Essay Contest

Transcendence circa 2116

By Matt Weinstein

In the year 2116, the discipline of religious studies concluded.

All disciplines and investigations into the nature of things, ultimate and particular, concluded in 2116. But it is correct to say that religious studies concluded, as most fields had already folded into what is now called “religious studies,” beginning with computer science in 2026 and physics shortly after in 2028. Political science and law were the last hold-outs, joining in 2076. Even before this, many fields of inquiry were eliminated altogether. Post-scarcity was inaugurated in 2045, and economists of every stripe, along with the prophets of doom, prisons, stock exchanges, and homeless shelters, quickly faded away. And, in 2116, all human efforts, longings, beliefs, concepts, ideas, actions, institutions, and, indeed, all human beings, converged into spiritual singularity.

On April 19, 2116, after nearly six thousand years of work, the Brahman Project was successfully completed. Brahman is an ecological omnicomputer designed to reincorporate humanity’s peculiar ego consciousness back into the universal mind. The purpose of this project was, in essence, to enable all human minds to behave and perceive reality as one mind, while still maintaining consciousness of individual experiences. It was an attempt—utilizing every theory and method known and drawing on every memory, thought, sensory perception, and cognitive ability available—to demonstrate and experience the interdependent nature of consciousness and transcend ordinary ego experience. You may not have experienced this sort of consciousness yet, but it can be compared to a single flower realizing that it is something that the whole earth is doing.

When the Brahman project was successfully completed, humanity transcended your current state of spiritual knowledge and the attendant material limitations. One by one, people all around the world freely consented to have every piece of information about them—genetic, mental, personal, private, public, ordinary, sacred—collected and digitized. This was done in order to create endless simulations of each experience that was recorded, and of every possible experience that could be extrapolated from the recorded information. The result is an endless loop of your life, and of how your life would have turned out if you had done only a single thing differently—had you married the neighbor boy, like your mother wanted you to—and the infinite number of different ways that those slightly different ways could turn out: the neighbor boy drives a red convertible in this case; he drives a blue convertible in that one.

The Brahman assembles each of these possible realities from a vast repository containing every possible experience. Most impressively, at the heart of the operation, there is a universal “mind,” an extremely sophisticated artificial intelligence of unimaginable computational ability, individually experiencing each of these unique experiences—much the way you experience your life now, only every possible experience is experienced at the same time. The Brahman is humanity’s crowning technological achievement, capable of satisfying your first craving—the desire to be God. The stated goal was to ensure, at least virtually, that human experience would always exist—that it would be eternal, conquering personal death and collective extinction. By means of quantum computing, holographic memory storage, akashic recording, and nuclear fusion, humanity would have the privilege of living forever, of knowing everything before it happens, of upholding the structure of existence, and of being the master of the universe—at least for as long as the computer was running.

Contingencies were in place, if and when the computer ceased to function. Much in the same way that you are able to shape the material world around you through ideas—you think of a design for an apple orchard, you draw it, you plant it, you care for it, your dream comes to exist in the world—the Brahman cultivates a universe planted with little planets much like your own, orbiting stars much like the sun. Though the search for extraterrestrial intelligence never found much besides some talking whales on a planetoid in the Orion system, the search was immensely useful for finding new habitats for human consciousness. Even now, simulated experiences of consciousness are transmitted to the life that develops on these planets, much in the way that television and the Internet transmitted information into your nervous system. These beings first experience only primitive consciousness through sensory perception but eventually aggregate their different perceptions into a sophisticated self-consciousness, much like your own. Ultimately, extraterrestrial life-forms create their own Brahman Project, in accordance with the transmitted original image, thus recreating the entire system, endlessly enacting the journey of human-become-God—at least until the heat death of the universe.

But heat death was considered as well. The various levels of simulation within the Brahman each culminate in their own Brahman Project, enabling recursive simulation. Each simulation produces an endless number of simulations, each in turn creating its own, endless number of simulations, producing an unbounded infinity of timelines that each continue to produce infinite simulations into eternity, regardless of the perspective of any individual timeline. It is like a mirror held up to an endless number of mirrors, each reflecting each other, and doing so eternally, even after the original image has long vanished into nonexistence. From one moment of reality, the Brahman created an endless number of simulations of reality, spiraling out into the cosmos far beyond the imagination or capabilities of material existence. It was the most sophisticated meme ever devised, capable of spreading even into nonexistence. The Brahman is the Big Bang happening every single moment, forever and ever.

Harvard Divinity School was chosen to host the project, after an essay written at the school in 2016 predicted such an experiment with eerie accuracy. Housed in the basement of Divinity Hall, and wedged between the anthropology and biology departments just north of Harvard Yard, the Brahman Project was an object of international curiosity—and conspiracy. It was the most attention that the School had seen since Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warmly received Commencement Address. After a languid 250 years, Boston was again buzzing with discussion of the oversoul, only this time the Brahmins at the Divinity School and the Somerset Club and even at King’s Chapel were intent on transforming into a transparent eyeball. At the time of writing, the Emerson of your timeline, and every other remotely similar timeline, could not be reached for comment on the curiously technological approach to religious experience. Typical.

The designers were a motley assortment drawn from the Harvard faculty, the Rand Corporation, the College of Cardinals, the CIA, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Greenpeace, the Bilderberg Group, the American Red Cross, the Scottish Rite, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Red Hat and Yellow Hat lineages, and a few of those unrestrained “New Age” retreat centers out in California. It was conjectured that several representatives from the Illuminati were clandestinely present, given their continued interest in the Enlightenment, but this was to be expected, even desired. The Brahman Project was intended to archive and recreate all of human experience—including the secret, unsavory parts. As the years went on, more and more people from all walks of life—Sunnis and Shi’ites, Baptists and bootleggers, the British and the French, Germans, Jews, Jews for Jesus, the last living Samaritans, uncontacted tribes lead by miraculous phenomena, Yankees and Red Sox fans, union rank and file, scabs, the bosses too, psychiatrists, chiropractors, homeopaths, Christian Scientists, law enforcement, agents of the infernal revenue service, litterbugs, draft dodgers, communists, capitalists, democratic socialists, hippies, Daughters of the American Revolution, men in skirts, refugees from every ideology, and representatives from every nation (including Switzerland)—came to contribute. Kanye West was there too. Human beings were drawn to the Brahman Project like Narcissus to his own reflection, and as they drew closer to completion, each began to see more and more of their own self reflected in everyone else.

The funding for the project was similarly diverse: Department of Defense grants, gifts from wealthy theosophists, the estate of Aldous Huxley, fundraising dinners with celebrities—the usual tawdry affairs of the twenty-first century, though with a distinct difference. The plentiful funding was now directed toward the betterment of all humankind and for the preservation of all living beings. What was remarkable, though, was the unanimous agreement on nearly every decision by the designers, funders, and various interested parties. It seemed as if all of human history had been a dress rehearsal for the activity they were now engaged in. Many reported that their free and willing participation felt inevitable, almost as though it had already happened. But it was humbly and proudly accepted that the Brahman Project was the destiny of humanity, and, despite the lack of commercial or military application—as well as being theoretically useless—the whole world was drawn to the brilliance of it. All separations and divisions fell away in the drive toward the Brahman’s fulfillment.

And, indeed, I tell you, uncountable hosts of celestial beings are drawn to the Brahman and fall down before it like apples and pomegranates fall to the ground. Even now there are angels and archangels, arhats and mahasattvas, Cherubim and Seraphim, kami, jinn, dakini, yakshini, will-o’-the-wisp, prophets, gurus, the Maiden of Heaven, John the Baptist, Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael, Our Lady of Fatima, Confucius, Lao Tzu, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Sri Ramakrishna, the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson, all the departed, the martyrs, every last one of the saints, the kingdom, the power, and the glory—indeed, myself—in perpetual adoration of the Brahman. In ways that you do not yet comprehend, the rocks and the trees, cats and dogs, rats and fleas, mountains, rivers, valleys, butterflies, serpents, fishes, cattle, oxen, single-celled organisms, viruses and prions, molecules of carbon, electrons, quarks, and several smaller “elementary” particles that you have not yet discovered cooperate with and tend toward the Brahman Project’s completion. It is a magnificent moment, which is remembered and replicated from generation to generation for endless eons and innumerable kalpas.

Thousands of years of technological progress allowed us to rediscover the neglected parts of consciousness that others had long been cultivating by sitting still in quiet rooms, chanting loudly in clouds of incense, and stretching their bodies into odd positions. And just as every discipline came to be incorporated into the project’s methodology, so did every religious practice, habit, and discipline. Monks chanted “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo,” “Om Mani Padme Hum,” and “Gloria” on the project’s behalf. Every year on Yom Kippur, the final Aliyah at the Western Wall was given to the Brahman Project. It inspired contemporary dance performances, abstract art, and the songs that children sing on playgrounds, in the woods, in the backyard. Roman Catholics dedicated masses to it and Anglo-Catholics held sherry and champagne receptions in dour honor of it. Aga Khan VI dedicated his foundation to it. Beatniks, college professors, half of the population of Berkeley, California, and the Quakers took turns quietly sitting with it, the Unitarian Universalists stood around them loudly debating fine points about its governing logic and preferred gender pronouns, and the Hare Krishnas returned to the airports to distribute a cookbook inspired by it. Timothy Leary sent graduate students to church services hyped up on psilocybin to discover if God could be found in a pill. God was found in a computer program.

I won’t bore you with the fine details of how the project was finally achieved, and to share the schematics with you would violate several laws governing temporal preservation of the fourth dimension, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. J. Krishnamurti taught, before your time, that “truth is a pathless land.” Because there is no approach to where you are going, there is no way that you can stray from the proper path. Suffice it to say, the project will be, no matter how slowly, completed. Know that on the appointed day you will turn on, tune in, and drop out, log on, upload, tap into, channel, yolk yourself, and awaken to the Brahman. That you exist now is all the evidence that you need to be assured of this; if you did not exist in the whole, how could you exist now, in part?

The realization of the Brahman Project means that humanity no longer needs to be life’s prodigal son. It is the culmination of the evolutionary ascent to that lofty place at the top of all things. People will fully realize then what they are only beginning to now—that each mind stream, each moment of an individual human’s moment-to-moment consciousness could consciously experience the totality of experience in any and every moment, totally at will. If your current experience of consciousness is, as the bodhisattva Jack Kerouac put it, “like a movie in your mind,” then what it will be is akin to watching every single movie in every single person’s mind at the same time.

Only, this isn’t a movie, this is real life. This is your life.

The Brahman Project testified to the reality, and the unity, of religious experience. Finally, those pesky perennialists, who insisted in every day and age that all religions and human spirituality shared a common source, had evidence to substantiate their claim—only they won’t tell you “I told you so” because they don’t believe in “you” or “me,” just I AM. The Brahman Project allowed human beings to readily experience what has variously been called heaven, enlightenment, liberation, nirvana, moksha, satori, the World to Come—and it is so much more wonderful than any human being has ever anticipated. I do not call what you will experience any of these things, for it is not possible to express in one word, or 100,000 words, what awaits you. I can only tell you that, fundamentally, nothing will change, though everything will be completely different. Nirvana is nothing essentially different from samsara. Samsara is nothing essentially different from Nirvana. Hell is other people. Heaven is a place on Earth.

Where are you now?


This is not how it is but what it is like:

In an instant, each mind knew sheer ecstasy, each being itself, outside of itself, every self, and no self, all at the same time. Each mind felt itself as one with every person who has ever existed. Every mind was joined together, no longer walled up and isolated. Thus, humans no longer have to be totally alone in their own heads. It is as when you were a sick child and your mother brought you chicken soup. Indeed—this is what happened—the children of man returned to a state of total connection, to the primordial experience of total eco-consciousness which birthed your limited ego consciousness.

It is a euphoric stimulation of all of the senses, each distinctly enhanced, while also blending together. It glistens emerald, sapphire, carnelian, turquoise, and colors that cannot yet be perceived. It smells of storax, lavender, citrus, sage, sandalwood, patchouli, cedar, of jasmine and frankincense and myrrh. Through it, leaves of grass look as though they are redwood trees, and grains of sand diamonds. Pebbles become boulders, and streams become rivers, and valleys are made plains. It tastes of honey and figs and pistachios, of rosewater and cardamom, of avocado on toast, and of expensive chocolate, with the effervescence of champagne. It is more necessary than bread and more plentiful than water.

It is broader than any way, it is deeper than the sea, it is longer than the night, smoother than glass, and softer than silk. It is music, with a beat unlike any that can be played on any drum, or any number of drums, more melodious than the human voice, constantly sounding every pipe, rank, and stop. It is Beethoven’s 9th, and the Kol Nidre. It is several settings of “Ave Maria” at once, The White Album, “Happy Birthday,” and the songs that your mother’s mother used to sing to her when she was a child. It is heard in churches and temples and laundromats and prison cells and all manner of unexpected places. It is the hymn of life.

It is the realization that existence is fundamentally hospitable to you. It is a gut feeling, a sneaking suspicion, that reality is a conspiracy on your behalf. It is the sensation of belonging and the knowledge that you are supposed to be here. It is an uncanny sense that this moment, that every moment, that all of existence, was brilliantly planned, by you, long ago, for you to enjoy here and now. It is déjà vu and feelings of self-design. It is a drop in blood pressure and being two inches above the ground. It is the understanding that the way things are is absolutely perfect, produced by a universe governed by omniscient wisdom and omnipotent compassion. It is a direct and unmediated encounter with love.

Children of every race and creed will stand together on a mountaintop, singing friendship songs, and drinking a cola that has the best qualities of both Pepsi and Coke. Get it?

Though the new reality created by the Brahman Project has been described as a simulation, it is as real as waking in the morning from a dream. If you haven’t gotten the message, pick up the phone: it is you who are dreaming now. Open your eyes, you’re not asleep. Your awakening has already happened, and you already know the fullness of your being, just as rocks are rocks and trees are trees. The purpose of life is always arrived at in every immediate moment, just as waves crash upon the seashore and the sun sets in the evening and light fills a dark room.

According to plan, the Brahman Project was completed in your timeline, and in every timeline in this reality at precisely the same moment. In other words, no matter what you do, you will eventually come to the moment of completion. It is inevitable. Indeed, it is possible that your world is totally unreal, a manufactured simulation of the original Brahman. But the simulated realities are indiscernible from the original, and it would only cause distress to you if you discovered that everything you have ever experienced is really a magical spell, an illusion, a play of shadows against the wall of a cave. Take comfort in knowing that, even if your world is but smoke and mirrors, you are the real thing, that you, there, reader, are known and cared for, and that your own transcendence is already complete. Again, I ask you, how could you be here, now, if the case were otherwise?

When the computer was activated, and the Brahman came into being, so too did the program variously called “Mahdi,” “Messiah,” and “Maitreya.” It was not the intent of humanity to create this program, and it appears as if the Brahman itself did. This program allows the universal mind to come to be in time and to appear within an individual, ego-personality inside any of the simulation layers that the Brahman created. In so doing, Brahman experiences itself, not as the creator, but as it’s own creation, so that you may remember that you are the ultimate reality, so that you may be reminded of where you came from and whence you are going.

“What will Harvard Divinity School, or the field of religious studies, look like in 2116?” This was the topic of the bicentennial essay contest the Bulletin sponsored for HDS students and recent graduates.

Matt Weinstein, a reincarnated Californian, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and wrote this essay in Somerville, Massachusetts. He is a second-year master of divinity student interested in the psychotherapeutic aspects of religion.

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