For Christians, it is salvation. For Buddhists, it is enlightenment. Both represent the ultimate goal humans can aspire to. They each take us out of the realm of the physical world to something different. “Salvation” is all about “god” lifting a curse of original sin and an eternity in Hell. “Enlightenment” is about a change in consciousness, a realization releasing us from limiting concepts and beliefs.
Psychopaths have a consciousness that is markedly different from that of the average person. Some of these differences are used to damn us (in the eyes of the public). Lack of conscience is that number one difference. Lack of empathy is another, closely related one. But what about ability to focus on present time? What about detachment?
I came across a question on Quora that directly addressed the titled issue:
“Psychopaths: in many ways the experience of being a psychopath sounds like enlightenment. Present focused, undistracted by emotions, clear eyed, observant, aware. What do you think the differences are?”
I have often had the same thought but I answered cautiously:
“I know what you mean. And enlightened people like the Dalai Lama look very happy. Psychopaths don’t get depressed. But we get bored and the Dalai Lama probably doesn’t. Also, there’s the empathy question . I don’t know.”
Of course, comparing psychopathy with enlightenment is automatically provocative. Psychopaths are considered “bad news.” While glamorized in popular culture, we are kept at arms length. People find us fascinating but it’s the kind of fascination people feel for a traffic accident. They wouldn’t want us in their lives. Few respectable pundits have really positive things to say about us. One of the few is Kevin Dutton with his shockingly titled book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths. We may be “wise.” But “enlightened?” But what is enlightenment but wisdom?
Matt Davis wrote an article pointing at the number of creative people with psychopathic traits: What do Psychopaths and Creatives Have in Common? Of course, someone can be a great artist and still have personality traits the average person might disapprove of. But enlightenment is supposed to be automatically “good.”
I might have also mentioned the fact that universally acknowledged enlightened sages are known to be gentle and compassionate. But some psychopaths are serial killers or otherwise badasses. How does that compute? Western religion, Judeo-Christianity, is highly dualistic. God is good. He is love personified. Everything not good is relegated to the other side of duality, evil, which is the province of Satan. But not all of the world’s religions divide good and evil the way Western thinkers do. Eastern religion is more prone to go beyond good and evil. The duality of the West creates some theological problems. God is all love and yet he can damn those who don’t believe in him. Human life and human consciousness are limited by our condition of mortality. How can a “good,” loving God consign any of us limited creatures to eternal torment for mistakes we make in our limited lives on earth? An amoral God could do it if he wanted to. We already know that God, the god of any theological system, creates tornados, floods, earthquakes and disease. The Hindus accept the fact that their deities are destructive as well as creative. So, is it possible that destructive psychopaths can be enlightened, have god consciousness, and choose destruction from their amoral freedom of the god that they are? Without empathy, this seems to be very possible. I know that, although I never killed anyone and don’t particularly want to, the possibility of killing, should I ever feel like it doesn’t seem like a very big leap for me.
In Sex and the City, the four gals are at a casino. Some guys are trying to hit on Charlette and Carrie. Charlette wants to go for it but Carrie couldn’t be less interested. She says, “Why don’t we skip all the drama and just enjoy each other’s company?” Charlette says, “I don’t want to skip all the drama. That’s life. That’s everything. That’s relationships, birthdays, anniversaries and cakes and I want all that.” I guess that might be the difference between enlightened folk like the Dalai Lama and psychopaths. We have that living in present time but we also have the drama — maybe not birthdays and anniversaries but winning at life games, excitement and risk. We have a lot of what enlightened folk have plus enough ego to make life interesting. (Not that enlightened folk don’t find their lives interesting.)
In The Good Psychopath’s Guide to Success, Kevin Dutton wrote, “…the difference between the psychopathic brain state and the mindful one might lie in what we ‘do’ with the present once we have it. Mindfulness teaches you to savour it … [W]hereas psychopaths tend to devour it.
“‘Yep,’ says Andy, as we swoop into a deserted clifftop car park, ‘fair one, that. I’ve always been more of a devourer than a savourer. But do you think it really matters? I mean, whether you devour it or savour it — it’s got to be better than missing it altogether.'”
Other Answers on Quora
Actually, the difference was best stated to me in a comment left by Rob Novitsky on my answer to;
Athena Walker’s answer to What is the difference between a psychopath and an enlightened monk?
The answer read;
I’ve actually addressed this from the other side of it.
Athena Walker’s answer to What would it be like if a psychopath were Buddhist?
I have a theory about Buddhism that might interest you.
“The overall philosophy has more attraction to the psychopathic person, probably. It is self-centered in the sense of enlightenment. It is about logic and pragmatism. It is about little dwelling on the emotional aspects of the brain. It is a hypothesis of mine that the idea behind Buddhism came from a psychopathically wired person attempting to understand their own selves and seeing that their way presented fewer problems than the neurotypical way of thought. So perhaps they encouraged people to try and experience the world as they did. Collect enough followers that agree with you, and there you go: Buddhism. It may not be the official story, but it’s my own reasoning behind it.”I think that Buddhism looks like psychopathy, personally. I think that psychopaths likely have no need to follow Buddhism because they are already at a state that others are attempting to reach. That is release of attachments and logical reasoning, and in a high-functioning psychopath, not acting on selfish desires—things of that nature. It very much looks like a psychopathic mentality.
A psychopathic Buddhist would basically be cheating in my mind. Too easy.
To which he responded;
I think psychopaths are partly there, in the sense that they do not react to emotions (though they do not feel them, which takes away from some extraordinary feelings). However, the attainment of nirvana is ultimately a realization that the “self” is an illusion. Never existed in the first place. Hence, the non-dual nature of experiencing reality as it is, and not as a separate “self.” Neurotypicals and psychopaths share one thing in common. They are NOT all enlightened, and this may start out as a selfish enterprise (in the sense that it is a solitary pursuit), but that must quickly be dropped, as “you” are still attached to a sense of self, an identity, and image of who you are. Unfortunately, if a psychopath was to ever become enlightened, they may not have the benefit of experiencing non-dual awareness with the full range of emotions granted to a neurotypical (of awe and reverence, compassion, and love). These all feel 10x better than a dopamine rush, and neurotypicals have access to both; psychopaths only to the dopamine. Perhaps the brain will start functioning differently when they lose their sense of self (through much brain rewiring and activation of various brain centers), or perhaps becoming enlightened for a psychopath is just not in the cards, as they may not care enough to stick it out for rewards that may or may not come. A neurotypical probably has a better chance, as they at least suffer and want to overcome it. With that, there may come the possibility of going beyond what they thought possible.
You know, I can’t do better than that. What he said is really interesting.
- Self-Mastery. The Wisdom of Psychopaths