The famous Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki wrote what is perhaps the best introduction to Zen Buddhism out there: the pair of books Not Always So and Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. In them, he conceptualizes the two types of mind within all of us: Big Mind and monkey mind.
I like to think of Big Mind as the the entirety of being, which is expressed through the continued practice of meditation. Monkey mind is the monkey inside that jumps from one thing to the next, chasing amusements because of the basal instincts of our own human nature.
As individual beings, we should understand ourselves through meditation and through the expression of our Big Mind, which allows us to ameliorate the endless suffering resulting from endless desires. The monkey mind is also part of us and must be calmed. Letting loose the monkey mind is being controlled by it, and this is the path to endless suffering.
Societies must cultivate individual Big Minds if they are to survive. The state of a society reflects the state of the functioning of Big Mind and monkey mind in its individual members. An unhealthy society is one in which the monkey minds of individuals run all over the place, causing mayhem and suffering.
Moreover, there are physical manifestations of the activities of Big Mind and monkey mind. Respect for nature through the creation of conservation zones reflects a fundamental need for harmony with nature and respect for other organisms. This is a consequence of Big Mind.
There are also innumerable manifestations of the monkey mind. One such is the ruthless system of global capitalism whose goal is to satisfy immediate whims as efficiently as possible without any regard for the consequences.
This system has recently given birth to one of the most egregious manifestations of the monkey mind in human history: advanced artificial intelligence, or AI. Programs such as ChatGPT and generative image AI can be seen as a physical reflection of the monkey mind: they jump all over the place across millions of images, and create new images and bodies of text based on instant whims. This type of technology goes fundamentally against the nature of the Big Mind and creates a type of society not conducive to the functioning of Big Mind.
Of course, before advanced AI, our society was already quite diseased, and we can conclude that advanced AI is yet another symptom of the sickness of being controlled by monkey minds. Is this evidence that our technological process is purely evil?
Not exactly. In fact, society cannot be considered purely evil. Our progress has created an opportunity. It is the opportunity of having enough time to think and to meditate in relative peace. It is said that throughout history, rare moments come where there is enough opportunity for mass enlightenment, and I believe one of those times is now.
This means that humanity is at a crossroads, and that there are two spiritual paths ahead for us.
The first spiritual path is to take time to reflect on the nature of humanity and to meditate on our path forward. This would ultimately lead to a restructuring of the globe to eliminate the emphasis on endless energy consumption, pollution, short-term thinking, and other destructive habits that ultimately arise from the basic human nature of the monkey mind. This would in particular necessitate giving up and destroying many advanced technologies like AI.
The second spiritual path leads to hell. It involves continuing as we are, and developing advanced AI and other technologies, while destroying our biosphere at the same time. This path is the path of continued wealth accumulation and wealth generation, and turning the members of society into mindless drones through our smartphone-powered culture. If we go down this path, we are committing to suppressing the Big Mind and eventually, giving up the current and rare opportunity for mass enlightenment.
The first path will bring a new age of calmness to the globe, leading to thousands of years of peace, and the second a hell that will lead to the endless destruction of life, both human and nonhuman. Then, life will have to wait for a new opportunity for peace, and there is no guarantee that we will get another chance.
If you resonate with this message, it is imperative that you act and start your own exploration into the expression of your own Big Mind. Once you are there, contemplate this truth and start a peaceful rebellion immediately by rejecting things that our consumerist society has normalized such as AI and excessive consumerism.
If enough people do this, we will collectively reform society and bring down the aggressive, capitalistic system that is pushing us away from peace through advanced technology, and the promise of wealth. If we do not, this system will erode the human spirit and we will descend into a new period of darkness.