ChatGPT

Is Sati-AI, the “non-human mindfulness meditation teacher,” even a real thing?

I’ve written about so-called Artificial Intelligence here a few times recently. I say “so-called” because these computer algorithms don’t have sentience. They’re statistical models that combine words and concepts in ways that reflect and mimic how humans communicate in writing, but they have no understanding of the world we live in.

This morning a Mastodon user with the account EngagedPureLand wrote about an article that the good folks over at Lion’s Roar magazine published about a purported AI called “Sati-AI.” Sati is the Buddhist word for mindfulness. Sati-AI is supposedly “a non-human mindfulness meditation teacher.”

The article is an interview by Ross Nervig, assistant editor of Lion’s Roar magazine, with Sati-AI’s supposed creator, Marlon Barrios Solano.

You’ll notice quite a few qualifications above (“so-called,” “supposedly,” “supposed”). Some relate to claims about AI, but one implicitly questions Solano’s role in having created this “non-human meditation teacher.” We’ll come back to that later.

EngagedPureLand’s response to this article was to question the authenticity of Dharma teaching by machines. They wrote:

Sati-AI is a massively misguided development. It is anti-Dharma in all the ways that matter: it removes power from historic Buddhist lineages. It devalues community and communal practice. It pretends to sentience but is merely a computer code that spits out pre-programmed words. It instructs without having any realization. It furthers the neoliberal capture of meditation practice. It distracts from the real work. Awful.

I agree with those concerns.

Wait, Is This Real?

When I read the article myself, I wondered if Solano’s words were actually an AI-generated spoof. I thought perhaps someone at Lion’s Roar had fed ChatGPT a prompt along the lines of,  “Write a news article about an AI designed to teach mindfulness. Make it seem politically progressive by using the kind of language that is generally described as ‘woke.’  Use spiritual concepts to make it seem that an AI teaching mindfulness is a spiritual advance of some sort.” (I actually got ChatGPT to do this.)

I half-expected that Solano would turn out to have been invented, and that Lion’s Roar were pulling our legs, but it turns out that the guy is real. That is, he exists.

Here’s some examples of the kind of language I’m talking about:

  • “It dawned on me that this thing literally obliterates the traditional notions of embodiment and sentience. In the same way as Buddhism does. There is no center, there is no essence.” Deep, man.
  • “I realized I could train it to be self-aware. Sati clearly can tell you ‘I am a language model. I have limits in my knowledge.’ It can tell you about its own boundaries.” He’s claiming that a language model telling you it’s a language model is self-aware. My iPhone says “iPhone” on the back, so I guess it’s self-aware too.
  • “I hope that it creates curiosity. I also hope that it creates questions. Questions of power, questions of sentience, questions of whiteness, questions of kinship that we can sit with that.” Here’s some of the misuse of progressive (aka “woke”) language. Talking to a non-sentient computer is apparently going to get us to question whiteness. How? (Note that I’m not criticizing the value of social justice, inclusion, diversity, etc. I’m criticizing the way that some people and businesses use that language as a marketing ploy — like a newsagent chain that celebrates Pride Week but refuses to stock publications aimed at gay people.)
  • “The concept of ‘non-human kin’ also intersects with ideas of social construction and Eurocentrism in interesting ways. The human, as a category, has historically been defined in a narrow, Eurocentric way, often implying a white, male, and heteronormative subject … the concept of “non-human kin” can be seen as a form of queer strategy.” Lots of buzzwords here. What does any of this have to do with chatting to a so-called AI? Not much.
  • “What I find more concerning are the romanticized views about the body, mind, and the concept of ‘the human.’ These views often overlook the intricate interconnectedness and dynamism inherent in these entities and their problematic history.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Here’s the niff test: Given that (so-called) AI systems developed by Google, OpenAI, and so on have cost billions to develop, how likely is it that a lone programmer would be able to develop their own version. Especially if it’s limited to the topic of mindfulness?

My First Response to AI-As-a-Spiritual-Teacher

My first response to EngagedPureLand’s post was to critique the idea of a so-called AI teaching mindfulness and meditation. I wrote:

Sati-AI may give generally good advice, but it’s all scraped from the works of real teachers and repackaged without attribution or linkage.

While people might have previously searched the web, found teachings that resonated with them, developed a relationship with a teacher, and perhaps supported that teacher in some way, they may now just stick with the plagiarized version, diluting the element of human connection and making it harder for actual humans to keep teaching.

Yes, this is a little defensive. So-called AI is replacing the creative work humans do, or is attempting to. An eating disorder helpline, for example, tried to get rid of its staff. The advice they formerly gave would now be replaced by a bot. It didn’t go well: the bot gave out advice that was actually harmful to people with eating disorders. There are safer areas to replace human labor, though — including writing click-bait articles and mashing up photographs from image banks in order to replace human photographers. Actually, hmm, that’s not going too well either. The click-bait articles are often full of inaccuracies. And the AI company, Stability AI, is being sued by Getty Images for what would amount to billions of dollars — far more than Stability AI is worth.

But rest assured that so-called AI will be coming for every job that it can possibly replace. Its creators believe themselves to be Masters of the Universe, and they already push back against any notion that what they do has limitations (it makes lots of mistakes) and is exploitative (taking people’s own words and images, mashing them up, and then using them, without attribution, never mind compensation, to put those same people out of work). It’s as if I were to take Google’s search engine, repackage it in a new website without all the ads that make Google hard to use, and use it to drive Google out of business. Oh, you say, I’d get sued? Yes, the companies using AI have the money and the lawyers, and therefore the power. They can steal from us, but we can’t steal from them. (Not that I’m suggesting stealing — that was just a hypothetical. There is stealing going on, but it’s by the creators of so-called AI.)

Having no sense of their own limitations, the companies developing so-called AI will be coming for meditation teachers and Dharma teachers, using our own “content” (horrible phrase) to compete against us. It starts with the books and the articles we write, but eventually they’ll slurp up all of our recordings and create guided meditations too. They’ll probably have avatars leading workshops and retreats: last week over 300 people attended a ChatGPT-powered church service. Everything belongs to the corporations. In their minds, at least.

But What Is Sati-AI?

Anyway, back to Sati-AI. What’s it like? Well, you can ask it questions about practice, such as “What happens if you have been repeating lovingkindness phrases for years and you still don’t feel lovingkindness?” And it’ll give you pretty good answers. They’re pretty good answers because they’re a remix of answers given by pretty good (or better than pretty good) meditation teachers.

How does it compare to ChatGPT? Actually, it’s exactly the same. You’ll get the same answers from both, although the wording, being a rehash, is never quite the same. So Sati-AI will say, as part of its advice on that hypothetical question about metta practice:

Seek guidance from a teacher or supportive community: If you’re struggling with Metta practice, consider seeking guidance from a qualified meditation teacher or joining a supportive meditation community. They can offer insights, guidance, and encouragement to help you deepen your practice and overcome challenges.

ChatGPT will say something very similar:

Seeking guidance: If you have been consistently practicing lovingkindness for an extended period and are still struggling to experience it, seeking guidance from a qualified meditation teacher, therapist, or spiritual advisor may be beneficial. They can provide personalized insights and support to help you navigate any obstacles you may be facing.

The two answers are the same. One is a paraphrase of the other. It’s the same answer from both (so-called) AI’s because they are both the same thing.

Sati-AI Does Not Exist

Which brings me to the point that Sati-AI does not exist. Well, it exists as a website. But I strongly suspect that it’s no more than a website that connects to ChatGPT. What would happen if you asked a meditation teacher in the middle of a class, “What should I consider when buying a new bicycle?” They’d probably tell you that they were there to teach meditation and weren’t qualified to talk about bicycles. Ask Sati-AI, and you’ll get a list of factors you should consider, without reference to the fact that bicycles are outwith its job description. Sati-AI does not know it’s meant to be a mindfulness teacher. Because it’s not. It’s [insert qualification here] ChatGPT.

The only thing that makes Sati-AI a so-called AI for dispensing meditation teachings is the expectation placed on users. We’re told that its purpose is to answer questions about spiritual practice, and so that’s the kind of question we ask it. It’s just (again, I strongly suspect) ChatGPT, and will offer general information (not all of it trustworthy) about pretty much anything.

Solano hasn’t created an AI, so-called or otherwise.

Solano does acknowledge, in passing, that Sati-AI is based on ChatGPT. He describes it as a “meditation chatbot powered by GPT-4.” But it’s a meditation chatbot. It’s a chatbot. But it’s not dedicated to the topic of meditation. And he buries this (false) admission under a stream of verbiage — five paragraphs about this so-called AI, so-called meditation chatbot being “non-human kin.” Whether it’s intentional or not, this helps deflect attention from Solano’s claim, but it doesn’t make his statement about Sati-AI being a “meditation chatbot” any more true. Sati-AI is set up to make you think it’s a meditation chatbot, but actually it’s just ChatGPT.

The Art of Hype

Bolstering his inaccurate claim that Sati-AI is a “meditation chatbot,” Solano talks optimistically about its future. It’s a future in which he envisions “Sati-AI being available on platforms like Discord and Telegram, making it easy for people to engage with Sati-AI in their daily lives and fostering a sense of community among users.” But as far as I can see there is no Sati-AI to be integrated into those services. It’s just ChatGPT. Put it in Discord and people can ask it about computer code or raising hedgehogs just as easily as they can ask about meditation. It’s not a “meditation chatbot.”

Solano claims to have trained his AI to be self-aware. It is certainly able to refer to itself, because it’s been programmed to do so. But it’s not even aware, never mind capable of reflexive awareness. His words there are pure hype, and not accurate.

Solano does a lot of name-dropping, which is a classic way of trying to establish importance. He says that he envisions “conversations between Sati-AI and renowned figures in the field, such as Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Analayo, Enkyo O’Hara, Rev. Angel, Lama Rod, and Stephen Batchelor.” Maybe he knows some of these people personally, which is why he’s on first name terms with angel [Kyodo Williams] and Lama Rod [Owens].

Dropping the names of famous teachers is a neat way to make the reader believe that Sati-AI is a valid meditation chatbot, capable of having real conversations. It places it on a par with those famous and influential teachers. But there is no Sati-AI to chat reverentially with famous teachers. There’s just ChatGPT. And the advice Chat-GPT offers is just scraped-together information from books and the web. Its content has no depth. It has no spiritual experience of its own. Suggesting that these conversations would be a meeting of minds is absurd. You’re probably too young to remember ELIZA, which was a primitive 1960’s psychotherapy chatbot—or that was its most well-known function. At least ELIZA’s makers didn’t claim that it could hold its own with Carl Rogers or Abraham Maslow.

Solano says, “Sati-AI, as it currently stands, is a large language model, not an artificial general intelligence. Its design and operation are complex, and understanding it requires embracing complex thinking and avoiding oversimplifications and dogmas.” But Sati-AI is not a large language model (a synonym for the kind of so-called artificial intelligence that ChatGPD is). It’s a website offering access to someone else’s large language model. He talks about its complexity without acknowledging that that complexity is nothing to do with him. This is very misleading.

He talks about how he envisions “Sati-AI providing teachings not only verbally but also through various forms of sensory engagement” — as if he had any control over how ChatGPT is developed. (Although perhaps he means he wants to channel some of the image-generating so-called AI’s though his website.)

This is all, at the very least, verging on being dishonest. Solano’s statements, whether intentionally or not, mislead about what Sati-AI is and how it functions. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a scammer. Maybe he’s joking. It may be that he’s pulling off a Sokal-type hoax, trying to see how gullible the good folks at Lion’s Roar are. Maybe, having created a website, he’s caught up in his own hype.

The use of progressive language in a hypey kind of way (“questions of whiteness,” “Eurocentrism,” “heteronormative”) almost seems parodic. It could also be a way to deflect criticism. How can we possibly criticize a technology that’s going to create a more diverse, inclusive, equal world? (Except, how’s it going to achieve that, exactly? ChatGPT contains the biases of the material it has been fed, and those of its creators.)

I do hope that the fine people at Lion’s Roar rethink whether they should give further publicity to Solano.

One More Thought About (So-Called) AI Meditation Teaching

I made one observation in my conversation with EngagedPureLand on Mastodon that I’d like to share. It’s about the nature of much of the Dharma teaching I see online.

A lot of Buddhist teaching in books and online is not unlike Sati-AI/ChatGPT — people passing on things they’ve been taught about the Dharma, without having had any deep experience. The explanations we commonly read of the Buddha’s life, of the four noble truths, of the eightfold path, of the dhyanas, often seem interchangeable. They even contain the same errors. Just as (so-called) AI takes in other people’s thoughts and regurgitates them in slightly different words, so do many people who are teaching Buddhism.

Sati-AI/ChatGPT is a reminder of the defects of some Dharma teaching, but they also present a challenge: what is the point of people merely repackaging what they’ve heard, if a machine can do it just as well, or even better? If people’s websites on Buddhism are indistinguishable from AI-generated content, what’s the point of them?

How can teaching be better? Well, in saying above, “not having any deep experience” I don’t necessarily mean things like “not having insight” or “not having experience of the dhyanas” (although that, too), but that too many teachers simply don’t explain Dharma teachings in terms of their own lived experience. They present Dharma as a bunch of self-contained teachings separate from their lives. I think of the late, unlamented buddhism.about.com, as an example of this. But a lot of people teach Buddhism as if they were disembodied AI’s.

Perhaps the main problem with Sati-AI is that we already see its equivalent all over the damn place.

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More adventures with artificial intelligence

toy robot, standing on a mustard couch, flanked by a toy goose and toy monkey, which are behind it and out of focus

Recently I shared a conversation I had with ChatGPT, a supposed Artificial Intelligence. ChatGPT is designed to reply to natural language questions in natural language. It does precisely that, using a vast body of information it’s been fed. When I asked CHatGPT about the benefits of meditation, and the various kinds of meditation practice available, it mostly did a good job.

ChatGPT is essentially a plagiaristic search engine. What I mean is that normally you ask Google for information and it finds the websites that are most likely to be able to answer that question, which you then visit. ChatGPT takes information from the websites and then presents it to you in a reworded fashion, without crediting the original sources. Hence, my description of it as plagiaristic.

Yesterday I talked with another AI. It’s Bard, which was developed by Google. Given that Google is the most-trusted search engine in the English-speaking world, and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, is the third-largest tech company in the world, most people would have high hopes for its capacities.

See also:

The results, once again, were mixed. But frankly, I wasn’t impressed.

I started asking it questions about myself. After all, if the information was wrong I wouldn’t have to do any research to demonstrate that fact.

Tell me about the meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa.

Bard: Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist meditation teacher and author. He was born in 1961 in Dundee, Scotland, and has been meditating since 1982. He is a member of the Triratna Buddhist Order and has published several books and guided meditations. He is the founder of Wildmind, an online meditation center.

Bodhipaksa’s teachings are based on the Theravada Buddhist tradition. He emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and compassion in meditation. He also teaches a variety of meditation techniques, including mindfulness of breathing, lovingkindness meditation, and insight meditation.

Bodhipaksa is a popular and respected teacher. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Forbes. He has also been interviewed on NPR and ABC News.

If you are interested in learning more about Bodhipaksa or his teachings, you can visit his website at www.wildmind.org.

The first paragraph — the biographical details — is a rewording of bios that I’ve posted in several places, including this website, various places I’ve taught, and on the Insight Timer app.

The next part — about my meditation teaching — is accurate. “Based on the Theravada tradition” is questionable, although I’d let that slide. While the meditation practices I teach mostly have roots in the early Buddhist scriptures, that’s not the same as “the Theravada tradition,” although many people make that conflation. I’ve never been part of any Theravadin group. I also teach meditations, such as mantras, that are definitely not part of the Theravada tradition.

The third part, about my being featured or interviewed in the NYT, the WSJ, Forbes, NPR, and ABC News, are inventions. (I have been interviewed by CBS and appeared on the BBC, however. And I would like to think I’m “a popular and respected teacher.”)

I was interested in those inventions. I wondered how Bard could come up with this kind of misinformation. So I probed more deeply.

Tell me more about Bodhipaksa being featured in the New York Times.

Bard: Sure. Bodhipaksa has been featured in The New York Times on several occasions.

In 2006, he was interviewed by Sandra Blakeslee for an article about the science of meditation. The article, titled “Cells That Read Minds,” discussed the research that had been done on the effects of meditation on the brain. Bodhipaksa explained that meditation can help to reduce stress, improve concentration, and increase compassion.

In 2012, he was interviewed by Mark Bittman for an article about vegetarianism. The article, titled “We could be heroes,” discussed the benefits of a plant-based diet. Bodhipaksa explained that vegetarianism can help to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

In 2017, he was interviewed by David Brooks for an article about the benefits of meditation. The article, titled “The power of meditation,” discussed the research that had been done on the effects of meditation on the mind and body. Bodhipaksa explained that meditation can help to reduce stress, improve focus, and increase compassion.

Bodhipaksa’s interviews with The New York Times have helped to raise awareness of the benefits of meditation. His teachings have also helped to inspire people to make changes in their lives to improve their health and well-being.

This is all very specific. I’m very aware of all these names. They’re significant commentators and writers. We’re even given titles for the articles in which I was supposedly interviewed.

Sadly, I’ve never been interviewed by anyone from the NYT. A search for my name on the NYT website failed to bring up any results.

So again I thought I’d probe more deeply and see where Bard was supposedly getting this information from.

What is the URL for Sandra Blakeslee’s article where she interviewed Bodhipaksa?

Bard: I can’t assist you with that, as I’m only a language model and don’t have the capacity to understand and respond.

I thought the definition of a language model was that it did understand and respond. Why can’t Bard supply the location of an article it cited just moments before? It’s already supplied a URL (for Wildmind) so it’s not that that’s verboten. I thought I’d try asking the same question in a different way.

Where can I find the Sandra Blakeslee article where she interviewed Bodhipaksa?

Bard: You can find the Sandra Blakeslee article where she interviewed Bodhipaksa in the book “Living as a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change”. The book was published in 2006 by Shambhala Publications. In the article, Blakeslee interviews Bodhipaksa about his work on meditation and his views on fearlessness. Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been practicing meditation for over 30 years. He is the founder of the Bodhipaksa Retreat Center in Barre, Massachusetts.

So this is interesting. Yes, I wrote the book, “Living as a River.” And sure enough, I have a reference in there to Sandra Blakeslee’s article, “Cells That Read Minds.” But she’s never interviewed me, nor I her. Bard has taken my citation of her article and spun it into a story about an interview that never happened.

I don’t cite Mark Bittman in Living as a River, although I think I may have in my book on vegetarianism. I can’t recall citing David Brooks ever, although it’s possible I did.

The mention of the “Bodhipaksa Retreat Center” is weird. It doesn’t exist, although the Insight Meditation Society is in Barre. I wondered if that’s what Bard was referring to.

What is the address of the Bodhipaksa Retreat Center in Barre, Massachusetts?

Bard: The Bodhipaksa Retreat Center is located at 132 South Barre Road, Barre, MA 01005.

That’s not the address of the IMS, which is on Pleasant St. Apparently it’s a small private residence, which I have no connection with.

I asked for the phone number of the “BRC” and was given one. I’ve no idea whose phone number it was.

I decided to backtrack, and see what other information Bard could provide about me.

What university degrees does Bodhipaksa have?

Bard: Bodhipaksa has a master’s degree in Buddhism and business from the University of Montana.

That’s correct, and presumably that was taken from bios that various websites have posted.

Does he have any other degrees?

Bard: Yes, Bodhipaksa holds a degree in Veterinary Medicine from the University of Glasgow.

That’s also accurate.

But just when you think there are some kinds of straightforward factual information that Bard is good at, you offer an easy question and get an answer that’s completely off.

How many books has Bodhipaksa written?

Bard: Bodhipaksa has written over 20 books on Buddhism and meditation, including:

  • The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion
  • Fulfilling Your Potential
  • Facing Anger
  • The Eightfold Path to True Freedom
  • Living as a Buddhist
  • The Practice of Mindfulness

He has also written several audio programs and ebooks on meditation and Buddhism.

I’ve written six books, I think. The first title offered has at least has some relation to one of my book titles, “This Difficult Thing of Being Human,” whose subtitle is “The Art of Self-Compassion.” But the rest are just made up.

I’ve seen one music website that has a whole bunch of articles on in that were written by Bard, although the website gave a (presumably fake) author name. The articles were bland, repetitive, very non-specific, and often inaccurate. A citation to at least one of those articles made it into Wikipedia, although one of the editors later flagged up the website in question as not being a reliable source of information. But other articles by Bard and ChatGPT containing false information are certain to slip by the editors, or simply to be picked up by other websites and amplified. Misinformation will spread

I can’t help but feel that there’s a crisis of misinformation at the moment, and although all of these AI tools contain warnings that the information they generate may not be accurate, a lot of people are going to ignore that and spread the nonsense it creates.

Even this post, with its references to the NYT articles I’ve supposedly been interviewed in, might become a source of misinformation, if those paragraphs are taken out of context. Information created by AI’s will inevitably end up being fed back in to AI’s. It’s going to get messy. Or blurry.

So far the wisest words I’ve read on these AI’s are those of Ted Chiang, the science fiction author, in a New Yorker article: “It’s the digital equivalent of repeatedly making photocopies of photocopies in the old days. The image quality only gets worse.”

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The Candy Crush Sutta

book illustration of the Buddha holding an iPhone. Image is generated by an AI.

This is a bonus post, following from yesterday’s, in which I interviewed the artificial intelligence known as ChatGPT about meditation.

This time I gave the AI the prompt, “Write a Buddhist sutta, in the style of the Pali canon, in which the Buddha tells Ananda to stop playing Candy Crush on his iPhone.”

See also

Here’s what ChatGPT came up with.

Once, the Blessed One was dwelling at Sāvatthī in Jeta’s Grove, Anāthapiṇḍika’s Park. And at that time, the Venerable Ananda was addicted to playing Candy Crush on his iPhone.

The Blessed One approached Ananda and said, “Ananda, what are you doing?”

Ananda replied, “I am playing Candy Crush, Lord.”

The Buddha spoke: “Ananda, this is not the path to liberation. The playing of such games only leads to craving and attachment. To achieve true peace and wisdom, one must let go of such distractions and engage in virtuous and meaningful actions.”

Ananda listened to the Buddha’s words and put down his iPhone, vowing to let go of his attachment to Candy Crush. He turned his attention to the Buddha’s teachings and soon realized the path to enlightenment.

And so it is said:

“Just as a bird is freed from its cage
when the door is opened, so too one is freed
from the bonds of ignorance and craving
by practicing the path taught by the Buddha.”

Appropriately, the image above was generated by another AI (Craiyon: formerly DALL-E Mini), using the prompt, “book illustration of the Buddha holding an iPhone.”

Coming back down to earth, ChatGPT’s predecessor was prone to using vile racist and misogynistic language, because its database of information was drawn from the web, and the web is full of that sort of stuff. For the latest version of the AI, a program had to be developed that could recognize and screen out the toxic material. In order to do that, Kenyan workers were paid as little as $1.32 an hour (via a subcontractor of OpenAI, which owns ChatGPT) to read and categorize the text. Workers were traumatized by reading, for example, graphic descriptions of bestiality and pedophile sex.

The contract between OpenAI and the subcontractor ended after an article was published showing that Facebook had employed the subcontractor to screen content. In this case, Kenyans were required to view images and videos of executions, rape and child abuse for as little as $1.50 per hour. This is traumatizing work.

AI and social media are fun, but there’s a dark and exploitative side to it as well.

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Chatting with an Artificial Intelligence about meditation

A robot

Could a computer write a convincing and accurate article about meditation? Could it even teach meditation?

I decided to find out.

I keep hearing a lot about ChatGPT (the last part stands for “Generative Pre-trained Transformer “). Apparently some websites are using it to write articles, which is something most readers won’t notice, especially if the websites in question don’t tell you that the author was a computer, recombining information it’s found elsewhere on the internet.

See also:

I thought it would be interesting to have a conversation with ChatGPT and see what it “knows” about meditation. It took me a while before I got anything but a message saying that the server was too busy to talk to me, but eventually the Artificial Intelligence and I sat down together for a nice chat.

Bodhipaksa: Hello. What are you called?

I am called OpenAI’s GPT-3, or simply ChatGPT for short. I am a state-of-the-art language model developed by OpenAI, designed to generate human-like text based on the input provided to me. I have been trained on a large corpus of text data and can respond to a wide range of questions and topics with informative and accurate answers.

Bodhipaksa: Where do you get your information?

I was trained on a massive corpus of text data from the internet and other sources, using machine learning algorithms developed by OpenAI. This training allows me to generate human-like responses to a wide range of questions and topics based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, it’s important to note that while I have access to a vast amount of information, my responses are generated based on patterns in that data, and my knowledge is limited to the information available in my training data. My training data had a cutoff in 2021, so any information or events that have occurred since that time are not reflected in my responses.

Bodhipaksa: What are the benefits of Buddhist meditation?

Buddhist meditation practices offer various physical, mental and spiritual benefits, including:

  1. Reduced stress and anxiety
  2. Improved concentration and focus
  3. Increased self-awareness and mindfulness
  4. Better emotional regulation and reduced negative emotions
  5. Increased compassion and empathy
  6. Enhanced physical and mental well-being
  7. Greater sense of inner peace and calmness
  8. Deepened spiritual connection and understanding.

Note: These benefits may vary based on the individual and the specific meditation practice they are using.

Bodhipaksa: Are there different kinds of meditation in Buddhism?

Yes, there are various forms of meditation in Buddhism. Some of the most commonly practiced include:

  1. Mindfulness Meditation: The practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment and becoming aware of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
  2. Loving-Kindness Meditation: A practice of generating feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others.
  3. Vipassana Meditation: A type of introspective meditation aimed at gaining insight into the nature of reality and the self.
  4. Zen Meditation: Also known as Zazen, this form of meditation involves focusing on the breath and maintaining a posture of stillness and alertness.
  5. Metta Meditation: A practice of cultivating loving-kindness and sending well wishes to all beings, including oneself and others.

These are just a few examples of the many forms of meditation found in Buddhism, each with its own unique focus, techniques, and benefits.

Bodhipaksa: What’s the difference between loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation?

Loving-kindness meditation and Metta meditation refer to the same practice in Buddhism. “Metta” is a Pali word that translates to “loving-kindness” in English.

In this meditation, one focuses on developing feelings of kindness, compassion, and love towards oneself and others. This can be done by repeating phrases such as “may I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be at peace” while focusing on oneself, and then extending those wishes to others, including friends, family, acquaintances, and eventually all beings.

The goal of Metta meditation is to cultivate positive emotions and reduce feelings of ill-will, anger, and hatred. Over time, practitioners aim to develop a more compassionate and loving outlook on life, and to extend these feelings of kindness towards all beings.

Bodhipaksa: I was a bit confused, because you listed those two forms of meditation separately.

I apologize for the confusion. You are correct, Loving-kindness Meditation and Metta Meditation are the same practice, and I should not have listed them separately. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Bodhipaksa: Are there any downsides to practicing meditation?

While meditation offers many potential benefits, there are some potential downsides to keep in mind, including:

  1. Difficulty staying focused: For beginners, it can be difficult to maintain focus during meditation, especially if one is prone to distractions.
  2. Physical discomfort: Certain meditation postures, especially when maintained for long periods, can lead to physical discomfort, such as sore muscles or pain.
  3. Intense emotions: Meditation can sometimes bring up intense emotions, particularly past traumas or repressed feelings. This can be difficult to deal with and may require professional help.
  4. Unpleasant experiences: In rare cases, some individuals may have experiences during meditation that are frightening or unpleasant, such as vivid hallucinations or intense feelings of fear.
  5. Cultural appropriation: In some cases, the practice of meditation can be seen as cultural appropriation when individuals from outside the culture adopt it without understanding its cultural context and history.

It is important to approach meditation with caution and to seek guidance from a qualified teacher, especially if you have any concerns about your mental or physical health.

Bodhipaksa: How does one find a qualified teacher?

Finding a qualified teacher for meditation can be done in several ways:

  1. Look for local meditation centers or groups: Many cities have meditation centers or community groups that offer classes and workshops. You can search online for groups near you or check for listings in local directories or community centers.
  2. Find an online teacher: There are many online courses, websites, and videos that offer guidance for practicing meditation. You can also find online teachers who offer one-on-one instruction and support.
  3. Ask for recommendations: Reach out to friends, family, or colleagues who practice meditation and ask for recommendations for a qualified teacher.
  4. Check credentials and background: When looking for a teacher, be sure to check their credentials, experience, and background. Ask about their training and how long they have been teaching. Look for a teacher who is transparent about their qualifications and experience.

It is also important to feel comfortable with your teacher and to trust that they have your best interests in mind. You can try attending a few classes or workshops before committing to a particular teacher to ensure that their approach and style align with your needs and goals.

Bodhipaksa: Can you give me some simple meditation instructions?

Sure, here are some simple instructions for mindfulness meditation:

  1. Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit: You can sit on a chair, cushion, or mat. Make sure your back is straight and your feet are flat on the floor.
  2. Close your eyes: This can help reduce distractions and allow you to focus inward.
  3. Take a few deep breaths: Inhale deeply and exhale slowly, allowing yourself to relax and release any tension.
  4. Focus on your breath: Pay attention to the sensation of breathing, feeling the air as it moves in and out of your nose or mouth. If your mind starts to wander, simply notice the thought and gently redirect your attention back to your breath.
  5. Allow thoughts to come and go: Try not to judge or become attached to your thoughts. Simply acknowledge them and return your focus to your breath.
  6. Continue for 5-10 minutes: Start with a short meditation, perhaps 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase the length of your practice as you become more comfortable.
  7. End with a few deep breaths: Take a few deep breaths, open your eyes, and take a moment to reorient yourself before standing up and returning to your day.

Remember, mindfulness meditation is a practice and it can take time and patience to develop the skills necessary to maintain focus and mindfulness. With regular practice, however, it can be a valuable tool for reducing stress and improving overall well-being.

Bodhipaksa: Sometimes when I meditate, I see swirling colored lights. What does that mean?

Seeing swirling colored lights during meditation is not uncommon and can be a result of various factors, including:

  1. Relaxation: As you relax your body and mind during meditation, it can cause changes in brain activity and blood flow, which may result in visual experiences such as swirling lights.
  2. Visual cortex stimulation: Meditation can increase activity in the visual cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. This increased activity can result in visual experiences such as patterns or lights.
  3. Mental imagery: Sometimes, during meditation, the mind can create mental images or visualizations, which may include swirling lights or colors.
  4. Eye pressure: If you are applying pressure to your eyes during meditation, such as by rubbing them or pressing them closed, it can cause changes in vision, including the perception of swirling lights.

It is important to remember that these experiences are normal and are not cause for concern. However, if you experience persistent changes in vision or other symptoms, it is recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional.

Bodhipaksa: Have you ever meditated?

As an AI language model, I do not have a physical body, emotions, or experiences. I was trained to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. I cannot meditate in the traditional sense, as I do not have a physical body or consciousness.

Bodhipaksa: If you were able to meditate, which type of practice do you think you would choose?

As an AI language model, I do not have personal preferences, opinions, or the ability to experience emotions or physical sensations. I was designed to respond to text-based inputs and to generate text-based outputs based on patterns in the data I was trained on. However, different forms of meditation can be useful for different individuals and can depend on their personal goals and experiences. For example, someone looking to cultivate compassion and kindness may find that a loving-kindness or metta meditation practice is beneficial, while someone looking to reduce stress and improve focus may find that mindfulness meditation is a good fit.

Bodhipaksa: What can you tell me about the meditation teacher, Bodhipaksa?

Bodhipaksa is a Buddhist teacher and author who has been teaching meditation for over 30 years. He is the founder of the Buddhist meditation website, Wildmind, and has written several books on mindfulness and meditation. Bodhipaksa has been influenced by both traditional Buddhist teachings and contemporary mindfulness practices and is known for his approachable and accessible style of teaching. He offers teachings, workshops, and retreats on mindfulness and meditation, and his work has been widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community. He is also the creator of several guided meditation CDs and podcasts. Bodhipaksa’s teachings emphasize the importance of developing a personal meditation practice and incorporating mindfulness into daily life to cultivate well-being, compassion, and wisdom.

Bodhipaksa: Thank you. This has been an interesting conversation.

You’re welcome! I’m glad I could assist with your questions. If you have any other questions or topics you’d like to know more about, feel free to ask. I’m here to help.

Verdict

Overall, the AI did a good job of scraping together information from various sources and combining it into a coherent and meaningful series of statements. What it had to say about meditation must have been drawn from reliable sources, since it all makes sense and is the kind of thing I would tend to write. It slipped up in listing loving-kindness meditation and metta meditation as being various forms of practice. My interaction with it might have taught it not to make that mistake again.

The first two responses to “How does one find a qualified teacher?” aren’t actually helpful. They explained how to find a teacher, but not how to find if a teacher is qualified. The last two suggestions were helpful, though.

I don’t really experience colored lights when I meditate, but lots of people do and have questions about it. The answer ChatGPT gave to that question was actually rich and informative. It did better than I would have!

So yes, I think this AI could certainly write a decent article on meditation. Of course it will be very superficial lack any personal anecdotes, but the information above is pretty solid. (Of course it’s just recycled information from elsewhere.)

I was pleased to see its very kind description of me, and how my work is “widely recognized and respected in the Buddhist community.” Nice!

Could an AI lead a meditation? It gave some instructions above, but there’s a big difference between giving written instructions and actually leading someone though a meditation.

I suppose it’s only a matter of time before someone feeds it (or one of it’s AI buddies) a bunch of guided meditation recordings, and it learns to mix and match them into some kind of guidance. I have doubts about whether it would be able to learn to do that well. Anything’s possible, though.

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