Exploring Virtual Reality and Eastern Philosophy

Embodied Philosophy

Oct 30,2019

Whether or not our everyday reality should be considered a virtual one has until recently been a consideration only appropriate to science fiction and to certain “obscure” eastern philosophical systems.  But as with all good science fiction, some turn out to predict the future. The dystopian films making headlines in popular culture today often express the idea that reality as we experience it is an illusion, one that takes hold of us either due to ignorance or a malevolent force. 

It isn’t just Hollywood that’s telling stories of a virtual world, however; it is now scientists as well. The simulation hypothesis, as articulated by Rizwan Virk, posits that the world and indeed the entire universe are likely a computer simulation. Virk’s view is a fruitful point from which to launch conversations between the transformative cosmologies of Vedānta, Kashmir Śaivism and Yogācāra Buddhism and current AI, physics, digital gaming, and therapeutic techniques. In Virk’s model of simulation, the convergence of ancient knowledge systems with modern science involves a new approach to knowledge that transcends the limitations of previously self-enclosed areas of study. 

Is it philosophically coherent to assume that computers, a product of human invention, could be the source of our waking awareness? In other words, is it sensical to suggest that human consciousness is reducible to computation? Philosophers and scientists seem to be anything but in consensus about this. 

From the perspective of spiritual traditions, to say that reality is virtual has a different meaning, depending on which eastern philosophical tradition you ascribe to. Vedānta, Kashmir Śaivism, and Yogācāra Buddhism all have different positions on the status of reality. Considering these various positions will give us a broad perspective to consider traditional and modern ideas about the complex nature of reality and illusion.

Oftentimes, arguing that reality is “virtual” amounts to the claim that it is “not real.” But a further contemplation arises around the utility of the virtual. In what ways can virtual devices like Hindu yantras and Buddhist mandalas serve as “doorways” to reality? How might virtual gaming cultivate experiences of therapeutic catharsis or liberation? Are the virtual images of deities used in the context of yogic practice capable of transmuting the body-mind in a way that brings greater meaning to life? These questions invite us to blur the presumed distinction between “virtual” and “real” and entertain the manner in which the virtual can actually make us “more real” and help us live more embodied, fulfilled lives. 

Over the next three months, through its online content, Embodied Philosophy will explore various perspectives on the universe as a simulation, bringing  together philosophers, scientists, therapists, as well as scholar-practitioners of Vedānta, Yogācāra Buddhism, and Kashmir Śaivism. Our central theme is the question of the “virtual” and how it is understood from various philosophical perspectives, as well as how “virtual practices” might be harnessed in the service of spiritual or therapeutic transformation.  How does the simulation hypothesis link with deep mystical experience, especially as probed and developed in Indian and Tibetan religious and philosophical systems?

Through a free online conference, articles, videos, online courses and visualization guides, Embodied Philosophy will devote the next three months to exploring the intersection between spirituality and science through the lens of “virtual reality.”

To join us on this adventure, enter your email below and we will keep you up to date with all of our latest content as it is published.

Embodied Philosophy Forum

A Private Facebook Community


Related Articles
Recent Podcast Episodes