Cyborg Sky Burial

Two years ago I wrote briefly about the Tibetan funerary custom of sky burial.  Now, the vultures again circle my neighborhood, swooping within a few feet of my bedroom window before taking their perches in the Norway pines next door.

So I wonder, what hybrid  being can take their place for the Buddhist cyborg? What chimera  has the appetite not only for blood and tissue and organs, but plastic, wire, silicon and rare earth metals?

How can we collect the cyborg’s data, dispersed in sky obscuring clouds, and place it in the cyborg charnel ground with our animal bodies?

Machik Labdron developed the Buddhist practices of Chod in the 11th Century.  Chod is a set of Vajrayana practices that use the visualization of one’s own death, dismemberment, and the feeding of the parts to demons.  Chod is then, the spiritual equivalent to watching one’s own sky burial.  The point of the exercise was explained by Jamon Kautrul in the 19th Century:

It [Chod] is a radical method for cutting through the inflation of ego-fixation through the willingness to accept what is undesirable, the disregard of difficult circumstances, the realization that gods and demons are one’s own mind, and the understanding that oneself and others are utterly equal.

Jamon Kontrol quoted in the Introduction to  Machic’s Complete Understanding translated and edited by Sarah Harding

Machik combined shamanic practices prevalent at the time with Buddhism.  What cyborg practices do we combine with Buddhism now to give us the opportunity to develop the radical compassion Machik sought to teach us?

The Findable Cyborg Part 3

It [Buddhist logic]  admitted nothing but the transient flow of evanescent events and their final eternal quiescence in Nirvana.  Reality according to Buddhists is kinetic, not static, but logic, on the other hand, imagines a reality stabilized in concept and names.  The ultimate aim of Buddhist logic is to explain the relation between a moving reality and the static constructions of thought.

Buddhist Logic T.H. Stcherbatsky*

In The Findable Cyborg, I suggested that findability is the quality uniting staticness and movement  in Heidegger’s Standing Reserve/Enframing.  This findability might perhaps be thought of not as a framed photograph, but rather as the movies or videos Cyborgs view on framed screens, silver or electronic.   Screens though are needed only as the framing device.  The kineograh (flip book) embodies the principle.

We can view the  pages or frames either as a series of discrete images or as fluid unified experience.  In both cases, the image(s) are a set, a Standing Reserve, placed in a perceptual frame.  The frame though is only a device to facilitate perception.   Every time a Cyborg views the kineograph, the order of the pages is different.

An important feature of this static movement, this findability, is the flexibility, dynamism of the assessment of objects, persons and process. Their relative importance changes over time with no particular assessment definative.  What is found changes.  What was previously found is not lost or forgotten, but rather no longer selected, viewed, or spoken.

It is as if the order of the pages of the kineograph had no importance at all.  Pages can be reordered, eliminated, added, or replaced by something different.  Any narrative of the images viewed in motion arises only as an epiphenonoma of this constant updating.  Only the findability of each element is important.

The technological understanding of Being encounters the revealing of Being as a challenge.  Responding to this, it seeks to make everything findable, available to, in Harraway’s phrase, the “unhindered instrumental power” of the Cyborg.

*T.H. Stcherbatsky (1866-1942), a Russian Indologist, is important in the development of Buddhist Studies in the West.

The Unfindable Cyborg

Identifying an object, person or process requires some kind of framework, classification system, however intuitive or basic.   In The Findable Cyborg , I suggested that this, in the context of a pervasively coded world, means that everything is findable.  At the same time, this radical findability depends on dynamic, permeable, evolving classification systems.  While the objects, persons and processes become pervasively findable, they also manifest a lack of essential identity.

That is to say, what makes the Cyborg (the aggregation of object, person and process) findable as a functional commodity, part of the Heidegger’s Standing Reserve, also makes the Cyborg unfindable as a specific, essentially determined phenomena.

The Seventh Century Buddhist scholar and reputed bodhisattva, Chandrakirti*, deconstructed a chariot in various ways in his Sevenfold Reasoning..  He showed that no matter how one regards the relationship of parts to the whole, in the end, no inherently existing thing “chariot” is to be found.  He summaries his extensive analysis with the following and extends it past a critique of technology to how the self exists.

A chariot is neither asserted to be other than its parts
Nor non-other; it is not asserted to possess them.
It is not in the parts nor are the parts in it.
It is not the mere collection [of the parts] nor is it [their] shape.

Just so [should a yogi understand a person and its aggregates].
It is like a cart, which is not other than its parts,
Not non-other, and does not possess them.
It is not within its parts, and its parts are not within it
It is not the mere collection, and it is not the shape..

For Chandrakirti, the unfindability of the essentially determined chariot  is the same as the unfindability of the essentially determined self-aware self.  For my purposes, this is the same as the unfindability of technology, of the self-aware self and of the Cyborg (the combination of the two), as anything other than objects, persons and processes defined by their function.

This is at the heart, dare I say, the essence, of my continued use of the word Cyborg.  It is to stress the functional nature of an always changing collection of techno-bio aggregates experienced as wholeness.

*Chandrakirti (600-650 CE) was Indian Buddhist scholar whose works are central to the development of the  Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka view of Emptiness.  Hagiographies of Chandrakirti relate instances of him walking thorough walls to “demonstrate in a concrete and dramatic form the Madhyamaka position that things have no immutable nature of their own.”   Four Illusions Karen C. Lang