Buddhism, Breathing, and New Digital Dharmas
How Buddhist teachings about the mind/body connection can help shape the Metaverse
The metaverse and spacial awareness
I moved to New York City when the first generation of iPods hit the market. (Yes, gentle reader, I am that old.) One concern futurists and policy makers worried about back then was the social impact of people wondering around with one of their senses cut off from the outside world. Would Brooklyn hipsters listening to Modest Mouse on their ear buds walk into traffic? (If so, it was probably for the best.)
All kidding aside, it seems reductive to consider the limitations of hearing and headphones today, as it’s clear, based on the design of recent Apple technology, that spacial awareness via one’s sense of hearing is important enough for Apple to include “Transparency Mode” in iOS.
Buddhism and the body
In Buddhism, an individual is composed of five factors called, “Skandha.” From Wikipedia:
- form (or material image, impression) (rupa)
- sensations (or feelings, received from form) (vedana)
- perceptions (samjna)
- mental activity or formations (sankhara)
- consciousness (vijnana)
Rupa, the body in its physical form, is not considered separate from the consciousness by the Buddha. Mind and body are one.
“In contrast with many Indian religious traditions, Buddhism does not regard the body and the mind or spirit as being two entirely separate entities — there is no sense in Buddhism that the body is a ‘vessel’ that is guided or inhabited by the mind or spirit.”—Buddhism and the body, Wikipedia
Breathing life into the metaverse
Pranayama is the yoga practice of regulating the breath. The breath, according to the Buddha, is one of the most important faculties of the mind/body connection. For example, if you put your hands over your partner’s eyes, they’ll think you’re playing a romantic game. If you put your hands over your partner’s nose and mouth, you won’t have a partner anymore. We experience our bodies primarily through our breath. Every moment of our lives, we cycle air through our lungs, our chests rising and falling, mouth and nostrils engaged, more or less until death.
From the Buddha:
“Being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes in; being sensitive to the whole body, the yogi breathes out.”—Yoga Journal
It’s my belief that practitioners of the metaverse must take the mind/body connection into account, if post-reality digital Dharmas are to take hold with everyday people. Simply put, people need body autonomy. No technology can separate the mind from the body, because the mind and body are one. Even the most dedicated VR fan wearing an Oculus headset is always, always, breathing. They are always connected to their body agency and the limbic region of the brain is always aware of potential dangers to the agent in its original Dharma.
I can sit and play Fortnite for hours—days, if my fingers can keep up. The reason, I think, is because I can always hit “pause” get up and walk over to the kitchen and pour a glass of water without changing my perception of the world. After all, I’m looking at a monitor in my original Dharma. On the other hand, I get bored of the Oculus pretty quickly and I think it’s simply because the immersive experience in “virtual reality” (better described as “a digital Dharma”) limits the experience of the body, which with every breath, craves old-school reality.
Breaking up (with reality) is hard to do
I don’t know what solution will satisfy the mind/body issue in post-reality Dharmas, but I would caution constituents who enterprise there, until this critical piece is addressed.
Because, while my limbic system is capable of keeping me from wandering into Brooklyn traffic, too much stress on that system wears me out and I need a breather.