The subtitle to Miller’s Buddhist Existentialism, From Anxiety to Authenticity and Freedom, speaks to both the positive possibilities of such a synthesis and an inherent weakness within Buddhism that makes it especially difficult. The greatest weakness of this book, in my opinion, is that it fails to escape the essentially salvific intentions of Buddhism. We need to be saved and Buddhism will save us. Buddhism is “the cure” for the human condition which is not humanity as it really is, but is a deviation from “the original mind” and the “true self”. It is a deviation from how it should be. This is essentialism, not existentialism.

Can there not be authenticity in anxiety? Authenticity is not the achievement of some ideal state of mind, but the open and honest embrace of ourselves as we actually are in this moment, however we are. It is existential honesty. Its opposite is “bad faith” (Sartre), a dishonesty that leads to a flight from ourselves, inner conflictedness and hypocrisy.

Zhuangzian Daoism, to my thinking, lends itself much more easily to an existentialist interpretation and practice. We do not seek to escape the admittedly troubling aspects of our human experience—chiefly our insatiable hunger for fixed and sure moorings—but instead make use of them. We soar upon our mess, not away from it. Without the mess there could be no soaring, just as Peng could not fly without the monsoonal winds. This is the usefulness of the useless.

Authenticity then is the self-aware honesty and self-acceptance that enables us to pass into immediate affirmation and thankfulness. We need not strive for some idealist perfection, because we are already perfect by virtue of our being perfectly who we are, just as we are. This is the freedom that is now, not the freedom that must be earned and will likely never come.

All is well in the Great Mess, and in all our little messes as well. Nothing is lost; nothing need be saved.


  1. I have no firm position in this but for the sake of furthering this topic and bring clarity to what you are saying I have some questions. What if a person is suffering from schizophrenia, should this person not seek to be saved? Let me take this question a little further; What if a person is suffering from a mild case of schizophrenia, should not this person seek to be saved? One more question; Don’t well all share in some measure of the definition of schizophrenia?

  2. Sorry, I meant “we all”. While I am here I would like to add some more thought to this. Chicken Little had a acorn hit his head and in his mind he thought the sky was falling. He experienced anxiety about this experience in so much that he ran all over town proclaiming the sky is falling. Is it un-Taoist to not accept his anxiety and story that is in his mind but rather try to find the truth that it was an acorn and dispel (save) him from this dream?

    1. Is walking two roads the ultimate intellectual sleight of mind, or does it pretty much answer all such apparent problems? I, in any case, find it works everywhere. In being authentically anxious one can both experience full and joyful acceptance and still work to dispel the anxiety. If we want to talk about something silly like “enlightenment”, then let us say that it is always right now in one’s present circumstance, without condition. If it is something achieved, then it is something that will never happen, but will only serve to draw us away from ourselves in inauthenticity and further our anxiety. Let us say that a schizophrenic drug-addict dying in an ally can be “enlightened”. It’s not about good or bad, peace or fear, success or failure.

      My oft repeated formula (and yes, it is only that) is an attempt to bring this home: We are perfect by virtue of our being perfectly who we are–it matters not how that measures up to ideas of morality or the nature of sagacity. Right now, realized or not, we are perfectly integrated into the Great Mess. This, in any case, is my point of entry. All is well; all is equivalent. All things together “bask in the broad daylight of heaven”. I can only offer this as an imaginative exercise–it is something to try on. It works for me. It isn’t the truth.

      Once we have a sense of our okay-ness whatever our not-okay-ness, we are much better equipped to get to work on becoming okay-er. We walk two roads at once.

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