I’ve long found myself having conversations about Satanism with Buddhists, and had these conversations be strikingly fruitful. So I thought I’d offer some food for thought here re: parallels between these two religions. Obviously, they are strongly opposed regarding a number of important things. But it’s for this very reason that I think the surprising convergences are interesting to reflect upon.
This post is meant to be high-level, rather than an in-depth delving into either Satanism or Buddhism. It’s therefore working with a somewhat abstract conception of each religion. Obviously then, some of what I suggest will be contradicted by details of specific Buddhist or Satanic denominations. Such details are anthropologically interesting, but just not what this post is primarily focused on.
For those largely unfamiliar, though, I’ll start by highlighting what I take as the biggest clashing element: general ethos.
General ethos of Buddhism
I think it can readily be argued readily that Buddhism leans toward a negative view of worldly life. The Four Noble Truths state that existence breeds suffering, hence it is better ultimately to seek non-existence.
My impression is that in actuality, many call themselves Buddhists without putting much emphasis on this otherworldly goal. Rather, it forms the background behind a religious foreground of beseeching various supernatural beings for prosperity here and now. (e.g. as occurs in Chinese Folk Religion) I don’t think it’s unusual either to have a religious elite lean Magian while the more common people lean Apollonian (click links for MY definitions of these words!) in such a manner. Hinduism strikes me as a similar case.
Regardless of such complexities though, Buddhist philosophy strikes me as a very “pure” example of the right-hand path. I do think that of all world religions, it is among the bluntest re: key RHP qualities. These include the espousal of overcoming individual ego, transcending worldliness, universal compassion, etc.
At the same time, I’d also say there’s something about Buddhism that makes it radically different from other religions. This is its philosophical and aesthetic emphasis on impermanence. The vast majority of other religions build themselves around some metaphysical absolute that is “the only truly permanent thing.” Buddhism contrarily says “you’re suffering because you want things to be permanent when in fact nothing is.” One can thus argue Buddhism has built-in skepticism toward all other religions. Which regularly goes unnoticed because said religion’s practitioners perceive Buddhists as “nice” and hence want to get along with them – or so I figure!
General ethos of Satanism
I don’t believe there’s a singular creed that defines Satanism the same way the Four Noble Truths define Buddhism. As I’ve written elsewhere though, I do think that everything that credibly calls itself Satanism (e.g. LaVeyan or otherwise) typically entails such ideas as:
- Life in this earthly world is something we’re meant to enjoy
- Ideologies that arbitrarily restrict earthly enjoyment are oppressive and should be challenged
- It’s good to be a strong-willed individual, and if the herd finds that threatening, too bad for them
- All variants of “a benevolent universe is looking out for you” are false; we need to instead accept adversarial reality
These in turn produce the following clashes with Buddhism, i.e., Satanists typically dislike the religion for such reasons as:
- Its pessimistic cynicism about desire leading to suffering poisons the enjoyment of life here and now
- It dysfunctionally positions world-hating repressed people as spiritually “better” than those who embrace vital existence
- It pulls the same swindle as other RHP religions, telling you to turn down your ego for your own good, when actually it’s for the good of weaker and less ambitious people around you
- Karma in a too-simplistic sense of “the universe punishes wrong and rewards right” amounts to irresponsible optimism*
* In actuality, this is a complicated topic I explored recently elsewhere – see here – but I still think this sort of perspective is typical of many Satanists as far as reasons to dislike Eastern religions generally go.
Parallels between Buddhism and Satanism?
So with those differences enumerated, what do the supposed parallels between Buddhism and Satanism consist in?
Four areas I consider noteworthy include:
- Closer engagement with observable realities than many other religions
- A doctrine about desire that upsets reactive, insecure people
- Optimism about individual capacity for self-improvement – especially in comparison to the impression one often gets from Christianity
- Reasons for calling upon supernatural entities and expectations regarding their power
I’ll examine each of these in detail below.
1 – Engagement with observable realities in Buddhism and Satanism
Something I have always liked about Buddhism is that when you reflect on the Four Noble Truths, you are in the realm of observation, not faith. Is it not the case that too much pleasure breeds indolence? Are you not familiar with cases where people suffer, scheming to get something, then continue suffering, scheming to keep it? Or my personal favorite, haven’t you noticed that any relationship, no matter how good, can end in only two ways: somebody leaves, or somebody dies? On the basis of such observations, one can argue that you don’t need faith to be a Buddhist. You just need to look around at life and be honest about what you see.
Similarly, barring certain Gnostic variants of Luciferianism, Satanism is a very this-worldly religion. Consult your instincts: are we not here to both enjoy and better ourselves? Does it not seem like traditional religions cause an awful lot of needless suffering by demonizing the impulses in question? Familiarize yourself with the theory of evolution, and doesn’t the religion that recognizes survival of the fittest seem rather more plausible than those that do not? Or perhaps you instead notice a certain dovetailing of Satanic ideals with those of progressivism, anarchism or some other ideology you agree with? Regardless of whether one ultimately winds up an atheistic or theistic Satanist, such considerations are often part of the calculus.
The conclusions that the Satanist arrives at are obviously quite different from the Buddhist. Nonetheless, in how we arrive at those conclusions, we’re more similar to one another than either is to other religions.
2 – Buddhist vs. Satanic doctrines about desire
Buddhism holds that the default human relationship to desire is dysfunctional. As per above, I’m not entirely without sympathy for this view. I find though that many people, upon first having Buddhist doctrine explained to them, will push back quite hard. Usually some defensiveness arises around the theme of “but life is fun at least sometimes, why be so negative?”
This, however, only makes sense as a reaction to a bad account of Buddhist doctrine. Buddhism doesn’t actually say “every last second of life is a nightmare.” It says the flow of pleasure is inevitably followed by the ebb of pain and disappointment. And given this inescapable alternation, maybe you should ask, are the things I’m seeking so ardently actually worth it?
What’s then interesting is that Satanism also says that the default human relationship to desire is dysfunctional. Shame holds many back from pleasure; people run around chasing shallow, artificial things that won’t actually make them happy; immersion in herd mentality tends to be behind both these problems. Satanism accordingly says, separate yourself from the herd.
The funny thing though is, I’ve seen the same people who reject Buddhism also reject Satanism. Except now their complaint is that selfishness is bad, Satanism encourages self-destruction via self-absorbed behavior, etc. Which only makes sense as a reaction to a bad account of Satanic doctrine. Satanism commends, rather, that you reflect re: what would actually make you happy, and seek that.
The bottom line here is that both religions agree that to live your best life, you need introspective awareness.
Both in turn tend to rile a similar profile of person: the conformist coward who wants to be told that everything they are already doing is okay, lest any scary and hard work of change be required of them.
3 – Optimism about individual self-improvement in Buddhism and Satanism
The topic of “hard work of change” then leads to another interesting convergence between Buddhism and Satanism.
Christianity puts a strong emphasis on humans’ inability to save ourselves – this being why faith in Christ is necessary.
This sort of thing is not the position of either Buddhism or Satanism in the vast majority of cases.
Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path is something the individual must walk themselves. It’s up to you to train your own mind to see past illusions and unlearn attachment. Yes, deities can help (see below) but ultimately your own “right effort” is required.
Satanism’s Sinister Path is also something the individual must walk themselves. It’s up to you to train toward your own standard of excellence, to both enjoy indulgence and pursue self-evolution. Yes, deities can help (again see below) but ultimately you must “Say unto thine own heart: I am mine own redeemer”. (LaVey, Book of Satan IV:3).
There do exist variants of Satanism (e.g. Theistic) and Buddhism (e.g. Pureland) that are more “Christian-like” with regard to (lack of) self-empowerment. Meaning, in those cases, it seems you are basically asking some deity to save you as if it’s hopeless otherwise. My impression though is that most Satanists and Buddhists share the sentiment, “you have to actually do the thing yourself.” With this comes an attitude of optimistic self-empowerment that is not necessarily present in other religions.
4 – Buddhist vs. Satanic entities’ support and limitations
A final area of comparison is Buddhist vs. Satanist perspectives on divinity. Atheistic Satanists will have to bear with me a moment here, as this section will be N/A for you.
In some esoteric forms of Buddhism it is posited that the individual practitioner has a personal relationship with particular deities. One may know who via for example which entity’s statue one finds oneself impulsively drawn toward. This deity may then act as one’s spiritual adviser, protector, etc., helping one to move forward with the practice. Some of these entities offer help with mundane affairs (e.g. love, money) but spiritual advancement is ultimately the focus. Such entities are not seen as all-powerful, but as having power nonetheless to support human progress on the path.
Everything I just described more or less applies too in the sort of theism one finds in Luciferianism. Which entity’s sigil one is drawn to is often seen as indicative of the entity’s reciprocal interest. Perhaps this deity turns out to be one’s patron/matron, i.e. spiritual adviser, protector, etc. Or one may call upon the entity in more one-off transactional contexts, asking for help with mundane affairs. Nonetheless, most Luciferian practitioners see spiritual advancement as the ultimate focus. And the entities we deal with, though not all-powerful, possess plenty of power to assist us on the Sinister path.
Some may be unimpressed by this parallel, noting that similar may be said of forms of paganism etc. Insofar though as I think some will not expect to find this kind of parallel between Satanism and a strongly RHP religion, I still consider it worthy of note.
The points above were on my mind recently due to a conversation with a Buddhist peer. Abstract though they may be, I nonetheless thought they might be interesting to share here. It’s all well and good to have advanced articles floating around about the compatibility of specific Vamachara yoga practices with Satanism or similarly specialized topics, Vamachara being to my understanding where we got the term “left-hand path” to begin with. But I think it’s also good to write about this topic at a far more introductory level, as per here, for those who may be new to reflecting upon such parallels.
Because of my education in religious studies, I find I come to Satanism with a more ecumenical view than others. As I write in my book, it’s my conviction that all human beings possess some degree of genuine spiritual insight. Parallels between Satanic denominations and between Satanism and other religions are therefore of interest to me. This is not necessarily to say that there is no place at all for “elitism” in Satanism. But as I personally find drum-banging on that tangent already-pervasive, I prefer to offer different angles for consideration.
Any Satanists in the audience with Buddhist friends – or for that matter, enemies! – with thoughts to share on the parallels expressed above? Or any left-hand-path practitioners with either pro or con experiences with Buddhist belief and practice more generally? Let me know in the comments.