Dark Buddhism: Integrating Zen Buddhism and Objectivism

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The Dark Buddhist Lifestyle

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 Eleven:  The Dark Buddhist Lifestyle

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.-The Buddha


The title of this chapter is something of a misnomer, since there is no actual Dark Buddhist "lifestyle." As with all other aspects of Dark Buddhism, how you choose to live your life is based on the question "What is best, and healthiest, for me?" Your lifestyle is personal and not something I, or anyone else, can dictate. For example I practice yoga every morning, and I am a vegetarian. Must all Dark Buddhists also practice yoga and abandon eating meat? Of course not. These are my personal choices. They are what I have determined are best for me. I will discuss my own decisions, briefly, in this section, simply so that you have examples of how one man has chosen to live his life.

I began practicing yoga long before I began studying Zen Buddhism. I was not on a spiritual quest. I was simply looking for a gentle form of exercise that might aid in restoring some of my flexibility, balance, and joint motility after eighteen years of bodybuilding. What I discovered was that yoga was not only incredibly effective exercise, but it left me feeling great after each and every practice. Earlier, in reference to right meditation and right concentration, I was slightly critical with regard to yoga, stating that Buddhist meditation is often confused with yogic meditation, which includes the asanas, and also is frequently taught along with spiritual elements, including autohypnosis, quests for occult powers, and an attempted union with God. Unfortunately yoga practitioners and instructors often relate this amazing post-yoga feeling with any or all of these, linking yoga to invisible energies, chakras, and all manner of mysticism. The real reasons that yoga leaves you feeling energized and in a good mood are that it focuses on breathing-as do many forms of Zen Buddhist meditation-and a well-oxygenated brain is a happy brain; and these are simply the benefits of physical exercise, whether you are practicing yoga, running, or dancing. As a bodybuilder I never experienced any of the good feelings that are supposed to be associated with exercise, but that is because one of the core principles of bodybuilding is to overdo exercise until you reach a point of complete depletion, referred to as "lifting to the point of failure". That is how you build muscle. Now, having learned to practice right view toward myself, I recognize that when my body is telling me that it is in pain, I should be aware of this fact and act on it, rather than consciously choosing to ignore it.

Just as I excised the rigid views of Objectivism and combined the remaining principles with a similarly excised Zen Buddhism to form Dark Buddhism, it was very easy to take what I found to be beneficial in yoga, excise the spirituality and then fold it into my personal Dark Buddhist lifestyle. The basic principles of yoga, the yogasutras, are divided into four parts: The first part, samadhipada, is directed toward attaining self-absorption, samadhi. This is actually comparable to the concept of mindfulness in Buddhism. The second part, sadhanapada, deals with the means of attaining self-absorption, analogous to the Eightfold Path The third part, vibhutipada, is directed toward supernatural powers such as being able to levitate or astrally project, or siddhis, that supposedly come with the practice of yoga.[1] The fourth part, kaivalyapada, deals with the state of liberation, comparable to the concept of enlightenment in Buddhism.

In the Western world, yoga is best known for its asanas, or yogic postures, which are the most visible forms of yoga. Buddhism is best known as a practice of meditation. The two blend well because yoga, despite outward appearances, is actually a tradition of meditation. The asanas are used as a means to calm disturbances of the mind. In other words the physical movements are intended as an aid to meditation. Additionally one focuses both on breath and the body itself while practicing the asanas, which are both forms of meditation-mindfulness meditation with both the body and the breath as anchors. In my personal Dark Buddhist lifestyle, I perform yoga asanas and Zen Buddhist meditation separately, but, once again, this is what I have determined is best for me. I urge you to explore all avenues of meditation and find what works best for you, even the more spiritually based yogic meditations.

Similarly once I abandoned bodybuilding and was no longer reliant on gross quantities of protein throughout the day, I decided to become a vegetarian. This had nothing to do with the "thou shall not kill" Buddhist precept. It was a decision I made based upon my desire to live a physically healthy and simple life. It was, in other words, a purely personal decision based upon what I felt was best for me. I also happen to enjoy cooking, and the challenge of turning vegetables and soy products into reasonable facsimiles of my favorite meat dishes gives me a great deal of pleasure. I make a pretty mean vegetarian bacon cheeseburger.

To quote the Buddha, "Your body is precious. It is our vehicle for awakening. Treat it with care." The mind-body connection is a very real thing and also part of our modern world. From the Buddha to Thomas Carlyle, who wrote, "There is but one temple in the universe...and that is the human body," the connection between self, consciousness, happiness, and the body has been long recognized. Whether you practice yoga, bodybuild, jog, or get some other form of exercise, the point is not to make yourself look attractive to others but to get in touch with your body. Although most of this book has been directed toward thoughts and consciousness, which are functions of the mind, it is important to always remember that the body is what supports the mind. When you have a feeling, which originates in your mind, your body responds to it. In fact the best way to get in touch with your emotions and feelings is to explore them in your body. If you feel fear, rather than giving into the fear, you use right view to observe the fear objectively. Part of that is exploring what it feels like to fear: I feel like I have a knot in my stomach, I feel like the blood has drained from my head, I feel a tingling along my spine. It would be artificial, and not part of reality, to try to separate your mind from your body.


In chapter seven I briefly mentioned the yogic Eightfold Path and touched on the yama of brahmacharya, or chastity with regard to right action. The yogic yamas actually conform very well with the lifestyle I have developed for myself based on the principles of right view and right action. The yamas include ahimsa, which translates as "do no harm"; satya, which means "tell no lies"; asteya, "do not steal"; aparigraha, "don't be greedy"; and the aforementioned brahmacharya. Based on my own objective view of what is best and healthiest for myself, I make the choice to not willingly cause trouble or harm people, to not lie, to not steal, to not sleep around, and to live my life with moderation in general. This is not because I fear that some higher power will strike me dead or send me to hell; it is because I simply wish to live peacefully and happily. My serenity is what I value the most, and my right action is directed toward maintaining as serene a life as I can manage. As discussed with reference to right action and right speech, if I go around insulting people or stealing, I'm setting myself up for fights, being a fugitive, getting punched in the mouth, and so forth. None of this contributes to my goal of living a peaceful and happy life.

In addition to yamas, yoga teaches a set of niyamas, which are positive things to engage in. These include shauca, which translates as "be pure"; santosha, which means "be content"; tapas, "be disciplined"; svadhyaya, "be studious"; and ishvara-pranidhana, which means "be devoted." The "purity" of shauca doesn't just relate to the spiritual purity provided by following the yamas, but actual physical purity-cleanliness and healthiness. Keep yourself mentally and emotionally healthy as well as bathing regularly, wearing clean clothing, keeping your home clean, and maintaining general hygiene.

Santosha, of course, is what we already seek via the Dark Buddhist Eightfold Path and through our practice of meditation. Tapas is the practice of self-responsibility, which has been promoted with regard to many different aspects of the Dark Buddhist path. Svadhyaya does not mean "studious" as in going to school, but as in being in a constant state of seeking knowledge and being ready to learn. This is not just observing and learning about the outside world, but being open to learning about yourself. Ishvara-pranidhana is the one niyama devoted to the "spiritual," as this is devotion to the "divine." I do not practice such a devotion, aside from devotion to myself and my own well-being, but it is my choice not to practice this devotion.


You can't throw a pebble into a crowd in India without hitting a guru. Enlightenment is offered to you on every street corner, on every billboard, in every hotel, in every bus and train station, and in every marketplace. Although yoga has a particular meaning here in the United States, in India, the birthplace of yoga, it simply means a practice designed to get one closer to god and/or enlightenment. There are hundreds of different types of yoga; some include the asanas we are familiar with in the United States, but most don't. There are yoga schools where you learn how to bend, there are yoga schools where you learn how to breathe, there are yoga schools where you learn how to chant, there are yoga schools where you learn to scream, and there are yoga schools where you learn to hop. Most of these are forms of meditation...and they are not the path to enlightenment.

How can I be so sure? Because enlightenment does not require you to actually "do" anything. If you are flying to India, if you are contorting yourself, if you are walking on hot coals, if you are screaming your head off, if you are forcing yourself to laugh, if you are lying on a bed of nails...you are requiring one or more externals to be used as tools toward enlightenment. Enlightenment comes from within, not from a guru, not from tricks, not from altering your mind with drugs, overoxygenation, underoxygenation, or pain. I will repeat the old Buddhist saying referenced earlier in the book: If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!

I have attained moments of enlightenment through a daily meditation practice that takes place in my office chair and by studying the concepts I've put into this book. Nothing more. Although I have emphasized time and again that your path to enlightenment is purely personal and relies solely upon your own choices, made with an objective right view, keep in mind that enlightenment itself is also personal. It comes from within, not from without. If a guru is asking you to pay money for guaranteed enlightenment, run very far away.


Believe nothing on the faith of traditions, even though they have been held in honor for many generations and in diverse places. Do not believe a thing because many people speak of it. Do not believe on the faith of the sages of the past. Do not believe what you yourself have imagined, persuading yourself that a God inspires you. Believe nothing on the sole authority of your masters and priests. After examination, believe what you yourself have tested and found to be reasonable, and conform your conduct thereto.-The Buddha


The largest part of living a Dark Buddhist life is practicing right effort and right intention. You are a human being, and you will find yourself slipping into mindlessness-the opposite of being mindful-from time to time. It happens to everyone. The trick is to recognize that you are doing it, via right view, and to use your conscious effort and will to restore yourself to mindfulness. When you are multitasking you are not truly focusing on any of the tasks involved. Your brain simply cannot fully focus on more than one thing at one time. One or all tasks will be performed automatically. Catch yourself doing this and consciously choose to act mindfully, focusing fully and completely on only one task, truly experiencing it.

Being distracted in your office or zoning out while driving to the store are relatively small issues, but what about the larger issues? What about when tragedy strikes? A large portion of this book is directed toward the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path, teaching you how to deal with suffering, accepting that there are many things outside of your control, and dealing with your own emotions. You must have a genuine intent to practice these principles, otherwise you will simply have an intellectual knowledge of the broad concepts of dukkha and dharma, but when, say, your mother dies or you lose your job, you will forget all of these lessons and be driven into irrationality, obsession, and unhealthy distraction, unable to help yourself or others. It's human to grieve, it's human to get upset, it's human to cry, but recognize it and understand it when you are doing these things, otherwise you will do nothing but increase your suffering.


The Dark Buddhist lifestyle is, ultimately, a Zen lifestyle. It is living in the moment, making a conscious decision to be here and now. It doesn't matter whether you eat meat or not. You do what you objectively determine is best for you. You also do it mindfully. Whether you are eating a carrot, a cookie, or a hamburger, every single bite, every single crumb, should be fully and completely tasted and experienced. If you are eating something you enjoy, then you fully experience the positive sensations and feelings associated with this good food. If you are eating something you hate, actually examine the terrible taste in your mouth, experience the thoughts and feelings that it brings to mind. The first time I tried this, it was with brussels sprouts, which I've hated since childhood.[2] They don't taste any better when eaten in a Zen way, but they are certainly more tolerable when I practice the exercise of truly experiencing them. Actually experiencing eating for the first time, like experiencing breathing for the first time, was a phenomenal experience.

This principle doesn't apply solely to eating, of course. Make your bed the same way. Do your work the same way. Brush your cat the same way. It will be like waking up in an entirely new world once you learn to truly live mindfully. I cannot remind you enough that meditation is your primary tool in learning to live mindfully. Although Dark Buddhism does not have any strict rules or codes of behavior, meditation should be practiced as a daily habit. Hopefully, you will determine that this is what is best, and healthiest, for you, as I have.

As is typical in the Zen tradition, there is a story relevant to the issue of mindfulness: Two Zen masters were traveling with their students, and each camped on a respective side of a river. The students saw each other across the river and decided to exchange notes. The first student bragged, "Our Zen master is greater than yours. He can hold a brush and write in the air on one side of this river, and when one of us holds a piece of paper on the other side of the river, the writing will appear."

The other student replied, "Our master is even greater than that. When he eats, he does nothing but eat. When he drinks, he does nothing but drink. When he sleeps, he does nothing but sleep."

Stunned by these amazing feats, the first student abandoned his master and returned home with the second student and his master.


The best advice I can give with regard to living a Dark Buddhist lifestyle is this: stop. Throughout your day, stop from time to time. Look around, experience the world, truly absorb everything going on around you and also examine what is inside of you. What are you thinking right now? What are you feeling right now? Remember to breathe and, as always, ask yourself, "What is truly best and healthiest for me?" In the words of Ferris Bueller, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."[3]

As a caveat, with regard to remaining mindful, do I advocate being mindful and conscious at all times of the day, every day? Of course not. Not only is that unrealistic, but it is unhealthy. Sometimes, you simply need to relax. Sometimes I just want to "mindlessly" watch a DVD while giving my cat a long belly rub. The right intention is to not make this my permanent lifestyle, but to zone out when I feel that I need to, and only when my right assessment of myself tells me that I need to. When you are exhausted, rest is what is best for you.


One of the keys of Dark Buddhism is living with rational self-interest. What is best and healthiest for me? These decisions govern your lifestyle, your actions, and your day-to-day choices. The "lifestyle" covers all bases, from the whimsical to the serious. For example, since I don't feel much connection with my Jewish heritage, I don't really celebrate Hanukah. I don't celebrate Christmas either. Zen Buddhism doesn't have any holidays, so I decided that every December 24th, in the evening, after a full and satisfying day of work, I would celebrate Catmas, a joyous celebration of my cat, Elizabeth Delano Mermelstein. This is obviously on the side of whimsical self-interest. Why is this best for me, as silly as it sounds? Because without a holiday to celebrate while everyone else is out celebrating, I tend to get depressed. And now I can focus on something that truly does give me joy. I would actually recommend that everyone celebrate Catmas: you don't have to celebrate the wonder known as Elizabeth, but spend an evening celebrating one thing that gives you great joy in your life.

Catmas may seem silly to you, but it represents something very important: appreciation of the simple joys in life. This may sound like a cliché, but the awareness that comes with being an awakened and enlightened person is not just an awareness of the serious and heavy issues of life, but also of the simple things. Stroking my cat makes me very happy. I am aware of this fact the same way that I am aware of the heavy aspects of reality, such as the fact that both she and I will eventually die. One mistake Objectivists make in their attempt to view the world with true objectivity is shutting off their emotions, as if the emotions necessarily cloud their judgment. An Objectivist would dismiss the simplicity of stroking a cat as meaningless or seek to rationalize the origin of the positive emotions generated by such an activity. The awakened view, which certainly includes objectivity, however, is the objective acceptance that this simple act makes me happy. The same way that I do not deny or disown the negative things I might feel, I do not deny, disown, or attempt to trivialize the positive things I feel. In other words I have the right to be happy, and not appreciating simple things that make me happy would not only be a lifestyle mistake, it would be denying reality. Perhaps we should say that simple joys are not so simple after all.

It should come as no surprise that there is a famous teaching story regarding appreciation of simple things in life and also priorities:

A wealthy businessman hired a young fisherman to take him out for a long day of fishing. At the end of the day, the businessman hadn't caught many fish, but he still enjoyed himself. The young fisherman had caught many fish and now was relaxing on the deck of the boat, soaking up the last of the day's sun and lazily pulling in his line. The businessman said, "It looks like you caught a nice bunch of fish today."

The fisherman replied, "Yes, I did. The fishing was excellent today, and if I had really tried, I could have caught many more."

The businessman was perplexed and asked, "Why didn't you? If you had caught more fish, you could have sold them in town and made a lot of money."

The fisherman asked, "What would I have done with the money?" The businessman replied, "With the extra money, you could have bought extra nets, caught more fish, and made even more money."

The fisherman then asked, "What would I have done with that even larger amount of money?"

The businessman was getting exasperated. Wasn't that obvious? He told the fisherman, "Well with the extra money you could have bought a larger boat, caught even more fish, and one day you could afford to have an entire fleet of fishing boats. You could hire other fisherman and get to be rich, like me."

"Why would I want to do that?" asked the fisherman.

The businessman answered, "Well, with other people working for you and with money in the bank, you could simply spend your days fishing, warming yourself in the sun, and enjoying the simple pleasures in life."

The fisherman considered this as he continued to rest on the deck of his boat, his shirt open, the breeze blowing over him, his line starting to tug with another fish caught during the conversation, and then said, "Yes, I see. That sounds nice."


On the more serious side of the lifestyle, there is a great deal of discipline in living as a Dark Buddhist. As with Objectivism most people, at least at first, think that advocating self-interest means living a hedonistic life. A true Objectivist or a true Dark Buddhist actually leads a very disciplined life. This is not discipline without purpose, mind you, as an ascetic or soldier lives, but it is the discipline required to do what is best for the self. Some mornings I do not feel like practicing yoga. I would much prefer to stay in bed, warm under the covers, cuddling with my cat. Beginning my day with a yoga practice, however, is best for me, both physically and psychologically, so I exercise right effort to get myself out of bed and begin my practice. This is discipline, not without a reason, but because I am choosing what is in my best interest. Similarly I am a vegetarian. Does that mean that I never crave a Big Mac? Of course not. Salt and fat and ground beef all taste great; that's why people eat them. But it is not what is best for me, so I must practice discipline, once again. In a more extreme example, back in my club kid days, I took a lot of ecstasy. I'm not going to deny that it was tremendous fun and made me feel great, nor will I deny that popping a couple of pills into my mouth right now and going to an underground club would give me great sensual pleasure. But I am disciplined, not because Nancy Reagan once said, "Just say no," with regard to drugs, but because I know, both through scientific research and from personal experience, that they are bad for me. My physical and psychological health is not worth the short-term sensual pleasures. I also practice right view and see clearly that such pleasure is only momentary.

Living with rational self-interest, which is at the heart of the Dark Buddhist lifestyle, is not doing what is the most fun, but what is the best and healthiest for you. Often this means making tough choices. These choices are not only discipline choices, such as whether to eat that Big Mac or not, but fundamental choices. When discussing right effort, living consciously, and developing self-esteem, I wrote about self-responsibility being integral with self-esteem and the self. Although tough fundamental choices often come down to discipline and responsibility, keep in mind that practicing responsibility does not mean always taking on new obligations and challenges. It may be practicing responsibility when you do something really tough, such as getting off drugs or putting a parent in a nursing home, but it is also practicing responsibility when you say no to taking on a burden. Keep in mind that you always have the choice to say no.

Most people find that it is easier to say "yes" to unreasonable requests than to stand up for self-interest and personal integrity. Part of living consciously and practicing as a Dark Buddhist is realizing where you end and where others begin-in other words establishing boundaries. This boils down to understanding and realizing what is and what is not up to us, what is and is not within our control, and what is and is not our responsibility.


With regard to my own lifestyle and the self-discipline I practice, my choice is to act in ways that simplify my life. Choices regarding my health, how I spend my time, and whom I choose to interact with and why are all made to reduce the possibilities of future complications. In the words of Leonardo DaVinci, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." Of course simplification does not mean making your life passive. The goal of simplification is to provide yourself with the time and space to grow and practice an enlightened life. As Einstein put it, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."

I practice right view, right intention, right speech, and right action so that I can live with right mindfulness-with a mind free from petty distractions, worries, and complications. Earlier I noted the evils of multitasking and recommended that you shut off your e-mail program at work, checking it only once an hour. I should re-emphasize that these are my practices. In Dark Buddhism the most that I can ever do is offer you suggestions, advice, and recommendations. As with everything else we have discussed, your decisions must be made based on your own right view, your own values, and your own set of experiences and circumstances. I often think of something that Goethe wrote when making my basic lifestyle decisions: "The things that matter most should never be at the mercy of the things that matter least."


I have received many queries regarding my Catmas holiday. Dark Buddhism is not a religion, so it is difficult to call Catmas a Dark Buddhist holiday. The word "holiday" is easily seen to be a bastardization of "holy day." There is no theism in Dark Buddhism, nor do I hold the particular cat of Catmas to be any kind of supernatural being or object of worship beyond my typical cat owner's devotion.

As with every other aspect of Dark Buddhism, how you live your life is based upon your own personal choice of what is best and healthiest for you. The name "Catmas" is my name for my day of celebration. The "cat" in Catmas is my object of celebration. My choice of December 24th is because I have nothing to do while most other people are celebrating Christmas Eve, and my decision to celebrate Catmas only after a satisfying and fulfilling day of work is my choice, obviously coming from my Objectivist roots. What you call your celebration, how you celebrate, when you celebrate, what you celebrate, and if you celebrate at all are your own choices, based on what you determine to be best and healthiest for yourself.

The idea behind Catmas is similar to Thanksgiving up to a point. Rather than giving "thanks" to an unidentified and unknowable supreme being for my bounty, I choose to celebrate something in my life that brings me great joy. For me, this is Elizabeth, the particular cat of Catmas. If you choose to celebrate Catmas, you obviously won't be celebrating the joys Elizabeth gives to me but something that brings you great joy: your spouse, for example, your children, your job, your hobby...whatever it is, dedicate a few hours or a day to celebrate the object or activity. Remember that a truly awakened view allows you to appreciate the joyful things in your life, things that, by constant exposure, we often take for granted, thus denying reality through partial blindness.

Our lives are filled with dukkha. It is the nature of existence that we will have setbacks and disappointments. We can either choose to live blindly or choose to practice right understanding and right view. Part of this right understanding is asking ourselves how we keep our passion and drive going, even when faced with inevitable sorrows and disappointments. In order to live in an awakened state and not be crushed by the harshness of reality or sink into blissful unconsciousness, we must practice an appreciation of the positive things in our life. We must also commit ourselves to action.

A lot of this book and almost all of Objectivism deals with "negatives," in particular how to identify the causes of "suffering" and eliminate them. However, if you spend all of your time dwelling on disappointments and setbacks, you're not only denying a large part of reality, but there's really no point to your philosophical practices: if you can never be happy or, at least, not unhappy, why even bother staying alive? Examining the causes of our suffering is very valuable, but only when you can make the determination that a particular cause is beyond your control and you can truly accept this or when you are establishing the corrective actions to take in order to eliminate this cause of suffering. If you have taken every possible action, then further focusing on the negative has absolutely no merit at all. It comes back to self-responsibility.


As a lifestyle practice if something is wrong, then ask yourself, "Is there an action I can take to improve or correct the situation?" If the answer is yes, then take that action or actions. If not, though, then you must do your best not to torment yourself with what is beyond your control. Most of this book is directed to the tools for accomplishing the latter.

Nathaniel Branden recommends asking two questions each and every day. The first question is "What's good in my life?" and the second question is "What needs to be done?" The purpose of the first question is to keep us focused on the positive things in our lives-it provides us with a practical reason for getting out of bed in the morning beyond simply seeking the Truth. The second question provides a reminder that we are responsible for our own happiness and well-being. Every day before my morning meditation, I go through this exercise. Out loud, I ask myself, "What is good in my life?" Then I list everything that I feel is good, from the material to the interpersonal to the path I've found for myself. Once done I then ask, "What needs to be done?" I go on to list everything that I need to do, or keep doing, from work tasks to losing twenty pounds to remembering to live in the present and not get caught up in the past or the future. This has become one of my most valuable practices and keeps me reminded throughout the day of what really is best and healthiest for me.


[1] This is primarily what I abandoned in my yoga practice.

[2] I used to call them "death balls," much to my mother's delight.

[3] Zen stories do not need to be thousands of years old.

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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