Table of Contents
- 1 Vedic Texts vs. an AI Chatbot
- 2 The Nature of Universalism
- 3 Contextualism vs. Universalism
- 4 The Use of Religious Universalism
- 5 Three Contrasting Positions
- 6 Universalism-Individualism Dichotomy
- 7 The Institutionalization of Religion
- 8 The Process of Gradual Decline
- 9 The Synthesis of Three Ideologies
- 10 Against Attempts at Universalization
Vedic Texts vs. an AI Chatbot
Someone recently asked me a question about AI. The specific request was to convert Vedic knowledge into an AI chatbot so that people could easily ask it questions. As and when a question would arise, they would enter the question into the chatbot and the chatbot would produce the answer. To this request, I responded by saying that the chatbot will give the same answer to two people asking the same question but the answers are generally not the same for two people, even if they ask the same question.
The person asking this question did not like my answer and proceeded to say that those following the Vedic system are already giving universal answers to all questions so the AI chatbot could not do much worse. He disregarded the fact that people giving universal answers do not agree with others giving the universal answers on what the universal answer to a given question is. On every single issue, they have disagreements, and citations to back their viewpoint. Trying to universalize the answer is therefore technically possible only by silencing most of the citations to produce one answer for all people, places, times, and situations. The immediate problem to be solved before building an AI chatbot would be to delete most of the apparently disagreeing citations.
The problem is so fundamental that it requires a deeper and broader discussion which I will undertake in this post. We will run through three different ideological positions called universalism, individualism, and contextualism, and show how Western thinking oscillates between universalism and individualism while the Vedic system operates on contextualism although reconciles it with universalism and individualism. We will try to illustrate this synthesis with the example of many roads leading to the same destination, giving each person a choice of the road, although all roads don’t lead to the same destination.
The Nature of Universalism
Western thinking, and the machines produced by it, operate on a principle called universalism. It means that one question has only one answer. The answer is the same for all places, times, situations, and persons. Vedic thinking, and the books produced by that thinking, operate on the principle of contextualism. It means that one question has infinite answers. The answer is not the same for all places, times, situations, and persons. Therefore, if we try to reduce Vedic knowledge to an AI chatbot, infinite answers to one question would be reduced to one answer, which could be wrong for all places, times, situations, and persons, except one. That is because universalist answers to contextualized questions are almost always wrong.
Universalism assumes that everything is just one type of thing. When things vary from each other, universalism forces one type on them. This process is called standardization. For example, no two people have exactly the same body shape and size. But garment manufacturers build shirts and trousers of standard sizes. The standardized shirts and trousers don’t precisely fit anyone except a handful of people. But they are mass-produced to be very cheap compared to customized shirts and trousers. By such standardization, customers are classified into sizes such as small, medium, and large.
Contextualism vs. Universalism
Contextualism assumes that everything is unique. No two apples, oranges, places, times, situations, or people are exactly the same. Every time we try to standardize them, we approximate and disregard infinite unique features. This approximation can be more useful in some cases and more harmful in others but in neither case is it true. The truth is that everything is infinitely unique and not standard.
Universalism and contextualism therefore have an underlying difference in ontologies. The former says that there is only one type of thing and the latter says that there are infinite unique types of things. Science for a universalist means approximating infinite variety by one type, and such a science has infinite problems because each approximation is false, although it can seem less false in some cases.
AI works on the same principle of trying to slot people into types such as “doctor”, “engineer”, “male”, “female”, “bachelor”, “spinster”, and so on. This slotting would be accurate if doctors, engineers, bachelors, spinsters, males, and females were standardized. AI will be accurate only if society can be standardized.
In contrast, Vedic thinking says that the classes called doctors, engineers, bachelors, spinsters, males, and females are masks covering the person. Not only are all masks at variance with each other, but no two persons under the masks are identical to each other either. Both the mask and the person are unique. The process of removing the unique mask to find the unique person underneath it was also formerly unique. There was a common purpose of removing the mask but the method varied from person to person. Each person seriously committed to this path would approach a teacher and follow a unique path.
The Use of Religious Universalism
However, Abrahamic faiths began the process of mass conversions, telling everyone that they would go to heaven by believing in some savior and following the rules and regulations given by that savior. Abrahamic faiths are universalists. Truth is one and anyone who doesn’t follow it is a heretic, apostate, non-believer. Abrahamic faiths standardized religion into one God, one prophet, one book, and one path. This “one size fits all” approach was then forced on the population to create large institutionalized religions. The Abrahamic faiths also used the power of institutionalization to destroy or subvert diversified societies. Even those who have rejected Abrahamic faiths superficially keep thinking in terms of a standardized, cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all, institutionalized system of science, society, culture, and religion.
When standardization is applied to society, the result is dulling of the mind, because standardization is the enemy of diversity. The standardized mind sees reality in terms of binaries such as good vs. evil. If it is not clearly following the standard, then it is the “other”. The standard mind wants, seeks, and needs clearly demarcated paths with guardrails on both sides to keep it from going off track. Standardized people are suspicious of those who make their own path different from their path unless lots of people adopt it as a new standard. They don’t allow for the possibility of people with radically different abilities. They don’t even allow for the possibility of the existence of many standards. They try to measure everyone through one universal standard defined as one set of dogmas, rules, and assumptions.
Three Contrasting Positions
Those who feel constrained by the guardrails try to break all the rules. They want to be unique. They begin by rejecting a common goal of life. In their minds, the opposite of universalism is nihilism—the absence of meaning and purpose, or each person defining their meanings and choosing their purposes. They cannot fathom a system in which there are infinite roads leading to the same destination. If they go off a single road guarded by guardrails, they also go off the path toward the destination and end up on a path that leads them nowhere.
There are thus three clearly distinguishable positions of universalism, individualism, and contextualism. Universalism says that there is one goal and one path. Contextualism says that there is one goal and infinite paths. Individualism says that there are infinite goals and infinite paths. We can summarize their differences using the table given above, although these are not the only differences between them.
Western society always oscillates between the extremes of universalism and individualism. Either everyone follows one set of rules or nobody follows any rules. They consider different rules for different persons a type of discrimination. Nobody should be allowed to follow different rules and regulations. Everyone should be equalized, and given the same rules, and if some rules are broken for some people, then they must be remade for everyone. Whenever rules are broken, some individualist rises to remake the rules for everyone all over again.
Due to Western influence, the whole world is now in the grips of the dichotomy of universalism and individualism. Time and again, ignorant people rise to become prophets, gurus, leaders, saviors, and messiahs showing their individualism. By popular demand, they create universal rules for their followers, showing their universalism. Those who break the rules then leave the said institutions to create their own institution with one prophet and universal rules for the followers. To be an individualist means to be a prophet, guru, leader, messiah, or savior. To be a universalist means to be the follower of that prophet, guru, leader, messiah, or savior, obeying the rules and regulations prescribed by him or her.
There is no room for contextuality, uniqueness of time, place, situation, or person. A contextualized system is rejected by universalists-individualists as too cumbersome, complicated, and confusing. The need, desire, and demand for universal rules and regulations among the universalist populace transforms a contextualized system into one of universal rules and regulations given by one individualist.
Every universalist reveres one individualist—the prophet, savior, messiah, leader, guru. A universalist also expects the leader to be an individualist—his opposite. The guru must give new rules and regulations because otherwise, he doesn’t fit the established archetype of an individualist. The universalists need their leader to be an individualist. They fall for the charm, appeal, and attraction of an individualist and surrender their intellect to the universalist rules and regulations created by that individualist.
The Institutionalization of Religion
Even a genuine representative of the contextualized religion is compelled to give universalist rules and regulations because without these the followers will follow no rules. Their minds are so accustomed to one set of rules that they cannot live without them. They will either invent their own rules becoming messiahs, saviors, prophets, leaders, and gurus. Or, they will demand, seek, and need a fixed set of rules. The genuine representatives of the contextualized religion are thus forced to deliver inviolable rules to avoid the alternative in which people invent their own whimsical rules. When such universal rules are given, the religion again transforms into a universalist ideology.
The individualist-universalist disease appears in all institutionalized religions in two ways. One, such a religion attracts narcissistic individualists to the positions of a leader, savior, messiah, prophet, or guru. Two, such religions attract universalists to the positions of subservient followers of this leader, savior, messiah, prophet, and guru surrendering their intellect. All these followers look at their leader and secretly want to become narcissistic individualistic leaders doling out new universals. However, due to the fear of being ostracized from the institution created by the previous leader, they overtly pretend to be faithful followers of that leader. The essence of a contextualized religion—namely, infinite uniqueness of time, place, situation, and person—is thereby undermined both by universalists and individualists.
Each individualist desires to control the universalist followers, and ostracizes anyone who talks about uniqueness, using his universalist followers to undermine all genuine people who advance contextualism. In this scenario, the religion is reduced to a few individualists and thousands of rules and regulations to be followed by the universalists, many of which are contradictory or at least conflicting with the others. As the conflicts and contradictions within the universal system are discovered and exposed, the universal system breaks into separate institutions. The result is incessant fragmentation, as has previously occurred in Abrahamic faiths splintering into different groups espousing different universals, although led by one or a handful of powerful individualists.
The Process of Gradual Decline
When splintering begins, the religion is on the path of decline, inching toward death, because each of these splintered groups will eventually clash with others, each group will demand the rise of an individualist messiah, prophet, savior, guru, or leader to direct and control the ensuing conflict one way or another.
At this juncture, the contextualized religion has fully transformed itself into an Abrahamic faith because its followers will continuously splinter, acquire individualistic leaders, and constantly talk about rules and regulations to be obeyed within the splintered group, sect, and subsect, different from the rules and regulations of the other groups, sects, and subsects.
By repeated indoctrination of universalist-individualist ideologies, contextualized religion will be marginalized, the unity among different groups will be destroyed, and only two alternatives will remain. One, the splintered groups can follow the “live and let live” philosophy espousing the principle that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others, giving up all conviction in any kind of truth. Two, the splintered groups can try to destroy the other splintered groups believing in their splintered truth. In short, either the agnosticism of truth or violence based on a sectarian universalist truth is the only remaining alternative.
The Synthesis of Three Ideologies
The Vedic system espouses a universal destination, an individual path, and a contextual course correction. There aren’t many destinations. There isn’t a single path. There aren’t arbitrary choices for course correction. Many roads lead to the same destination but all roads don’t. On each road, there are different types of guardrails that prevent the person on the road from going off the road. The presence of guardrails on many roads isn’t universalism. The choice of roads isn’t individualism. And the choice of destination isn’t contextualism. A simple example of destination, roads, and guardrails illuminates how universalism (destination), individualism (roads), and contextualism (guardrails) are synthesized.
Therefore, if someone equates guardrails on a road to universalism, then he or she is mistaken because there are many roads expected to be followed by different persons based on their uniqueness, but a mind under universalism-individualism either doesn’t allow multiple roads or calls multiplicity confusion and discrimination.
Against Attempts at Universalization
This is a problem of universalist-individualist thinking that isn’t able to fathom infinite uniqueness, isn’t able to choose between many paths, and wants someone to give them one path with one set of rules. By popular demand, an individualist rises to prescribe one out of infinite paths and replaces contextuality with universality. The map with many roads to a destination is replaced by precise directions on one road. The weak mind transfers the burden of choice to someone else and then blames them for giving them no choice. The weak mind also needs someone else to give them one path but blames them if they cannot follow it.
If we build an AI system for Vedic texts, then the multiplicity would be lost. Everyone, in all times, places, and situations will get the same answer to a question, disregarding their uniqueness. The beginner will get the same answer as the advanced. Those in different situations will get the same answers too. These answers will be mostly wrong and rarely right, quite like trying to apply the one-size-fits-all approach also produces approximations, some more useful and others more harmful. Those taking these universalist directions from the AI system will then blame the Vedic system for their problems and the person who built the AI system for them would become responsible for their misdirection. Intelligent people will therefore not attempt this stupidity but fools might embrace it with aplomb.