Is ChatGPT the name of the next Buddha?
Is this the beginning of an AI revolution that will free humanity or enclave it? Or could it be the next Buddha? Find out in this week’s Blog article.
If you have been following the tech news then you cannot have missed the latest innovation that is making the rounds that is ChatGPT.
For those who do not spend long hours on the net, ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence ‘chatbot’, that is some clever software that learns on the job to hold conversations with human interlocutors. It was released in November last year and anyone who writes for blogs, podcasts or writes articles either online or in print has been signing up for it to display their latest offerings. Do you want to know how your microwave manual would read if it was written in the style of Jane Austin? Well, sign up for an account and you can ask ChatGPT to do just that.
It doesn’t seem to matter how incredible new technology gets humans have a canny way of mining it for entertainment value.
The reason you can ask it anything is because it is like a search engine, and, in fact, it may in time replace the more common Google or Bing searches that we all know and rely on. Thus ChatGPT mines the whole of the internet to produce its material: just let that sink in for a moment- the whole of the internet includes all your Facebook posts and other social media as well as the libraries of the world, databases, articles video and audio, music and knowledge from every university, institute and laboratory. That is quite a resource!
So, inevitably we had to get in on this act and gave a shout-out to Nick Julius for doing the leg work to see if Chat GPT could produce some Buddhist scriptures for us?
Let’s take a look at what ChatGPT came up with…
Write some verses of Buddhist scripture in the style of the Dhammapada
The mind is the forerunner of all states,
With a pure mind, one can conquer any fate.
As one thinks, so one becomes,
Thus, one's destiny is never undone.
OK, I can see where this was lifted from. It’s a rehash of Verse 1 of the Twin Verses. Not sure about that ‘fate’ word, a concept that doesn’t exist in Buddhism, but maybe I’m being unkind, I’ve certainly seen worse translations such as ‘sin’ or ‘evil’ in English translations of Buddhist scriptures.
Let’s try another one,
The fool who thinks he knows it all,
Will surely stumble and fall.
But the wise who's always keen to learn,
Will grow and evolve at every turn.
What’s with the hammy rhymes? Maybe Chat GPT thinks The Dhammapada could benefit with some input from Pam Ayres. I’m not so impressed with this one as it has definite motivational poster vibes for me.
OK - Let’s move onto something else.
This next one is for the interfaith geeks out there, you know the ones, those who like to go on about how all religions fundamentally say the same thing etc.
Imagine Jesus and the Buddha met for tea and cake and discussed theology. Write in the form of a script the conversation they might have about the path to enlightenment and freedom.
Setting: A serene and peaceful garden. Jesus and the Buddha sit across from each other at a small table with tea and cake on it.
Jesus: (Smiling) It’s good to finally meet you, Gautama.
Buddha: (Smiling back) The pleasure is mine, Jesus.
Jesus: (Pouring tea) So, what is the path to enlightenment in your teachings?
Buddha: The path to enlightenment is the Noble Eightfold Path, which includes right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration.
Jesus: (Nodding) That sounds very similar to the teachings of the Kingdom of God, which includes loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Buddha: (Sipping tea) Yes, both paths emphasize the importance of compassion and mindfulness. Without compassion, we cannot cultivate the wisdom necessary for enlightenment.
Jesus: (Eating cake) I couldn't agree more. In my teachings, compassion is at the heart of all we do. And by loving our neighbors as ourselves, we cultivate compassion and break down the barriers that separate us.
Buddha: (Smiling) Yes, we are all interconnected, and our actions affect not only ourselves but also those around us.
Jesus: (Nodding) In the same way, our actions can either bring us closer to God or distance us from Him. We must strive to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Buddha: (Pouring more tea) Indeed, we must strive to live a life that is free from suffering. The key is to detach ourselves from our desires and cravings, which are the root of all suffering.
Jesus: (Sipping tea) I see. In my teachings, I also emphasized the importance of letting go of our earthly desires and focusing on eternal life with God.
Buddha: (Smiling) Yes, we are both pointing to the same truth - that true freedom and enlightenment come from letting go of our egos and surrendering ourselves to a higher power.
Jesus: (Smiling back) Amen to that. We may have different approaches, but we both seek to lead people to a life of peace, joy, and fulfillment.
Buddha: (Nodding) Indeed, we are both messengers of the same universal truth.
(They continue to enjoy their tea and cake in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, united in their shared understanding of the path to enlightenment and freedom.)
Well, who knew that Buddha and Jesus talk in American English! Don’t get me wrong, I am not prejudiced and many of my friends…. etc. I think that’s just neat.
It’s a fun exchange and they say all the right key words but I don’t get the impression that they are talking to each other? Do you?
Anyway, I’m really glad that they both get to sit down together with tea and cake in a garden.
Now, let’s get Zen specific. What does ChatGPT come up with when we ask about koans?
Write some original koans in the style of Mumonkan. Then provide the response of the Zen student.
A monk asked, "What is the way to liberation?" Response: The way to liberation is not a way, but a letting go. It is to release all attachments and concepts, and to abide in the present moment, without grasping or rejecting anything.
The question is fair and there are a number of koans where one asks a question such as this, so far so good. However, the response is clunky and way too much exposition for a koan. It is a teaching but I can’t see this making it into the Mumonkan or the Blue Cliff Record any time soon.
Let’s try another;
A monk asked, "What is the essence of Zen?" Response: The essence of Zen is like a flame that consumes itself. It is not a doctrine or a philosophy, but a direct realization of one's true nature, beyond all distinctions and dualities. To realize Zen is to be Zen, to be fully present and engaged in each moment, without clinging or avoiding anything.
Again, the question is fine and asking about the essence of Buddhism, Zen or Buddha is standard fare in many koans. The answer is fine as a teaching but despite it saying it is a direct realisation (mirroring Bodhidharma’s famous four-line verse about direct pointing), it is too discursive. Contrast that with an actual koan when a monk asked Master Joshu the following question:
“What is the meaning of the patriarch’s coming from the West?” Jōshū said, “The oak tree in the garden.”
There is something immediate that cuts through with Joshu’s response. This sort of response just isn’t present in the AI manufactured koans.
So, there we are, that’s my take on Chat GPT. It’s clever stuff, no doubt about it and I can imagine quite a few school students getting the AI to write their homework for them, - and I don’t envy the teachers sorting that out. However, not sure the Buddha will be handing over his robe and bowl to this chatbot anytime soon.
What do you think?
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