Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism

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Integrating Buddhism and Objectivism

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 Four:  Integrating Objectivism and Buddhism


The philosophical questions of the twenty-first century are not unique to us or our time. In the Buddha's time the "eternalists" believed in the existence of a metaphysical self, or eternal soul, which was called the atman. To the eternalists, as with many religious people of our modern world, the atman was considered to be an indestructible and eternal "something" that was merely temporarily contained within the human body. This view led to the Judeo-Christian concept of the everlasting soul in the next few centuries, which we are still quite familiar with.

The opposition to the eternalists was known as the materialists, and they felt, as many still do today, that the death of the body also meant the complete destruction of whatever turned a lump of flesh into a human being; in other words there was nothing left of the self following death. We, of course, call this "whatever" the mind, without any metaphysical attachments. To the materialists matter itself was eternal-conservation of mass: the body may decay, but it turns into component parts that are absorbed into the ground and the air-but the internal human spark, or consciousness, was temporary.

The metaphysical debate between the eternalists and materialists turned into an ongoing and deeper philosophical debate: is there a self? If so, what does self mean? Are we simply flesh or are we more? Although Descartes had not yet declared, "I think therefore I am," the question of the day was: "What am I referring to when I call myself I?"

To the Buddha the answer was evident. The answer was not, "Yes, there is a self." The answer was not, "No, there is no self." The answer was not, "I don't know." To the Buddha, enlightenment meant knowing that the answer to this question and all questions about reality are within us and that we just need to look and listen. Therein lies the largest problem with human existence: most of us are not fully awake, and we do not know how to listen to ourselves.

The eternalists felt that nothing actually ends-hence their name. The Buddha, basing his thoughts on nothing but what he could experience directly, practicing right view, determined that there was no evidence to be found of either beginnings or endings, nor was there any evidence of any individual thing that could have a beginning or an end. In more plain language the Buddha could see something die and decay, but what he saw was transition only. Or, in modern science terms, he saw matter transforming from one state to another but always being conserved. He had not been born at the beginning of the universe, nor would he live to experience the end of the universe, so there was no evidence at all regarding absolute beginnings or endings.

However the Buddha considered the "there is only matter and nothing more" view of the materialists as nihilistic and also rejected it, pointing out that materialism did not account for the consciousness, the ability to see and think and feel, which is quite self-evident: Since we, as human beings, think and feel-things that cannot be ascribed to other material objects, such as rocks- there must be more than simply "matter." Buddhism is often referred to as "the middle way" because it rejects extremes, such as the materialists' viewpoint on one end of the spectrum and the eternalists' viewpoint on the other. The Buddha rejected all "views" because, as noted previously, a "view" is like a photograph; it is a still-life image, frozen and unchanging. Reality, on the other hand, is in constant movement and is in a constant state of change. Thus, any view one takes must necessarily be inaccurate. The doubt and confusion caused by such an inaccurate view, which becomes more and more contradictory when compared to reality over time, is a prime source of dukkha in our lives.

The Buddha reasoned, with regard to the concept of the self, that both the assertion of an eternal self and the denial of such a self are frozen views that do not account for actual experience. These are merely concepts constructed by man out of longing, desire, fear, loathing, and ignorance. It is well known that the Buddha denied the existence of an everlasting self or soul, but most people interpret this to mean that the Buddha must have been on the opposite end of the spectrum, that Buddhists are materialists or nihilists. However the Buddha also denied the view of the materialists. In the end the Buddha's great contribution to philosophy was in denying the black-and white-dualism itself rather than the lesser issues.

It is human nature to be dualistic, probably because it is the easiest way to make snap judgments, which, from an evolutionary standpoint, are necessary to keep you from being eaten by a predator. If I say, "That man is not evil," then to a dualist, this statement must also mean "That man is good." I once said to a Christian woman that I do not believe Jesus was/is God. She automatically labeled me as an atheist-which I am, but that is beside the point. If I do not believe in her religion, then, in her view I am automatically an atheist. If it is not black, it must be white. These examples are logically false, but to the modern descendants of the eternalists and the materialists, such judgments are still being made.

The Buddha rejected the question "Is there a self or not?" because of its dualistic nature. The Buddha reasoned that neither option is a reflection of actual experience, thus the question is ultimately meaningless. This may seem like something of a cop out in that, rather than answering the question, the question itself is being picked apart. This, however, is not the case. Both options being presented are based on totally unsubstantiated assumptions about reality, so the question cannot be answered at all.

As a physicist I often get asked questions that I simply can't answer. Such questions usually have to do with traveling at the speed of light and turning on a flashlight and so forth. A massive object, such as a person or the mechanism to generate a light beam, can't travel at the speed of light. There is absolutely no way for me to answer the question except to explain why the situation is impossible. What almost always follows is, "... but what if you could? What then?" Since it's an impossible scenario and there is no answer, there isn't a "could." I could flip a coin and offer a random answer, but that is all it would be. In such scenarios "what if you could" becomes a meaningless question. When I think of the "refusal to choose a side" as an answer, I'm always reminded of something Bertrand Russell wrote: "The greatest challenge to any thinker is stating the problem in a way that will allow a solution."


These arguments regarding the eternalists, the materialists, and the denial of frozen views are built on logic. This logical determination that a "view" must inherently be inaccurate is a much-needed addition to, or variation on, the rigid views of Objectivism. Just as the Buddha rejected dualism, the fact that I find Objectivism to be flawed does not mean that I fully accept the Buddha's teachings either. Why? Because the Buddha went further in his analysis, examining whether we actually need the concept of a self in order to explain and understand experience. In other words, how can there be experience without a self to have that experience?

To the Buddha, the self was nothing but an explanation of experience. Reality is viewed as an objective thing in Buddhism and needs no further explanation. What you see is what you get. To the Buddha, reality is the only thing that does not need an explanation, and that has no explanation, since any explanation removes us from direct experience into the realm of conceptualization. Thus, reality becomes, simply, "direct experience," completely independent of, and outside of, thought or explanation. The Buddha determined that the notion of a self is not required to account for actual experience. He felt that the self is merely a concept, which we generate out of a desire to understand and organize, rather than simply accepting our experiences as reality-keep in mind that desire is the source of suffering in Buddhism.

Previously we used the metaphor of the river to explain life, with each of us piloting boats on that river. When the Buddha referred to individuals, he referred to them as part of the river, as water themselves. The river is in constant movement, constantly flowing, moving, and changing. The river itself is different in each moment. Imagining yourself as a piece of cork or a boat on this river, to the Buddha, is a flawed view. The fact that it is a "view" is the source of the flaw. Everything changes in the river except for the cork. Or the boat. The cork and boat are both "frozen" in that they do not change in this context, thus they must be false images according to traditional Buddhism.

To the Buddha there were no corks or boats in the river, there was only the river itself. However if we are the river, then what, exactly, experiences the flow and the change? The Buddha felt that there is no particular thing that is having the experience: there is experience but no experiencer. There is perception but no perceiver. There is consciousness but no self that can be located or identified. According to the Buddha, we experience dukkha because, not seeing the river for what it is, the true nature of reality, we long for something permanent, something that is unchanging and can be easily boxed up in explanation. Actual experience, though, shows nothing but change, thus our desire is for permanence.

The reason I have inserted the self back into Buddhism is that there is, in fact, change in that boat; it is not static. Why? Because we are piloting the boat, and we are constantly experiencing changes in our bodies, in our minds, in our thoughts, in our feelings, in our understandings, and in our interpretations of what we see. And all of those changes are individual to each boat captain, separate and distinct from all of the other boats on the river. There is interaction, certainly, and what we see and experience and feel and think is dependent upon how the river flows and how we interact with the other boats, but it is individual and unique. Earlier I framed this in the form of a simple question: If following the dharma is transcendence, then who or what is doing the transcending? The answer is the most powerful statement a human being can make: I am. If I am transcending, if I am experiencing enlightenment, if I have made the choice to follow the dharma, then how can I not exist?

It may seem odd to quote Otto von Bismarck in a book on Buddhist philosophy, but he famously noted, "Man cannot create the current of events. He can only float with them and steer." As with so many other aspects of Dark Buddhism, a traditional Zen story applies quite well.

A distraught man approached a Zen master, crying, "Please, Master, I feel lost and desperate. I don't know who I am anymore. Please, show me my true self!"

The Zen master just looked away without responding. The man began to plead and beg, but still the master gave no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turned to leave. At that moment the master called out the man's name. "Yes?" the man asked as he spun back around.

"There it is!" exclaimed the master.


The above is one aspect of Buddhism's concept of "selflessness." The other is the more conventional definition of selflessness: The Buddha taught that to find enlightenment, a person must develop both wisdom and compassion. In traditional Buddhism, the ideal of practice is to selflessly act to alleviate suffering wherever it appears. For example when one practices right speech, traditional Buddhism teaches not only speaking-or not speaking-to promote mindfulness, but also to cause no harm to others. The same goes for right action and so forth.

Turning to the "self" of Objectivism, Ayn Rand began with a statement that was remarkably similar to the right view of the Buddha: Reality is what it is, things are what they are, and reality is independent of anyone's beliefs, feelings, judgments, or opinions. To Ayn Rand, "A is A," it cannot be B or C or D, no matter how much you delude yourself. If an opinion poll of the American public determines that 99.9 percent of all Americans feel that 1+1=3, that still does not make it true.

Objectivism also teaches that reason is the human faculty that identifies and integrates a person's experience, and that reason itself is fully competent to understand and interpret the facts of reality. Moving into the more rigid territory-the frozen views of Objectivism-Ayn Rand taught that any form of irrationalism, supernaturalism, or mysticism, that any claim to a nonsensory, nonrational form of knowledge, is to be automatically rejected. To Ayn Rand a rational and objective code of ethics and morality is not only possible but comes from an assessment of the nature of human beings, as well as the nature of reality. In Objectivism the sole standard of the "good" is not God or the needs of society or other people, but "Man's life,"[1] which is what is objectively required for a person to live, survive, and maintain a sense of well-being.

Focusing on the self Objectivism teaches that human beings are ends in and of themselves and that we all have the right to exist for our own sakes. An Objectivist does not sacrifice another person for himself, nor does he sacrifice himself for another person. The principles of justice and respect for individuality, autonomy, and personal rights replace the principle of sacrifice in society and also in personal and interpersonal relationships.

Objectivism is very empowering, and very seductive, because, contrary to what we tend to learn and experience in our schools and places of worship, Objectivism does not tell you that your mind is impotent or that to be smart or to be an individual is somehow bad. Objectivism does not teach you that you are inherently sinful, as with the Christian concept of original sin, or that you are ultimately powerless, just one small cog in the larger machine. Objectivism does not teach that your life is futile, that it must be lived in service to everyone else, or that you are ultimately doomed[2]. Objectivism does not teach nihilism or existentialism or that existence is ultimately meaningless. On the contrary Objectivism teaches exactly the opposite of each of these, which makes it a powerful and important philosophy. Unfortunately, the implementation of Objectivist ethics and the epistemology are inherently flawed.

Rather than the external, reality-based nature of dukkha taught by traditional Buddhism, Objectivism teaches that humanity's primary problem is that we have not learned to understand the nature of our own power or our possibilities, as opposed to not understanding the true nature of reality itself. Objectivism celebrates the mind and the self and teaches that, like the Buddha inside of all of us, we are competent enough to understand reality. The most important message of Objectivism is that life is not about dread and defeat and anguish, but about achievement and exaltation in being human.

I certainly take no issue with this-in fact, you could say that the empowering, self-directed portions of Objectivist philosophy are a practice of right view and right action. However one reason for the blending of Objectivist epistemology and Zen Buddhism into Dark Buddhism is that Ayn Rand often confused reason with what is reasonable. There is a large difference between reason itself, which is a mental process, and what actions, speech, thoughts, and feelings a person might find to be "reasonable." Anyone who has read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged can see that her idealized men and women are not accurate characterizations of human beings. They are, essentially, robots who act purely out of reason, logic and defiance...and that is actually not reasonable at all.

More importantly-and this is seen time and again in her nonfiction essays, books, articles, and speeches-if someone disagreed with Rand's notion of what was reasonable, she would accuse that person of being "irrational" or "against reason." Although "reason" may be objective, as it is ultimately based on reality, what is "reasonable" is purely subjective. Objectivism teaches blindness to this distinction and also promotes very rigid views that are, necessarily inaccurate and ultimately illogical. To give you an idea of just how frozen these views can be, Rand considered her personal opinions on music, art, and literature to be what was rational, and if another opinion was expressed, the holder of that opinion was an "irrational"-and sometimes "immoral"-person. This type of moral judgment, which is not based on any sort of objective standard, pervades the writings and codes of Objectivism.

Another way Rand discredited opinions different from hers in her books and essays was by calling them "mystical." As an example, she appears to have felt a great hatred toward scientific study of ESP, telepathy, and the like. She was strongly opposed to any consideration of the possible validity of paranormal phenomena. Keep in mind, her branding of this as "irrational" was not a condemnation of the belief in paranormal phenomena, but in the study and experiments themselves. In other words simply because she did not believe in ESP, she felt it was a waste of time to conduct a scientific experiments to study it and provide reality-based evidence, one way or the other. If I had had the chance to speak to her, I would have pointed out that she was taking the Church's position in the trial against Galileo.

Ayn Rand exhibited no interest in discovering for herself why scientists had chosen to study these fields. Unfortunately this closed-mindedness carried into Objectivism itself, with Objectivism becoming a closed system based on inflexible views. I began this discussion earlier in the book with the following quote from Rand's 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 ..."

Although a Dark Buddhist has a strong sense of self, which comes from the philosophy's Objectivist roots, maintaining an objective-the "objective" which is supposed to be part of Objectivism-and right view of reality prevents the Dark Buddhist from dismissing observations or data as necessarily false or irrational because they do not fit into the present view of reality. Dark Buddhists do not have frozen views; they view the world objectively and without bias.


We do not live to think, but, on the contrary, we think in order that we may succeed in surviving.-José Ortega y Gasset


In The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, the heroes and heroines are shown, at each and every crucial point, switching off their emotions, becoming beings of pure reason. Each specific act of "heroism" is defined by a denial of emotions. Each "villain" is described as being "depraved" because he or she chooses to be guided by emotions. Although living mindfully and consciously require you to take a long view and think about what is best for yourself in the long run, part of this self-health is the consideration of your emotional health. In other words by denying that you are human and that you have emotions and feelings, you are rejecting half of reality: Reality consists of both the internal and the external. If you define reality by the external alone and blind yourself to the internal, then you are allowing yourself only a flawed view of reality. This is where Objectivism mainly loses its objectivity. To an Objectivist self-doubt, anxiety, depression, petty hatred...these are all signs of weakness, signs of "depravity," to use one of Rand's favorite words. Objectivists repress these feelings. They deny them, thinking themselves heroic in doing so. Not only is this exceptionally unhealthy from a psychological viewpoint, but it is a denial of reality. How can you be an objective thinker and observer when you are denying what you are feeling? A Dark Buddhist, on the other hand, objectively experiences and feels emotion and, ultimately, accepts what is on the inside.

It is unfortunate that the self-directed Objectivism strongly promotes repression of emotions, because this is most definitely what is never best for you. Repression and denial are psychologically unhealthy. One of the most important things I learned in my path to developing Dark Buddhism is the acceptance of my feelings and emotions, even when I cannot endorse them or choose to act on them. Emotions should never be denied, repressed, or disowned. They exist to teach you and should be experienced mindfully and objectively. Your internal processes are a part of reality, and to repress them or deny them is to deny reality. Remember reality consists of what is both external and internal. By repressing your emotions or forcing yourself to act or think or feel in a way which is contrary to what is really within you, you are blinding yourself to the truth of a very large part of reality-yourself.

Although reason is certainly part of living consciously, aiding in taking an objective view of the world, a large source of dukkha is that we are often out of touch with our feelings and emotions, cut off from them and oblivious. Right view means not only viewing the external world with an objective eye, but viewing the self the same way. Contrary to Objectivism, we must listen to our feelings and thoughts rather than repressing them in favor of pure reason. To deny or disown your feelings and emotions causes you to build mental blocks and internal biases, thus destroying your ability to think clearly. You cannot possibly be integrated and healthy or be free to be mindful with a serene and peaceful mind if you are constantly fighting a part of yourself and fighting to remain blind to that part of yourself.

In addition to blinding part of ourselves through denial and repression, as well as the manufacture of a fundamentally flawed frozen view of the world, the stiff certainty and pseudostrength of Rand's heroes and heroines are also limiting in one other way: the human experience. As the playwright Sacha Guitry put it, "Our wisdom comes from our experience, and our experience comes from our foolishness."


Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.-George Bernard Shaw


At the core of Objectivism is the principle that reality exists independently of consciousness-there is a true objective reality not dependent upon the perceptions of any particular perceiver.[3] Objectivism further holds that individuals are in direct contact with this reality through their sensory perceptions and that human beings can gain objective knowledge about reality, not only from direct perception, but also through the processes of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic.

This true and objective nature of reality conforms well to traditional Buddhist philosophy, but the introduction of the consciousness as an agent of knowledge serves as a departure from Buddhism. There is one further assertion of Objectivism, and this assertion is the one which tends to cause the greatest controversy: Ayn Rand went on to state that the proper moral purpose of one's life-in fact, the only purpose-is the pursuit of one's own happiness, a practice termed "rational self-interest," which was introduced in the previous chapter. The example used in chapter three regarding Elizabeth shows that rational self-interest is vastly different from pure egotism.

Unlike other philosophies Objectivism has been greatly expanded to cover all areas of human life, from economics to politics to psychology, with varying degrees of success. Rand held that the only social system consistent with the Objectivist morality is full respect for individual rights[4]. Applied to economics, this belief is embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism. Even applying the philosophy to art, Rand felt that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form, a work of art for example, that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally. The overreaching nature of applying the philosophy to all aspects of human life is where Objectivism begins to break down: Objectivism is based upon the "objective" nature of reality, thus is inapplicable to highly subjective concepts, such as appreciation of art, sexuality, personal codes of ethics and morality, and the like. Rand often considered those who disagreed with her regarding subjective matters, such as a favorite composer or artist, to be "irrational." Although brilliant, Ayn Rand was a highly conflicted woman, and these conflicts found their way into the Objectivist movement. Rand's continued judgment of those whose opinions differed from hers about these matters as irrational or immoral is alone proof that Objectivism is not a philosophy suited for evaluation of subjective concepts.


Rand originally expressed her philosophical ideas in her novels The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and other works. She further elaborated on Objectivism in her magazines The Objectivist Newsletter, The Objectivist, and The Ayn Rand Letter, and also in nonfiction books, such as Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology and The Virtue of Selfishness. The name "Objectivism" derives from the principle that human knowledge and values are objective; they are not created by the thoughts or feelings one has, but are determined by the nature of reality to be discovered by the mind.

In Atlas Shrugged, she expresses this as, "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." Objectivism states that "Existence exists" and "Existence is Identity." To be is to be "an entity of a specific nature made of specific attributes." That which has no attributes does not and cannot exist. This forms her axiom of identity: a thing is what it is. This is where we began: A is A.

Rand further held that since one is able to perceive something that exists, one's consciousness must also exist, "consciousness being the faculty of perceiving that which exists." This is an exceptional piece of logic and served as one of the prime motivating factors for my own modifications of traditional Buddhism. The Buddha taught selflessness, in the sense of dissolution of the self-we are not corks floating on the river; we are part of the river itself. However if I can perceive the river and parts of the river, and have an awareness and consciousness of what is going on around me, then that "consciousness" is a real, existent thing. If my consciousness exists, then I exist. And I am the self, not the selfless. If the goal is enlightenment, then who is becoming enlightened? I am.

In relation to this consciousness, Rand said, "... to be conscious is to be conscious of something," so an objective reality independent of consciousness must exist for consciousness to be possible, and there is no possibility of a consciousness that is conscious of nothing outside itself. Thus consciousness cannot be the only thing that exists. As Ayn Rand said, "[i]t cannot be aware only of itself - there is no 'itself' until it is aware of something." Objectivism holds that the mind cannot create reality; it is, rather, a means of discovering reality.


In my own awakening, I came to understand that "reality," as taught by the Buddha, consists of both the external and the internal. My emotions, memories, and thought processes are all part of reality. Objectivism, however, tends to deal only with reality as an external, with "reality" pertaining to things perceived by the five senses alone. Rand acknowledged the existence of emotion in human beings, but she maintained that emotions are a consequence of the conscious or subconscious ideas that a person already accepts, not a means of achieving awareness of reality. As she famously stated, "Emotions are not tools of cognition." Modern Objectivists often use the term "emotionalism" as a synonym for irrationality.

Rand rejected all forms of faith or mysticism, terms she used synonymously in her writings. She defined faith as "the acceptance of allegations without evidence or proof, either apart from or against the evidence of one's senses and reason," and mysticism as ."...the claim to some nonsensory, nonrational, nondefinable, nonidentifiable means of knowledge, such as 'instinct,' 'intuition,' 'revelation,' or any form of 'just knowing.'"


I have often felt that it was a shame that Ayn Rand rejected Buddhism without actually studying the philosophy. The "objective" nature of man in Objectivism perfectly jibes with the right view of Buddhism. In a discussion of enlightenment and our choice to remain unawakened and unconscious, there is also an analog in Objectivism. Rand felt that the primary locus of man's free will is in the choice "to think or not to think." As Rand put it,

Thinking is not an automatic function. In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one's consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality-or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.

Thus, according to Rand, possessing free will, human beings must choose their own values; we do not automatically hold our own lives as our ultimate value. Whether, in fact, our actions promote and fulfill our own lives or not is a question of fact, as it is with all other organisms, but whether we will act in order to promote our own well-being is up to us individually, not a decision hard-wired into our physiology.[5] As with any other organism, human survival cannot be achieved randomly. The requirements of man's life must first be discovered and then consciously adhered to by means of principles.

Rand's explanation of values presents the view that an individual's primary moral obligation is to achieve personal well-being-it is for our own lives, and our own self-interest in those lives, that individuals ought to adhere to a moral code. Egoism is a corollary of setting human life as the moral standard. A corollary to Rand's endorsement of self-interest is her rejection of the ethical doctrine of altruism, which she defined in the sense of Auguste Comte's altruism- a moral obligation to live for the sake of others. Rand did not use the term "selfishness" with the negative connotations that it usually has, but rather to refer to a form of rational egoism: "To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason, Purpose, Self-esteem."

Since reason is our means of knowledge, it is also our greatest value, and its exercise is our greatest virtue.

Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him; survival is not. His body is given to him; its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him; its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch--or build a cyclotron--without knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.

In her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, Rand also emphasizes the central importance of productive work, romantic love, and art to human happiness, and dramatizes the ethical character of their pursuit. The primary virtue in Objectivist ethics is rationality.

For Rand all of the principal virtues are applications of the role of reason as our basic tool of survival: rationality, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, productiveness, and pride, each of which she explains in some detail in The Objectivist Ethics. The essence of Objectivist ethics is summarized by the oath her Atlas Shrugged character John Galt adhered to: "I swear-by my life and my love of it-that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."


It should be noted that one great misconception regarding Objectivism is that Ayn Rand encouraged people to do whatever they want. In defense of Objectivism-and, by extension, Dark Buddhism-Ayn Rand was not an advocate of hedonism. In reference to Dark Buddhism in particular, it is important to clarify that hedonism or giving in to your emotions is not the path to enlightenment. What Ayn Rand taught was that "Man's Life" is the only standard of morality and that life itself is the only moral purpose. However the path advocated by Ayn Rand to this morality, and to fulfillment in life, was a very self-disciplined path, as is the practice of right effort in Dark Buddhism. Unfortunately given Rand's tendency to be highly judgmental, she taught a certain duality: If you stray in any way from her set moral and ethical codes, you are doomed to fall into "moral depravity," a commonly used term in her writing.

Objectivism holds a contradiction that, on the one hand, there is an ultimate morality of joy, personal happiness, and individual fulfillment; on the other hand, if you live a "normal" human life, outside of the very rigid behavioral codes of her pure-reason heroes and heroines, you are completely lost and doomed for all time. Objectivism teaches a duality of the sort the Buddha rejected when faced with the question of the self: As an Objectivist you either choose to be rational or you don't; there is no middle ground. You either choose the right values, as defined by Ayn Rand herself as opposed to values being determined by objective views of reality, or you don't.


I think it's of the utmost importance to recognize that neither Objectivism nor Dark Buddhism supports an irresponsible and hedonistic lifestyle. Objectivism has this reputation because of statements such as, "It is man's highest moral value to live for his own happiness." In Dark Buddhism, time and again, I remind you that you must make the choice to always do what is best and healthiest for you. Doing what is "best" for you, or living for your own "happiness," does not mean giving into sensual pleasures. There is a strong distinction between "pleasure" and "satisfaction." It is the latter we seek. Pleasure is the good feeling you get in the moment: it is the taste of chocolate on the tongue, the tingle of sexual desire, the rush of a drug. Satisfaction, however, is what you feel good about afterward. If I eat too much chocolate, if I sleep with a stranger, if I snort cocaine...these may be momentary sensual pleasures, but they are not satisfying. Why? Because I know about karma; I know that actions have consequences, and I know that I have acted in ways that are contrary to both my physical and emotional well-being. Living for pleasure is hedonism; living for satisfaction is a large step on the path to enlightenment.


Objectivism also teaches contempt for anyone who deviates from reason or Objectivist morality. Errors of knowledge may be forgiven, according to Rand, but not errors of morality. By leading her students along her own path, through teaching contempt for nonbelievers and nonfollowers, and labeling people as "despicable" or "depraved" when they made errors in judgment-in her eyes-Objectivism applied its teachings in the same way that religion does, the very same organized religion that Objectivism condemns, it should be noted. Rand, in fact, encouraged dogmatism in Objectivism, despite the fact that it is supposed to be an objective philosophy where individuals should think for themselves, by insisting that her philosophy was an integrated whole, that it was entirely self-consistent, and that one could not reasonably pick certain elements of her philosophy and discard others.


The third-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the majority. The second-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking with the minority. The first-rate mind is only happy when it is thinking.-A.A. Milne


With regard to selflessness, in the sense of compassion, Objectivism teaches the virtue of selfishness or self-interest. In Dark Buddhism the central tenet is to ask, "Is this what is best, and healthiest, for me?" This does not mean, "Can this make me the most money?" or "Will this lead to sex tonight?" or "I don't care who I have to hurt to get ahead." The virtue of self-interest means what is healthiest for the self, both in the short and long terms. Objectivism teaches outright contempt for charity, altruism, or compassion for compassion's sake. To a Dark Buddhist, though, this is a personal choice. What if making a charitable contribution makes you feel happiness and contentment, not because society teaches you that you should feel these things, but simply because that is the way you feel? Then by all means, do what is healthiest for you. Contrarily if the Objectivist arguments against charity and altruism are persuasive when you view them objectively, then practice personal integrity and don't give to charity. That is what is best for you. These are matters of choice based on personal judgments, not some external morality or code of ethics. Objectivism, in declaring that all charity and altruism are bad, is displaying a severe limitation in the form of a frozen view. Dark Buddhism, on the other hand, allows for personal choice, and that choice is made out of an objective view and analysis of the self.

Objectivism teaches values and principles that are very empowering, and some are very healthy, particularly with regard to the sense of self. However no path is ever provided in the various codes and ethics for facilitating the process of becoming a "rational" and "moral" person as defined by the philosophy. Objectivism teaches its followers that it is a virtue to be rational and productive, but if they are not already rational and productive and moral, Objectivism does not tell them how to attain these qualities. There is no path to follow, you must either be born a good Objectivist or you are depraved, another example of duality in the philosophy.

This is why Dark Buddhism teaches the Eightfold Path. The Eightfold Path provides a clear set of choices, practices, and philosophical concepts to attain the enlightenment of being an awakened, aware, and conscious being. The Buddha, of course, provided the traditional Eightfold Path, but this gets lost in the selflessness prescribed by the philosophy, which is not an accurate view of reality. Objectivism teaches a very strong sense of self but gets lost in its frozen views-which were rightly rejected by the Buddha-and also provides no framework for achieving a healthy self. Dark Buddhism blends the two to form a complete philosophy, based on consciousness, objectivity, and a strong sense of self and the world.


In Objectivism, the purpose or meaning of life is life itself. Celebration of man's life is the ultimate moral goal. In traditional Buddhism enlightenment is the ultimate goal, and enlightenment is the ability to see and understand the untarnished Truth or Reality. There is, however, no self to attain the enlightenment. The latter is the logical flaw in Buddhist philosophy, since one can ask, Who is seeking enlightenment? Who is becoming enlightened? As will be described in the coming chapters, the core of Dark Buddhism is the question, What is best and healthiest for me? Thus, perhaps one can frame the meaning or purpose of life as the attainment of happiness.

The happiness here is not a momentary sensual pleasure. It is not a statement of selfishness in the common sense of the word) or of gluttony or lust. When we learn to truly see the world as it is, without bias, without filters, without programmed preconceptions, the right view of both the past and future become objective views. Although living in the present is part of this right view, this unfiltered vision of both past and future also allow you to make choices in your life that are for long-term happiness and peace rather than momentary pleasures. Right view is discussed in depth in chapter six.

            In their lectures together, Martin Seligman, Sonja Lyubomirsky and Ed Diener refer to a "happiness score," which is tabulated as the sum of a set point, the conditions of living, and voluntary activities. A person's set point refers to his or her "natural" happiness level. This is, of course, largely psychological. Some people are simply happier than others. This is a fact of life, and this set point is the beginning of determining how happy you are and can be.[6]

            The set point may be varied by pharmaceuticals, by therapy, and by meditation. I practice all three and am a much different and far happier person than I was before I set foot on the path to enlightenment. The "conditions of living" refer to external factors in your life. Once again the Buddha taught, via right understanding as part of the Four Noble Truths, that we are unable to change these external factors. Once you can truly accept[7] that bad things will happen and that there is nothing that can be done about it, this factor in your score will go up. But, before we even begin talking about the path of enlightenment, it's obvious that your base score will depend on such external factors. Someone whose house just blew away in a hurricane and is left with nothing is typically not going to be as happy as someone sipping a tasty drink while reclining on a beautiful beach.

The last factor, voluntary activities, is of primary concern to a Dark Buddhist. "Voluntary" here does not refer to volunteer work-unless that does, in fact, make you happy-it means matters of choice. Earlier I defined the core principle of Dark Buddhism as the question "What is best, and healthiest, for me?" When you practice right view and can answer that question for long-term health and serenity, those are the choices made in your life that can deliver the greatest happiness to you.

William C. Menninger summed up happiness this way: "The amount of satisfaction you get from life depends largely on your own ingenuity, self-sufficiency, and resourcefulness. People who wait around for life to supply their satisfaction usually find boredom instead."


With regard to living in the present, this is not just a lofty, hippyish, new-age interpretation of enlightenment. It is actually a practical way of living, thinking, and feeling, which leads directly to happiness of the type described here and to psychological well-being. When you live for the future, you get caught up not only in fantasy-which can be fun and useful-but also in anxiety. The what-if scenarios all take place in the future, and when you become lost in them, you are falling into a cycle of anxiety. Similarly dwelling in the past can also be pleasant and useful, but when you come to focus on past mistakes and I-should-have scenarios, this leads to depression.

The reason that meditation is such a powerful tool is because it trains you to live in the present. You have a central anchor, in the form of your breath, a mantra, or other such meditation focuses, and when you become snagged on some thought or idea leading you into the past or future, you learn to refocus on your anchor, coming right back to the present. The first step in this is simply becoming aware that you've become snagged on a thought or feeling, which is something most of us are completely oblivious to when it happens. The next step is being able to come back to the present. Meditation will be described in great detail in the next chapter.


People living deeply have no fear of death.-Anaïs Nin


I would like to conclude this chapter by noting that my work in Dark Buddhism has not diminished my admiration for Ayn Rand. As a physics student my admiration for Einstein's work certainly did not diminish my admiration of the phenomenally brilliant Isaac Newton, and what I see as necessary modifications to Objectivism certainly do not diminish my admiration for Ayn Rand as a philosopher, writer, and thinker.


[1] Man's life in Ayn Rand's day, but "human" life today.

[2] The "damned if you do, damned if you don't" existentialism that seems to grow with each new generation in our society.

[3] Note the similarity to the concept of "right view" in traditional Buddhism.

[4] Laying the foundations of the modern Libertarian party

[5] This is the practice of "right intention" or "right effort" in Dark Buddhism.

[6] I mentioned earlier that I suffer from depression. My "natural" level of happiness is lower than someone without this condition.

[7] The word "accept" comes up a lot - we will soon see that acceptance is at the heart of enlightenment.

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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