One of the most sought after sociopathic traits by normal people is the ability to be "zen" in the face of stress or danger. I've always suspected there may be a connection to the sort of consciousness that sociopaths experience and that sought to be attained by Buddhists, so I was glad when a reader took the time to explain the connection to me:
Consciousness is something that has always fascinated me, but until recently I've only explored it intellectually, not directly. I've been experimenting with Zen meditation for a few months now, and it occurred to me one day that there are some interesting parallels between sociopathy and Zen Buddhism, such as emotional detachment, no strong attachment to a self, not buying into belief systems, and having a focus on the present. Also, Buddhists, like sociopaths, can appear to outsiders as unemotional, or emotionally cold. However, Buddhists do appreciate emotions and actions that are spontaneous, and from the gut, just not those arising from the intellect. Given the above, I wonder if Buddhism, in spite of being a religion, would hold a special appeal to the sociopathic mind?
Is it possible even that the sociopathic mind is closer to enlightenment? Empaths identify so closely with emotions and find emotions so compelling, that I wonder if they would have a harder time attaining Buddhist awareness than logical, less emotional individuals, and might be more likely to fall into the trap of merely chasing after a spiritual high? Or would sociopaths, in spite of their detachment and greater awareness, have a harder time letting go of the scheming?
Being fully in the present requires letting go of the attachment to all thoughts, including concepts such as empathy, sociopathy, conscience, power, control, good, evil, and most importantly the self. It also requires letting go of the attachment to feelings, which are also a type of thought. You have to stop both thinking and feeling. As long as we are thinking (or feeling), we are busy either reflecting or anticipating. We're making a story from what is happening around us, and caught up in some illusion or other. Buddhists maintain that we suffer because we live in such states of illusion perpetuated by our thoughts. Giving up attachment to our thoughts brings awareness, and with awareness comes freedom from illusion, and thus freedom from suffering. With awareness also comes compassion. The compassion arises from experiencing directly, through meditation, our connection to everything and everyone. It doesn't matter if you are an empath or a sociopath. According to Buddhists, we all have this Buddha nature, even if we don't know it. We are all the same.
Looking at it this way, the difference between a sociopath and empath is only an illusion.
Here is a quote from "No self. No problem" by Anam Thubten, that I liked, that puts it well: "When one illusion doesn't work then we become disillusioned and we go around with our antennae up looking for another illusion. We look for one we don't associate with any memories of being disillusioned, one with no sense of disappointment. We look for something new, something different, something better. When we don't find an illusion we like, we make a big deal out of it. We say we're having a spiritual crisis. We're going through the dark night of the soul. We feel that the ground beneath our feet is shaky. We don't like being in darkness, in emptiness. We want to find an illusion that gives us comfort, that gives us what could be called a psychological massage. Soon we find another illusion, one that is full of promise."
You could say that, in a way, the sociopaths give empaths a psychological massage.
And from the other side of the fence, here is an excerpt from an article criticizing Buddhism (quoted here): "Even if you achieve a blissful acceptance of the illusory nature of your self, this perspective may not transform you into a saintly bodhisattva, brimming with love and compassion for all other creatures. Far from it—and this is where the distance between certain humanistic values and Buddhism becomes most apparent. To someone who sees himself and others as unreal, human suffering and death may appear laughably trivial. This may explain why some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints. Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987. Zen lore celebrates the sadistic or masochistic behavior of sages such as Bodhidharma, who is said to have sat in meditation for so long that his legs became gangrenous."
The darker side of Buddhism, or the misunderstanding of an unenlightened mind?