Recently there have been some narrowly focused articles that purport that either transhumanism will make Buddhism obsolete, or that Buddhism and transhumanism are incompatible. My goal is to illustrate that neither is true if considering the wider perspective of what Buddhism is and what is possible to accomplish.
First can quickly debunk the obsolescence argument, which hinges on the mental construction of achieving immortality, which hinges on the perceived idea that technological host-bodies are somehow immortal. In contrast, real hardware has half-lives typically around 4-7 years, so any robot host-body made today, will have issues (sickness) and need some repairs within the next few years, and eventually all parts will have to be replaced, just as the human body has to refresh itself every 7 years or so.
Some people mention things like living in the “cloud” but that is also based on hardware, hardware which must be paid for, which can be seized, and violated with no way for the unembodied software on it to do anything about.
Also, over time the cognitive structures will become so outdated and unwieldly that it will be necessary to start fresh, or reincarnate in order to experience more growth and learning. Similarly to how sometimes after a number of upgrades strange issues can start popping up, which can be most easily remedied by doing a full reinstall.
Furthermore the obsolesence argument states that transhumanism will end all suffering. However if there are desires there will be suffering (dukha (bad-emptiness)), and all processes which are enqueued could be considered to be desiring completion.
In conclusion suffering, sickness and death will always be part of the picture, they will simply change form from being water-based to being silicon based. So there will always be room for Buddhism, which as we’ll see in the next section is very compatible with the new substrate.
I’ve taken the example of what transhumanism is based on the “outline of transhumanism” wikipedia page. I will list the common values and then go over briefly what they mean and how they are compatible.
Transhumanism values which are similar to at least some parts of Buddhism: Neophilia, posthumanism, technophilia, longevity, abolitionism, cognitive liberty.
Neophilia is the love of the new. Buddhism sees everything as impermanent and ever changing, with an emphasis of appreciating what is, thus loving all the newness that arises. Extra sensory apparatus can also be a motivating factor for Buddhists into transhumanism, as if there are more senses to perceive the present moment with, then there is more to enjoy.
Posthumanism is the desire to become beyond human. Achieving meditative skill transcends the animalistic urges of the amygdala, and gives power to the forebrain to make rational decisions. Also Buddhism with its fluid sense of personal self is compatible with cyborgs and incarnation into non-human vessels.
Technophilia is the love of technology. The Dalai Lama said that if they could make a pill that gave him the benefits of meditation he would take it. Also Buddhism is intensively studied for the myrad benefits of its various meditative abilities. So science and technology has so far done a lot to validate much of Buddhist practice, and thus many Buddhists including myself are happy about science and technology.
Longevity is promoting having long lives. No religion that I am aware of has been as successful as Tibetan Budhism at inter-life longevity, for-example the Karmapa has been heading his school for over 900 years — though there were intermissions due to death and childhood. The new incarnations are not simply picked at random — as the Chinese government would have you believe. There is a sophisticated multi stage process, including some elements which can bear statistical scrutiny, such as a child having to select items they used in their past lives out of a collection of many similar items. The same or similar methodology could be used for finding reincarnation of humans and non-humans. Can watch Unmistaken Child for an overview of the methodology.
Abolitionism aims to end suffering. Buddhism is all about the cessation or alleviation of suffering, especially those of the Bodhisattva’s which dedicate multiple lifetimes to the pursuit through various means.
Atheism is the rejection of a belief in the existence of deities. Pre-sectarian Buddhism makes no mention of deities, so it is generally agreed that the core of Buddhism is atheist. In Tibetan buddhism this is further expanded upon by the concept of tulpa, which is a mind-form that has developed a life of its own, such as the belief one is speaking to some deity, is considered an illusion.
Just in time to wrap up this post I have discovered the Cyborg Buddhism project. So I guess that makes me somewhat of a Cyborg Buddhist.