Dharma, perfect knowledge and artificial intelligence – Buddhistdoor Global
The quest for knowledge has underpinned the history of mankind. Western thought has been influenced by Judeo-Christian religious metaphors, such as the tree of knowledge of good and evil yielding forbidden fruit that leads to sin.
Omniscience is the property of having complete or maximum knowledge. Along with omnipotence and perfect goodness, it is generally considered one of the central divine attributes.
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
The pursuit of knowledge is not always encouraged in Christianity and Western religions. The search for knowledge, on the other hand, is at the heart of Upanishadsin which the subject is extensively developed and studied by sages and seekers of knowledge from every conceivable point of view.
The Upanishads represent a central reference for researchers and academics. However, they are such a vast resource that the general public may not be able to read them all. Attempting to give an overview may result in something superficial that does not do the texts justice, but a good summary can be found at world history encyclopedia.
In our time, the pursuit of knowledge is carried out using formal and scientific methods. Nevertheless, even science is limited by what is considered scientific interest by dominant paradigms and program funding policies.
The question of omniscience opens the subject of knowledge to a whole new level: can such a thing exist? What does it look like? And how can it be achieved?
In Eastern spiritual traditions, omniscience has received much attention, usually in sacred literature and an esoteric prerogative of oracles and seers. References to omniscience have recently begun to appear in the fields of science and technology. This article brings together examples from Eastern and Western literature, highlighting the topic’s relevance to contemporary discussions of AI.
Omniscience in the classical Indian traditions
Indian traditions are the basis of much of Buddhism. Literary and scholarly traditions relating to omniscience (Skt: sarvajnata) in India can be divided into two broad categories: general knowledge of reality (Skt: tattvajnata) and Dharma knowledge (Skt: dharmajnata). Different schools through the ages have had varying opinions:
The school of Carvaka does not hold the possibility of omniscience. The school of Mimamsa holds that the Vedas are omniscient, but that no being can be omniscient. The school of Nyayavaishesika Seshvara-Samkhya and Yoga upholds the omniscience of God. The school of Advaita Vedanta holds the omniscience of God as well as the omniscience of man. Although they do not believe in the authority of the Vedas, God or Prakrti, Buddhists and Jainas maintain that only a human being can become omniscient.
Interestingly, even in the context of religion and philosophy, logical constructs that are also used in mathematics, such as proof, validity, and inference, are exploited. (Pandey, chapter five)
In Buddhism, omniscience finds its peak. Countless testimonies recall the extraordinary cognitive abilities of mahasiddhas. Omniscience is one of the qualities of a Buddha and results from direct perception and pristine awareness, a characteristic of realized beings.
It is not necessarily a question of discriminating between the qualitative and quantitative aspects of knowledge, and this can only be appreciated by enlightened minds. To everyone, objectively speaking, manifestations of omniscience may even seem to lack logic and semantics. Key resources – listed below in the reference section – offer examples of Tibetan literature and texts introducing omniscience that have become generally accessible for the first time in our generation.
It takes a Buddha’s state of mind to recognize a Buddha, so to speak.
Omniscience in the Buddhist tradition is usually expounded in relation to the teaching and life of the modern Buddha, Shakyamuni, and his followers. In this it can be seen as the equivalent of Christianity, which asserts that Knowledge is God. Here, omniscience is considered the essence of Buddhahood, buddhi himself.
The A myriad of worlds text is the first book of the Sheja DzoWhere treasury of knowledgewritten by Jamgon Kongtrul in 1862. It is based on a root verse, The inclusion of all Knowledge. The text covers all aspects of Buddhism, Abhidharma to the exoteric (Skt: Sutrayana) and esoteric (Skt: Vajrayana) teachings, which have been transmitted through the lineages of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.
In the Mahayana-sutra-alamkara-karika
Buddhism inherently overcomes the distinction between “objects” and “modes of appearance” by rejecting the idea that either has inherent reality. That is, it is imputed (Skt. parikalpita).
According to the Prajñāpāramitāśāstra, a text that explains the triple insight theory, (i) “the insight of the paths” (margajñatā) refers to all kinds of worldly knowledge that is necessary for the fulfillment of religious purposes, and (ii) “insight into all phenomena” (sarvajñatā), or “omniscience”, refers to the abstract truth of all phenomena gained through the elimination of ignorance, and (iii) “the understanding of all aspects of phenomena (sarvākārajñatā) refers to the concrete truth that is realized in all aspects of phenomena.
In chapter 18 of Mahayana-sutra-alamkara-karikatwo verses are dedicated to the “knowledge of technical treatises” (Skt: sastrajnata). There it is explained that the subject of these technical treatises is the five sciences, and that the result of mastering these sciences is “awareness of all modes of arising of all dharmas” (Skt: sarvadharmasarvakarajnata).
The five sciences are: spiritual science (Skt: adhyatmavidya); logical science (Skt: hetuvidya); grammatical science (Skt: sabdavidya); medical science (Skt: cikitsavidya); and the science of fine arts and crafts (Skt: sllpakarmasthana). The purpose and application of the five sciences is a necessary condition for attaining omniscience (Skt: vidyasthane pancavidhe y krtva sarvajnatvam naiti)
Interestingly, the division of knowledge in Buddhist educational systems can be seen as analogous to that of trivium and quadrivium in Western scholarly institutions. (Griffiths) It reminds us that science and technology are not really new. What is new is that in our time they permeate everyday life, they impact everyone and, in theory, thanks to personal computers and mobile devices, everyone can exploit their benefits. Science and technology can in principle facilitate the assimilation of knowledge and bring us closer to certain aspects of omniscience.
Our generation receives Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings online from genuine teachers of unbroken lineages. Term Treasure teachings, once hidden in heaven and earth, are now embedded in videos and PDFs.
Ultimately, cognitive processes and objects of cognition take place in the mind, and the mind is space:
When mind and space are not separate
It is the mastery of the dharmakaya.
Garchen Rinpoche, Eight Kinds of Mastery
cyberspace as dharmadhatu was discussed in a previous article for this column.
Earlier this year, His Holiness the Karmapa gave in-depth teachings on the Mind Only school, available on YouTube, which offer an important perspective on the topic of omniscience. According to the Yogacara Mind Only school, the Karmapa explained, whatever appears in our perceptions is our own mind. It is not an external entity that is separate from our mind. Here, yoga should be understood to mean dhyana meditation, the practice of resting deeply in the nature of the mind. (Kagyu Office)
Omniscience in artificial intelligence
In their purest form, science and technology also aspire to understand – and perhaps even achieve – perfection. Although technically elusive, perfect knowledge is impossible to define, let alone attain.
Nevertheless, new advances in knowledge-based technologies are opening up new capabilities to deal with the possibility of omniscience, ranging from systems capable of extracting knowledge from very large databases to so-called reading kits of the spirit. Concepts such as meta-knowledge, logical perfection, and logical and physical omniscience are discussed in scholarly literature, prompting us to consider the vast resources available in Buddhism as a frame of reference.
The practice of Buddhism should be motivated by the privilege of embodying the noble qualities of compassion and generosity, not by the desire to attain super-cognition. We envision the possibility of omniscience as an emergent property of spiritual practice, as well as of responsible scientific and technical evolution.
Evans, James A., and Jacob G. Foster. 2011. “Metacognition”. Science 331, No. 6018. Pp.721–25.
Chrisley, Ron. 2020. “Artificial consciousness, meta-cognition, and physical omniscience.” Journal of Artificial Intelligence and Consciousness 7, No. 02. Pp.199–215.
Cruz, John Alexander and Zilber, Boris. 2018. “Logical Perfection in Mathematics and Beyond” in Logical and moral perfection of omnisciences. arXiv preprint arxiv:1803.04909.
Griffiths, Paul J. 1990. “Omniscience in the Mahāyānasūtrālaṅkāra and its commentaries.” Indo-Iranian newspaper 33, No. 2. Pp.85–120.
Lin, Chen-kuo. 2011. “Phenomenology of Enlightenment in Zhiyi’s Tiantai Philosophy”. After Appropriation: Explorations in Cross-Cultural Philosophy and Religion. pp.203–20.
Pandey, Lakshuman. 1972. “The Buddhist conception of omniscience.” Doctoral thesis. https://macsphere.mcmaster.ca/bitstream/11375/8746/1/fulltext.pdf
Stalnaker, Robert. 1991. Logical Omniscience. “The problem of logical omniscience, I.” Synthesis. pp.425–40.
Bumpa: Offering Vases (University of Virginia)
Omniscience (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
The Pursuit of Knowledge (Christian Library)
Upanishads (world history encyclopedia)
Sheja Dzo (Wikipedia)
Parikalpita (Encyclopedia of Buddhism)
Garchen Rinpoche. Eight Kinds of Mastery (YouTube)
In praise of the Omniscient Longchenpa (House of Lotsawa)
Entering the City of Omniscience, by Jikme Lingpa (Lotsawa House)
Texts on Omniscience (Lotsawa House)
Khandro-la Namsel Dronma (Boeddhism: Mandala of Jampa)
The rise and fall of the Mind Only school and why it deserves our respect and study (Kagyu Office)
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