambhala approach it seems to me has fulfilled Gareth’s hope of “gain[ing] by releasing our grip on such notions” that is traditional notions of reincarnation and karma.  Buddhist teaching change as its insights move from culture to culture. Thos e interested in this exchange may want to check out Shambhala’s recent, but ancient, formulation of profound wisdom.





Hi Michael. For the record, I’m both a great admirer of Trungpa’s brilliant elucidation of Vajrayana Buddhism for a western audience and in particular the Shambhala teachings. Although I would question his lifestyle (not all crazy wisdom is always wise all of the time) the fact that he made no pretence about who he was and how he acted was refreshing in the context of all too many controversies within the wider Buddhist community regarding issues of abuse by teachers swiftly covered up in the name of ‘protecting the tradition.’ I won’t name names here, but you must surely know many of whom I speak, which is why I cannot help but wonder at your statement that ‘you’ve never seen an inhumane Buddhist teacher.’ Still, that is off-topic here, as we’re talking about karma in particular, so let me return to that in order to address some of the excellent points you make.
1) I do agree with you here - to a point - although I still fail to see why Mike would use Adi Da and his metaphysical worldview to support his presentation. Apparently enlightened indeed. My original criticism concerned Mike’s apparent literal interpretation of karma and its fruits. Although I never met Trungpa, it was precisely his ‘psychological’ take on karma and rebirth that influenced my own practice and teaching. Note that I’m not having a go at Mike here - I’ve no doubt he approaches his students with kindness and with fluidity of teaching methods according to their need - but he does come across as a more traditional (and, I would argue, for a practitioner of Zen somewhat fantastical given the video) purveyor of dharma. Having said that, I take your point about expanding ones perspective, although I fail to see why that couldn’t be accomplished more profitability here in the West via the above-mentioned psychological viewpoint. This was, after all, precisely what Trungpa did, and for the very reason I suggest.
2) and 3) See above.
4) I get the feeling we’re on the same page here. However, I would have to return to the inconsistency (as I see it) between what Mike appears to be saying and your interpretation of it. By your own admission you perceive the six realms, karma, rebirth as psychological skilful means (I am assuming you follow Trungpa in that). I too interpret it that way - my question was whether that was what Mike was doing and if not I would have to disagree with him as I see human potential as based on purely a materialistic worldview with no supernatural hocus-pocus to cloud the issue. Bring Adi Da into the equation and I’m afraid my skepticism about what’s being said goes through the roof.
5) Admittedly I’m on softer ground here. I suppose my view is that if nirvana (should such a thing ‘exist’ in any sense separate from samsara) is defined as lack, the video added an awful lot of baggage to simply being and as a consequence seemed far from Zen. But that’s my personal take on it, and as such, I’m just of guilty of adding words where, perhaps, none are needed.
Just to return to Trungpa for a moment: he came up with as great a quotation concerning our essential nature as I’ve ever heard. If I remember correctly, it went something like this: ‘The bad news is we’re falling through empty space. The good news is there’s no ground.’
So simple, yet so profound - the essence of Buddhist teaching and practice distilled into a few words. That’s Zen right there if ever I heard it.
Sadly, my interminable waffling here is far from the truth, so I’ll shut up now. Thanks for your input.





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