(To Enter Or Exit ‘The Matrix’ Of Delusion?)
Disciple: Do Pure Lands (净土) exist?
Master: Does this defiled land (秽土) exist?
Disciple: Of course it does.
Master: If so, Pure Lands exist all the more.
– Pure Land & Zen Dialogue
Screened in the year 1999, ‘The Matrix’ movie suggested that humans might already be enslaved by Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) machines, that reduced us to mere biological batteries for sustaining their existence. In the meantime, we are fed elaborate illusions of the lives we currently live. However, there are rebels who have broken free from this network of delusion, who struggle to awaken others still trapped within. Then, there is Cypher the traitor, who rebels against these rebels, with hopes of returning to the Matrix. He argues that ‘the desert of the real’ does not appeal at all, as the world without deceitful programming turned out to be a desolated wasteland. He even regrets having chosen to be unplugged. When Trinity reminds him that, ‘the Matrix isn’t real’, he retorts that ‘the Matrix can be more real than this world.’ As he tucked into ‘good’ food while back in the Matrix for a while, he says, ‘I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious… Ignorance is bliss!’
Fast-forward to this year 2016, with the ready availability of virtual reality (VR) devices for individuals and ever more sophisticated A.I., instead of being forcibly plugged in, more are voluntarily hooking onto VR systems for entertainment. It began with computer screens, before being shrunk to be handy smartphones, now attachable to headgear for immersive and interactive sight and sound… with more sensory inputs coming. Addiction will surely render us willing slaves of technology, no longer its masters. But is Cypher’s stance unnervingly ‘relevant’, if there seems to be no downside to living beautifully crafted virtual worlds? Why choose bleak reality when you can indulge in simulated sense pleasures indistinguishable from the real deal? Well, Cypher’s choice to return to past ignorance is sheer stupidity, as no one can stay ignorant forever, while truth eventually surfaces. Ignorance’s bliss is thus short-lived, never as lasting as that based on reality. The continually ignorant are unknowingly exploited in the long run too.
The ‘desert of the real’ is Dukkha (existential dissatisfaction), the reality of the First Noble Truth of suffering being pervasive. Why swallow the red pill that leads to its discovery then? Because it is essential to recognise the problem in order to discover its solution. It is ‘bitter’ medicine that leads to the Third Noble Truth of the end of suffering. Nirvana is the sweet reward of awakening from delusions! That said, a glaring flaw of ‘The Matrix Trilogy’ is that it does not paint a bright enough picture of hope for the future, thus leading to ‘The Cypher Complex’. As Cypher was ignorant, he did not know he was still stuck in the cycle of suffering, with birth, ageing, sickness and death. Not only does the Matrix offer no lasting relief, its falsely idealised ‘paradise’ distracted him from the quest for liberation that is True Happiness. Only when facing reality best we can, can we forge a better reality, while being enmeshed in virtuality only drives us further away from this actual goal, which is what even Cypher really wishes to attain.
In this Dharma-Ending Age, the forces of Mara, the evil one, will become more subtly treacherous, operating even through high definition virtual realities. Unfortunately, there will be the rise of immoral VR programs offering temptations to indulge in wanton sex and violence, thus fortifying greed and hatred built upon increasing delusions. While technology is a double-edged sword that cuts for better and worse, this worse side will cut deeply into the human psyche, making it super challenging to focus on furthering the spiritual path. There are the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas though, the awakened ‘rebel’-heroes, who strive on to awaken our aspiration to join them in Pure Lands, which are truly more spiritually and physically real than this illusory Saha World, where we endure suffering via misperceptions. Free from distractions, they are worlds expressing perfect compassion and wisdom, offering the most skilful means to swiftly awaken fully as Buddhas. Sick of ‘the desert of the real’? Welcome to the paradise of the realest!
Pure Lands are worlds expressing reality
in the most skilful ways possible,
to enable us to realise reality
in the most swift ways possible.
‘The Matrix’-Buddhism Connection
‘The Matrix Reloaded’
We Are Survivors of ‘The Matrix Revolutions’