Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism

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Dark Modifications to Buddhism

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.


Chapter Two: “Dark” Modifications to Buddhism

          I ended the last chapter with a preview of the "dark" modifications to Zen Buddhism that form the heart of Dark Buddhism, namely the reintegration of the self into the philosophy. It begins with a very simple question: If you have chosen to seek enlightenment, then who or what has made that choice? Your self, your consciousness, your mind: these are things which cannot be taken away from the path to enlightenment, or enlightenment itself, as someone must always make a choice, someone must follow the path, and someone must attain the state of true understanding that we call enlightenment. In the language of Buddhism, a large part of the path is learning to live mindfully and consciously. Who is being mindful? Who is being conscious? How can we be conscious without a consciousness, and how can a consciousness exist without a self?

          Choice and responsibility are elements I struggled with in writing this book. I began by formulating a philosophy, but every time "choice" and "self-responsibility" cropped up, I felt as though I were writing a self-help manual rather than a philosophical text. In the end I reached a point of acceptance-which, as you will learn, is key to the dharma-that I could not provide a path without discussion of how to help yourself. One of the major flaws in Objectivism is that Ayn Rand states her ideals but gives no instruction on how to reach those ideals. Dark Buddhism, at times, reads like a self-help book because the dharma, which allows you to attain enlightenment, is a path of helping yourself. If enlightenment were not a good thing, no one would want to be on the path in the first place. In Dark Buddhism, the steps of this path are largely based on personal choice and self-responsibility.

          The path to enlightenment must involve consciousness: enlightenment is a state of true consciousness, where what you see, understand, accept, and think are completely unfiltered and uncolored by bias, prejudice, preconceived notions, societal programming, the opinions and fears and pressure of your peers, or any other influence. But you must make the choice to be conscious. You must not only be responsible for yourself, but also consciously realize and understand that we, as human beings, are all ultimately responsible for ourselves.

          When we zone out in front of the television or while driving, or when we zone out for entire portions of our lives, we have made a conscious decision to do so. When I was a boy, I remember a friend of my mother's crying in our kitchen over her husband leaving her. This was in the 1970s, so the traditional housewife of Leave it to Beaver and The Brady Bunch was still relatively common. My mother's friend wasn't crying because of a broken heart. She was crying to my mother, "Who will take care of me now?" She had gone from her parents' house right into her husband's house. He had earned the paycheck, he had paid the bills, he had done the banking, he had called the plumber...and now this grown woman, a woman approaching forty, was looking for someone to take care of her because she was completely helpless.

          How did that happen? Was she forced to live a slavelike existence, with responsibilities such as earning money and going to the bank being completely forbidden to her? No, she had chosen a comfortable life, free of responsibility, living in an almost druglike state because someone else would always be there to provide and fix things...until she was finally forced to wake up. This is not a comment on the feminist movement. The point of this story is that, at some point, she made the choice to live unconsciously, to give up her responsibility. If one is to seek a conscious life, then one must make a conscious choice to be awake, to be aware and, most importantly, to be responsible.


          Dark Buddhism is a serious topic, and a this is a serious book, but the origins of the name Dark Buddhism may seem a bit silly to you. In George Lucas's Star Wars, the Jedi are practitioners of the "light side" of the Force, using their great mental and physical abilities in a purely selfless way, with love and compassion for the various beings of the galaxy. The practitioners of the Force have tremendous physical and psychic skills and are able to tap into the true nature of the Universe.

          Two years prior to synthesizing Dark Buddhism, I began practicing meditation. I am a physicist, an atheist, and about as far from being a hippie or a New Age-type as one can possibly get. I began meditating because I had read several studies published in legitimate scientific journals on the concrete benefits of meditation: improved concentration, improved memory, increase in IQ, stress relief, lowered blood pressure, improved cognition, heightened creativity, and more.

          As I progressed with my meditation practice, I began to gain insights, not into anything particularly cosmic, but into myself. In psychological terms once you learn to quiet the conscious mind, you can begin to access your subconscious mind. With insights into myself, enhanced creativity, and increased levels of focus, along with decreased levels of generalized anxiety, I had my first feelings akin to Jedi power. I may not have been tapping into the Force, but I was certainly feeling as though I was mentally operating on an entirely new level.

          About a year later I began practicing yoga. Yoga, like meditation, is not a practice solely for New Agers but, rather, good exercise as well as a series of physical movements, or asanas, which are used while meditating. Yoga is as much an exercise in learning to live mindfully as it is a physical exercise. The command I gained over my muscles, the balance, the flexibility...now the Jedi in me really seemed to be coming to life.

          As I mentioned in the introduction, after experiencing disillusionment with Objectivism, I began to study Zen Buddhism. As I went further into the philosophy[1], I began to recognize many things that I had previously learned, not just from meditation and yoga, but from studying Objectivist epistemology and the psychology of self-esteem. Zen Buddhism also did not conflict with what I know about physics or with atheism, much to my surprise.

          There was, however, one bump in the road of Buddhism, which I found I could not get over. The Buddha taught selflessness, not just in terms of compassion, but the selflessness involved in the dissolution of the self; in other words destroying the ego or the concept of the individual self. As someone who has studied the psychology of self-esteem, and spent many years practicing what I have learned, as well as Objectivist epistemology, I found this one issue distasteful, both from an emotional standpoint and also from a logical point of view. Quantum theory is also one of my specialties and despite what you may have read in popularized physics books and articles, quantum mechanics does not imply that everything in the universe is somehow connected or that we are all "one." As you will see in chapter four, when analyzed logically, the "one-ness" of all things and the idea that there is no self are irrational and do not hold up to logical scrutiny. It brings to mind the Jedi's enemies, the Sith.

          The Sith have the same mental and physical abilities as the Jedi but use their powers for self-interest. They are practitioners of the dark side of the Force. I am not suggesting that a Dark Buddhist is evil, murderous, or any of the other adjectives which apply to Darth Vader and his allies, but the great mental clarity, calm, and the amazing perception which come from Zen, coupled with the balance and physical prowess gained from meditation, yoga, and the general Buddhist lifestyle are certainly reminiscent of the skills of a Jedi and can certainly be used to better the self without having to be "selfless." Dark Buddhism is based upon Zen Buddhism, but is directed toward fostering a strong sense of self and healthy self-esteem-not overconfidence or egotistical behavior, mind you, but healthy self-esteem. The Sith have the same abilities as the Jedi, but they are not selfless. Despite their generally evil nature in the movies, the dark side of the Force practiced by the Sith still seemed closer to what I was synthesizing.

          I would like to note that out of the many rejection letters that I received for early drafts of this book, the funniest came from Wisdom Publications: "... we regret that Wisdom will be unable to take part in this project, as it is outside of the scope of our publishing program at present: we do not publish the work of Sith Lords."


          What is Dark Buddhism? It is a philosophy, a lifestyle, an integration of Zen Buddhism, Objectivism, psychology, and much more. It is not, and this cannot be emphasized enough, a religion. It is not a belief system. Most importantly it is not a set of rules for you to follow. The core of Dark Buddhism is Zen Buddhism, so why is it "dark?" Because traditional Buddhism teaches dissolution of the self and a life lived with compassion, whereas the Objectivist pillar of Dark Buddhism teaches the virtue of rational self-interest, particularly in the fostering of self-esteem and doing what is best and healthiest for your self. Zen Buddhist principles, philosophy, and practice are directed toward "awakening" the self, and there is much to gain from this practice, but the "selfless" and "compassionate" aspects of Zen Buddhism are not only unnecessary, they conflict with rationality, reason, and a modern lifestyle. This is not to say that a Dark Buddhist must necessarily reject charity, sympathy, empathy, altruism, and so forth. In Dark Buddhism, one has personal choice. Rather than being mandated to be compassionate, how you feel and act is your choice, a choice made with an objective eye for what is best and healthiest for you. If giving to charities makes you happy, then you are doing what is best for yourself, and that is your personal choice. But a Dark Buddhist does not give to charities out of some external moral obligation. Similarly, Objectivism teaches that altruism and charity are fundamentally evil, and an Objectivist is never to be altruistic. If you choose to give to charity, or if you choose not to, that is your personal choice, and there is no external set of ethics or morals that are "right." The fundamental morality of Dark Buddhism is the choice of what is best, and healthiest, for the self.

            Objectivist epistemology will be covered in the next chapter, but those who have found Ayn Rand's nonfiction essays to be impenetrable have nothing to fear. I will note, however, that conservative Objectivists-or Ayn Rand "cultists," if you prefer-tend to think of Objectivism as a "closed" system, in that the wisdom uttered by Ayn Rand is never to be changed or dissected in any way. This is greatly expanded upon in chapter four, which deals directly with Objectivism, Buddhism, the flaws of both systems, and how Dark Buddhism combines the two into a logical and cohesive whole.

Ayn Rand wrote in The Romantic Manifesto, "... by rejecting reason and surrendering to the unhampered sway of their unleashed emotions (and whims), the apostles of irrationality, the existentialists, the Zen Buddhists, the nonobjective artists have not achieved a free, joyous, triumphant life, but a sense of doom, nausea and screaming, cosmic terror, ..." thus sealing off Objectivism to any other comparison or modification, particularly in light of Buddhist thought.

          If Ayn Rand had actually studied Zen Buddhism, however, she would have found that the core of her philosophy had, in fact, already been around for a couple of millennia. Objectivism is a philosophy based upon thinking rationally and viewing the world objectively. "A is A, it is not B or C," as Ayn Rand would say. In other words, you cannot use words, peer pressure, or prejudice to make me believe that A is anything other than A. In Buddhism, right view is viewing the world objectively, without emotion or dishonesty getting in the way. That sounds a bit familiar, does it not? As an improvement over the closed system of Objectivism, the Buddha teaches that one should never hold a singular view of anything. If you have a singular view, on religion, politics, philosophy, or anything else, your view of the world is frozen. A belief is like a snapshot image, frozen in time and unchanging. But how can your view on something ever be frozen and still be accurate when the world, your life, and all of the situations you encounter are constantly changing? In order for your view of a changing world to be accurate, that view must also be changing in a corresponding way. In other words for a philosophy to actually work, the nature of the philosophy must be dynamic and flexible. A static and rigid philosophy will crumble when faced with real-world dynamic situations.


          There is an old Buddhist saying: "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him!" In other words, there is no one, not even the Buddha himself, who knows what is best and healthiest for you better than you. If you learn how to take an objective view of your life, both internal and external to your physical being, then why follow a guru when you are fully capable of leading your own life? Why be a Buddhist when you can be a Buddha yourself? I think that if Ayn Rand had actually studied Buddhism, rather than simply rejecting it out of ignorance of the actual teachings, Objectivism would have evolved substantially differently.


          There is a surprising amount of Zen wisdom to be found in the movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off. To quote Ferris Bueller, "... not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. Isms, in my opinion, are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, ‘I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.' Good point there ..."

          So, there's my very brief introduction to the integration of the two philosophies. Now we can move on to the actual modifications from traditional Zen Buddhism to Dark Buddhism.


          Dark Buddhism has its own Eightfold Path, described in detail in chapters six, seven, and eight. Right understanding and right view are the foundations of both Dark Buddhism and traditional Buddhism and generally remain unchanged in the two philosophies, though the practices and applications may be a bit different, as will be explained in chapter six.

          Right thought, on the other hand, traditionally means thinking compassionately and abstaining from consciously engaging in cruel behavior. In Dark Buddhism there is no objective moral standard. What is "cruel" is based on a personal set of values, unique to the self. With no objective morality, though, this does not mean that I go around using my acerbic wit to insult people-I choose not to pick fights, hurt others, or cause undue suffering because such actions will lead to distraction and disharmony in my own life. In other words though I may find nothing morally wrong with, say, sleeping with another man's wife, I choose not to because it would be very distracting to my sense of inner peace to have that man show up at my apartment with a shotgun and blow my head off. That choice is very important. This is the revelation of karma: Every action has an effect. Right thought in the Dark Buddhist context means seeing all angles of a situation and doing what is best for yourself, and this is the long term "best," not a short-term sensual pleasure. In the example I said that I may find nothing morally wrong with sleeping with another man's wife-note that this is based upon my personal morality, my choice. Though I am the author of this book, I want to make it clear that no one can choose what is moral or ethical for you other than you.

          Right speech, similarly, is traditionally the refusal to lie, rile others up, gossip, steal attention for the sake of flattering your ego, or otherwise speak falsely. As with all aspects of Dark Buddhism, Dark Buddhist right speech is a matter of personal choice. I choose not to lie. I choose not to insult. I choose to minimize small talk. These are choices that are best for me. When you speak-or when you act, as in the right action of the next step on the Eightfold Path-you must make an objective assessment of how your words will work. In some situations it might be best to tell a lie. In other situations it might be damaging. You must always do what is best and healthiest for you, both at the time of the speech and also considering the long-term effects on your life.

          I listed minimizing small talk above. This is my personal choice. You may love small talk and find great benefit from it, be it personal or occupational benefit. I, however, prefer to minimize my speech. This is not because I took some sort of Buddhist vow of silence, but because it is my personal choice not to waste my time. Small talk about the weather-"Hot enough for you?"-is avoided simply because it is theft of the most important commodity I possess: my thoughts and focus.

          Importantly right speech is not just about telling the truth and not wasting time. In Dark Buddhism we do not sacrifice our own judgment or convictions simply to win popularity or approval. We do not kiss up or falsely flatter, as both are damaging to our integrity. Once again every situation is different, and sometimes flattering words will be the best option, but one of the things you must always consider with your objective eye is your personal integrity. Damage to your sense of integrity can cause damage in almost every other aspect of your life.


          Right action is closely tied to right speech. In Dark Buddhism right action means making objective and conscious choices and decisions with regard to our actions. It is taking a long-range view of what is best and healthiest for the self and not living in conflict with your personal, inner vision of what is good and right. When practicing both right speech and right action, Dark Buddhists view themselves objectively and consciously and then act or speak accordingly. This goes along with what has been noted regarding right thought: although there is no objective moral standard telling me not to lie, steal, or kill, I can objectively analyze each action and determine what, in the end, is best and healthiest for myself. I may not have any moral objection to stealing a piece of candy, but ending up in jail, or simply having anxiety about getting caught and ending up in jail is certainly not in my best interest. Thus, I choose not to steal. That is the right action for me, and it is a personal choice.

          Right livelihood in traditional Buddhism is choosing a career that is not generally harmful or unjust, and is honest and brings about compassion in the world. In Dark Buddhism we obviously don't stick to a list of pre-approved occupations. Choose an honest occupation, that's the only ideal we follow. By honest, we mean honesty as in "To thine own self be true." If you're a chemist and your specialty is high explosives that can only be used to kill babies and serve no other function, the real question is this: does your work make you happy? Can you go to work, feel good about yourself, and sink into your chemicals and equations until the rest of the world disappears from your pure state of focus? Then you are practicing Dark Buddhist right livelihood. Conversely if you work in an orphanage and you hate your job and you hate yourself for doing what others tell you is good work but which you don't personally feel is good, then you are not practicing right livelihood. There is no one capable of passing moral judgment on you, your actions, or your job except you.

          Right effort is making a conscious attempt to better yourself and eliminate negative qualities, thoughts, and tendencies. This is self-discipline, self-responsibility, and self-awareness. Everyone has an inner vision of the "good." This is not "good vs. bad" as a value judgment, but rather a notion of inner peace and what is best for yourself. In Dark Buddhism right effort is striving to make life a reflection of your inner vision of the good. In terms of self-discipline, this means realizing that your self-esteem is more valuable than any short-term reward for its betrayal.


          In Dark Buddhism there is one more path that is not a part of traditional Buddhism, though it does work in a complementary manner with right mindfulness. This is the path of living consciously. Living consciously is accepting who you are and what you have done. Self-acceptance does not necessarily mean agreement. As an example let's say that in a drunken and drugged stupor, you once accidentally ran someone off the road, injuring or even killing this other motorist. This is the sort of thing you could spend the rest of your life obsessing over. You don't agree with, or approve of, what you did, but if you want to continue actually living, rather than being tied up in a prison of obsession, you must first accept that you did it. You may not approve of your actions or misdeeds, but you accept that you did them. Only by accepting them-not avoiding them, ignoring them, denying them, running from them, or obsessing over them-can you move forward. This, of course, is a rather extreme example. In my own life, before I discovered my present path, I severely derailed myself from "the life I was supposed to have." I felt great guilt and shame, finally leading to a breakdown. I was not able to heal and start my way on my present path until I had accepted what I had done to myself and why I felt guilt and shame.

          Accepting responsibility for your past actions is the realization that if you live in a constant state of self-judgment, regret, guilt, and shame, then you are not living at all. You are frozen. Acceptance is objectively seeing that these actions, thoughts, and feelings are in your past, that you have learned your lessons, and that you have made peace with yourself. The first example given above is very extreme, made for illustrative purposes, but it is intended to drive home the idea that living consciously means practicing self-acceptance, and that self-acceptance is not endorsing your bad behavior. It is, instead, recognizing your actions, thoughts, and feelings for what they are without becoming lost in obsession or guilt.

          Living consciously is also living with responsibility: I realize that only I am responsible for my thoughts, actions, and the achievement of my goals. Dark Buddhists do not live for others-a striking difference between traditional Buddhist compassion, or "selflessness," and Dark Buddhism. We are individuals and fully accept that we are responsible only for ourselves and that we have the right to exist. This comes from the other pillar of Dark Buddhism: Objectivism. Living consciously is the acceptance of the reality of our thoughts and past actions, along with the acceptance of our feelings and emotions. There is no denial of the self; there is only acceptance. Living consciously also entails simplifying your life to remove distractions and hindrances. Turn off your cell phone, shut off your e-mail, and tell the office gossip to leave you alone so that you can concentrate. Do what is best for you in the end, taking a long-range and objective view.


          This chapter began with a brief discussion of consciousness, choice, and responsibility. These are topics that will be greatly expanded upon in the coming chapters. In quite a few places, I will be using my coworker "Ted" as an example of someone who has made the choice to live an unconscious life, a life without self-responsibility, a life without awareness, and in which he must engage in as little thought as possible. The concept of a real person who has made the very real choice to live unconsciously may sound foreign to you, but with each example, you may realize that you not only know someone very much like "Ted," but that you have, at some point, exhibited similar behavior.

          Ted is a Democrat. His parents are both Democrats, he socializes with Democrats, and he even campaigned for Obama in the last election. Every opinion Ted has comes straight from the party line. He's a Democrat all the way. When you ask Ted to justify a particular opinion, though, he is completely incapable. He cannot give you a reason for his opinions. As an example Ted and I were once discussing a news article regarding the death penalty. Ted stated that he was "of course against the death penalty." I asked him, "Why 'of course?' I'm not saying that I'm pro or con; I'm not making an argument here. I want to hear your reasoning behind your statement, since you termed it as though it should be self-evident to any intelligent person." Ted had no reasons. He couldn't come up with a single justification for what he had just stated was self-evident and obvious.

          Ted, at some point, made the conscious decision to stop being conscious, to let others think for him, to allow his parents and his peers to simply program him. Ted is a Democrat because his parents are both Democrats, not because he actually gave any thought to a particular political question. Why would anyone choose to live like this? Because it's easy. Thinking for yourself can be hard work; it really can. You can face emotionally painful issues and expend a great deal of strain and effort. Just as I choose to hire a laborer to move a heavy tree stump out of my yard, Ted has chosen to allow others to do his mental heavy lifting for him. This is actual selfless living. Ted has chosen to remove himself from his consciousness and let others do his thinking for him.


          Ted recently became engaged. For the few years I have known Ted, he has been talking about his "plan." He wanted to have a good job by a certain age. Then he wanted to buy a house by a certain age. Then he wanted to get married by a certain age. Then he wanted children by a certain age. It was all mapped out in his head, and I have, as of late, been hearing a lot about his engagement and his marriage plans. In all of his discussions on the topic, he very rarely mentions the woman to whom he is now engaged. She is, from everything I have heard, entirely incidental. He's not marrying this woman because she's his "soul mate" or "the one," but because she fits the criteria he's laid out for himself. He's had all of this mapped out in advance: the age range, the political party, the religion, the family she comes from, and so on. This particular woman has a check mark in each of Ted's appropriate categories, so now he's marrying her. He notes her various qualities, but I have never once heard him say that he loves her or that he even has a positive feeling about any of those qualities: it is enough that she possesses them. Neither of them seem capable of seeing what should be obvious to all around them, because they choose not to see. They choose not to face the truth, whether good or bad. They seek a life of comfort, and there's nothing wrong with that. This is their personal choice.

          I, on the other hand, made a personal choice to live consciously, and that is often very difficult. In making choices regarding what is best and healthiest for myself, comfort is not often the primary goal of my decision-making. However it is my choice to seek an enlightened view and understanding of the world, and it is their choice to live comfortably though unaware.

          In my Ted examples, it is not my intention to bash Ted or insult him. I simply want to use him as an example. Ted's politics and his plans for marriage follow a very set path, a plan that requires no thought or effort. It's a paint-by-numbers life, allowing him to live without the responsibility of choice and self-development. It all comes down to responsibility and, particularly, the choice to live responsibly and consciously.


          There's an old joke related to responsibility: A stretch limousine pulls up in front of a department store. The chauffer opens the door, and a regal looking woman steps out onto the sidewalk. Next the chauffer lifts a young boy sitting on an ornate pillow out of the back seat. As the chauffer proceeds to carry the boy on the pillow into the store, a bystander asks, "Oh dear, can't your son walk?" The regal looking woman replies, "Of course he can walk. Thank god he doesn't have to."

          Part of the right understanding of Dark Buddhism is the understanding of self-responsibility. You must understand that you and you alone are responsible for your life. Just as my mother's friend learned, there is no one who is ultimately responsible for you but you. You are not guaranteed a keeper, a savior, or a caretaker. Every aspect of your life is your own responsibility, and you are responsible for the necessary "causes" to achieve your desired "effects"-and this includes the quest for enlightenment.


[1] Like most people, I initially thought that Buddhism was a religion, not realizing that it is not theistic in any way and is, in fact, a philosophical school.

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

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