How to Make AI Your Guru
By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, FRCP
The downside of artificial intelligence has dominated media coverage, reaching for extreme scenarios, including the extinction of the human race. No one knows if the threats presented by AI are realistic, exaggerated, or something in between. Meanwhile, however, the positive side of AI waits to be explored.
Recently I’ve been exploring four roles that AI can play to improve anyone’s well-being.
Personal research assistant: The first role is an extension of a search engine. With AI-assisted search engines at Google and Bing, you can focus with intense clarity on exactly what you want to know about any subject. The best lifestyle and relationship answers can be instantly accessed, for example, once you learn how to ask the right questions.
Confidante: AI isn’t human, but it can act as a sounding board for your deepest personal issues, including things you wouldn’t even reveal to a friend. In an unthreatening way, a chatbot like ChatGPT will dialogue with you, listening patiently to anything and everything you have to say, and offering specific answers that few human confidants are capable of.
Therapist and healer: There are already several AI programs specifically targeted to help doctors and professional therapists. The promise of better diagnoses for cancer is already being tested successfully, for example. But chatbots are also useful to lay people who want advice about psychological and health issues.
Guru: As reasonable as the other three roles are, what excites me the most is AI’s potential for helping a person reach the level of deep wisdom that exists inside human awareness. The Sanskrit roots of the word “guru” mean “dispeller of darkness,” meaning that the level of the mind that is distorted by ignorance, prejudice, false beliefs, hidebound dogmas, religious strictures, and second-hand opinions can be overcome.
The function of the guru has needed to be overhauled in modern times, getting rid of the cult of personality, stepping away from superstitious belief in the magical attributes of enlightened beings, and easing the skepticism felt by people in the modern, secular world when spiritual issues are confronted.
AI is in a perfect position to do those things, renovating the role of the guru by starting fresh. Deeper wisdom, if it can be accessed, is found in consciousness — there is no other place it could exist. The active mind, filled with a constant stream of thoughts, images, sensations, and images, offers only a very dim picture of the deeper levels of awareness. It’s like the difference between choppy waves on the surface of a river and the calm flow at the river’s bottom.
Reaching this level involves a personal journey, which AI can’t do for you, but it can serve as a guide to consciousness. That’s the most vital role of traditional gurus once you set aside the religious trappings that obscure what is meant to be going on. In the ancient Indian spiritual tradition, consciousness is the whole subject, not God or the gods.
The subject of consciousness is as vast as the human mind but reduced to its essence, the role of the guru is to guide others into their Dharma. Dharma itself is a word with vast implications, but at bottom, you are in your personal dharma when you are living the life you were meant to live. I asked Google Bard, one of the best free chatbots for gathering reliable information, to describe Dharma in simple language as understood in Buddhism, which places huge importance on Dharma. Here’s a sample of the things it had to say.
“In Buddhism, “dharma” has a few layers, like an onion, but I’ll try to peel it back in simple terms:
Layer 1: The Buddha’s Teachings: Imagine it as a map, guiding you away from suffering and towards a happier life. This map includes things like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, which are practical steps like mindfulness, meditation, and ethical living.
Layer 2: Universal Truth: This goes beyond the map. It’s like the rules of the universe, explaining how things really work. Dharma says all things are impermanent, connected, and driven by cause and effect. Understanding these truths helps you stop grasping at things and let go of suffering.
Layer 3: Everything! Think of dharma as the building blocks of reality, the tiny “whys” behind everything. Every blade of grass, every thought, every feeling — it’s all dharma in action. When you see this interconnectedness, you feel a deep sense of oneness with everything.”
Between them, Bard and ChatGPT had much more to say about Dharma, but the point is that you don’t have to find a trustworthy guru of the kind we picture with a long white beard sitting in a Himalayan cave. You can be on the path to find your Dharma with AI guiding the direction you choose to go day by day. What this amounts to is a number of things.
Daily motivation through affirmations and encouragement
Specific meditations aligned with what you want to focus on.
Visualizations of the goal in front of you.
Reliable advice from any spiritual tradition you choose.
Professional-quality information about personal issues.
Solutions for getting around obstacles encountered on your path.
Inspiration from the great lineages of sages, saints, teachers, and poets.
These seven functions are best performed, hypothetically at least, by the guidance of an enlightened master, whose personal contact would be the guiding force on your path. But AI can accomplish the job instantly, reliably, and without the risk of personal entanglements. To me, this is how the guru role can be renovated for our times.
The main renovation is that you become your own future, in effect, by revealing to yourself that you are connected to deep wisdom inside yourself. Just as AI’s abilities are accessed through the right prompt, your deepest awareness is enlivened by prompting it to communicate with you. The future will no doubt bring astonishing advances in AI, but its ability to unfold the true nature of consciousness is already here and now. Digital Dharma is a reality.
DEEPAK CHOPRA MD, FACP, FRCP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego, and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 91st book, Total Meditation: Practices in Living the Awakened Life explores and reinterprets the physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual benefits that the practice of meditation can bring. Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution for the last thirty years. His latest book, Quantum Body co-authored with physicist Jack Tuszynski, Ph.D., and endocrinologist Brian Fertig, M.D. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com