Enlightenment, Draft 42

Assumptions
We assume everyone has a naive idea about who they are– some part of you is you and always was and always will be. It might be safe to say, many have never thought much about it– they are just innately afraid of death.
We assume that it is obvious that unhappiness is rampant, it’s a worthy project to seek replacing it with happiness, or at least peace. If this isn’t true– then we are enlightend– and this project is a no longer needed raft and should be ditched.

Evidence
Everything changes, nothing stays the same. Except maybe abstractions like math.
The constant change is a source of unhappiness.
You can disassemble anything and any person and find out that it is made up of parts, none of which are unchanging or can represent the whole. (But, when you disassemble the wagon, when you get to the last part, don’t imagine that wagons don’t exist– look around you at the big heap of parts, which were created by an endless chain of cause and effect extending in all directions– that is *all* we are, that is *all* anything is– a big temporary pile of parts.)

Conclusion
What we are is like a eddie in a stream. Everyone is an eddie in the stream. From what do these eddies arise? From the influence of everyone else. So in postmodern jargon, we are socially constructed.  In Chinese terms, cause and effect interpenetrates, so who you are is the sum of all the chains of cause and effect stretching back to our Ethiopian proto-human ancestors and across contemporary space to everyone on the planet.

Consequences
The project of enlightenment must be re-framed to be meaningful. The relevant unit of enlightenment is everyone.
The sum total of all the sentient beings in the world is the relevant alternative to the self. That collective consciousness

Normative Consequences for Practice
We should work towards the enlightenment of the collective mind. To use a traditional framework, it has consequences for body speech and mind:

Body– Omnivory is autophagy. Corruption of the mind of one node of the collective consciousness affects all nodes (i.e. your drunkness degrades the state of collective mind)
Mind. Politics matter. Altruism matters. Opinions of one node can move the collective mind. (i.e. what you think about global warming matters still when the nodes with power finally decide what to do)
Speech. Low quality communication among nodes of the collective mind degrades the ability of the collective mind to function. (Knock it off with the petty bickering, lies and so on)

Speculative Consequences
Where are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas? I always wondered why people felt the presence of imaginary people (gods, dieties, etc)– is it because our brain is optimized to reason about personified things? The story of King Yama holds the attention better than a treatise on a impersonal law of Karma.  Or is it like the Sci-Fi trope, where in hypothetical distributed computers, from time to time autonomous sentient consciousness arise in the network, and in their alien way are able to act like, well Bodhisattvas. Wikipedia is, in a sense, Manjusri. The collective project of modern and ancient medicine is in a sense, the medicine Buddha.  They take messages, process them and move the collective to solve problems. They still can’t cure your cancer– there isn’t any magic.

We bear the Karma of all the actions of people who lived before us– they constructed us.
All the people who live after us bear the weight of our Karma– we are constructing them.

The only sense in which we ever were immortal was as a part of the collective consciousness, and to borrow a Buddhist trope, this was always true, we just didn’t realize it.

Unsolved Problems
What happens to hermits? Can they reach enlightenment as pratekyabuddhas?
What happens if you don’t sometimes unplug from the collective consciousness? Some nodes of the collective consciousness would like very much to corrupt the whole system to favor some nodes over the others– make some nodes happy at the expense of others. We have to act collectively to collectively reach enlightenment, but if we join the club (and get our Buddhist Club membership card) we become part of institutions that have been corrupted over and over. But without institutions, no single node in a network can exert much influence on any other. What to do?
What’s up with the urge to create separate collective minds intent on destroying the others? (Nationalism, patriotism and the collective fault of seeing an atman in the collective– i.e. Russian or US essentialism)

Comments are closed.