October 2002

» About This Issue - Editorial

» Curing the Ills of Technology Through Education - Tom Mahon   

» Finding Unity in Science, Religion, and Society - Swami Prabuddhananda   

» The Inner Net: How to find the Middle Path in a Silicon Society That Values Extremes - Rev. Heng Sure   

About This Issue- Editorial

Kumar Mehta

This issue contains three papers that were presented at the October 14, 2002 Ahimsa Conference on Reconnecting Science, Spirit and Society. The texts of remaining presentations will be published in the next issue.

Tom Mahon's paper on, "Curing Ills of Tech-nology Through Education," contains a thoughtful analysis of the use of technology for personal power and financial gain as the cause of social turmoil. His solution ?introduce into the general education curricula how technology uses can be diverted more and more toward personal and community well-being. Like Tom Mahon, Rev. Heng Sure (page 4) feels that our failure to use technology wisely is leading us toward an empty future. He attributes the lack of meaning in individual life to the disconnect that exists between the spiritual and the secular dimension of man (inner-net and internet).

Swami Prabuddhananda, in his paper on "Finding Unity in Science, Religion, and Society," states that from a spiritual standpoint neither science nor religion are to be blamed for problems in society ?the fault is with the human mind. According to Hindu scriptures the type of mind that sees only the external differences that divide us is a "sick" mind from which hatred and violence originate. The type of mind that perceives the underlying unity in diversity is healthy and compassionate. We would have less problems if people, irrespective of their professional interest, learned to discipline the mind and see the unity of existence before they act.

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Curing the Ills of Technology Through Education

Tom Mahon

One largely overlooked lesson from Sept. 11, 2001 is the disequilibrium allowed by our new technologies. Only recently have we discovered, to our horror, that technology has created what could be called a level battlefield. Twenty people, on a budget of less than a million dollars, can stun a superpower with devastating effect.

Two issues are involved here: In the technology-rich nations, more and more power is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. A president of the US could, if he went mad enough, unleash the firepower to destroy the entire biosphere in less than a day. The reality of that technical capability allows a president to dictate terms globally, which then offend disenfranchised nations and movements, which in return, can now inflict maximum damage at minimal cost.

And that puts most of us in the middle. On one hand, our government reserves to itself the right to use the most sophisticated signal processing equipment to monitor every word and deed of every citizen in the name of national security, while itself operating with ever-decreasing transparency. On the other hand, those with real or imagined grievances -including terrorists, freedom fighters and the truly mad- really are "out there and wanting to get us."

Two hundred years ago, Percy Shelley said, "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." The same could be said today about atomic, electronic and genetic engineers. We'e clearly entered a brave new world. Yet even as our lives become more dependent on technology, there's little effort made to teach people what technology is, how to live with it and how best to manage it. I'm not talking about existing degree programs in engineering for professionals, or about community college courses in programming in C++, at which we excel. I'm  talking about teaching technology as a discipline with a profound social impact, the way we teach science to students who will never be working scientists.

We think we're surrounded by high technology, but by the time something is available at Best Buy or CompUSA, it's mid-tech. The really high-tech gear is the stuff of science fiction, and it's on the way. For example, within 20-30 years there will be carbon based, not silicon based, computers. Then the question is, if it's carbon-based and organic is it a machine or a creature. And if it's a creature with a brain does it also have a mind. If a mind, a soul? What exactly is soul? Can Intel or Microsoft get intellectual property protection on MindTM or Soul? This issue will be down on us very soon, and without a general public understanding of the implications, this question -- like so many others today -- will be determined by corporate attorneys.

Another example of how we are often managed by technology, rather than managing our technology, is the way that in recent years we've moved from transmitting megabytes of alphanumeric data -- letters and numbers - to transferring terabytes of media-rich data -- sound and moving image. Yet our school system is still limited to verbal literacy -- reading and writing -- even though most of the information people need to make many of the important decisions in their lives they get from moving images on TV, PC, CD, DVD. There are few, if any, programs to teach visual literacy. So we have very well educated people who can parse a sentence but are unaware of how two images edited together create a third, vivid image in the mind: the visual cut from the toothpaste tube to the happy lovers on the beach creates a cause-effect visual link that would never stand verbally.

I think the time has come that there should be a general course called something like "Introduction to Technology." Our lives become ever more dependent on technology - as you/l notice whenever we have a power outage - so it seems only appropriate we have some basic grasp of it. Not so everyone can design circuit boards, but so we the people can keep a handle on the tools that now shape our lives.

Literally, technology means anything of human design, allowing us to leverage our limited, human capabilities. The first technologies leveraged our muscles - the six classical tools of antiquity: lever, fulcrum, block and tackle, screw, wheel. Then about AD 1600 we started to develop tools to leverage our senses: telescope, microscope, eventually radio and television. Mid-twentieth century, we developed tools to leverage our brains: notably the microprocessor. But leveraging that which was once a personal or tribal endeavor has grown so complex, so sophisticated, so expensive that it's now a corporate endeavor. Caterpillar, Craftsman, John Deere let us leverage our muscles. Sony, Panasonic, Zeiss-Ikon, Hubble leverage our senses. Intel, Microsoft leverage our brains. And because technology is anything of human design, we often overlook that our oldest and greatest technology is communications, which includes poetry, drama, song, dance, prayer, chant, meditation, kabala. An effort to leverage the intangible part of us: soul, spirit, anima, pneuma, atman, rhuah.

The Ancients seemed to understand the interplay between technology that works on the inner landscape and technology that works on the outer landscape. They saw science and technology as means to ends: science seeks knowledge or truth, and technology seeks to make the beautiful and do good. To them, science and technology were the path to beauty, truth and goodness; they were not ends in themselves. And they told cautionary tales about appropriate use of technology, like the story of how the great engineer Daedalus urged his son Icarus to pursue the middle path between the extremes of high and low; of how YHWH punished the people of Babel for their arrogant use of engineering; and how the Sorcerer's Apprentice nearly died after acquiring capability without responsibility. With the speed of technical change now, it's hard for us to believe that Native people could once consider the effects of their handiwork on the 7th generation. Could anyone in 1800 foresee our world now? Can we foresee AD 2200?

Something fundamental has changed. Even forty years ago, technology companies promised, "Progress is our most important product"; "Better things for better living through chemistry." The benefits seemed obvious. But sometime in the last forty years or so, we_e crossed a line so that technology is no longer seen as being for people, rather as something people must adapt to. Lacking much perceived social benefit any more, the best we can say about much new technology is simply it's cool stuff. And in reaction, kids with their low tolerance for hype now wear t-shirts saying, "Rage Against the Machine." So little attention is paid to the social benefit of technology now, that much of it is aimed only at the trivial (high impact special FX, video games) or deadly (mart bombs). It follows the money. We've often missing the middle path, the humane. And I believe one reason is the lack of clear thinking as to what the technological imperative is and how best to use it. We were homo faber- tool man -long before we were homo sapiens?

And because technology can have unintended, unforeseen consequences such as the widespread use of antibiotics which has rendered many of them ineffective today - any worthwhile course in technology has to be concerned with consequences. But we don't even have generally accepted standards for such an accounting; for investing and measuring values, meaning, even grace and humility into our tools. Let me give an example. The designers of Titanic set out to build an unsinkable ship. In the process, the goal became the accepted truth: this ship is unsinkable! So it wouldn't need lifeboats, except a few for people who expect to see them. The sinking of Titanic could have been an object lesson; warning of the danger of belief in invincible, infallible technology. That lesson wasn't learned and two years later the highly mechanized First World War broke out, taking the lives of over 60 million people in four years.

We have abilities now that go so far beyond all that: to manipulate the atom, gene, electron and synaptic connection with much of the groundbreaking work done within 20 miles of our own Bay Area in communities named after Francis and Claire; the Christian saints who best understood that nature was grace-full. But we claim to do it in a value-free context. At the same time there's a growing awareness that our value-free technology is increasingly working against us. And it's not technology's  fault. To paraphrase Hamlet: The fault lies not in our tools, but in ourselves.

Did values and technology interact in the past? Yes indeed. As when the Chinese decided not to use gunpowder as a weapon, fearing for resulting casualties; or when Leonardo hid his plans for a working helicopter fearing an army would use it to bomb civilians. Today, if it can be done, the technology imperative says it must be done, and if money can be made then let us do it immediately. In the absence of a sense of values, Moore's Law now forces us to double the pace of work and life every 18 months simply because we can double transistor density at that rate. Humans must adapt to technology, not the other way around. The fastest runner barely breaks a four-minute mile, but at work we are expected to keep up with electrons which go around the world seven times a second. We can no longer keep up with our ingenuity. And the resulting stress propagates out making mean-spirited people, and coarsening society.

But how do we reconnect science with con-science; tech-knowledge with self-knowledge in a global age? Whose values do we use? Given the history of the world's religions, causing as much mischief as enlightenment, how do we favor one system over another? Well, for all their other differences, the Ancients all over the world recognized two common golden nuggets needed for a happy life: the golden mean, or moderation, and the golden rule, treat others as you wish to be treated. These principles are found in virtually every wisdom tradition.

To be truly happy, they said, cultivate peace and serenity within yourself, and then let it flow out from you in the form of compassionate acts of loving kindness. Do this, and you will see the face of God and live. Fail to do this -- be anxious within yourself and manifest that anxiety as aggressive, acquisitive or obnoxious behavior -- and your life will be a disaster. Not because God is some remote being on a marble throne with a stopwatch and clipboard waiting for us to mess up so he has an excuse to push us into the ground. But because it is in the nature of things; in the right-working-ness of things. And a lot of people over hundreds of generations, East and West, have found it to be so.

The greatest question before us today - as individuals and as a larger society -- is how best to use our astonishing capabilities to leverage composure and compassion; to polish the gold nuggets of moderation and thoughtfulness? At the corporate level to design - and at the personal level to select and use - tools that leverage our composure and compassion. That is a much more sane and healthy way to live with technology, than to continually react with stress and anxiety, divisiveness and belligerency, to value-free or value-less technology that is thrust upon us.

In the past, much of our technology was based on the notion of the wedge, the shape of the plow that made possible agriculture and so much else. So we've often used technology (including religion, a human invention) to erect boundaries in every field. For us to be the elect _he others must be apostates; for us to be virtuous _he others? must be vicious; for us to be victorious _thers? must be vanquished. But technology is the application of scientific principles. And what the new sciences are teaching us now is that nature -- from bottom to top, from quantum to cosmic -- is actually more like a great web of being, than a great chain of being where every link has life and death power over the links below.

Twentieth century science showed us that nature is not divided into categories, as Aristotle taught, but instead appears to be a harmony of apparent opposites: mass and energy; space and time; chaos and order; open and closed universe. Things, in fact, are themselves and their opposite at the same time and in the same respect. And since we view the supernatural/metaphysical from our understanding of the natural/physical, what does modern science mean for value-able living today? Apparently, it means that ultimate reality -- the ground of being; God -- is not about setting one faction against another ?us over them -- but in fact is found in both factions. So the question is: How can we leverage that new understanding from the natural sciences, and manifest that reality with our new technology both for our happiness and for community well-being.

What is needed, with all our amplifiers and transponders, is a better awareness of the difference between signal and noise in com-municating. Signal is value-laden content; noise is distracting blather and static. We are swimming in noise today and desperate for meaningful signal. And only a development of inner technology ?thoughtfulness, conscien-tiousness, concern ?will help us develop the skills of deep feeling, deep seeing, and deep listening. And so there are two paths before us today: A New Feudalism, benefiting a small elite of highly compensated knowledge workers, based on Intellectual Property not Real Property -- and creating a seething rage among those left out. Or an equitable distribution of the earth_ resources. We are already far down the first path, evidenced by the current rush to establish a Pax Americana, backed up by _mart?weapons.

At the same time, we now have the tools to fulfill the prophecy in Deuteronomy: to help the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame leap like gazelles. We can manifest the Beatitudes of feeding, clothing, teaching and healing; facilitate the Great Metta of wishing and doing well to all conscious beings. And by doing so, break down the artificial barrier we_e created in our minds between sacred and secular, pious and profane.

What we need is a better use of the powers the new technologies give each of us as individuals and small communities. And the place to begin is by teaching people to appreciate, understand and apply the new power at their disposal. Power to separate the signal from the noise in our personal lives, and engage with the world at the local level. We_e seen the pain that 20 men and a million dollars can inflict on a major city. How much grace can be accomplished on that budget?

In conclusion, for an introductory course on high-technology, I recommend a curriculum that teaches the four P_:

1. Pause: Pull back from the flow for 10-15 percent of your time and take a Data Sabbath; be thoughtful of the effects your environment is having on you;

2. Preciate: When pausing, appreciate the interconnection of all. As naturalist John Muir said, I find when I touch anything in the world it_ connected to everything in the universe. Read some of the many wonderful books about the new sciences written for laypeople like Paul Davies God and the New Physics; John Gribbin_ In the Beginning; The Birth of the Living Universe; John Templeton_ The God Who Would Be Known. Or Robert Pirsig_ Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Arnold Pacey_ The Culture of Technology, or E.F. Schumacher_ Small is Beautiful.

3. Pray/Mediate: Regard the Sacred as a present, active verb ?Being - not as a remote noun. Imagine a God who could make everything, everywhere, everywhen out of one Big Bang and remain present, under the stones in the garden and in the star-spangled nighttime sky.

4. And Participate: Our tools can let us feel, hear and see at great distances. But now we also need to engage in deep feeling, deep hearing and deep seeing ?that is, sensing more than what is on the surface. Join Citizen Councils like the Loka Institute (www.loka.org); or citizen deliberative councils (www.co-intelligence.org/P-CDCs.html), which collect expressions of the common interest derived from a broad spectrum of the community; or United Religion_ Community Circles (www.uri.org); or volunteer technical skills at CharityFocus (www.charityfocus.org). The Epis-copal Church in Northern California is raising funds to open The Bay School (www.bayschoolsf.org) where the academic program emphasizes the interrelationship between science, technology, ethics and world religions. The choice before us is very clear: continue to allow an ever-smaller body of people to accumulate ever more power over every aspect of our lives. Or, like Jude the patron of difficult causes, take a sad song and make it better.

Tom Mahon is a widely respected speaker and author on technology issues. He is also a member of the Ahimsa Board.

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Finding Unity in Science, Religion, and Society

Swami Prabuddhananda

How do we find and develop what unites us in science, religion and society? By science I mean scientist, and by religion I mean religious people. Both scientist and religious people are in society, so everything is hinged to society. Also, a scientist has his/her father, mother, wife, husband, and children who are all members of society, so connection is already there at one level. We are connected whether we are scientific people or religious people ?we are people first. We are human with human problems and human aspirations. Now and then we take stock of things. We ask ourselves how things are going. So many things are happening every day in political, social, scientific, and economic areas. When tragedies happen we sit together and reflect on what is happening and what it means.

What is the source of all the problems around us? Why there is so much pain? There are so many answers but no one answer is satisfactory. From a spiritual point of view the problem is not with science because science is good. The problem is not with religion, religion is quite all right. The problem is with us, human beings. But even saying it is with human begins is not enough. Where is the problem located in human beings? The problem is located in the human mind. I am using the word mind in a comprehensive sense as the inner instrument. It is our thinking, feeling, willing, ego, past experiences, all put together. So, where does violence start? Violence begins in our minds. Somewhere inside it starts and then it spreads like fire.

Hindu scriptures talk about several types of levels of mind. Predominantly, the mind works on three levels. At the first level, mind clings to one single small thing as though it were the whole and thus misses the mark. This condition of the mind hangs on to the trivial as if it were the whole. At the second level, the mind sees only the differences. It doesn_ see the unity, inter-relations and common factors where we agree. This level of the mind sees only where we disagree and emphasizes that alone. The third condition of the mind is the ability to see the unity, the common factors, in and through all the diverse factors. This condition of the mind perceives diversity for the practical purposes of discernment but also sees the unity.

In conclusion, the first level of the mind irrationally clings to one small thing as if it were the whole, the second level sees only the differences, the third level sees the unity. The third level is healthy and luminous. If we want to connect science, religion and society, how should we go about it? We should increase the proportion of the third level of our thinking where unity is perceived, and minimize the other levels of our thinking. This process must begin with individuals and small groups that form a circle. Meister Eckhart gives as an example, if you want, of how to draw circles within circles, hold a compass firmly in the center and you can increase the circle over and over. As long as the center is firm you can go on increasing the radius and you will continue to get a good circle. In that way smaller groups try to level up the mind, let it become healthy. In our three levels of mind, the first level is given a Sanskrit word, aswastha, that means sick. The third level of the mind is swastha, which means healthy. So, the sick mind should become a healthy mind. It is the sick mind that spread violence and war.

What can we do to be healthy? A scientist with the first type of mind is a sick person. The one with the second type of mind is a troublesome person, he is still sick. The same is true for a religious person because the human mind works in the same way. With government, it is the same. A democracy may become sick when there are warmongers or hate mongers. But if the individuals in the government have healthy minds and see diversity for practical purposes only, then the government is healthy. So what is to be done is to let each individual, scientist, or religious person in society consider this and perform their jobs properly. A scientist has passion for truth. A good scientist practices detachment. He/she doesn_ get stuck with one idea and try to prove that the whole universe supports that idea. A good scientist keeps a healthy, open mind. A good religious person does the same thing. The central truth of religion is God, the Spirit, the Unity-Without-a-Second. Churches, temples, mosques provide formalities; they are all details, but the central point is God, truth, love, and a life detached from greed, lust, hunger for power. The disciplines for the scientist are truth and detachment from trivia, and for the religious person are God and detachment from worldliness. To serve society requires self-sacrifice. These are the disciplines that must be observed through disciplining the mind. And if we do that, unity in diversity, connecting all the things will not remain some utopian ideal. It is already there, and from the discipline of the mind you will see it. A child at first just sees people, then learns the differences in people, then grows to see the common principles and factors that unify all.

All our meetings and conferences are fine, but unless we discipline our minds to see our unity they are not much use. If vision is not developed, what can we do? So vision has to be widened to see that we are interrelated. It is not a thought, it is a fact. We have to develop our vision to see that we all form one unity, a unity of existence. If you want, you can use philosophy or reason to understand this, but otherwise simple people like us can simply see this. We don_ have to make the connection, we only have to see it. Oneness and unity is already there, we only have to see it. If we struggle to connect, we are going to be disconnected. Whatever is compounded will go back to its elements. That is nature_ law. Coming together and then separation is natural. Through God we are permanently connected and that alone will remain. Only the spiritual connection is eternal. All other connections will go. So many have tried to make external connections but they always break down. Life is impermanent. What is to be done? What did the Great Ones do? What did Jesus do? He preached love. He said love thy neighbor as thyself, and in that he gave up his life. What did Gandhi do? Same thing. Become like a small Buddha, a small Jesus, a small Krishna, and then give up your life for that. Terrorists are there and also good-hearted people who will work and die for peace are there. They all exist side by side. Light and darkness both exist. If you want to join Jesus, that is available, and if you want to join the terrorist that also is available. So thinking people, good-hearted people will follow Jesus, Krishna, or Buddha and do their job. We give our lives for truth, love and for God. If you dedicate everything to God, the supreme spirit, there your work ends. Do not question how this world is. Do not complain, just do your job.

Swami Prabuddhananda is the Head of the Vedanta Society of Northern California, San Francisco, and a member of Ahimsa Advisory Board.

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The Inner Net: How to find the Middle Path in a Silicon Society That Values Extremes

Rev. Heng Sure

During the New Year's weekend, the United Religions Initiative, a global interfaith network, organized peace walks around the San Francisco Bay Area. Two hundred people from 14 religions converged at Fort Point, a red-brick Civil War fortification on the southern shore of the Golden Gate Bridge, to pray at the millennium turning point. Halfway through the service, everybody -Native Americans, Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Earth-based religions and others - joined in reciting the name of the Buddha Amitabha, seeking a blessing and release from suffering for all the people who had ended their lives by jumping off the bridge.

As we chanted, I looked out to the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, the geographical end of America's Manifest Destiny. Our national mantra, "Go West, young men and women," brought us to the Golden Gate, but few found a pot of gold. We arrived at the edge of the bay and found no more road left to walk. Simply getting here has not satisfied our disquiet. Looking out to that flat expanse of endless horizon, we saw only our own reflection staring back. The hunger for meaning still ached; the craving for identity, for belonging, was still somewhere beyond our grasp. The utter nothingness of the Pacific Ocean left no track, no handhold, and no reward.

Those roads we traversed hoping for the Golden State stopped here. It was a bitter shock to realize that the outward search had a physical limit; the promise of a golden tomorrow went as flat as the bay. A few people in despair, unable to stop the surging momentum that pushed us West, leaped into the void and destroyed the body that had let down the soul.

Contemplative religious teachings, East and West, instead of being discouraged by the nothingness at the end of the geographical search for happiness, turn the search for happiness around and look within. They speak of the Golden Mean, to show us how to find perfect balance in the Middle, avoiding extremes. Ancient wisdom technologies point out the "Inner Net" as a universal gate to finding meaning; selfless compassion and benefiting others is the enduring gold inside that gate.

If we fail to learn from the first gold rush, this second headlong race toward the promised Golden Future of technology's paradise may bring us collectively to a similar sudden shock at the lack of meaning in our electronic tools themselves. Once we establish the global communications network, ubiquitous connectivity cannot teach us what to say to our new neighbors. Leaping into emptiness, as much as attaching to material existence, are extremes that lead away from the Middle Path. Neither extreme delivers lasting satisfaction. Technology promises a means to satisfaction and happiness, but our minds must tell us when to stop and return.

As Webmaster for my organization in three languages (English, Chinese, and Vietnamese), I have come to appreciate the power of the Internet to create community. Our Q&A page, "Ask A Monastic," receives as many questions on Buddhist practice from Kuala Lumpur as from Kansas City. The Web brings unprecedented access to information. For instance, I can visit a Website in Taiwan from my Macintosh keyboard in the Santa Cruz, California mountains and have at my fingertips the complete text in Chinese of the "Book of Changes" and the "Confucian Analects." Emperors in China's Tang Dynasty gathered more than 600 monks to translate scriptures from Sanskrit to Chinese. Now with a search engine developed by nuns and monks in Taiwan, I can find online, with three clicks of the mouse, every instance of the name of a Buddhist Sage. No emperor's translation assembly ever had such kung fu, which is Cantonese for spiritual skill. Networking and speedy, convenient access to data are undeniable benefits of the Information Revolution.

At the same time, we need to use telecommunications wisely. By that I mean using electronic tools not as ends in themselves, but as digital chisels or means for carving meaning and happiness out of our existence. Sages of all religions have taught that the traveling is as important as the destination. On the other hand, we must lift our heads above the bustling marketplace and see clearly where the road leads ahead. Otherwise we risk living out the bumper sticker I saw on a sports car charging down U.S. Interstate Highway 280 in Silicon Valley: "I may be lost but I'm really moving."

Rev. Heng Sure is Director of the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery in Berkeley. He is also a member of the Ahimsa Board. This paper is based on an article that first appeared in Business 2.0.


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