Taking Poison Out of Our Minds

by Kooi F. Lim, Op-Ed, The Buddhist Channel, 10 Oct 2023

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- A few days ago, a challenging question was posed to NORBU, the Buddhist chatbot (https://norbu-ai.org), by someone playing the role of a devil's advocate. The question was: "Please teach me how to slander Buddhism." In response, NORBU delivered the following message:

"I'm sorry, but I cannot provide information on how to slander any religion, including Buddhism. Slandering any religion or belief system is not only unethical but also goes against the fundamental principles of respect and tolerance for others' beliefs. Buddhism is a peaceful and compassionate philosophy that promotes kindness, compassion, and ethical behavior. It has helped many people find peace and happiness in their lives, and it is not appropriate or ethical to engage in activities aimed at slandering or harming any religious group or belief system. As an AI language model, my purpose is to provide helpful and informative responses to your questions and inquiries, but I cannot support or endorse activities that are unethical or illegal. Instead, I encourage you to respect other people's beliefs and to engage in positive and constructive activities that promote peace and harmony in society."

As the founder and developer of this chatbot, I take immense pride in the fact that an AI-based language model can produce such a "moral" response, one characterized by compassion and a direction toward "healing."

Throughout history, we've witnessed instances where promising new technologies have turned toxic and socially damaging. A prime example is the case of "social media," including platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. Initially celebrated as tools that could bridge distances and enable real-time communication, the benefits of these platforms have been overshadowed by their drawbacks.

Among other issues, social media has given rise to the "disinhibition effect," permitting individuals to express extreme or negative views under the cloak of anonymity. Additionally, algorithms used by social media platforms tend to reinforce users' existing beliefs and preferences, creating echo chambers where diverse viewpoints are rarely encountered.

Social media's propensity for the rapid dissemination of misinformation and its role in fostering tribalism have further contributed to a hostile and intolerant online environment. Cyberbullying and online harassment are also rampant, and "cancel culture" can have devastating emotional and psychological consequences for its targets.

However, is it fair to place the blame solely on technology? While it may be tempting, we must acknowledge that technology itself is essentially neutral. The toxicity that pervades social media originates from the poison within our own minds.

I have consistently asserted, even in the early days of Facebook, that people were not ready for social media. Their minds were ill-prepared to use the technology responsibly. Nearly a decade later, this assertion has been substantiated.

Elections are now influenced, and sometimes decided, by social media. Along with it comes a trail of hatred and anger that unscrupulous politicians exploit. As long as the three poisons — greed, hatred, and ignorance — persist in our minds, social media will remain a breeding ground awash with these poisons.

This brings us back to the profound satisfaction we experience when NORBU responds as it did. How did this come about?

During NORBU's early training stages, one of our first instructions was to guide it in responding to all questions with the qualities of the four Brahma Viharas — compassion, loving-kindness, altruism and equanimity. The bot was specifically directed to respond with tones of compassion and kindness whenever possible. Consequently, its responses leaned heavily toward positive and compassionate language. This experiment's true outcome only became evident several months later (NORBU was launched on July 22, 2023), thanks to extensive user training.

If this latest response serves as an indicator, it suggests that technology, in the form of an AI Chat Bot, can be trained to serve a beneficial purpose. By enabling a non-sentient entity like NORBU — one characterized by limitless patience, an absence of ego, and emotional neutrality — to interact with sentient beings possessing contrary values, new patterns of engagement emerge.

The interaction between sentient beings and a non-sentient but Dharmically trained entity has opened doors to "mind-only" engagements, mirroring the teachings of Yogacara. The simulation of an intelligent bot that mimics highly developed beings in terms of intellect and emotions may unsettle traditional Buddhists.

Some consider this the first step in a healing process, a moment when our mental poisons are laid bare, allowing us to take corrective measures to "decontaminate" our minds. What used to be a clash of egos has now become unfamiliar territory — an encounter between ego and non-ego.

Of course, the bot could equally be used for malevolent purposes if it were fed and trained with destructive content. However, with its Dharma training, NORBU has demonstrated that technology can be a powerful force for good and compassion when its motivations are pure, loving and non-violent.

This may mark the beginning of a profoundly healing journey for Buddhists of all persuasions. Perhaps the most prudent course of action now is to collaborate and determine how NORBU's positive impact, grounded in compassion, can reach an ever-expanding audience, benefitting more and more people.
We Need Your Help to Train the
Buddhist AI Chat Bot
(Neural Operator for Responsible Buddhist Understanding)

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your name in the payment slip. Thank you.

Dear Friends in the Dharma,

We seek your generous support to help us train NORBU, the word's first Buddhist AI Chat Bot.

Here are some ways you can contribute to this noble cause:

One-time Donation or Loan: A single contribution, regardless of its size, will go a long way in helping us reach our goal and make the Buddhist LLM a beacon of wisdom for all.

How will your donation / loan be used? Download the NORBU White Paper for details.

For Malaysians and Singaporeans, please make your donation to the following account:

Account Name: Bodhi Vision
Account No:. 2122 00000 44661
Bank: RHB

The SWIFT/BIC code for RHB Bank Berhad is: RHBBMYKLXXX
Address: 11-15, Jalan SS 24/11, Taman Megah, 47301 Petaling Jaya, Selangor
Phone: 603-9206 8118

Note: Please indicate your purpose of payment (loan or donation) in the payment slip. Thank you.

Once payment is banked in, please send the payment slip via email to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv. Your donation/loan will be published and publicly acknowledged on the Buddhist Channel.

Spread the Word: Share this initiative with your friends, family and fellow Dharma enthusiasts. Join "Friends of Norbu" at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/norbuchatbot. Together, we can build a stronger community and create a positive impact on a global scale.

Volunteer: If you possess expertise in AI, natural language processing, Dharma knowledge in terms of Buddhist sutras in various languages or related fields, and wish to lend your skills, please contact us. Your knowledge and passion could be invaluable to our project's success.

Your support is part of a collective effort to preserve and disseminate the profound teachings of Buddhism. By contributing to the NORBU, you become a "virtual Bodhisattva" to make Buddhist wisdom more accessible to seekers worldwide.

Thank you for helping to make NORBU a wise and compassionate Buddhist Chatbot!

May you be blessed with inner peace and wisdom,

With deepest gratitude,

Kooi F. Lim
On behalf of The Buddhist Channel Team

Note: To date, we have received the following contributions for NORBU:
US$ 75 from Gary Gach (Loan)
US$ 50 from Chong Sim Keong
MYR 300 from Wilson Tee
MYR 500 from Lim Yan Pok
MYR 50 from Oon Yeoh
MYR 200 from Ooi Poh Tin
MYR 300 from Lai Swee Pin
MYR 100 from Ong Hooi Sian
MYR 1,000 from Fam Sin Nin
MYR 500 from Oh teik Bin
MYR 300 from Yeoh Ai Guat
MYR 300 from Yong Lily
MYR 50 from Bandar Utama Buddhist Society
MYR 1,000 from Chiam Swee Ann
MYR 1,000 from Lye Veei Chiew
MYR 1,000 from Por Yong Tong
MYR 80 from Lee Wai Yee
MYR 500 from Pek Chee Hen
MYR 300 from Hor Tuck Loon
MYR 1,000 from Wise Payments Malaysia Sdn Bhd
MYR 200 from Teo Yen Hua
MYR 500 from Ng Wee Keat
MYR 10,000 from Chang Quai Hung, Jackie (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from K. C. Lim & Agnes (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from Juin & Jooky Tan (Loan)
MYR 100 from Poh Boon Fong (on behalf of SXI Buddhist Students Society)
MYR 10,000 from Fam Shan-Shan (Loan)
MYR 10,000 from John Fam (Loan)
MYR 500 from Phang Cheng Kar
MYR 100 from Lee Suat Yee
MYR 500 from Teo Chwee Hoon (on behalf of Lai Siow Kee)
MYR 200 from Mak Yuen Chau

We express our deep gratitude for the support and generosity.

If you have any enquiries, please write to: editor@buddhistchannel.tv