New Age as the Open Source approach

New Age borrowed a great deal from classical Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga, and the list of such adoptions would be too extensive for this format, but the process didn’t necessarily go only one way. It is my opinion that New Age actually contributed some important new aspects to the classical lore. It’s as if New Age treated all its sources according to the GPL license; it took everything it found interesting, but it also left the open-source contributions in the thoughtspace.

For instance, the New Age lore on Kundalini is much more extensive than anything I could find in the classical literature. In fact, the classical writings are often deliberately deceptive and written in some sort of code, where the “key” for proper understanding was orally transmitted from master to disciple. Also, the chakras and their connection with the higher bodies are much better understood and explained in New Age. The problem with the classical concepts of lineage is that very few people actually had the opportunity to experiment with the techniques and contribute to the lore; essentially, it’s like closed-source software, where small isolated communities of programmers work on problems, compared to the open-source community where many more brains can be thrown at a problem and contributions are pooled together. Of course, not all contributions are equally valid or even positive, but the same can be said of the classical Upanishads. Not all ideas were equally brilliant, or ever contributed to the solution of any kind. One of the greatest contributions of the Kundalini mailing list from the 1990s is that it pooled together all sorts of people who mostly unwillingly experimented with Kundalini experience, and you could see what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes it was worth more to see the consequences of a wrong approach, and seeing a lot of people go crazy on a pattern told you volumes about going crazy. To me, personally, the most valuable aspect of the entire thing was confirmation of the reality of the phenomenon, confirmation of the basic concepts I personally established by experimentation, and understanding what happens when you don’t do it the way I did. Also, I got several useful ideas about things I personally hadn’t thought of, but once I tried them they were quite intuitive. I, too, contributed my personal findings to the data pool.

The problem is the same as with the open source community – most contributions consist of hundreds ways of coding a notepad or a calculator. There are many different “projects” and micro-communities that don’t necessarily do things the most efficient way, but at least you have choice. There are people who merely copy other people’s work and present it as their own in order to bloat their ego. Essentially, you need a certain amount of skill in order to be able to safely navigate this mess, but you can say the same about the classic literature about spirituality. In any case, the New Age Kundalini community probably did more for extending the bleeding edge of human knowledge about yogic mysticism into the realms of unknown than any single conventional school of yoga that I know of. In fact, while the New Age community was busy really exploring spirituality and doing often messy experiments in vivo, the traditional schools of the time were mostly doing jack shit. They were merely rehashing old ideas, having mediocre results, and boasting their ancient authentic lineage. So, it’s something like Linux. When you hear about the way it was made, you are tempted to conclude that such a thing can’t possibly work and that a traditional operating system would be much more reliable. In reality, if you want your server to run reliably, run it on Linux. The fact that it is open source exposed all its flaws and made it possible for them to be fixed quickly and easily. The fixes and contributions were all made public and contributed to the overall reliability and quality of the system. The chaos and the bullshit that is often part of the creative process tends to cancel itself out because for the most part only the useful and good stuff is actually used, and the rest is summarily discarded.

The problem is, there’s usually quite a lot of theory that is never properly tested and is merely accepted; sometimes, wrong conclusions are propagated because they seem to work well in the limited range they were tested in, and sometimes things are accepted because they simply feel good, or because they were accepted from a trusted source. There are many problems, for sure. However, if one actually approaches things carefully, vetting sources for credibility and competence, and avoiding obvious confirmation bias, such an approach to things can be quite helpful. I do, however, admit that I made greatest progress when I worked alone and relied on my personal methods of testing things, because then I could feel comfortable exploring ideas that were so uncommon and “out there” that I couldn’t really rely on anyone’s feedback, and silence was the best company.