Can Buddhism and Ego Intertwine?

Alright, I admit — this one’s a bit of a repost. Remember that era back a few years ago where I was getting into writing “serious academic papers” on “wide-ranging concepts”? It didn’t last long, unsurprisingly. But one of the unreleased ones actually involved a subject I still hold close to my heart — a sort of “customized combination” of life philosophies that fit my personal goals and may very well fit yours too. So, I figure, why not share it here?

Old writing starts now:

Abstract: The Rational Egoist Model aggregates the principles of the Main Philosophy with that of an individualistic, ego-based approach. It provides a roadmap that is individual-centered while providing protection against chaos and amorality in the external world. In this method a person creates a “tactics-strategy” paradigm where they follow internal principles according to the Ubermensch concept.

I. Introducing the Main Philosophy

Over the past 1,000+ years, theory on practical philosophy has not changed so much. From the ancient days of Stoic and Buddhist philosophy, the conversion over to the monotheistic “Big Three” (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), and even modern psychological/sociological takes, the key ideas of practical philosophy have stayed constant. Within this paper, these key ideas will be referred to as “The Principles of Main Philosophy”, or shortened to just “the Main Philosophy”.

The four ideas of Main Philosophy consist of: 1) Acknowledgement of impulse as evil, 2) Creation of “emotional-organization” models, 3) Concession to a higher cause, and 4) Addressing community as “center of the world”. We break these four ideas down further below.

Each Main Philosophy acknowledges impulse as a bad. Buddhism is the most clear in this, outwardly labeling desire as “the key to all suffering”. Other parts of Main Philosophy address this in different ways. Christianity mentions the seven sins, all of which are in some way related to impulse. Modern psychology referred to impulse as the Id, claiming it was later filtered by Ego and Superego (providing the system worked).

At this point, it’s common knowledge that impulse can have bad consequences, both personal and social. It makes intuitive sense why impulse would be cast out by the ancients; even our modern laws forbid impulsiveness to an extent.

The next idea on our list is the development of emotional-organization models. The name here explains the concept: having control over your emotion by developing a practice which helps to build an organization for these emotions. Buddhists use meditation as their key activity in this. Stoics had meditation, but they are remembered more fondly for their journals. Monotheists have a form of meditation called prayer. It all serves more or less the same purpose: controlling your emotions allows you to restrict the power of impulse.

Our next two ideas are perhaps a little more controversial. Idea number three is about a concession to a higher cause. Religions, of course, have a god of some sort. More philosophically-inclined groups don’t necessarily believe in a god, but they do usually concede to a universal definition of virtue. This concept of virtue is defined in terms of our fourth and last idea: community before self.

Community before self is the idea that universal virtue can be defined in terms of placing the needs of a community ahead of the needs of yourself. It involves kindness, compassion, justice, chastity against other vices (such as lust or gluttony, which happen to involve community to varying degrees), reason, and a focus on equity. It includes the concept of having principles to live by, though these principles are typically not directed inward, but outward, as a focus of having principles that uplift community.

Obviously, these terms are not that bad. Compassion, justice, reason, and others are all usually good things to have. The trouble with the Main Philosophy comes from the fact that they assume an individual must sacrifice for a community. That the community is bigger than any given person, and must become a priority. In the next section I will discuss the rather paradoxical sounding idea that no one quite believes this to be true.

II. Issues with the Main Philosophy

The problem with community is that it is esoteric. A person relies solely on the themselves to provide love, pain, pleasure, and survival. A group of persons may interact across these provisions, but they do not directly influence the core of another’s experience. Not only this, but communities provide more abstractions the larger and farther apart they are. Being a member of a classroom, a citizen in the United States, and a human on Earth all imply different “states” of community and therefore different obligations. In reality a person will always prioritize an obligation towards themselves, because they contain their own spirit of existence.

Before I go on, I want to address that this is not an attack on community. This is an attack on community being the core principle of a philosophy meant to better the life of the self. We discussed in the Aspects of Social Games how community and self can coexist in a mutually beneficial manner. All the tenets of virtue can still exist, but not have a domineering role over the individual.

Another key problem with collectivistic virtue being a core tenet of Main Philosophy is that it implies a rigid morality which underlies the world’s structure. In reality, moral being is relative. . A lot of these examples are addressed in On Relative Morality, and are outside the overall scope of this paper, so I won’t mention them here. The point is this: both non-biological systems and biological systems tend to favor their, ironically, personal principles for morality. These morality principles typically involve ways that the individual can survive — e.g., setting a rule to not murder makes it so that you have less of a chance of being murdered yourself. But murdering other species for food is fine, and in some cases murdering those of your own species for a specific reason is deemed appropriate. This latter case is seen primarily in humans, and the reasons mentioned change from culture to culture.

But that’s not really the point, Main Philosophers would argue. The point, they will say, is that we ought to strive better than ourselves, and thus invent an absolute moral law that maximizes welfare given certain constraints.

Very well. The problem with this is that it ignores the natural tendencies of humankind. If it is natural law that a human acts relativistically on a moral level, then inventing an absolute law won’t do all that much. A person will be inclined to act relativistically unless forced to do otherwise. Hard to force them into a moral ruling at scale.

The conclusion on both the community and moral ideas here lead us into a new topic, which is that of order versus chaos. How much order is required within a person’s life to generate happiness? Is order required at all?

III. Order versus Chaos

This, once again, is a topic I discussed at length in the Aspect of Social Games. However this is a particularly poignant topic when it comes to practical philosophy, and so I’ll repeat myself a bit here given its importance.

All of mankind’s fears can be summed from two sources: chaos and/or uncertainty. And uncertainty only counts because we are naturally risk averse, and thus assume uncertain events will be chaotic events.

Because of this, a life full of chaos will inevitably lead to despair. Some level of order in life is required in order to experience happiness. The question becomes what order, and to what degree.

When the Main Philosophy fails, it fails because it sees the idea of institutions as God, rather than as anchor points. When a person is influenced into working with the community before themselves, it generates chaos within them as they are no longer able to act on their own personal principles. At extreme levels of community order (individual chaos) you can get the results of something similar to fascism or communism. So, clearly, this Main Philosophy ideal falls apart somewhere on the individual level.

It is worth knowing that Buddhism in particular does strive to find a way to prevent this. In fact, the main differentiation between Buddhism and its contemporary philosophies (Legalism and Confuscianism) was this very idea. Buddhism does not require the worship of something physical (filial piety, government), yet at the same time it does not lend itself to something abstract (stoicism’s virtues, monotheism’s God). Nirvana is a destination, and while the Eightfold is a path and the Buddha is a founder, neither of these are really required pillars of the Buddhist tradition. Of course, the problem then results in the fact that this idea has fallen in popularity over the years, and most now see the Eightfold Path and Buddha has spiritual anchor points. It’s time to dive a little deeper.

IV. Offshoots of the Main Philosophy

The first answer to the problems caused by the Main Philosophy was given by Existentialism and its derivations. Existentialism rejects rationalism and spirituality and instead favors emotion and (to an extent) nihilism, which frees up some of the issues of concession and community. An existentialist acknowledges that the key to the health of a society is individual order, and that one can follow through into community order if this is achieved. It does not require a concession to any symbol or idea, but rather insists that a person introspects within themself to find the key to living.

Existentialism is nice because it keeps the ideas of the Main Philosophy while removing two of its biggest faults. However, existentialism is — predictably — not perfect. While existentialism teaches its students to look inside themselves for answers, they aren’t given a roadmap as to how to do so.

Alright, so it’s at this point we can offload the shaky and mostly supplemental philosophical history lesson, and start getting to the meat and potatoes of this paper. The remaining two sections will talk about the rational egoist philosophy, its value as a roadmap, and its implementation into the main philosophy.

V. The Irrationality of Egoism

Alright, perhaps we aren’t on the interesting stuff just yet. We have to start this discussion by talking about the obvious: the name “rational egoist” seems to imply a sort of paradox. Certainly living off your ego can’t be rational — can it?

Well, I would argue that there is a rational and irrational form of ego — something the Main Philosophers would disagree with. The Main Philosophy defined ego as a state of desire and emotion — that of the uncontrolled ego, which goes haphazardly to and fro and causes the person to be wrapped in fears and anxieties and chase after short-term pleasures.

Well, I would certainly say that is bad. Irrational, as well. But I don’t believe that ego can be defined quite so simply. Ego is the soul of the human being — the operator of the vessel. It can be angry and misguided when left to its own devices — but what if you were able to tame it?

VI. The Rationality of Egoism

This leads us, ultimately, into the rationality of egoism. This is ego defined by principles, by the Ubermensch, rather than base emotions like desire or greed. This is also where we finally get to a philosophy which solves the problems of the Main Philosophy, because these principles are defined by the individual, not by external forces.

Our issues with the Main Philosophy were that it was defined by a community that the person holds no inherent relationship with and concedes to a power that the person does not inherently believe. The Rational Egoist model separates the social powers created by culture over time from the beliefs and principles of the individual, allowing a person to use the Main Philosophy to prevent damage from separating from the pack while also not needing to fall for generic models of virtue, community, morality, and justice. It is a model that fits best for an amoral and chaotic world — one in which we all live in.

Yet, when one follows the Rational Egoist model, an interesting thing occurs. The ideas of virtue, community, and morality are found naturally. And a person is happy such a thing occurs. Because they’re no longer forced to follow beliefs that they don’t know the why and how of. They came to these same conclusions on their own, following their own wisdom, with their own changes here and there. It is then that you can look at the Main Philosophy critically, and not as word of gospel, and that is the main goal of Rational Egotism.

To end this, I have a cleaned-up copy of my original bullet points for the Rational Egoist model. As always when I write these publications, I start getting nervous that nothing I wrote actually makes too much intuitive sense. But I think a short, bullet-pointed summary can fix that pretty well. This is also a document that serves as a work in progress, and I plan on expanding and altering it over time (just like any of my other ideas).


  • The individual is at a fixed point of view, and the center of perspective. All other things move and go away.
    • Don’t be afraid when you lose things, or do things incorrectly. All tasks are ephemeral (Nice-to-Have Mindset)
  • All actions can be justified via means of ego. For example, being kind to others is justified through getting others to be kind to you back.
    • Based on this, the selfishness of ego is not justified, as it causes others to loathe the individual, thus making life for the individual worse
  • Caring about others opinions of you, overall, is a waste of time. However, it is valuable to take in their constructive critiques, as it can often be beneficial to you.
  • It is not worth getting concerned over ‘earthly’ things, i.e. things external to you that do not directly engage with you in any way (politics!)
  • Help yourself first, then help others. If you try to help someone while you’re both weak, it will go against both of you.
  • Laugh in the face of pain, discipline yourself against desire

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