In the article Christian Objectivism: Possibility or Contradiction we explored whether Christianity is compatible with Objectivism…or not. Now it’s time to find out if the Four Noble Truths of Buddhist philosophy tie in with the philosophy of reason and action.
Do you ever think about your trials and tribulations and wonder if life is worth the daily effort you must put forth? You’ve probably noticed that as soon as one desire is satisfied a new one pops up and demands satisfaction. You feel as if you are on an endless treadmill of attempting to satisfy wants and desires.
Are you familiar with the “Four Noble Truths” of Buddhist philosophy? They are:
- Life means suffering.
- The origin of suffering is attachment.
- The cessation of suffering is attainable.
- The Buddhist path to the cessation of suffering.
Of course, the Buddhist path is the relinquishing of all attachment.
Do you have any idea why life is filled with suffering? Well, there are three reasons.
- You don’t get what you want.
- You get what you don’t want.
- You get what you do want.
Certainly, you understand why the first two reasons cause suffering. Who needs lack and frustration. However, you’re probably wondering why getting what you want causes you to suffer.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately depending how you look at it, everything exists in time. Whether it’s a love relationship, your favorite music, the delicious dinner on your plate, a sip from an old bottle of fine wine, it must all eventually pass away.
Think about this. You are born, you mature, you grow old and you eventually wear out and die…that is if you’re lucky and some terminal disease or unfortunate accident doesn’t kill you prematurely. Looking at it from the point of view of your mortality could cause you to feel that maybe life is not worthwhile. Why struggle when everything you cherish and value eventually turns to dust? Maybe the ascetic Buddhist monks are correct when they attempt to gain peace of mind and serenity by renunciation and resignation. Possibly, non-attachment could eliminate most human suffering.
Before, we go any farther down the road of non-attachment, let me explain an important fact about existence. Since you are alive, you possess vital energy…the irresistible force of life. Renunciation and resignation indicate a person who has escaped into a dreary existence of anti-life. Obviously, if everyone adopted the life of an ascetic, the human race would quickly perish.
Let’s face it. We are alive at this very moment. Here’s a quote from the great praxeologist Ludwig von Mises, page 882 of his masterpiece “Human Action.” “Whatever the future may have in store for him (man or woman), he cannot withdraw from the necessities of the actual hour. As long as a man lives, he cannot help obeying his cardinal impulse, the élan vital. It is man’s innate nature that he seeks to preserve and to strengthen his life, that he is discontented and aims at removing uneasiness, that he is in search of what he may call happiness.”
If desire is the cause of all suffering and desire is inherent in all human action, what are we to do? Maybe we should renounce all action and live in a near vegetative state, similar to an ascetic Buddhist monk. But wait a minute, Mises just stated it’s impossible to withdraw from the necessities of the actual hour. Our cardinal impulse, the élan vital doesn’t allow it.
You probably know living without attaining your highest values seems rather bleak. After all, why be here if you aren’t at least attempting to capture the fruits of existence. Think about it. Your desires and attachments are the spice of life.
Are you somewhat confused? How can attachment be both suffering and the spice of life. Isn’t this a contradiction?
Let’s hear from Ayn Rand…wisdom from her philosophy of Objectivism. “Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness—to value the failure of your values—is an insolent negation of morality. A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.”
As you can see living with purpose, taking rational action and attaining your highest values is what happiness is all about. If you want to achieve anything worthwhile…action is the name of the game.
Solving the Four Noble Truths Problem
Let’s discover how to attain peace of mind so we can successfully live a life of Rational Selfishness.
Let’s cover the two paths of attachment.
- You become attached to people and things unconsciously. That’s allowing your subconscious desires to control your life.
- You consciously choose your attachments. That’s using your most powerful weapon…reason to make rational decisions
Tragically, most people default to the thorny path of unconscious attachment, which causes them much suffering. The enlightened person joyously chooses his or her attachments, knowing and accepting that one day they will vanish into eternity. In the meanwhile he experiences the joy of his existence.
The unaware individual feels guilt about yesterday and worries about tomorrow. His attachments enslave him to a life of suffering. The individualist plans for the future, but lives for the moment…knowing right now is all that matters. That’s reality.
Each moment you live is what you’re currently experiencing. If you don’t like it…put the power of reason into action.
Some Objectivists may wonder why I’m talking about Buddhism. Well, I’ve studied many of the religions. I’ve read numerous books on Zen Buddhism. Like most philosophies of life you have to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.
I like the peace of mind Zen offers you. Meditation helps you stop the mind from racing…which is conducive to reasoning more effectively. It’s also good for introspection and creativity. However, it’s action that allows you to capture your highest values. Many monks meditate to completely empty the mind and experience the void or…oneness with “all there is.” I agree we should empty our mind of altruism and irrationality…but it’s ridiculous to eliminate reason. Without reason we’re no better off than savages.
Even if the Four Noble Truths contain some wisdom…it doesn’t necessarily mean Buddhism is compatible with Objectivism.
RA Meyer – The Objectivist Masters the Social Maze
P.S. Paul Hibbert wrote an excellent article Objectivism and Zen. He states “In my view, the “Big Mistake” is that of conventional Objectivists and others trying to apply logic and reason to those spheres of the human brain where logic and reason aren’t capable of being processed, and equally, of artists, actors, performers, religious leaders proselytizing about secular issues which, for the most part, they have little or no personal capability for logic and reason.
What do you think about that?