ChatGPT + Socially Engaged Buddhism, Part 2

- through Francois Leclercq

Published on

Building on Part 1, let's pick up where we left off with the Kalama Sutta.

Also known as Kesaputta Sutta in the Pali Buddhist canon, this discourse recounts an encounter between the bewildered Kalamas – the people of Kesaputta (now the town of Kesariya in modern Bihar, India) – and the historical Buddha. The Kalamas ask for guidance on how to properly discern the truth amid a circus of spiritual teachers circulating in their town, each claiming to have found the true pathwhile denigrating the other ways.

Confusion in the town square. Powered by BingAI

In response, the Buddha articulates a full-spectrum epistemology encouraging the diligent and sequential application of head, heart, and bodily intelligence to the task of coherent meaning-making. Beginning with the mind, an appeal to rational empiricism is made which, while crucial, is too often selected from the text as evidence for the scientism that underlies Buddhist thought:

“You should be perplexed, Kālāmas, you should be in doubt. A doubt has arisen in you about an embarrassing question. Come on, Kālāmas, do not rely on oral tradition, lineage of teaching, hearsay, a collection of scriptures, logical reasoning, inferential reasoning, reasoned cogitation…or because you think: "The ascetic is our guru."

Even the cherished blade of logic is shown here as insufficient on its own for the task of acquiring authentic knowledge. Softer, more emotional tools of the heart are needed to bridge the gap between conceptual thought and felt reality, because it is only at this intersection that knowledge becomes truly relevant to quality of life:

“But when, Kālāmas, you know for yourselves: 'These things are unwholesome; these things are blameworthy; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if accepted and undertaken, lead to evil and suffering', then you should abandon them.

Grounded in an ethical framework intended not only to reveal truth but to end suffering, the Buddha offers a process of filtering information intended to guide consciousness out of illusion and into harmony with Dharma or law. natural.

Thus, the "three poisons" of greed, hate, and delusion are invoked as a convenient rubric to clearly discern which information is helpful and which is harmful:

"What do you think, Kalamas?" When greed arises in a person, is it for his welfare or for his harm?
“For his harm, Bhante. »

“Kālāmas, a greedy person, overwhelmed by greed, with a mind obsessed with it, destroys life, takes what is not given, transgresses with another's wife and tells lies; and he encourages others to do the same. Will this lead to his evil and suffering for a long time? »

By following this line of inquiry, the mind enters beneath the realm of conceptual thinking to engage directly with feeling where heart-based analysis clarifies the beliefs and actions that are most conducive to individual well-being. and collective.

In this sense, the sutta clearly contextualizes the Buddhist approach to truth as a spiritual practice concerned with the holistic alignment of thought, feeling, and behavior, the fruits of which we confirm in the laboratory of our own experience.

Stable integration of information. Powered by BingAI

We must be modern Kalamas

As a comprehensive guide to values-based discernment, the Buddha's talk with the Kalamas is increasingly relevant to modern life, drowned as we are in an information ecology so polluted and confusing that we have become largely resigned to the so-called "post-truth". " time.

Practical discernment skills are rapidly fading as addiction to on-demand diets of finely tuned “content” consumes our consciousness.

This overabundance of information we gorge on tastes divine, reaching all the right places in our limbic system while keeping us hungry for more. The only problem is that us are not really by selecting the information we consume, artificial intelligence is.

The algorithms that keep our eyeballs glued to endless news feeds know our fears, hopes, and flaws better than any psychotherapist or guru. But instead of easing our tensions or guiding us toward insight, these unbreathing confidants are deeply invested in amplify envy and keeping we whacked.

Platforms such as TikTok, Instagram and Twitter are deliberately designed to scroll us through endless candy cane forests of consciousness platform, mirrored views of warped “me” regenerating with every nudge. . .

Echoing the chaos of Kesaputta, we must actively interrogate the strange bands of "teachers" and/or charismatic "trolls" who now tumble around our virtual city ​​square springing up with convoluted “truths” so baffling that the earth is flattened and entire national histories are rewritten.*

And that's just social media, humanity's first contact with large-scale AI.

Discernment in the Age of Post-Truth. Powered by BingAI

Discernment in the Age of AI

This year 2023 marks our second major contact, but now we are playing a different game. The proliferation of large advanced language models (LLMs), such as Open AI's ChatGPT, Google's Bard, and Microsoft's Bing, heralds the dawn of a whole new set of challenges for values-based discernment.

Until now, the algorithms driving social networks were only responsible for data dissemination– i.e. the filtering and prioritization of content for users on a given platform.

Now possessing the formulas and datasets needed to create rational, grammatical and contextual meaning, artificial intelligence has the ability to data building– that is, the ability to pull together disparate data points in such a way that new, rich and relevant meaning can be quickly summoned.

Beyond the familiar search engine that just spits out relevant data points that our monkey minds then have to piece together, LLMs are narrative machines endowed with the ability to organize this mess of data into cohesive linguistic packets, mimicking our own meaning-making process.

The sophisticated responses produced by tools like ChatGPT could make the task of precise discernment much easier or nearly impossible, the choice is ours. In a future article, we will delve deeper into this question, but for now let's go back to the Kesaputta Sutta for some handy takeaways.

Surfing the digital river. Powered by BingAI

Three Buddhist Tips for Creating Numerical Meaning

As we seek to follow the guidance of the 2-year-old Buddha, we must recognize that creating meaning is about filling the gaps in our consciousness. These deviations are conditioned by the usual ways of relating to the world, whether by intellectual analysis or by strong emotion, by the constant reinforcement of our preferences, we begin to switch from "good" to "bad" with little of stability.

The river of digital media we travel through every day adds momentum to this process, often carrying us downstream before we can truly absorb what is being consumed. Recognizing this pattern is the first step to regaining stability, but it takes diligence and careful attention to stay grounded:

1. Take your time (Head)

• Notice the desire to keep scrolling, acknowledge your immediate urge for more information, and sit down. The greed for more is the speed that spins this whole multi-billion dollar wheel.
• Even resting for an extra five seconds on a message you would otherwise skim is valuable practice for cultivating more presence in the digital sphere. Remember: the person who shared it felt like it was important to them, and they are your "friends" after all, aren't they?

2. How do you feel? (Heart)

• Does this information stir up anger, fear, jealousy, inspiration?
• How do these feelings contribute to your well-being?
• Social media intentionally stimulates us with intense feelings because it is the most reliable way to keep our consciousness engaged. Stay with this rising tide of emotions as you move forward, it's a wonderful opportunity to explore yourself through the prism of an algorithm.

3. Would I do the same? (Hands)

• What values ​​are promulgated here? Are they aligned with mine?
• This practical reminder is meant to refocus the awareness on where the true meaning lies for you, rather than losing the plot in someone else's projection.

These tips are offered as suggested filters for you to experiment with on your next cloud journey. Inspired by the Kesaputta Sutta, we hope that more practitioners will sincerely apply themselves to the increasingly difficult task of making sincere common sense in this algorithmic age.

Digital Media Clarity. Powered by BingAI

As always – the path is the goal – and at Digital Bodhisattva we would love to hear your own thoughts, experiences and (mis)adventures in the comments or directly ((email protected))

May all beings discern with fresh and balanced minds!

* History Rewritten: How Digital Disinformation Distorts Facts in the Philippines (IRI)

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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