Re: Zen and the Singularity

From: Gordon Worley (
Date: Mon Jul 01 2002 - 21:06:52 MDT

On Sunday, June 30, 2002, at 10:41 PM, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> I've always wanted to have a long talk with a knowledgeable Zen
> practitioner one of these days. But I understand that it may be
> usually required to spend a bit of time as a student before getting to
> talk to a master, and alas, I have not the time.

I want to clarify a few things about Buddha School cultivation ways for
everyone. I think this will help the conversation since I can see there
is some confusion as to what aspects of Zen Buddhism are religious and
are not religious and how these differences are important.

Buddha School cultivation ways are in and of themselves not religions.
The Buddha Fa (the laws and principles of the Buddha School) is quite
diverse and the Buddhist Dharma (viz. the Dharma taught by Guatama
Siddhartha) is a small part of the Buddha Fa. There are many other
cultivation ways that take different approaches to reaching the same
point. For example, Falun Dafa offers another means of attaining
enlightenment. Kirshnamurti offers teachings to reach enlightenment
that have more grounding in modern cognitive sciences (or as modern as
they were during his life time). All of them have the goal of reaching
a point where there is an end to goal oriented thought and a death of
the self. Of course, I think the thing that confuses everyone is that
this doesn't mean that an enlightened being is incapable of action, he
just doesn't have any goals to get in the way of his seeing the truth
and doing what is right.

The Buddhist religion includes several cultivation ways. Each of these
cultivation ways has a religion built up around it. Zen, in my opinion,
is a much harder cultivation way to take, but then cultivation isn't
supposed to be simple. The reason that Zen is hard is because it
refuses to teach Dharma, thus understanding must come on it's own
without any assistance. The whole existence of koans illustrates the
oddness of Zen, in that one spends a long time creating the right mental
state such that one can be enlightened as easily as a chain of dominos
will fall with a slight push. To be fair, though, there is no
cultivation way where you can think your way to enlightenment, so in the
end you still have to have a death of thought (in the goal oriented

Buddhism has it's problems as a religion and, like all religions, tends
to get in the way of getting the real benefits of the teachings. I
think if people just listened to the teachings of Jesus they'd be a lot
better off, but it's not so simple because of religion, which sets about
to create all sorts of things around what he said and ends up twisting
it around so much that you give up and just decide to act like a human
(and, as the /Hitchhiker's Guide/ points out, all Jesus ever did was try
to get people to be nice to each other and they killed him for it).

> However, I have already said that Zen is a special case. If Zen is a
> way of looking at the world that is beyond desirability or
> undesirability - much like science in that respect, I've always
> thought - then within Zen a Friendly AI is not desirable or
> undesirable; it simply *is*, whether the existence of a Friendly AI is
> a truth that would be reflected in the internal experience of a Zen
> practitioner, or an illusion to which no attention at all should be
> paid. A Friendly AI might fully understand a Zen practitioner, but
> what would the practitioner care?

Zen isn't really a special case. The way I see it, enlightenment is
also the end result of rational thinking. Ultimately, thinking
rationally involves eliminating all biases, not just biases that can be
eliminated reasonable, thus the rational thinker, upon reaching ultimate
rationality, will enter a quiet state where the only thoughts are those
arising from the truth. The only difference between rational thinking
and a Buddha School cultivation way is that it doesn't have all the
discussion of mysticism and that there is another level of attainment
before enlightenment known as rationality (for those confused, I posit
that there is a hard line between someone who is irrational and only
stumbles onto rational thought and someone who is rational).

For those curious, I have been in the state of ding before, which is in
some sense a window unto enlightenment, so I do speak from experience.
I'm sure I've gotten some of this wrong and it will look very different
once I'm enlightened. Also, on the point of there being a hard line
between irrationality and rationality, it may be that the Buddha School
refers to this as being Beyond-Triple-World Cultivation, but to be
honest it is not very clear to me whether being Beyond-Triple-World
Cultivation means that you are enlightened and you are now to begin on
your path to nirvana or if it is a point where you have had a
fundamental change in your thinking that makes enlightenment possible.

Anyway, I hope I haven't bored the list to death with this, but I get
the feeling that people are interested, so I thought I'd share my

Gordon Worley                     `When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty            said, `it means just what I choose                it to mean--neither more nor less.'
PGP:  0xBBD3B003                                  --Lewis Carroll

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