Copyright Savaka Sukhothaia (June 2001)
"The wise man who by watchfulness
is as one who, free from sorrows,
ascends the palace of wisdom
and there, from the high terrace,
sees those in sorrow below;
even as a wise strong man
on the holy mountain
might behold the many unwise
far down below on the plain."
- The Buddha
The Dhammapada 28
This is an unusual suggestion to Objectivist and Randian communities, but I ask you to consider it and to please try to be objective. I am here offering to you the shocking consideration that Objectivists and Randians should reach out to the Buddhist portion of humanity. Some Buddhists are closer to you than you might imagine, regardless of highly touted tenets of Buddhist 'doctrine' that would make you think otherwise.
I am a Buddhist - a Theravada Buddhist. I do not believe in the supernatural, nor in a god or gods of any kind. I first read Ayn Rand's fiction because a Buddhist friend told me that her heroes were sages of advanced Buddha-like characteristics. For instance, one of her greatest heroes exhibited a face that was without the trace of "pain, fear, or guilt". That is the face of the Buddha as we in Buddhist cultures have always imagined him and have portrayed him in art. You name him "John Galt". Howard Roark is also in possession of great self-command, detachment from pain, and serenity. Andrej Taganov reminds one of a samurai warrior, does he not? And what of Ragnar Danneskjold, that ideal champion of justice?
When considering the Western Tradition, Buddhism reminds me a lot of Stoicism, i.e., accepting one's Fate while controlling one's attitude toward that Fate. Didn't the Stoics also come up with Natural Law, an incredible philosophy of tolerance (also very Buddhist-like)? Ayn Rand starts her essay, The Metaphysical versus the Man-Made, with a quasi-Stoic quote: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference". This is vintage Greek and solidly Objectivist, but it is also classically Buddhist. Balance, perspective, wisdom, and that Greek-like poise of a confident mind.... A Buddhist might see Aristotle as a friend. His eudaimonia is quite interesting, his megalopsychia quite familiar.
I really do not expect, or even desire, that any of you Objectivists will become Buddhists. If I were a Mahayana Buddhist, I might try to proselytize, but I am essentially in the Theravada school and recognize the beauty of the individualist path. Rather, I believe that we in the East need the influences of a modern, rational, freedom oriented philosophy such as Objectivism. You can teach my culture much and are more similar to us than you can conceive. Buddhists will not often completely throw away their entire tradition and they will nearly always identify themselves primarily as Buddhists, but they often can modernize, learn, adjust, and synthesize. A dialectical conversation is necessary to orient the East toward the future - and the stars.
We Buddhists love the moon. Ayn Rand's Apollo 11 is still my favorite of her writings, for it celebrates the event of representatives of the human race actually setting foot on the moon - and making it safely back to earth. What a triumph of mind!
If you want complete 100% conversion to "dogmatic" Objectivism, you will forever be an unnoticed minority on this planet (and beyond, some day). But Objectivist ideas are fecund, vital, uplifting, and hopeful. In the technological future, Objectivism's grounding of human rights is humankind's great hope of freedom. You are secular and universal. You can enrich, ennoble, and inform many segments of humanity.
Few of you probably realize what a natural ally you have in Buddhism. It is ethical but is not interested in theological dogma. It is radically individualistic (especially in its Theravada form). Its trappings, stories, and doctrines are old. They echo antiquity, but there is a kernel of noble wisdom there. Also, many in the West are turning to Buddhism because of disillusionment with Christianity and with much of modern Western philosophy.
Some among the practitioners of Buddhism are natural advocates for freedom and dignity. The plight of Buddhists in Tibet and elsewhere in the empire of the Peoples Republic of China are examples of high profile tyranny against peaceful peoples, and many are united by their revulsion when freedom is denied. But, you must never ask them to accept Objectivism as a dogmatic religion/philosophy. They abhor such simplemindedness.
In sum, you can befriend Buddhists, if you parley like honest seekers of the truth. The East needs to update itself with reason, science, business ethics, the politics of individual rights, and completely free enterprise. And maybe you could benefit from a jolt of wisdom from aspects of the dharma. After all, do you folks know everything? (Please take this last remark in good humour.) Seriously, Buddhists can be powerful allies to Objectivism. After all, we are both on an ethical crusade for - among other things - nobility, serenity, and integrity, are we not?
With the utmost metta ("loving kindness"),
Thomas Gramstad: A Few Notes Towards Buddhjectivism
Paul Hibbert: Objectivism and Zen
(A moderated discussion group at wetheliving.com for individuals with an interest both in Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and in the consciousness-raising practices associated with Eastern thinking.)
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(Unfortunately, this address has stopped working, and the last time I heard from Savaka he was going to a long-term retreat in a monastery in Thailand)
Index to the Post-Objectivism web site: