Thoughts on “Buddhjectivism” and Meditation
A little less than a year ago I had made a conscious decision to try meditation. I had come across thoughts by a libertarian named Joshua Zader and who regularly meditates utilizing vipassana (a.k.a. mindful) and Zen meditation. Respectfully speaking, he has a website where he gives his thoughts on mindful meditation along with a variety of other topics such as libertarianism, Objectivism, politics and even Buddhism. He lauds the practice stating that as a result of meditating Zader notices the ability to think and reason clearer than he did before doing so.
Simultaneously I decided to look into Buddhism itself. I listened and watched some lectures online which were from groups associated with the Theravada Buddhist sect. I figured that if I was to study Buddhist philosophy that it made sense to learn from the group that pitched itself as teaching Buddhism as close to how Gautama Buddha taught. The Mahayana sect tends to encompass beliefs that are related to the culture that practices it. In addition to subscribing to the idea of reincarnation Buddhism as practiced in countries like China, Tibet, Japan, and Korea might include deities that are usually related to nature. When a Mahayana Buddhist seeks enlightenment, the community will assist him or her in their efforts. On the other hand, Theravada Buddhism (which is predominate in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia) is atheistic in its outlook due to Theravadins believing that enlightenment is an individualized effort.
Theravada monks will assist a member if asked but enlightenment comes over time gradually and is done mainly introspectively via vipassana meditation. Zen Buddhism (a branch of the Mahayana sect) tends to be similar in many respects to Theravada except in Zen enlightenment can be achieved by someone immediately or gradually depending on the individual while (like Theravada) it eschews or downplays deity worship or mysticism. Both Zen and Theravada seek to practice Buddhism as originally articulated by Gautama Buddha as revealed in the Pali Canon but (to the best of my knowledge) do not think any less of other schools of thought in Mahayana. In Vietnam, for example, while the country’s population is predominately Mahayana Buddhist, there is a significant segment of the population that subscribes to Theravada in which monks of both factions study along side one another at Ho Chi Minh City’s Van Hanh Buddhist University.
I am in the midst of reading Stephen Batchelor’s book Confession of a Buddhist Atheist in which Batchelor points out that even Buddhism can be as dogmatic as other religions as well. Himself a former Tibetan and Korean Zen Buddhist monk in one part of his book Batchelor points out that the body of teachings that makes up the body of his former Buddhist sects is neither flexible nor negotiable. If one does not accept their primary tenets, Batchelor states, a monk can be rejected from the sect and I am sure this same logic applies to practitioners too. The same is true in Theravada. He also goes on to point out how Buddhism overall is as much a life-negating philosophy as many Hindu sects. Batchelor states that with all of the talk of love and compassionate from people like the Dalai Lama and other Buddhist teachers the ultimate goal of the philosophy is ending rebirth and life as we know it.
The essence of Buddhism is that the best way to resolve or even avoid suffering is through introspection done by meditation coupled with ridding oneself with all desires. Furthermore, the Third Noble Truth of Buddhism states that suffering ceases with the cessation of craving and material things (including one’s ego) are viewed as allurements. The only thing I give Buddhism credit for is that, like Objectivism, it is a philosophy and not a religion. Buddhists are not required to follow what they are told by monks and Buddhism does not demand blind and complete obedience of its followers nor does the philosophy rely on a higher power in order for people to achieve enlightenment. However, like any philosophical movement, there are those who use it as a religion rather than a roadmap, hence the reason for vipassana practicioner and Buddhist-friendly author Sam Harris publishing the essay Killing the Buddha.
In the early part of the century there was an attempt by some Objectivists to open a dialogue with Buddhists in which some had concluded that the two philosophies were similar in many ways. One author has gone so far as to claim that he can integrate Objectivism with Buddhism. However, any similarities between Objectivism or Buddhism are only superficial since the former emphasizes egoism, living a life of achievement and individual rights while the latter stresses sacrifice, the negation of life itself, and the wiping out of the ego (i.e. individuality).
While both philosophies stress to practitioners to live conscious lives the devil is in the details as to what Objectivism and Buddhism outline as to how to achieve it. Ayn Rand stressed that people should live rationally, follow their own minds and outlined the methods in which to do so. Buddha told his followers something very similar to what Rand said but (short of recommending meditation) lacked any specifics on how Buddhists could acquire knowledge.
Any attempt to synthesize Buddhism and Objectivism cannot work and doing so makes about as much sense as some trying to synthesize Chrstianity with Objectivism. Buddhism, Objectivism, and Christianity come from completely opposite vantage points in order for followers to live a good life. Having a dialogue between Objectivists and Buddhists is one thing but if it were to happen I doubt anything meaningful would come out of it. As I outline above, Buddhism is about the complete negation of human life and near total self sacrifice (i.e. altruism) while Objectivism affirms people’s lives by stressing hard work, people following their rational self interest, and praising achievement.
In terms of meditation, I am aware of the numerous studies done that show enhanced cognitive and psychological abilities on the part of people who meditate regularly. However, I am wondering if this is the result of continuous insightful examination if not constant thinking. I meditated only once by attending a meeting of a local group that practices vipassana but when I did the effect was similar to taking a nap. I might take meditation up again since I am curious to see if it would have any noticeable effect on my thinking abilities. Fortunately, one does not need to be a Buddhist in order to meditate. Medtitation itself is non-mystical and that as well as the benefits of utilizing as outlined by recent scientific studies it might make it worth while to delve into it again.