domingo, 3 de julho de 2011

The First Hacker

Introduction on the English translation of this article

It all started a few days ago, when my dhamma teacher Ricardo Sasaki published this article on his blog and Facebook page.

His friend Maya Joshi asked for a translation. 

Well, I'm not a translator and haven't writen in English in a long time. I believe the translation is "understandable".

The First Hacker

More than 2500 years ago, long before the technological revolution that culminated in the information age, was born in India the man who not only became a spiritual leader, but also was the first hacker of the world: the Buddha.

It's necessary, in the name of terminological precision, to clarify the difference between hacker and cracker. The hacker is an expert in the technology of information. The hacker is a profound student of information technology. He specializes in breaking barriers, spread ideas of freedom and improve the functioning of software. Its performance is ideological and is related to the maintenance of free flow of information to the population in general.

The cracker, in contrast, seeks to break security barriers for ilegal purposes, such as embezzlement, stealing bank passwords and subtracting credit card numbers.

The reader must be wondering: "How could the Buddha, long before the invention of the computer, have been a hacker?".

Another meaning of the term hacker is decipherer.

The answer is simple, he managed to hack (decipher) perhaps the most complex information system in the universe: the human mind.

His noble search resulted in the discovery of mental patterns that lead to suffering and its end, Nibbana. This hacker has put happiness within reach the of mankind.

Moreover, the form used to keep his teachings alive, even after twenty-five centuries, is exactly the same widely used today by the free software movement: the creation of a community.

The sangha, sometimes (erroneously) translated as the community of monks, survives on donations and the interaction between the monks and the laity. Therefore, we believe that the sangha is not made only by the orange robes, but the symbiotic relationship of monks and nuns with the local lay population.

The monks kept alive the teachings of the Buddha, by intense study, the practise of contemplation and compassion for all living beings. The monks, to some extent, are volunteers for the benefit of a higher cause: the survival of the techniques taught by the Buddha to end the suffering. They are the technicians who master the source code and improve it.

The laity, who support the monastic community with donations, provide the monks not only material resources, but also their lay experience, which undoubtedly helps the monastic reflection about being a Buddhist in "more extreme" conditions, as compared to the conditions found in the monasteries. In short, the laity are the end users of the system, responsible for feedback on its usability and efficiency.

It’s obvious that the monastic life is not always more peaceful than the lay life, but it is undeniable that the conditions for the practice tend to be more favorable within the monastery.

The Buddha never charged for his teachings, no matter how precious they were. He always transmitted them for free to anyone who would receive them, providing the necessary support for the development of monks and lay people who followed him. In fact, the idea of ​​copyright didn’t even exist in his time.

But why the Buddha did this? Would it have been just out of great compassion for all living beings? We think not. The Buddha foresaw that the GPL philosophy (1), used by open source software, would give the dhamma a much longer survival.

Obviously, if the Buddha had implemented a licensing system for his teaching, charging for its use and maintenance, just as it happens today with proprietary software, the dhamma would certainly have been lost and today we would not know the path to enlightenment .

Buddhism teaches the idea of ​​interdependence. All living things are interconnected and there is no permanent or unchangeable "self". This concept is identical to the practices of the free software community. One of the biggest examples of this is Ubuntu, the name of one of the most popular Linux distributions. Ubuntu means "I am what I am because of who we are."

Buddhism is open source because it was not created to control people or to impose that they have to follow its teachings or believe in them. This non-dogmatic feature means that the Buddha didn’t exhaust the enlightment techniques. Several followers, monks and laymen, for centuries, improved the work of the Buddha, creating new techniques and bringing up Buddhist reflections on ethical issues of their time.

Open source is very different from freeware. The freeware license only allows the user to use the program without paying for the licenses. The open source allows the user to access all the programming details (source code), and assures the possibility to use it for free, improve it and distribute freely to others.

Of course there is a core, a real kernel, which can not be changed. It’s not conceived a form of Buddhism that would not preach compassion for other living beings or which would believe that suffering can not be overcome.

But it is undeniable that Buddhism was shaped to various cultures with which it faced, adapting to the conditions of each site. So, like Linux, Buddhism has several distros: Mahayana, Theravada and Tibetan.

In line with the philosophy of free software, Buddhism encourages people to understand the functioning of the system, the origin and end of suffering, taking an active role in building and maintaining the community.

The Buddha's example inspires us as Buddhists and hackers, to continue exploring the source code of our world and sharing our findings with all living beings.

1 "Generally speaking, the GPL is based on four freedoms:

    The freedom to run the program for any purpose (freedom 0 º)
    The freedom to study how the program works and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
    The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
    The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements so that the whole community will benefit them (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this. "Source:

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