Michael LaTorra

Buddhist Transhumanism – Summary of Michael LaTorra’s essay

My article “Michael LaTorra explains Buddhist Transhumanism in a nutshell” has been published on The Transfigurist, the blog of the Mormon Transhumanist Association.


Excerpts:

My friend Michael LaTorra, an ordained Zen priest and the abbot of the Zen Center of Las Cruces, New Mexico, has written a short, simple and readable introduction to Buddhist Transhumanism. The article was published in Theology and Science in April with the title “What Is Buddhist Transhumanism?

Mike’s article is very useful as a first step because it is simple and focused on [the essentials]. The article provides a clean and clear introduction to Buddhism for people already familiar with Transhumanism, or the other way around.

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. In related speculations, Russian Cosmism and derived visionary interpretations of contemporary Transhumanism assert that future technologies could resurrect the dead.

Reducing suffering is a key aspect of both Buddhism and Transhumanism. While Buddhism suggests diluting the ego in a cosmic unity, and emphasizes meditation as a practical way to achieve enlightenment, Transhumanism wants to change the world using advanced technologies.

The question is, once all suffering is eliminated by diluting the ego in meditation and unity with the whole of reality, is anyone left to experience happiness? Mike is well aware of “the typical horrified reaction of many Westerners to this vision, which seems to imply annihilation.”

I try to think of ways to reconcile Buddhism with cherishing the individual awareness that I wish to keep. My formulation of the core Buddhist message for Westerners would be something like:

Don’t think of Nirvana yet – you’ll cross that bridge when you get there. Try to live a right life, and advance with some little steps on the Karmic road to enlightenment. Then in your next existence you will have a bit more of a cosmic mind, and perhaps a bit less of an earthly mind. So in your following existence, and the next, and so forth… until you see the bridge to Nirvana, and then you will be ready for whatever comes next, which probably we couldn’t even imagine now.

Read the full essay on The Transfigurist.


“The best way to overcome the fear of death,” writes Ted Chu in “Human Purpose and Transhuman Potential: A Cosmic Vision for Our Future Evolution,” (see also my review of Chu’s book), “is to make one’s interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the spiritual walls of the self recede, and one’s life becomes increasingly merged into the universal whole.”

Here Chu shows a Buddhist spirit. At the same time, he is aware that the prospect of losing individual awareness and blending in cosmic consciousness could be disturbing and human-unfriendly. “A non-personal God that is cosmic in nature has to be blended with certain human-friendly characteristics in order to be attractive, in the same way that colors are added to the pictures taken through space telescopes to enhance perception and draw popular interest,” he says.

If you want to contemplate human-friendly reincarnation, you should think that you will still be human in your next life, and so in the following life – perhaps a bit less human and a bit more cosmic, but you’ll have all the lifetimes you need to become cosmic. Similarly, if you want to contemplate human-friendly technological resurrection, you should think that you will be given all the time you need to adapt to new forms of consciousness that transcend your current concept of self.

Picture by the author.