Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism

Home | Dark Modifications to Buddhism | The "Dark" Self | Integrating Buddhism and Objectivism | The Dark Buddhist Lifestyle | Articles, Papers and Other Publications by Morgan D. Rosenberg

The "Dark" Self

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 Three:  Reintegrating the Self into Buddhism


Enlightenment begins and ends with the self. Your enlightenment is personal, specific, and individual, dependent only upon your self. Likewise, your path to enlightenment is based solely upon your self. I am providing a guidebook, sometimes a set of suggestions, but your path is yours alone. It depends upon your specific goals, upon your personal experience, and very much upon where you are right now.

If it is your goal to travel to Paris, you can take a plane, you can take a boat, you can take a train, you can drive a car, you can walk, or you can simply sit still: it depends upon where you happen to be starting from. Maybe you're already in Paris, maybe you live in London, maybe you're doing research at the South Pole...you may have the same goal as everyone else reading this book, but your starting point will be unique, thus the path you take will also be unique and depends on your self alone.

If I ask you how to get to Paris, you will tell me, "Go east." East from where? East from wherever I am located? I happen to be typing this from just outside of Washington, DC, so "east" would be my first general direction. I am central to the very definition of "east." The direction does not have any meaning without an origin point, and I am that origin. Thus the path I take to find enlightenment is dependent in every way upon me and me alone. I define the path.


Looking at this another way, consider performing a simple activity such as cooking a meal. You could be cooking a meal for yourself, you could be cooking a meal for your spouse, you could be cooking a meal for your boss, you could be cooking a meal to bring to a party full of strangers...it is the same activity performed in each circumstance, but each time is different, and that difference is specific to you. You may have no feeling at all about cooking a meal for yourself, you may enjoy cooking for your spouse, you may hate cooking for your boss. Your internal relationships, your experience, your feelings, your thoughts, and your circumstances all define the activity for you. Seeking enlightenment and the nature of enlightenment itself are equally dependent upon you.


Philosophically the most glaring difference between Dark Buddhism and traditional Buddhism is that the Buddha taught dissolution of the self, whereas Dark Buddhism reintegrates the self into the philosophy and, particularly, directs itself to fostering healthy and strong self-esteem. According to the original dharma, true enlightenment comes from the realization that the self is an illusion that acts as a prison. To the Buddha becoming enlightened involved the realization that there is no self, thus letting go of this illusion. In fact the Buddha taught that the true prison is not actually the self, but the belief that one even has a self.

My motivation for bringing the self back to Buddhism stems from a very basic question. In Zen Buddhism transcendence or enlightenment is gained from the meditative act of self-observation. Self-observation leads to transcendence, which leads to discarding the self and the ego. The basic question, though, is this: Who or what is doing the transcending? The answer is equally basic: I am. If I am transcending, if I am experiencing enlightenment, if I have made the conscious choice to follow the dharma, then how can I not exist? All of these actions and all of these choices are performed consciously, and if a consciousness exists, then a "self" associated with that consciousness must also exist. Cogito ergo sum, in other words.

To quote Ayn Rand, "Existence exists-and the act of grasping that statement implies two corollary axioms: that something exists which one perceives and that one exists possessing consciousness, consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists. If nothing exists, there can be no consciousness: a consciousness with nothing to be conscious of is a contradiction in terms. A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness."


The virtue of self-interest, which comes from Rand's Objectivism, is also an important part of Dark Buddhism. The virtue of self-interest is a topic that is controversial, primarily because of its name. Self-interest and selfishness are not inherently bad things. It is only because the self-interest or selfishness of others may keep us from attaining things we want that we are taught, or we feel, that they are "bad."[1]

Consider Elizabeth. As a child, she was encouraged by her parents to put her studies before everything else. Her parents were both attorneys who founded a small law firm together, and they dreamed of passing the firm to Elizabeth when they reached retirement age. Elizabeth, however, caught the science bug and, as a high school senior, while choosing a college for herself, decided that what she really wanted to become was a physicist. Her father sat her down soon after she announced her college major and told her, "Who are we going to leave the firm to? You're breaking your mother's heart by studying physics and not following in our footsteps. You're being very selfish, young lady."

Elizabeth, being both self-aware and very honest, replied, "By not studying physics, I'll be breaking my own heart." To Elizabeth when she thought about her parents' wishes, she considered that what they were offering her was a deal: their love for her personal sacrifice. In exchange for their blessing, she had to sacrifice her soul. Being "selfish" was a personal choice to not sell herself out.

Elizabeth studied physics in college, with an emphasis on quantum theory, and then moved on to graduate school. Throughout high school and college, Elizabeth had dated various boys without ever falling in love. Not having the time or inclination to date around anymore, she met a very nice man named Mike and dated him for two years in graduate school. Though Mike was very attractive, intelligent, and fun to be with, Elizabeth knew that he was not "the one." He, however, was not only in love with her but asked her to marry him. Her reply was, "I'm sorry, Mike. I love you, but I'm not in love with you. I can't marry you."

Mike was very hurt by this and, upset, he cried, "How could you lead me on like this? My god, how selfish you are! Do you even care about my feelings?"

Elizabeth asked, "Do you care about my feelings?"

Elizabeth graduated, began a brilliant career as a physicist, and fell in love with a man who satisfied her in every way. They were married, and Elizabeth was completely devoted to him. Because people had been calling her "selfish" all of her life, she wondered if she really was selfish. Analyzing her life, with an eye focused particularly on her marriage, she decided that her devotion to her husband was, in fact, selfish. Why? Because caring for him, and being cared for by him in return, brought her happiness. She did it because it made her feel good to do so. Thus, she concluded that her love, and perhaps all love, was selfish.

Elizabeth had two children and cared for them the same way she cared for her husband, with total devotion. When they were sick, she gave everything she had to making them well again. Because Elizabeth put her children's interests and health first, before anything else, one of her friends told Elizabeth that she was being "selfish" when Elizabeth wouldn't free up some time to help her with a project. Elizabeth had decided that working with her children on their own school projects was more important.

Once again Elizabeth was forced to analyze the word "selfish." What she determined was that "selfish" means that she is doing what is in her best interest. By being selfish, she was acting in her own best interests, doing what was healthiest and best for her. This obviously did not harm her loved ones; in fact, it aided them, and she expected her husband and children to also love her out of their own personal feelings, not simply because they felt obligated to. From this Elizabeth decided that being selfish and expressing self-interest were virtues.

In making her choices, Elizabeth was "selfish" in that she chose what was best and healthiest for herself. Her choice not to "sell out" was a choice not to sell her soul, not to kill off her fire and enthusiasm for life. Her parents offered their love in exchange for her passion, and Elizabeth, fortunately, realized that that was not a fair trade. At the end of her long life, it was that first choice that stuck out in Elizabeth's mind the most. In choosing her own preference of study, her relationship with her parents was strained, but eventually they adjusted. Perhaps some element of closeness was missing after that, but Elizabeth always knew, deep down, that that was simply a necessary part of growing up.

The above example illustrates the virtue of self-interest, and Dark Buddhism is strongly directed toward doing what is best and healthiest for yourself, not at the expense of others, but certainly not living for the sake of others either. Dark Buddhism is founded upon self-interest, but it is a rational form of self-interest. I have said it before and I will continue saying it again and again: The core of living as a Dark Buddhist is asking yourself whenever a decision is to be made, "What is best and healthiest for me?" The decision is made with an objective and long-range view of yourself and your environment.


Self-development is a higher duty than self-sacrifice.-Elizabeth Cady Stanton


            Don't think about elephants. So, what are you thinking about right now? Elephants. This is a very simple example of dukkha. You'd like to clear your head, you'd like to put something aside, but the very thought of doing so makes you focus on this "something" even more.

Zen teaching is very story-oriented, so I'll present you with a story from my own experience, an example of dukkha which eventually led me to the dharma, and subsequently led to me writing this book: I was a bodybuilder for eighteen years. One night close to the end of those eighteen years, I got into a verbal altercation with a stereotypical over-muscled, very angry guy.

I made a harmless request to use some equipment that he and his partner had been hogging, and he immediately flew into what looked like what is commonly called a "roid rage" in weight rooms. It's partly due to high testosterone levels and mostly due to fundamental insecurities. In this case the insecurity manifested as a need for him to mark his territory and establish himself as the alpha male of the weight room. Although it was unlikely that he would have hit me-and keeping in mind that I was a bodybuilder myself-I was still scared. I verbally sparred with him and then retreated, feeling defeated, humiliated, intimidated, and embarrassed.

            I began obsessing over this incident. I was transported back to high school every time I thought about him: I was high school nerd once again, and he was a jock. The reason I took up bodybuilding in the first place was because of my tremendously poor self-esteem. I felt that I could never be loved unless I physically transformed myself into a comic book superhero. Unfortunately, the types of women whom I encountered in college and throughout my twenties reinforced this thinking, and my self-esteem became more and more injured until I was just like my weight room sparring partner-living my life based upon this ultimately meaningless body image and on how I felt others perceived me. In other words my life was ultimately dependent upon others. I had given up my self or, put another way, I had no self-esteem since the only esteem that I needed or longed for came from others. I sought other-esteem. My definition of who I was had nothing to do with me. I defined myself solely based on others; I had allowed myself to become "selfless" in a third sense of the word.

            Even while thinking about self-esteem, right vs. wrong, who I was, and so forth, I kept obsessing about this guy and our fight. What would happen when I saw him again, what did the other weightlifters think, should I have handled it differently, should I seek revenge, should I apologize and on and on and on. This endless grasping for answers, the endless questions, the obsession, the constant questioning and second-guessing of myself-this was dukkha. It was a prime example of suffering. It was not until I began on the dharma, without even knowing I was on the path, that I managed to put my muscle-bound friend to rest.

            Because of the damage I had done to my joints in eighteen years of bodybuilding, I had already begun practicing yoga. My practice was certainly not advanced, just very gentle, basic yoga to bring back some of my flexibility and ease my joint pain. Even with these beginning exercises, though, I knew that I had tapped into something, but I did not yet understand what it was. I felt somehow energized and razor sharp when I finished a yoga session, something I had never felt from weightlifting-on the contrary, weightlifting only made me feel exhaustion. I had also been meditating for about a year at this point. In other words when I consciously began my journey, I was already doing some Buddhist-type things but not for any particular spiritual reason and certainly not consciously.

            One Saturday morning I had just completed my morning yoga practice, and I was showering before going to the gym for my usual four-hour workout. While I was showering I realized that I was thinking about how much I did not want to go to the gym, as usual. For eighteen years I had forced myself, each and every day, to grunt and sweat and injure myself doing something that I didn't enjoy, spending three, four, and sometimes five hours a day lifting weights-time that could have been spent reading, writing, watching films, cooking, working, or any of a number of actually meaningful and enjoyable things. Even worse the denizens of the weight room tended to upset me. I would become obsessed with their peacock-type strutting, their emphasis on brawn over brains, their insecurities and related anger...and by my own decision, long ago, to become one of them.

Still thinking about all of this on that Saturday morning, shampoo now dripping into my eyes, I stood there in the shower, transfixed by a single thought, barely noticing the burning and stinging of the shampoo: If I didn't enjoy weightlifting, why had I spent thousands of hours doing it? Why was I about to waste another Saturday morning doing something I hated? It wasn't just the act of weightlifting, I realized, it was the entire culture. The guy I'd fought with was certainly not an exception in gyms; he was more of the rule. I may have looked like one of the gym rats, but I was the exception, and this constant reminder of my "otherness" hurt me as much as the weights ever did. I willingly subjected myself, day after day, to both physical and emotional torture. Why? For eighteen years I voluntarily and willingly did something I hated. There must have been a reason, right? Why would I choose to do this?

            My eyes still burning, still frozen in the shower by this entirely new concept, I managed to come up with the answer, which had somehow eluded me for almost two decades: I had been bodybuilding for the entire eighteen years for other people, not for myself. I had exceptionally poor self-esteem, which I managed to convince myself I had cured by reshaping my body into a form that gained meaningless flattery from strangers. In reality I had done nothing but injure my self-esteem even more by doing the worst and most immoral thing any person can ever do-living my life solely based upon the judgment of others without a thought for what is best for me. My entire sense of self-worth was based on the attention of others, completely removing my "self" from my sense of self-worth.

            I didn't go to the gym that day, nor did I go the next day. I started to feel the effects of physical withdrawal and the uncertainty of giving up a lifestyle I had practiced every single day for eighteen years. And then I walked into a supermarket, one week later, and there was another stereotypical muscle guy standing at the automated DVD rental vending machine. He was bald, had huge muscles, was wearing a shirt designed to show off his physique, and he had his arms slightly bent, never letting them be straight, so that everyone could see his biceps flexing. I used to do this myself, so I immediately recognized the posture. He looked at me with the same questioning look all bodybuilders have: Do you see me? Do you notice me? Are you impressed by what I have done to myself?

My first thought, without time for any real analysis, was, "Wow, what an asshole." And it hit me that this comment was really directed at myself, that I had let myself become an asshole simply because I was living my life for everyone except myself. I haven't been to the gym since, and I've gotten very good at yoga. Incidentally, yes, I know that I was stereotyping in the supermarket and that this might have been a very lovely man with many great qualities, but I am being honest about the first thought that popped into my head, and I am thankful that it did. By projecting my self-image of a bodybuilder onto this man, I managed to realize what was best and healthiest for me.


            In chapter one I gave a brief summary of the Buddha's Four Noble Truths: The first noble truth is that the simple act of living necessarily means experiencing personal suffering, or dukkha. The second noble truth is that dukkha is caused by desire, and the third noble truth is that we can eliminate dukkha by eliminating desire. The fourth noble truth is the Eightfold Path.

Everything can't be perfect all of the time. Part of the Truth is that bad things happen to everyone, and there's nothing you can do about it. Everyone gets sick, everyone dies, planes and cars crash, hurricanes and tornadoes blow away homes: bad things and the suffering they cause are part of everyday existence, and the very act of being alive means experiencing terrible things. Your desire as a human being is that such things would not happen to you. "Please God, just let me get through today ..." "Oh, how I wish these layoffs weren't happening." "If only I could catch a break, but it's like the universe hates me." These are all desire, and they are all pointless, because most things in life are beyond your control. The most important thing that you can do is realize that there is nothing you can do about death and disease and terrorism and economic collapse. And once you have realized this basic principle, you must accept it. This is not saying that you should become a pessimist and a cynic or simply become passive, rather it is a recommendation for living a more peaceful life: there are things you can control and there are things you can't. We tend to mostly obsess over and feel anxious about the latter. But since those things are beyond your control, obsessing over them will have no effect whatsoever; so it is just wasted time, wasted anxiety, and, when you think about it, just plain silly.


            It is very common in Zen instruction to imagine yourself as a piece of cork floating down a river. The cork represents you and the river is life. Because of the current, sometimes you move left, sometimes you move right, sometimes you hit some rocks, sometimes you're hurled over a waterfall, and sometimes you find your way to a gentle pool. This image is to remind you that you are simply along for the ride, and there's ultimately nothing you can do about this flow through life. The Buddha actually modified this image by stating that you are, in fact, part of the water itself. There is no cork because everything is just the water moving along, and everything is constantly interacting and moving together. We are all One.

            In Dark Buddhism, however, we choose not to eliminate the self. We are not part of the river, nor are we corks floating helplessly on the river. We are each, instead, boats on the river. We still float with the river, we are still subject to the currents, and we may be drawn right, left, onto rocks, over a waterfall, or into a gentle pool, but we do have some limited amount of control. I can't stop the next great economic depression, but I can choose to save a certain percentage of my paycheck in a savings account. I can't stop getting into a car accident at someone else's hand, but I can choose to wear my seatbelt. In Dark Buddhism we choose. In the story I told above, I didn't just come to the realization that I was living my life for other people, I chose to start living my life for myself. That is a conscious choice, which originated with the self, and the path I have been on ever since is the result of how I have chosen to steer my boat on the river.

            Once you accept the true nature of the world-that bad things will happen to you at some point-you must choose how you will deal with problems as they come to you. Choosing to act in response to a situation, rather than only reacting, is a good way to live and fosters a strong sense of self, but putting your energy into trying to control or change a hurricane is a waste of time and will cause you nothing but suffering. Meditation will teach you about dealing with this choice. We will explore meditation in depth in chapter five.


            Imagine a hundred people sitting in front of an enormous table. The table is completely covered with every delicacy known to the world. The appearance and smells of this lavish feast alone are enough to make all mouths water. You hear a hundred different stomachs growl because the people sitting at this table are not just hungry, but starving. They sit in front of this amazing feast, their mouths watering, their stomachs growling, but no one eats. Why? They all know that each is hungry; they can feel it in their stomachs and in their minds. They all know their stomachs are growling. Each recognizes pleasurable sensations from both looking at and smelling what is before them...but in this imaginary world, none of these people has ever learned that eating food is what relieves hunger. In other words they are aware of a great need and desire, a great dissatisfaction with their lives, both emotional and physical pain, and though the solution is right there in front of them, literally within their grasps, they simply are unaware of the exact nature of the problem or that the solution is the most simple thing in the world. This is dukkha: your life is dissatisfying, and though you can articulate the negative things you feel, you're blind to the reality of the situation and the fact that the solution is not only in front of you, but also within you. Dharma, the path leading to enlightenment, is simply waking up and realizing that there's a link between eating food and relieving hunger.

            Winston Churchill described the 98 percent of our population who willingly choose to be blind as those who "stumble over the truth from time to time but quickly get up, dust themselves off, and move on as if nothing happened." That doesn't sound like a particularly good way to live your life, does it? This is why we practice the dharma, why we meditate, why we make a conscious choice and a conscious effort to view the world through opened and awakened eyes.

The Buddha's fourth noble truth is that the Eightfold Path of dharma will open your eyes and let you eat the food you desperately need. The Eightfold Path will be discussed in great detail in chapters six, seven, and eight, but for now we can view the path of dharma as first seeing that we have a problem, recognizing what that problem is, and resolving to deal with it. That's hardly mystical, is it? In seeing your problem or problems, you will come to realize that you must live consciously, meaning that you are aware of yourself and the world around you, and this awareness is gained through an objective viewpoint, not clouded or hidden by others or your own preconceived notions.

When you objectively see and understand, and when you truly gain consciousness, the acts of speaking consciously, acting consciously, working consciously, and living consciously will naturally follow. Dark Buddhism has no moral codes or ethical rules to follow. Your morality is simply living consciously and objectively. You live for yourself, not in a necessarily selfish way but in the way that is healthiest for you. Right view is important, because we make a lot of decisions that may provide momentary pleasures or payoffs but that are definitely not healthy for us in the long run. Right view means opening your eyes and seeing the world and yourself objectively. With right view you can see all possible paths surrounding you, without filters or bias blinding you into going one way or the other.

Dharma also includes the aspects of right effort, right mindfulness, and meditation. As you will learn in the chapter five, which is directed toward meditation, meditation is probably not what you think it is. It is neither spiritual nor religious. It is not about attaining a particular state of mind, It is not a relaxation exercise nor a trance. Meditation is a tool for learning how to live mindfully, how to be conscious and awakened, and how to live in the present.


            Meditation will aid you in "letting go"-forgetting the elephant once I tell you not to think about him-but it is not the only tool in our toolbox. And yes, meditation is a tool: nothing more, nothing less. As the Buddha pointed out, we all have the Truth, or a Buddha nature, inside of us, and when you want to let go, the best way is to look within yourself. When you feel angry or sad, recognize that you feel a certain way and explore it. Sit down and explore your emotion. Embrace your emotion and make it your own. Focus your thoughts on exactly what you are feeling and not on why you're feeling a certain way ("That guy on the road cut me off and had the audacity to give me the finger!") Don't focus on the cause of the feeling but on the feeling itself-on what, exactly, you are feeling.

In this example you're obviously angry. Don't obsess about the guy who made you angry, but feel the anger itself: I'm feeling anger right now, and what does it actually feel like? What are the actual sensations of what I have called "anger?" My face feels hot, I have a knot in my stomach, my heart is pounding in my chest, my mind is racing. This isn't what caused my anger; it is the feeling of anger itself.

Then you can go even deeper: I feel like this every time someone cuts me off. I feel like this when my wife yells at me. I felt like this as a child when my father spanked me. Examine and explore the feeling itself, make it yours, and you'll find that you are not a slave to your feelings anymore. More importantly rather than reacting to anger, you are actually experiencing it. In the brief meditation we tried in chapter one, you probably "experienced" breathing for the very first time, though you've been breathing all your life. Now you know what it actually feels like to breathe. In this example you now know what is actually involved in the process of anger. Try this with love. Try it with the flavor of food. Every action, every emotion can actually be experienced and not just blindly followed. When you are actually experiencing the present, from moment to moment, this is enlightenment. When you learn to experience things fully, consciously, and in the moment, you are also able to let them go. We spend a great deal of time lost in the future, which leads to anxiety; lost in the past-dwelling can lead to depression; or simply lost in a feeling, like anger. Living in the present is letting go of all attachments except for this very moment.


Holding anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.-The Buddha


The Buddha's quote can be viewed as a philosophical study of acceptance and letting go, but it also represents a "trick" of human psychology, one that can be applied to anger, depression, or any other emotion you need to deal with. An emotion is a message sent from your subconscious or your unconscious. A messenger delivering a message to you will knock on your door to make you aware of his presence. Consider an emotion as acting the same way. If the message is urgent, the messenger will knock on your door loudly. If the message is very urgent, the messenger will knock on your door even louder. Your emotions come to you in the same fashion. The longer you make the messenger wait, the louder and louder he will knock, until either you open the door and let him in or he breaks down the door. In psychological terms that means that you can either listen to the emotional message, or you will be the one to break down.

Once the messenger has delivered his message, he will leave. And once you have listened to your emotion, accepted it, and taken appropriate action, it will also leave.


You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.-The Buddha


            As Dark Buddhists we not only "let go," we live consciously and with self-acceptance. Letting go is fundamental to Zen Buddhist practice. The latter, obvious extensions, however, are fundamentally self-dependent. In the example you are conscious of your anger. You are examining it, you are viewing it with an objective eye, you are learning to feel emotion and experience emotion without it controlling you, but note that you are not controlling it either. You are accepting it. Acceptance is not approval. I feel anger. I am human and I feel anger. I accept that. I accept the fact that I will feel anger again. I choose to explore this and examine it, but ultimately I accept it. I accept my thoughts and feelings. Even when I cannot endorse them and would not choose to act on them, I accept them. I do not deny or disown my feelings. I can accept my feelings and emotions without necessarily liking, approving of or being controlled by them. The same can be said for your memories and your past actions: I accept my past actions. Even when I cannot endorse what I have done or thought or felt and would not choose to act on these things now or repeat them, I accept them. I do not deny or disown my past or myself. This is not only enlightenment, it is personal power.

            Being a Dark Buddhist you learn to let go by choosing to accept who you are and what you have done. You take responsibility for your past and present actions. You live consciously, with full awareness of your thoughts, motivations, and actions. Most importantly you are able to view yourself and the world around you objectively.


            Living mindfully is even more powerful than learning to let go. If you are a twenty-first-century multitasker, then you are not living mindfully. While reading this, is the radio on in the background...or the TV? Are you idly stroking your cat? Are coworkers chatting outside your door and you're actually keeping your ears slightly tuned for juicy gossip? Living mindfully is focusing, living, and experiencing one task-one present task. When I am in the office, working on something important, I close the door to my office, set my phone to go to voicemail, turn off my e-mail program, turn off my cell phone, and I work on that one task. I completely focus on and experience the task. Not only does this result in better quality work at the end, but I have a better quality life. I have inner peace.

            This cuts both ways, though. When you're driving, for example, you're focused on that one task, right? Forgetting about cell phones, when you drive, you drive. You're stuck in the car, there's no cat, no coworkers, no e-mail, you're in a car and that's it. But are you driving mindfully? How many times have you arrived at a destination and realized you have no memory of the journey itself? You drove on autopilot while your mind wandered from thought to thought. That's certainly not living mindfully; it's living life on automatic instructions like a robot.

            Living mindfully, letting go, accepting that you can't control the world or even most of your life...these are all key factors in leading a fulfilling life. And they are all derived from the self.


                The first noble truth of the Buddha resulted from the young prince's confrontation with the facts of life: old age, sickness, death, and general suffering, or dukkha affect everyone, no matter how rich or isolated you might be. These are not unique or unusual problems; they are unavoidable eventualities. Some people, though, choose to remain blind to these inevitabilities: even in the "enlightened" twenty-first century, there is no shortage of snake oil salesmen trying to get you to take the latest wonder pill that will add decades to your life. There are people who are overly resistant to change, whether it's a change of home, a change of clothing, a change of lifestyle, or simply realizing that they, themselves, have changed. How many grown-up children do you know? This is blindness to the dukkha of change.

It is human nature to hide our heads in the sand to avoid looking suffering straight on. "If I can't see it, it doesn't exist." We hatch schemes, weave elaborate fantasies, and delude ourselves. We live in denial, we live with constant hope in expectation of a future that may never come, or we constantly live in the past imagining that things were better "back then." It is human nature to try to avoid dukkha by living either in the future or the past but never in the present. And this tends to only heap more and more dukkha into our lives.

The second noble truth of the Buddha is that we must recognize what we are doing. You must see where all of this magnification of dukkha is coming from. We are bound to suffer more and more because we try to run away from the truths of our life, whether they are the little denials and lies, such as, "I know he really loves me, he just won't admit it," or "I'm sure I'll get that raise, I'm just sure of it," or big lies, such as denying the inevitability of death.

As bleak as it may seem, in order to be able to actually deal with your suffering, you must fully recognize and accept that suffering is inevitable and that more will come to you. It's a fact of life. Sooner or later, it's going to rain. Rationalizing your actions, lying to others and yourself, thinking that something will just go away if you ignore it, making bargains with God or the universe, these are all bound to fail.

The second noble truth is simply that the cause of all of this suffering is trishna, or craving. We tend to desire all of the wrong things. Or we crave the right things, but in the wrong way or for the wrong reasons. A poor man might desire to be rich. In some cases money won't be the solution to his problems. In other cases money may be used to relieve him of some problems, but what happens when he runs out of money? He desired money when he should have desired a skill. Or, as so often happens, he spent so much time lost in his dreams of "If only I was rich ..." that he became even poorer.

Sometimes we desire things that we really know, deep down, are beyond our grasp. When you look beneath these cravings and grasping and desires, what you find is ignorance-ignorance of what it means to suffer, ignorance that you are even suffering at all, and especially ignorance of how to end the suffering. However the third noble truth tells us that ignorance, fortunately, is not necessarily permanent.

You cannot prevent yourself from growing old, getting sick, and eventually dying. This is the Truth of human biology. What you can do is stop setting yourself up to take a fall. You can cease having an unrealistic outlook, filling your own head with false hopes and dreams that will never materialize. You can face the inevitable fact that you won't live forever. You can face the fact that nothing in your life will last forever. Your fancy sports car will rust. Your stocks will lose value. You will grow old. Facing these facts is simply another way of saying that you accept them. This is living life with acceptance, and when you accept these inevitabilities, when you accept the truth, you attain enlightenment and inner peace. Once again this may sound terribly cynical, pessimistic, or even nihilistic, but it isn't: it's realistic. It's this objective view of reality that allows you to find inner peace. If you wish to view this practically, you can't move on from negatively obsessing about all of these things until you realize that they are inevitable, that there's nothing you can do about them, and that you're wasting your life bitching and moaning and experiencing anxiety and depression over things that are simply beyond your control.


Without enlightenment we are like spiders caught in webs of our own making. Unlike spiders, though, we have the mental faculties and consciousness to break the continual self-perpetuating cycles of dukkha, known as samsara. These cycles are like cages we lock ourselves into, cages formed from our greed, hate, and self-delusion, called the Three Poisons in Buddhism. Conscious recognition of these poisons, opening our eyes, and finally facing the facts of life is the path to freedom. Freedom means stepping out of our self-made cages. This is what the Buddha calls enlightenment, also known as nirvana or satori. Once again this freedom comes from the self.


"There is no fire like greed,

No crime like hatred,

No sorrow like separation,

No sickness like hunger of heart,

And no joy like the joy of freedom.


Health, contentment and trust

Are your greatest possessions,

And freedom your greatest joy.


Look within. Be still.

Free from fear and attachment,

Know the sweet joy of living in the way."-The Buddha


There is a very common misconception that Buddhism is all about suffering or nihilism. On the contrary Buddhism looks unflinchingly, or objectively, at suffering, not as the sole factor in life, but as a wall through which one can pass on the way to freedom. Why do you think the Buddha is always depicted as smiling? The fourth noble truth is that this doorway to freedom can be found by breaking through this wall, which is accomplished via the Eightfold Path. The Dark Buddhist Eightfold Path is presented in chapters six, seven, and eight.

Why is this last section included in the chapter on the "dark" modifications to Buddhism and the reintegration of the self, rather than in the previous chapter, which was directed toward Buddhism basics? Because the Buddha, as you will recall, taught the dissolution of the self. However, learning how to let go, learning how to practice acceptance and self-responsibility...these are all things you must learn and practice. They are intimate and highly personal. They can only truly be practiced by someone who is in touch with herself, which requires the existence of a self in the first place. Enlightenment is found within the self.


There is a classic Zen story regarding viewing the ups and downs of life objectively and preventing yourself from setting yourself up for additional suffering.

A farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to console the farmer over his terrible loss. The farmer asked, "What makes you think it is so terrible?"

A month later, the horse came home, bringing with it two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune, exclaiming, "Such lovely strong horses!" The farmer asked, "What makes you think this is good fortune?"

The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed and, once again, came to console the farmer. The neighbors said, "Such bad luck!" The farmer asked, "What makes you think it is bad?"

A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted into the army and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "What makes you think this is good?" asked the farmer.


The most important aspect of the self in Dark Buddhism and even in the traditional Buddhist dharma is that your practice requires a conscious choice, and the consciousness is the key part of the self. You must make a conscious choice to step onto the path and you must exercise conscious decision-making and a conscious sense of self-responsibility to remain on the path. Remaining "awake" and knowing what is best and healthiest for the self requires constant objective observation, constant choices and decisions, and constant right effort.

George Bernard Shaw wasn't addressing the dharma when he wrote the following, but the spirit of the statement certainly applies: "People are always blaming circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get ahead in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them."


[1] Nathaniel Branden famously illustrated what is meant by "rational self interest" with a brilliant short story regarding the life of a young woman.  What follows here is my own version of such a life - also a fictional story - illustrating what we mean by not only rational self interest, but the "virtue" of selfishness.

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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