Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism

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By Morgan D. Rosenberg

Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism is finally available. You can purchase it on Amazon.com by clicking here.  E-book versions for the Kindle, iPad and Nook are also available.


I have also written a companion book on meditation, called If you can breathe, you can meditate: A practical, secular how-to guide to meditation. You can purchase it on Amazon.com by clicking here.  E-book versions for the Kindle, iPad and Nook are also available.  ForeWord Reviews also gave the book a 4 star review.

For anyone with an interest in patent law, The Essentials of Patent Claim Drafting (Oxford University Press, 2011) is also available and can be purchased by clicking here.

The second book in the series, Business Method and Software Patents: A Practical Guide (Oxford University Press, 2012) is also available and can be purchased by clicking here.

The third book in the series, Patent Application Drafting: A Practical Guide (Oxford University Press, 2012) is finally available.  To purchase, just click here.


            I began as an Objectivist. Like many members of my generation, I discovered Ayn Rand in college, initially reading The Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged. I felt, at the time, that she had saved my life. I was a child prodigy and, as with most child prodigies, my adolescence and early adult years were filled with strong feelings of isolation and guilt. After years of bullying and taunting by other children (and the alienation of adults who found children with adult vocabularies and opinions to be creepy), I found myself overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and self-hatred. The guilt stemmed from the idea that the bullies had actually been right, that I was a "freak" and a "spaz" and a "geek"-my formative years were spent in the 70s and 80s, so this was long before the Internet age, when "geek" stopped being an insult and became chic- ultimately believing that something was very wrong with me. I allowed my peers to program me into believing that being smart and being independent were things to be ashamed of and that I was somehow flawed. A superior mind is also a different mind, and "different" is what we, as tribal creatures, tend to fear most.

            And then Ayn Rand arrived, like she did for so many other adolescents before me, showing me exactly what I had let happen to myself, that I should not only not be ashamed of being a "man of the mind" but that I should embrace my intellect and myself (or, rather, my self). To a socially naive teenager, unfortunately, this tends to translate into arrogance and a "fuck you, world" attitude. In other words, I went from one emotional extreme to the other, from self-hatred to megalomania and misanthropy. This, unfortunately, also follows the path of many other Rand fans.

          I also began repressing my emotions, much like the heroes and heroines of Ayn Rand's novels, and strongly punishing myself whenever I realized that I was not acting like one of her idealized Objectivist characters, which began to happen more and more, thanks to all of this repression, forming a vicious psychological cycle.

            Given the psychological conflicts that developed throughout my childhood, along with my new emotional repression and reverse-alienation, the following decade was emotionally tumultuous and quite damaging, both to myself and others. Each time that I felt my life spinning further out of control, I would return to reading one of Ayn Rand's books, thus reinforcing a cycle of chaos-punishment-order. Objectivism preaches self-reliance and self-responsibility, which is very powerful and very empowering, but it does not prepare you for situations that are simply beyond your control, no matter how much resolve you may have. This omission is where the cracks in the philosophy begin, and those cracks extend far, far down.

            For those who are familiar with basic Buddhist teachings, you can probably see where I am going: The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are ultimately directed toward recognizing, understanding, and accepting what cannot be changed or controlled. For example, you will get sick throughout your life. You will eventually die. These are things people worry about, get angry about, obsess over. Yet you have no control over them. None whatsoever. So, why expend so much energy and give away so much personal power to something you can't control? At the point where I broke in my personal saga, I had been taught the great personal power and control of Ayn Rand and her Objectivism, but I was not able to accept, or deal with, the fact that there were things beyond my control. When you truly believe that, like John Galt in Atlas Shrugged, you are a man of pure will, your entire philosophy can be cracked in half the day that sheer willpower and your raw intellect do nothing to prevent your house being washed away in a flood.

            Finally when my life came completely crashing down around me, as tends to happen to the grown-up versions of child prodigies, I found myself in therapy and being opened to the idea that, perhaps, there were other philosophical frameworks one can explore As Hamlet said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." By this point, I had embedded Objectivist epistemology firmly into my personal ethics to the exclusion of anything else. This rigidity in thought only exacerbated my condition. In order to try to comply with my therapist's wishes, I began studying philosophy...except what I chose to read was Ayn Rand's collected nonfiction works. I saw this as broadening my perspective beyond just The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. By sheer luck this was exactly what I needed in order to finally open my eyes.

            In reading the fully laid out philosophy, which extended to psychology, economics, and lifestyle, I began to see some very serious logical flaws in Objectivism, the primary flaws being that Objectivism was inapplicable to real life, in that it presented nothing but ideals; it could only be practiced in its true form by emotionless robots, once again, not applicable to real people; and, worst of all, it was a completely rigid and inflexible philosophy. It was, in fact, designed as a "closed system," with Ayn Rand professing that it was fully complete and could not be altered or adapted in any way. Thanks to my training as a physicist, I know that there is no such thing as a final, ultimate theory. Aristotle was replaced by Galileo, who was replaced by Newton, who was replaced by Einstein...and on and on and on. It's the natural progression of knowledge. Objectivism, in denying such a flexibility and progression, turned out to be an artificial and idealized construct at best. A true working philosophy requires the flexibility and possibility of modification for each and every new situation and problem presented.

            At the encouragement of my therapist, who was there to help me through my concerns and disillusionment regarding the sole philosophy I had allowed myself, I began to study Ayn Rand as a person. Nathaniel Branden's memoir, My Years With Ayn Rand, taught me that many others had experienced the same disillusionment I was now encountering. Objectivism was not only lacking, it was an incomplete philosophy that is inapplicable to reality; and Ayn Rand herself was not some sort of superwoman, but was as deeply flawed a human being as anyone else.

            From the start my therapist had also recommended meditation as a therapeutic aid. I am a physicist by training and was also strongly colored by Ayn Rand's bias against mysticism, so I deflected her suggestion every time she made it. Then, one day, I happened to be reading a popular science magazine and read about a series of studies that had shown that Zen Buddhist meditation increased cognitive ability, increased focus and concentration, lowered blood pressure, and promoted a whole host of other positive things, which were measured and verified in the laboratory. My inner scientist having been satisfied, I began meditating and immediately discovered its many benefits, even though I completely discarded any spiritual aspect of the practice (some studies of interest are listed in the bibliography of Appendix C).

            Objectivism and meditation were the first two steps on my path to synthesizing Dark Buddhism: The third came from psychology. My problems were largely issues of self-esteem; and, with the aid of my therapist and Nathaniel Branden's The Psychology of Self-Esteem, I finally began to psychically mend. Nathaniel Branden was there at the start of Objectivism. His essays constitute some of the best work and analysis done on the philosophy. How could I not turn to him with matters regarding the nature of the self from an Objectivist perspective?

          Now realizing so much about myself and about the flaws in Objectivism, I decided to finally discuss this with someone other than my therapist. I joined Facebook so that I could engage in Objectivist analysis and debate in the various Ayn Rand and Objectivism forums. I posted a thread titled, "Ayn Rand Was a Human Being," and outlined, briefly, what I have just written regarding Objectivism, including the facts that Ayn Rand lived the life of a real human being, with emotional instability, guilt, fear, worry, and sensual needs (fans of Ayn Rand tend to worship her as an intellectual goddess, above the petty concerns and flaws of mere mortals). My point was not to cast aspersions on Ayn Rand, but to open up debate on "real" people vs. the idealistic and godlike beings she wrote about. This is the same sort of debate held thousands of years ago between our real world and Plato's ideal forms. Objectivism is called what it is because its adherents are supposed to be rational and objective people. Objectivism supposedly promotes thinking for yourself and taking an objective view of the facts. The responses I received to my post-and there were hundreds-were 99 percent negative, calling me every name in the book. There were no "objective" responses, only accusations that I was a disloyal Ayn Rand basher and pronouncements of her near-godhood.

            These were not Objectivists in the sense of thinking objectively; they were Ayn Rand cultists. Their views were as rigid and fixed as those of any religious zealot-and religion is one of the many human institutions Objectivists abhor and rail against. Naturally I spent a lot of time thinking about this obvious contradiction and hypocrisy, feeling more and more that Objectivism was deeply flawed, not just in the illogic I had previously found, but in its actual application. In the back of my mind, there was a tickle, reminding me that I had once read something about frozen views and beliefs, something about living and thinking objectively, but I could not remember what it was.

            Meditation is a wonderful tool for remembering things. When you quiet your conscious mind, the subconscious mind throws all kinds of things at you. Usually it's along the lines of, "Oh yeah, I meant to write myself a note to buy milk today," but for unanswered questions, like those I just mentioned, it can also be wonderfully revealing. In this case, I remembered that the issue of "frozen views" had to do with the spiritual aspects of meditation, which I had, up to that point, never truly explored.

            I picked up a book on Zen Buddhism and quickly realized that I had found the missing piece of "real" Objectivism: in short, the true objectivity that Objectivism was supposed to have. The Buddha said that there are no frozen views of anything. His logic goes as follows: a belief or a view is like a picture. It is a snapshot image, frozen in time. However the world in which we live, the environment around us, the situations occurring in our lives, our bodies and our thoughts, are in a constant state of change. Everything changes, and these changes occur continuously. So how can a frozen view or belief possibly be an accurate reflection of reality when reality itself is not frozen and is constantly changing? The answer is, it can't. For a philosophy, a frozen view or belief-or rigid codes of conduct, ethics and thought, as in Objectivism-can be deadly: if life and the universe in which we live are constantly changing, then the philosophy must have change or, at least, flexibility built into it. In physics we call the "frozen" or "snapshot" view of something "the steady state solution." It is always regarded as a frozen model, rather than the true "time evolution solution," which is dynamic. Viewed from a different scientific perspective, Objectivism and other rigid forms of teaching are just ones and zeroes: something is or it isn't, something is good or it's bad, the answer is yes or it is no, and so on. There are no in-betweens and there are no other options or possibilities. This is, of course, completely inapplicable to the real world.

            Buddhism supplied a necessary piece of the puzzle but, as an Objectivist, I simply could not accept the selflessness the Buddha taught. This is selflessness in both senses of the word: first a life of compassion toward others, and second a dissolution of the ego, becoming without self. The latter is the more familiar concept that "we are all one" or "everything in the universe is interconnected." Buddhism is not supposed to have any particular moral codes or ethics, like a religion, yet the teachings regarding compassionate living seemed to be just that. In Dark Buddhism these are all personal choices, not morality as dictated by others. It slowly dawned on me that I could take what seemed rational and "right" from Zen Buddhism, excise the parts that were inconsistent with my values, and then do the same with Objectivist epistemology and merge the two together. The psychology of self-esteem is the glue that binds the two together, and the result is Dark Buddhism, a logically consistent whole.

            As will be described in depth in the coming chapters, the selflessness of the Buddha-selfless meaning dissolution of the self-is easily excised since it provides a logical inconsistency in the rest of the philosophy. One simply has to ask the following: If we study and practice Zen Buddhism in order to become enlightened, who, exactly, is following that path? Who is becoming enlightened? Who has made the conscious decision to meditate today? There is no way to answer these questions without saying, "I am following the path, I am on the path to enlightenment, I have made the choice to meditate and walk this path," which is a strong declaration of the existence of the self.

            As for the other meaning of selflessness, as in altruism and compassion, it is not "objective" to simply say, "All altruism is evil," as is taught in Objectivism. That's a frozen view, as is saying, "All compassion and altruism is good." In Dark Buddhism we take a truly objective and unfrozen view, in Buddhism, called "right view," and how one acts is a personal choice based on the answer to the question, "What is best and healthiest for me?" which is answered from an objective view of the self.

            By excising the selflessness of Buddhism as well as the rigidity of Objectivism-putting the objective back into Objectivism-one can easily marry the two philosophies into a logically consistent philosophy, one which also promotes a psychologically healthy lifestyle. Most Objectivists bristle at the thought that Buddhism has anything in common with Objectivism. There is, however, a passage from the Sutta-Nipata that always makes me think of Ayn Rand's heroes and heroines, particularly Howard Roark in The Fountainhead: "Do not get excited by what is old; do not be contented with what is new. Do not grieve for what is lost or be controlled by desire." And Ayn Rand, the great champion of reason herself, certainly would not disagree with the following from the Dhammapada, the teachings of the Buddha: "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart."

            Buddhism teaches objectivity, respect for the mind, and true self-reliance in interpreting the world around us. Objectivism proclaims to embody the same. My choice to find a way to marry the two philosophies seemed obvious, and I hope that in what follows, you will agree.


            Having given a brief introduction to my development of Dark Buddhism, I would also like to give a brief introduction to the philosophy itself. In my first public lecture on Dark Buddhism, I was asked by an audience member, "What is the meaning of life?" After giving the flip answer-forty-two-I asked the audience member to rephrase his question. He asked, "What is the purpose of life? What are we, as living human beings, supposed to do with ourselves?" I took a moment to reflect and then answered, with absolute certainty, "The purpose of your life is to experience happiness."

            There are two types of happiness, and each reflects a respective pillar of Dark Buddhism. First from traditional Buddhism, happiness comes from within. Happiness is being completely at peace and in harmony with life, the universe, and everything. It is very much being part of the "flow" of the universe without particular attachments, either attachments to the past or present or material attachments. The second form of happiness is the more material kind of happiness, which we in the West are more familiar with and which jibes with Ayn Rand's Objectivist ideals. This is happiness in one's accomplishments, it is happiness in the arms of your lover, and it is happiness when you get recognition at work for a job well done. This form of happiness is externally based-even when the happiness is derived from the self, it is how the self acts and interacts with respect to the external world.

            One of the logical flaws of traditional Buddhism is that it denies the existence, or importance, of the second form of happiness. Objectivism, similarly, denies the existence and importance of the first kind of happiness. Ayn Rand would most likely call meditative inner peace a form of self-delusion. I, however, have been rich and I have been poor. I have experienced marvelous things and I have experienced tragedy. I have also experienced inner peace and I have experienced psychosis and chaos. The necessity for marrying Objectivism with Zen Buddhism is twofold: First without inner peace, any self-directed material gains I ever experienced were completely and totally without meaning. Without inner peace I was nothing other than a selfish empty shell. Second it's just simple truth that it's far easier to gain inner peace and experience harmony with the universe when your life doesn't suck. It's better to be rich, it's better to have a good job, it's better to have romance in your life. When you don't feel that you have the sword of Damocles dangling above your head, it's far easier to meditate and focus on more important things than how you are going to pay the phone bill.

            Dark Buddhism integrates Objectivism with Zen Buddhism because both forms of happiness are integral to the full human experience, and, especially in our modern world, one form of happiness doesn't really exist without the other.



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For more information, please contact Morgan Rosenberg at morgan@darkbuddhism.com.

Please note that the entire contents of this website, as well as the book Dark Buddhism, have been registered with the United States Copyright Office. ©2009, 2010, 2011

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