I recently heard a TED talk about “deep fakes”, videos and other digital media manipulated to fool the viewer. Computer specialists are able to put the head of someone on any body engaged in a variety of activities. Imagine your face placed on a body doing something you would never do. The technology is so refined that it is almost impossible to detect the illusion. And, of course, many people believe what they see and this has ruined many lives.
From a Buddhist standpoint, everything we see is a kind of deep fake. The projection of our mind is like a contrived computer code creating the reality in which we believe. When we peer through the veil of that code we only experience radiance, the light of pure awareness. This light is a luminous display of our unconditioned mind. On the other hand, if we believe what we see based on conditioned patterns in our mind, we become blind to the light. It is amazing how the digital age mirrors the way we conjure up experience similar to the way Buddha taught.
The digital perception depicted in the first Matrix movie was once employed in a Princeton University religious studies course to teach principles of Buddhism. In the film, the character Neo has a moment in which he peers through the veil of reality. It looks like falling bits of glowing computer code—similar to sunlit water dripping down a window. Neo is “the one”, a kind of messiah who will help free the world of illusion—to help us ‘unplug’ from digital blindness.
As in the movie, even though we appear to exist, we are only glowing bits of metaphorical code. The “I” is generated by a mass of learned habits—the programming that arises from our data base. In other words, the self is like a computer-generated image based on the relative skill or awareness of the programmer. This is why Vajrayana Buddhism suggests we practice skillful means, reacquainting ourselves with the luminous mind that has no sense of a separate “I”—to unplug from our programming.
Maybe unplugging from our ‘devices’ would be a good start.