Reverend's Message - February 2016

"Real Virtual Reality"

Rev. Dean Koyama

Right after New Year’s, I noticed that a couple of our members were attending the CES. I didn’t know what that meant so I had to look it up. CES stands for the Consumer Electronic Show, which ran from January 6th through the 9th in Las Vegas. There were over 3600 exhibiting companies that manufacture, develop and supply electronic technology. There were over 150,000 attendees from over 150 countries participating in this Show that featured the latest innovations in Consumer Electronics like 3D printing, Automotive Electronics, Health and Biotech, robotics, Smart Home appliances, and of course wireless devices.

But apparently the big news of this show featured products associated with VR.

Again, I didn’t know what VR meant so I had to look it up. VR means Virtual Reality. When I first heard this term, Virtual Reality I thought, “What?! That doesn’t make sense. It is like an oxymoron. Two opposite meaning words that are used together like pretty ugly, the thundering silence, jumbo shrimp or the same difference.

Virtual Reality is a computer-based recreation of data into a 3 Dimensional experience. Originally Virtual Reality was primarily experienced through 2 of the 5 senses, sight and sound. This is done through the use of special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors. But apparently there are breakthroughs into incorporating smell and touch as well. This was a result of the huge interest in video gaming becoming more realistic so that you are in the midst of the actions of fighting and shooting others. But the applications can be furthered into virtual experiences such as for military training exercises, education, and healthcare. In fact, one Facebook post showed the latest camera used to help create this VR experience. This camera was comprised of 16 individual cameras placed around the equator of a sphere and an additional 4 cameras on top and another 4 on the bottom of the sphere.

Through this technology, you can visit the Eiffel tower or the Taj Mahal. Or you can explore the Beaches of Cabo and even “swim” in the ocean and look into the eye of a whale without getting wet. Or you can view the world from the top of Mount Everest without worrying about avalanches or the cold.

Imagine: being able to travel without having to go through all the trouble of packing, going through the airport security, of the multi hour plane ride in the coach section squeezed in the middle seat. You can virtually experience going around the world in a span of just a few minutes. And perhaps for those who physically have difficulty in traveling, this certainly seems like a wonderful alternative to the real thing.

But isn’t that the whole point? It is not the real thing. What will come next? Virtual Life? Imagine that you can put on another head and become a whole new person, perhaps like Leonardo Dicaprio and eat raw bear liver. Or have the life that you have always dreamed of where everything is perfect.

What is reality and what is life? I think these are the questions that the Buddha tried to answer for himself. And in one sense, we could say that before he became the Buddha, he, Prince Siddartha, had a perfect life. Even his name, Siddhartha, meant every wish fulfilled. Shortly after his birth, it was prophesied that either this baby would become a great ruler of the land or a great teacher of the world leaving behind this kingdom of his birth. The king not wanting his son to leave the family kingdom lavished the boy with everything that his heart desired. As the boy grew older, he surrounded him with only the best so that he was exposed to nothing dirty, old, ugly, or evil. You could say that the Prince was living a perfect life and yet he still yearned to find the true meaning and understanding of the reality of life itself.

If we fast-forward through his journey, we now know his conclusions through his teaching of the Dharma. These conclusions are not really anything earth shattering. These conclusions are things each one of us is capable of understanding and experiencing, but oftentimes we forget or tend to ignore. The Buddha’s fundamental realization is that Life is not perfect all the time.

Getting back to the idea of technology, I remember about 20 years ago when I first bought a digital camera. I remember back then having a conversation with my sister-in-law about these new digital cameras. She made a comment these digital cameras do take crisp sharp images, but she found that they lack depth. She explained that it was because unlike the human eye, the digital camera is able to put everything in the picture into sharp focus. In other words, not only is the subject of the picture sharp and clear, but also the background comes out sharp and clear as well. As a result, everything appears flat; there is no sense of spatial dimensions.

For some reason, the phrase “flat images” made an impression on me. I think that we have all seen a “flat” picture some time in our lives. Parents can’t help but see them as their second graders bring home pictures drawn at school. These children see life simply. Red is only the one color of a red crayon and a clown’s nose is a circle.

But as we grow older with more experience we realize that there are a hundred shades of red and the clown’s nose is not a circle but a sphere. What adds richness and texture to the pictures are the shadows and shades. What adds richness and texture to our lives are the imperfections.

Quite often in our lives we encounter these shadows and shades. Sometimes they take the form of unhappiness, pain, grief, and great difficulty. These are the shadows that if we let them, can overtake us and fill us with darkness. But no more are we to abandon them totally so that our picture becomes only of one color or one shade of colors and we become flat. Buddhism is the teaching that helps us recognize that the shadows and shades are necessary. Although it may be because of the sun that we see the shadows, it is because of the shadows that we can tell how bright is the sun. And that is why we gather every so often to remind ourselves of our loved ones who have passed away. Every passing is sad as it should be. But we must embrace that sadness and grief just the same as we embrace the happiness and joy in our lives. And that is what gives our lives the depth instead of the flatness.

So as the technology for virtual reality improves and may be getting close to being able to depict a perfect life, we need to be reminded that the perfect life is an imperfect one. In other words as I have often said, Perfection in Buddhism is not getting rid of our flaws. It is admitting them and realizing that in spite of all of our flaws, we are still embraced with the perfect “self benefit and benefiting others” spirit of wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, of life itself.

The virtual Rev. Dean Koyama