Reading Mahāyāna Scriptures Conference, Sept 25-26, 2021
Dr. D. E. Osto
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, Massey University
‘Virtual Realities: A Mahāyāna Interpretation based on The Supreme Array Scripture’
The Supreme Array Scripture (gaṇḍavyūha-sūtra) is an important Mahāyāna sūtra that recounts the story of Sudhana, a young man who sets out on a quest for omniscient buddhahood during the lifetime of the historical Buddha. This expansive narrative depicts a cosmic vision of reality wherein all physical and mental phenomena within spacetime interpenetrate and inter-reflect each other. This nonduality of intentionality and things Rupert Gethin (1998: 119) aptly calls the Buddhist “principle of the equivalence of cosmology and psychology.” According to this principle, the various cosmological realms are understood to be the result of the intentional activities of the beings who inhabited those realms. Simply put this is the Buddhist understanding of karma: one’s intentional activities over countless lifetimes definite the parameters of one’s lifeworld. Thus, there are no free-standing objective places apart from the collective karmic conditioning of their inhabitants; in truth, all conventional reality is virtual. This principle is dramatically depicted in the opening scene of The Supreme Array, when Vairocana Buddha enters a meditative trance (samādhi) that transforms Jeta Grove into an infinitely vast jewelled space. Following an elaborate description of this vision, the narrator informs us that the disciples of the Buddha who are not bodhisattvas do not see this transformation because they lack the necessary “roots of merit” (kuśulamūla). This assertion is then illustrated with a number of analogies highlighting the virtual and karmic nature of conventional reality. In this paper, I argue that The Supreme Array’s view that all conventional experience is virtual may be applied to our current ethical thinking around the technological creation of virtual realities (VR technology), and the current “Simulation Hypnosis” that the universe we are living in is in fact an artificial simulation.