The #autistic buddha: my uncoventional path to enlightenment

The Autistic Buddha Cover

During my years, I had been stuck in a cycle of isolation and of desire. I’d wanted things I couldn’t have. I was invariably failing to search for things I couldn’t attain. But now, I had a means to break free from this habit. The key to liberation was within me and the first step was to accept who I was.

By Tom Clements aka The Autistic Buddha

According to Buddhism, enlightenment is not so much a destination but a life’s work. It is process of constant self-scrutiny, of looking deep within at one’s thoughts, of eliminating the mental toxins of anger, greed and jealousy, of seeing the ephemeral nature of all phenomena and of cultivating compassion for all sentient beings. Unlike our Western Abrahamic traditions which focus on right belief and ritual, the dharmic spiritual path emphasizes above all right action, the kind which has the potential to transform your mind to ultimately transform the world around you.

At the age of 26, after years of floundering in the squalid depths of a debilitating depression and trapped in an endless cycle of isolation, envy and desire, I decided to seek inner-freedom and happiness by treading the Buddhist spiritual path. After reading a book entitled ‘Happiness’ by the French Buddhist and neuroscientist Matthieu Ricard, I was able to extricate myself from an insidious web of destructive emotions that were threatening to tear apart the very fabric of my being. The sincerity with which Matthieu wrote the book touched me deeply and the simplicity with which he articulated the otherwise esoteric teachings of the Tibetan sages was truly remarkable, so much so that I vowed to follow the very path he outlined until I attained some sort of inner-peace myself.

Thankfully, following this path did not necessitate shaving my head, throwing on an orange robe or absconding to a remote hilltop in the Himalayas. Instead, I learnt to engage with the world rather than retreat from it and to transform myself for the better in the process. After just a few months, the Buddhist path began to facilitate in me a change of gears in me that would allow me to come to terms with my many foibles and to live nobly with a disability that had long prevented me from living a balanced and joyful life that had passed me by for most of my youth. Unlike certain other faith traditions, Buddhism has no doctrine and doesn’t seek to fit its practitioners into a mould. Rather, it gives them the courage to lead a compassionate life in a manner distinctive to their unique characters. Indeed, I have Asperger Syndrome and certainly have a personality many would consider unique.

My Asperger’s has long been something I consider to be both a blessing and a curse. I was gifted in languages and humanities at school, but would obsess over my assignments, agonizing over my choice of words and would spend far, far too long on one paper to the detriment of  another. I struggled with moderation and become far too fixated on one thing which, over time, became a problem that would blight much of my life. While I somehow made it to college, albeit through the backdoor, I remained, much as I had done at school, very much a loner and preferred my own company to that of my fellow freshmen.

That said, I still yearned for friendships but felt unable to initiate any for fear of gatherings and social events, which to me were potential minefields of anxiety-inducing scenarios that threatened to expose my awkward disposition, my tendency to be didactic, my lack of concentration during moments of idle chatter and my inability to cope with the sensory overload of being in a room full of people. The usual social venues like pubs and bars terrified me: the non-stop chatter, the thumping bass and blaring synths of the background music, the clinking of beer bottles, the sight of beads of sweat forming on people’s foreheads. It all seemed too much. Such an amount of information was sure to tip me over the edge and provoke the mother lode of panic attacks. Panic disorder became chronic and disabling in my early twenties, around the same time I descended into a severe depression.

After several unbelievably tough years of receiving psychiatric help, I eventually became disillusioned with Western methods of healing the wounded psyche. Drugs such as Citalopram did little for me other than take the edge off, while Cognitive Behavioral Therapy proved about as useful as a chocolate fireguard. Just as I had reached my lowest ebb, I looked to the East for a solution to my suffering and found Buddhism. Buddhism in a sense, is more psychology than religion. It doesn’t have a doctrine. It doesn’t have a creed. The concept of ‘dharma’ isn’t an inviolable law, so much as a method. It’s a discussion and a dialectic that encourages skepticism and probes the nature of things. It lends itself to a conquest of the mind more than our religions. Dharma isn’t ordained by superiors like vicars or priests and Buddhism itself has no formal clergy. The religion is essentially non-theistic; it doesn’t concern itself with the Abrahamic concept of a stern, capricious and omnipresent grandfather figure watching over his little creations. Previously I’d never have been able to throw in with a particular ideology or religion, but with Buddhism I found a way to preserve my individuality whilst finding freedom from being myself. Indeed, it was a way to retain the strengths my obsessive compulsive disorder and autistic traits conferred like excellent concentration on one particular subject and use it to cultivate positive mind-frames instead of the negative ones that were threatening to destroy me.

What I needed, in my train wreck of a life that had seen so many ups and downs, was something like ‘The Middle Way’, a path that gave me a practical way to cope with suffering and the personal dissatisfaction I have experienced through what I feel I have missed out on and messed up in my life. Becoming a monk definitely wasn’t the answer. Besides, I wasn’t going to renounce myself, my twice-daily espresso, my laptop and beloved YouTube. I wasn’t going to deny my Western roots or my Western conditioning either. A superficial attraction to the exotic patina of Eastern mystical tradition is something the estimable Dalai Lama himself warns his Western followers against. Asceticism didn’t make much sense and neither did mindless self-indulgence and pleasure-seeking on the other hand. Both are forms of suffering. A radical solution was not what I needed.

Balance is what I required most and the Buddhist path is one of perfect balance and moderation. It gives up the quest of taking the world by storm. It gives up finding an answer to life’s unsolvable questions and unraveling the mystery of our universe. There’s also no holier-than-thou attitude like in my native Christianity. Calling yourself a Buddhist is in and of itself vain and problematic. Rather than call myself ‘Buddhist’, I choose instead to put my belief in that simplest of things common to all human beings and central to the dharmic traditions: compassion. The sort of compassion not compelled by a need to please deities, but done purely out of love and without giving a thought to religious or social conventions.

The story of Sujata, the simple milk maid who offered the then bony and starving ascetic Siddhartha Gautama a bowl of rice which the soon-to-be Buddha graciously accepted, resonated with me. Sujata eventually nursed Siddhartha back to good health by feeding and nourishing him. This simple act of compassion by a maid who demanded nothing in return, either from him or from the Gods she was supposed to worship at the time, touched the young Siddhartha. This simple act led him to take a different path from the ascetics around him practicing a kind of mortification of the flesh. He realized that happiness in and of itself, resided in simple acts of kindness.

To me, such a simple philosophy for living made sense and I vowed to be kinder to those around me. Indeed, altruistic behavior is one of the best remedies to self-inflicted ills. It leads to a humbler, calmer self more able to connect with what is truly important. In my case, I had rarely been an altruist. Asperger’s had made me prone to routine bouts of self-absorption and it was about  time I changed this, or at least attempted to.

It all started with my grandmother, who lacked basic house-cleaning equipment, so it seemed logical to buy her a hand-hoover. That was my first act of altruism. Buying a hand-hoover that enabled my dear nana to vacuum up the dust on her stairs. I also cleaned her house from top-to-toe (it desperately needed it), made her the classic English staple ‘bubble and squeak’ most nights and bought her back custard tarts from the Portuguese café down our road every day. It was a relief from being myself, concentrating solely on looking after my grandmother and not exacerbating the negative thoughts inside of me. This altruistic component of our mental health, I came to realize, is something modern Western psychology fails to emphasize. Buddhism on the other hand, recognizes it as fundamental to optimal well being.

The naivety of the ego can be a especially pronounced in people like me with Asperger’s. Autism itself stems from the Greek ‘autos’ meaning ‘self’, and our sense of self is far greater than the average human being. That doesn’t mean we necessarily want to stand out but very often we do because of our inherent separateness. Because of our failure to at times show empathy (not that we necessarily don’t feel it), to be physically and emotionally intimate with others, we tend to stand out more in terms of our separateness.

Buddhism’s ethos is about trying not to desire and therefore not feeding this illusion of self. During my years, I had been stuck in a cycle of isolation and of desire. I’d wanted things I couldn’t have. I was invariably failing to search for things I couldn’t attain. But now, I had a means to break free from this habit. The key to liberation was within me and the first step was to accept who I was. Learning to accept my idiosyncrasies, the ones that lead me to suffer in the past, they no longer bothered me. It no longer mattered to me if others thought I was a bit odd. Ultimately thoughts are irrelevant and illusory in nature. They don’t define us. They aren’t us. Once thoughts fail to deceive you, you only begin to accept who you really are, leading you to an inner-freedom and a freedom to be able to stop thinking.

Autism is often a heavy burden. It’s a barrier to life, to being instinctive, free and spontaneous. It’s at the extreme end of the human predicament of being an isolated individual, of feeling like a separate self from others. People with Asperger’s have to go on a much more tortuous and far less accommodating road than most before they can discover their place, their own personal nirvana, and breathe that great sigh of relief they call ‘enlightenment’, but with much persistence, I believe I can achieve such a state. I feel in my bones that I am finally on the right path.

After I finish writing this blog post, I will spend an hour meditating on compassion for my dear brother, Jack who is non-verbal autistic and severely disabled. His angelic face is one of pure innocence, free from worry and neuroses that I’d been plagued by as a high-functioning Aspie. In many ways, I aspire to be more like him, more gentle and more childlike, through my practice of Buddhism.


Tom Clements

Tom is a 27-year-old writer from the UK. He grew up on the outskirts of London and was diagnosed in his early twenties with Asperger Syndrome. His younger brother Jack has severe autism and has limited language. After two years teaching English in China, Tom now plans to work in education in his native Britain. He is seeking a publisher for his memoir The Autistic Buddha: An Unconventional Path to Enlightenment.
35 replies on “The #autistic buddha: my uncoventional path to enlightenment”
  1. says: Fiona

    I’m so interested in what you have written! I have been on the Buddhist path for a while now but wonder how my autistic traits prevent me from accessing the depth to the teachings.
    I’d love to read your book.

    1. says: Tom Clements

      Thank you; it has been an incredible journey for me these past few years reconciling myself to the world and cultivating positive emotions through Buddhist practice. The book will be available as soon as I can find a publisher willing to give it a go!

    2. says: Cheryl

      Hi Fiona, I’m Cheryl and I’m an Aspie, take a look at my comments about Buddhism, below eg on Oct 3rd. I think there’s a lot of problems with Buddhism. See Tom’s response to my comments as well. Bless you, Cheryl.

  2. says: Cheryl

    Hi Tom, I’m 30 and an Aspie, and a Christian. Life is a journey. Your article is intriguing regarding your take on Buddhism.
    I have to say Tom I see many basic problems with Buddhist philosophy. If I were you I would do a lot of thinking before you rush to publish the book; there might be things you want to add, change, include as time goes on, as you continue to learn and muse. Sometimes what we see as an inconvenience is actually an opportunity appointed to us as a time of reflection.

    You say Buddhism is not a doctrine or religion, but more a philosophy. This isn’t true because Buddhism has set of beliefs like any other religion: a founder (the Buddha), a tenet, doctrine, scripture. It has the the 4 Noble Truths and the 8 Fold Path.
    To be a Buddhist you take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma (his doctrine) and the Sangha (the Buddhist community, which includes monks). This is called the 3 Fold Refuge or the Triple Gem. Theravada for example assert that Buddhism is a religion. The Buddha said “Ananda! the Doctrine and the Discipline I have set forth and laid down for you all shall be your Teacher after I am gone.” There are different types of ordained posts in religion whether it be clergy, monks etc. To become a monk is ordination. The Buddha therefore ordained the first Buddhist monks. Enlightenment in this context is also religious. There is 6 realms of existence in Buddhism. Not to mention the numerous ornate temples, the rituals performed by monks, and the plethora of deities that many Buddhists call upon.
    As far as I’m concerned Anatta or Non-Self makes a mockery human experience, and strips us of our self-worth. I wouldn’t like to think the person I’m talking to regards me as a non-self. This is a degradation of the core of human nature and self worth of both you and me. How can you function as a single entity if your thoughts are deluding you? You say your Aspergers is a blessing and a curse. I know what you mean, I find this to be the case too! The Bible says that God created us as unique and special creations. It says in Psalm 139: 13-14 “For you created my inmost being; you knit(ted) me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” In Christianity a person consists of: body, soul (mind, will and emotions), and spirit.
    You say Abrahamic belief focus on right belief and ritual but Dharmic spiritual path (ie religion) focus on right action. I have to point out that right action is also central to the Bible’s teaching. Note how Jesus Christ treated others. In Buddhism the Pali word ‘Dukkha’ for suffering carries the idea that suffering arises from impermanence, so it includes even enjoying things as they are also impermanent. So your attachment to espresso, your laptop, and your beloved YouTube is also suffering! Impermanence in Buddhism isn’t just the simple admission of things not lasting but that every moment is new, yourself is not what you were a moment ago. In reality some things are more permanent than others. A Christian would place the greatest importance on the things that last the longest as they are the most permanence and stable things. God/Jesus (God in the flesh) is everlasting and unchanging, so He comes first, hence Jesus being the considered as the Rock. Second is Human intrinsic self worth, others first then self. Then there are the things which ‘pass away’ and don’t bring lasting happiness i.e. material goods and pleasures. We ‘know’ there’s more than just the physical. As the Bible says God has set eternity in our hearts (Ecc 3:11).
    You refer to God as capricious and stern. In the Bible God is unchanging, He only responds, not changes. God shows righteous indignation/anger when people follow self-destructive paths. He is compassionate and wants people to turn to Him. Jesus is the height of compassion and altruism, being crucified to take away the sins of anyone who will accept Him.

    The idea that everything is Samsara, or an illusion, coupled with non-self, would lead many including myself to think there’s no point in getting out of bed! Maybe the Buddha’s enlightenment was just an illusion, too? We don’t live perceiving the world as an illusion therefore the Samsara and Anatta ideas don’t makes sense or correspond to reality. If there are no absolutes and everything is an illusion where is the drive to be compassionate or altruistic, or even the opposite like hateful? Are not all these ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ attributes just ‘concepts’ or mental formations, since the Buddha said, there is no ‘this’ or ‘that’; remember the mind in Buddhism is non-existent matter. Every time you use pronouns like I, my, me, myself etc, you’re flouting Anatta.
    If you try to detach your mind from emotions how can you have empathy or compassion? Being altruistic and not self-centred is NOT the same as not having a self! To have volition, emotions and a sense of right and wrong you have to exist and be a self. Of course helping others will take your mind off yourself, I have found this to be the case as well. But in so doing you you don’t cease to be a self or you would cease to be able to act independently. Indeed if other people are also non selves why help them? This idea of non existence can lead to absurdities. Tibetan Buddhist Chogyam Trungpa was a drunk and promiscuous bully who died of alcohol related illness, yet was ‘enlightened’. There are Buddhist monks in some countries who persecute Christians and Muslims:

    If everything is an illusion then how can very different people interact with each other in the same space? E.g. doing a building project. There is an objective concrete reality they are all experiencing. Science is based on this idea of a concrete reality. We don’t have to be defined by rogue thoughts. We know when our thoughts don’t correspond to reality because they aren’t sensible and create otherwise non-existent problems. You can choose how you’re going to think about a situation the way you choose what food to put in your body, which of course isn’t always easy.
    If the world and self is an illusion how is it supposed to make sense? It’s bad enough for people with Aspergers and Autism, who often need concrete instructions and answers. If the world is officially a nonsense then this is only going to create even more confusion and anxiety for people like us. You, I, and the world are real otherwise we wouldn’t be here, simple.
    Many of the good things you talk about are found in the Bible anyway, except that the Bible has absolutes. We need to know where we are from and why we are here to know who we are and what the point of life actually is. Christianity tells us these things and affirms our intrinsic self worth as people. Regarding ‘unsolvable questions’, is a great website, please browse it. Have a read of some of these articles:

    Interesting when you talk about feeling separated and isolated, sometimes I have found that I don’t feel all that bothered about other people’s business. This can keep you out of bother as well. Seems like I’m sometimes detached without realising it! You say that Western Psychology is inadequate to deal with the human psyche and I totally agree with you here! What has happened is the spiritual nature of Man has been ignored. The Bible gave us a lot of advice about the mind. ‘Take every thought captive’ (2 Cor 10:5), Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be renewed by the transforming of your mind. (Rom 12:2a). As you point to, overthinking is definitely a problem! A great point you made here, about you wanting to be more like Jake, more childlike. In Philippians 4:7 it says about the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding. This is only achievable by knowing He is present in every moment of our lives. “…in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17-28). It’s interesting that Jesus is not referred to as being enlightened like the Buddha. Being enlightened implies that one once walked in darkness. Not so with Jesus. The Bible tells us He came from heaven, being God, therefore never walked in darkness or ignorance. Jesus is called the Light of the World.
    I have to ask this, might seem heavy, but these are things I’d ask if deciding what to believe in. Can the Creed, belief, religion, philosophy etc in question help you when there’s a terror attack, a family bereavement, economic uncertainty, etc? Knowing God is omnipresent means we don’t have to fear if we call upon Him. A good booklet is: Read Psalm 91 as well. We can rest in His hands if we are His children. I pray that God will guide you as you seek Him.
    Yours, Cheryl.

    1. says: Tom Clements

      Thanks, Cheryl. I appreciate your thoughtful, well-written and interesting response to my piece. I realise you wrote it with the kindest and most altruistic of intentions and indeed, I do consider Christ to be one of humanity’s greatest teachers, much like the Buddha. At the core of both their teachings is unconditional love and compassion – the most powerful forces for good in the world. There is much of Buddhism I also disagree and discard which is what the Buddha himself advised his followers to. Much of what built around the dharma in various countries were accretions from the cultures and societies in which the Buddha’s teachings became popular. I don’t subscribe to any Buddhist religion and consider it vain and problematic to even call myself Buddhist. First and foremost, I am a human being, subject to the same appalling fragilities as anyone else. I’m not interested in that or in being attached to any book or religion for that matter, especially one that disagrees fundamentally with my own logic and reason. At some point, religions and ideologies invariably end up becoming wrapped up in their own self-image, with practitioners or followers convincing themselves that theirs is the only way or path to true salvation. In my case, I prefer to remain in doubt and to constantly question the nature of reality. This to me is a far nobler, more honest path than throwing in with an ideology or dogma, especially one liable to engages in pointless philosophical one-upmanship.
      With that said, I wish you the best, Cheryl. Thanks again and best wishes to you.

  3. says: Cheryl

    I think you’ve made really a good point here, in not so many words you are distinguishing Dharma from Buddha-specific Dharma. (Buddhism eg the Dalai Lama talk of ‘Buddha Dharma’). After all Buddha himself was only a product of Hindu culture. e.g he took a lot of his ideas from the Upanishads but rejected Atman for Anatman (ie he believed in non self where as Hinduism posits a universal soul). As far as I know around the time Buddha existed there was a move away from the increasingly more complex ritualism of Brahminism. (Jainism was another product of this general move). Maybe Dharma, for those who wish to follow it, should be seen as being more than, and thus transcending, Buddha Gautama?

    I think maybe the title of your book could be misleading in this sense, seeing the title ‘The Autistic Buddha’ evokes in me thoughts of some Tibetan geek trying to digitise Buddha Dharma! Maybe having a different cover and a title something like ‘The Autistic on the Eastern Path’ might be a good idea.

    What do you think about reincarnation? I don’t believe in it, I can’t remember what I did in my ‘past lives’, can you?, and the Bible says you die once and then face judgement (Hebrews 9:11). Dharmic traditions believe in reincarnation (and so do lots of non-Dharmic groups around the world). How would Buddhists say a person is reincarnated if they don’t believe in a self?

    You mention religious books. There’s lots of reasons why I think the Bible is totally reliable. Here’s some good articles on this topic:


    BTW I wanted to clarify something I said in my previous post. I said that The Bible says that God created us as unique and special creations. I was talking about all Human beings, not just people with Aspergers or Autism. I wanted to clarify that because I was talking about having Aspergers in the preceding sentence. Yours, Cheryl.

      1. says: Cheryl

        Hi I had a look at the overview of the book on Amazon, the book postulates the ‘similarities’ between Buddhism and Christianity, and the idea that they can be practised together. There are many people today who want to syncretise religions. You hear for example of ‘Chrislam’ (Christianity+Islam), Jubus (Jewish Buddhists) etc. The reason I don’t practice Buddhism are the reasons I put in previous posts but also that Jesus said of himself “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father (i.e. God) except through me.” He fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, some of which were prophesied before Gautama Buddha was born.
        Many people think that meditation practices are the preserve of ‘Eastern’ practices. . However people all over the world use various different mediation methods, although perhaps not including chanting in Pali!
        There’s a woman (I assume neurotypical) called Marcia Montenegro used to be into the New Age and practised ‘Eastern’ forms of meditation etc, including Zen and Tibetan Buddhist practices. She is now a Christian. She has written some short articles on comparisons:
        and about who is Jesus:

        Many people e.g. syncretists want peace but ignore the Prince of Peace, the Bible calls the Lord “The Desire of All Nations”, and tells of a time of real reconciliation under the one true God. You might be asking “What about all those other cultures and religions, e.g. where did they get their Creation stories etc from?” Have a read of these articles:

        Indeed both the trees and the water, and every other created thing shows the greatness of God’s handiwork.
        There’s a book by another neurotypical (what am I like assuming that everyone’s neurotypical) called Esther Baker, she was a Buddhist nun in the Thai Theravada tradition. She wrote a book called ‘I Once Was a Buddhist Nun’ :
        Be blessed, yours, Cheryl.

        1. says: admin

          Cheryl, I believe in deep ecunemism and follow Matthew Fox and Andrew Harvey’s form of Christianity. I believe as Matthew Fox states there are “Many Rivers and One Well” – a metaphor for the paths to God. I respect your journey and thank you for your participation in this thread. You are respectful and knowledgeable in your responses and dialogue. – Debra

          1. says: Cheryl

            Hi Debra, thanks. I know that mysticism, the general idea – Occidental and Oriental alike – is that the gulf between God and man can be bridged through meditative practices. The premise being that duality – ‘this’ and ‘that’ – are not the true reality, that the true reality is a sort of energy/om or whatever. Its proponents say that we ARE God/Christ/Om/Buddha mind or whatever, depending on the group, and we just need to ‘realise’ it. I’ll point out that in the very beginning the devil/serpent deceived humans into the idea that we can ‘become as gods’. To say that nature, humanity, animals etc ARE ‘God’ is considered to be idolatry in the Bible. Question: If your mum made you the best cake you’d ever had, from where would you consider to be the source of blessing? the cake itself or the person who made the cake? And you certainly wouldn’t assume that your mum is the cake! It’s the same with nature. God is an independent being who made everything and we should be grateful to Him.
            Indeed we are ‘made in His image’, but doesn’t mean literally. It means the ability to plan, construct, think independently of nature, unlike the animals. Also ‘by Him all things are held together’ and ‘in Him we live and breathe and have our being’ but this does not we ARE God, because otherwise why would a distinction be made? E.g. I’m British like Queen Elizabeth II, but it is totally different to actually BEING Queen Elizabeth II. She is the British monarch, and she governs her Kingdom as an individual person. She is NOT merely a ‘symbol’ of Britain, or a British ‘collective consciousness’! You’ll notice God is a person in His own right as well. We wouldn’t be able to disobey a ‘collective consciousness’ (because of the idea that we are part of it). To render God to a mere ‘om’ is to assume that God is both good and evil, if all is God. Doesn’t the ‘No this or that’ kind of thinking fly in the face of reality?
            Be Blessed, Cheryl.

    1. says: Tom Clements

      Thanks, but ‘The Autistic Buddha’ is the title I’m sticking with.
      I doubt people reading my book will worry too much how close I am to the original Buddha. Besides, it sounds catchy!
      Thank you for all the links about Christianity, but I am an inveterate unbeliever, especially when it comes to the Abrahamic God, and that’s unlikely to change.
      As for reincarnation? Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s nonsense. I’m not especially worried about it.

        1. says: Scott


          It’s actually Christians who believe they have all the answers and are especially pushy that turned me off permanently to Christianity. You’re setting a fine example of both those traits.


          1. says: Cheryl

            Hi Scott. People of other beliefs can be pushy too. I’m passionate about the Lord Jesus and His transforming power. The good news is something people don’t understand until they experience it, and thus it may appear to be pushy when people talk a lot about it. It has transformed not only individuals but also whole societies. Don’t let anyone, Christian or otherwise, put you off. Have you read about Jesus in the Bible for yourself? Bless you.

  4. says: Barbara S

    Very interesting discussion! I wish I had more time to respond in depth and as deserved. In a nutshell, I believe I had a big breakthrough-experience in my early thirties (I am now 62) – and subsequently, prompted to study philosophy of religion (a new special interest?) – which guided me in clarity beyond religion (not many Buddhists have that I found – they tend to be much more religious than they let on, especially those that deny it, in my experience).
    I also found in the depth of the Carmelite spiritual tradition my healing and calling (as Teresa had in fact developed a spiritual anthropology) and all that many years before I knew of AS and that it in fact describes quite a few of my oddities, quirks and social difficulties. I am still catching up… if interested, may I invite you to have a look at my blog – many thanks, and I’ll be back. 🙂

  5. says: Fernando Prates

    Hermeticism, folks. It gaps everything here, in a nutshell. Aspie gone through heavy childhood trauma with borderline consequences here. Since I was a kid, for some reason, any Eastern philosophy was quite more appealing to me, although I never knew how to put into words. Simple: people from the east think in abstract concepts, i.e. intuitive intelligence.

    That’s not to say that’s something every Asperger’s can grasp easily – it depends on many variables, but in a nutshell, the environment (mostly familiar) we grow up. Doesn’t matter anyways. Not in the long run. Maybe that answers reader ‘Cheryl’s question.

    Basically speaking, it was the fact that I would pick any given book on the subject and always say to myself ‘how do I already know that? How do I already feel that?’
    Eventually, you just ‘do’ it, untutored (in my case, I went a long way through many doctrines, non-doctrines and philosophies from the East (and the West as well, to a much lesser extent) due to an extensive and ever growing once solely physical, now also digital library).

    I’m 37 now. Musician (singer, saxophonist, bassist, others), mainly lyricist and a bit of a writer, although many things never helped me truly finish anything (including drugs and a suicide attempt resulting in a two day coma).

    I wouldn’t recommend others what I did by going through the Buddhist/Bön path of chöd (a ‘Bataille move’, as I’ve later learned to understand) alone. But I came out only smoking cigarettes, at least. Hopefully, these will go so I can like them again, but I digress. Nowadays I’m a Gurdjieff student (thankfully, now under tutors and within a group).

    It’s great to have read that discussion; very interesting and enriching – thanks to all involved. Much love and light for you, Tom. Best wishes and success. Pardon my typographic (and grammar) mistakes; English isn’t my first language (although I have a condition called ‘language attrition’ due to being self taught in English; starting from six years of age).

    Thanks again,


  6. says: Pramilla

    I belong to Group of parents whose kids are on autism spectrum can u help us with some basic exercises which can help our kids.

  7. says: Mike

    Hi Tom,

    I really enjoyed your article and it struck home a little more than I had expected. I recently came to the conclusion that I am an Aspie following a long search for answers and a pending official diagnosis. At 27 I’ve been through much of the same moments in my life such as the depression, the isolation, the anxiety and the social problems. I’m only recently starting to accept who I am after years of trying to force my behaviour and idiosyncrasies out of myself in a vain effort to be happy and a number of failed attempts to respond to Cognitve Behavioural Therapy. Your article is honest, well written and makes very little reference to religious dogma but approaches Buddhism from a psychological point of view which I really enjoyed. The Buddhist sense of self is exactly what I feel I am missing, I have often been worried that I lack an identity in a world full of individuals and using teachings such as selfless action is how I hope to accept myself.

    Once again thank you for your honesty in the article it is comforting to know that I’m not alone.

  8. says: David Goren

    As a person on the spectrum, I strongly feel and believe that the path suggested by Buddha Shakyamuni can help us,
    since I always have felt and known that he himself was on the spectrum.
    This can be a thing to be proud of: Einstein and Newton are known to be Autistic.
    Darwin’s evolution runs on diversity: It is the people who are different which can potentially drive humanity forwards.

    David Goren, D.Sc.

      1. says: David Goren

        Dear art of autism community (reply to ADMIN remark written on November 14 2017),

        I am currently writing a book on this –
        I have travelled for this writing to India, mcleodganj, and I plan to stay here in India till the end of March, when I am determined (an autistic determination…) to finish writing it.

        I feel that only us, amazing persons on the spectrum, can understand this amazing person, on whom the book is written. I hope that Tom Clements and myself are just the early birds…

        Below please find the abstract of my book:

        Name of the book:

        Symphony for Buddha, Science and Liberation
        Movement 1: Buddha Shakyamuni


        This book will describe Siddhartha’s life story in a special way, which is both highly realistic and purely magical. I want to show his greatness as I feel he really was, which only intensifies his greatness. I had heard this story for the first time when I was a teenager, 40 years ago, and ever since it has been inspiring me more and more and became one of the major inspirations of my life. Since then I have found numerous versions of the story, which only increased my awe and wonder. I have also been reading the historical facts which I was able to find, which describe the Shakya tribe, family relationships, and events which happened. However, since this story has been so close to my heart over so many years, I have let my heart choose between the different versions I heard and mainly to fill the gap according to what I subjectively felt has actually happened. Though these personal parts are not, and probably cannot be, historically verified – I do consider them to be the main part of my contribution for good and bad. The heart has its own facts. So this book may be considered as the middle way between a textbook and fiction. Since I could not find a better word to describe this mode of writing, I call it a symphony – in which the interpretation is so often far more important than just following the notes. It is a symphony with a rhythm which alternates between Buddha and science and liberation – sometimes slowly, sometimes abruptly, but always converging into a deep and revealing harmony.
        In the last two chapters, I will be discussing only some of the practical aspects of his teaching, also referring to the later Buddhist traditions and with modern interpretations, but leaving the deeper philosophical parts to the next books which I hope will be writing.

        David Goren, D.Sc.

        You may wish to have a look on my Facebook as well:

        Love to us all,

          1. Dear Kate,

            My book is now fully complete: Editorial design, proofreading, cover design, pictures and all. 600 pages in clear English.

            At this stage I print about a dozen copies only in best quality printing house, hardcover and all. These will be used to distribute to key persons in the field and publishing houses. I am now holding in my hand the only existing printed copy, handbound by myself. It is a complete life mission to me that I lived to see fulfilled.

            I now live as a monk in a two room apartment, where one room serves as a Buddhist temple, and fully decorated as one (Tibetan Buddhism style). I practice meditation a lot, as well as chanting and Sutra reading. I also go to a synagogue every Friday, being both a Buddhist and a Jew. I am currently working on a research directly related to coronavirus vaccination. My faith and work fill my life with joy, happiness and equanimity.


            David Goren

  9. says: Michael Charton

    I am an aspie and at age sixty-one read the Complete Idiots Guide to Zen Meditation and found it useful. I’m incorporating it. Good luck with a publisher.

  10. says: Alex Powell

    Socrates was the founder of Western rationality and everything we like to think of as scientific. But in his last days we find a little understood argument for religion. The aristocrats of Athens wanted to indict him for corrupting their sons but didn’t want to say as much as, they thought, it would’ve made them look weak. So they decided to get him on being irreligious, him being so rational and all. But when they looked into it it was found that Socrates was extremely pious, he kept a shrine and made devotions to it. So they had to be honest and indict him for corrupting their sons. While awaiting sentence Socrates works out his predicament which becomes the pinnacle of an entire life dedicated to truth, a landmark in the Western tradition that remains buried. He is offered a way out of execution by boat across the sea. But Socrates works out that to take the boat would be a betrayal of everything he stands for. Because yes on one side the indictment is highly specious but he has dedicated his whole life 60-70 years to truth, why change tack now for another 10 years? A life is max 80 years while the time after life is infinite. Socrates finds that it is better to hold his course into eternity, weighing up what is quantitatively more not qualitatively more – eternity versus a lifetime. Thus religion is not concerned with what happens during life but what happens after it – even though the former effects the latter, the latter is a lot lot longer (an eternity) and therefore more significant or important!

    I like the idea of an autobiog detailing a journey to Buddhism even though holier than thou attitudes are still very prevalent in Buddhist circles. I’ve been Buddhist for over 20 years and I work with Neuro-diverse children. Even so I am interested in the link here because I think Buddhism offers a very rich psychology that can better explain and support the rich inner life of neuro-diverse people. I also think the link might facilitate how neuro-diverse people can open up new ways for norms to think about what it is to be a norm. But the philosophy of no-self is difficult which makes the practice of Buddhism difficult. Being selfless means having a selfless philosophy which actually fully accords with the reality we live in. But first of all we must identify the self that is refuted and that is extremely difficult to do. Things exist – who could argue with that? My approach is not to amalgamate religion, but to understand what religion means so we can be creative in our psychology and borrow a bit of it from Buddhism to answer the incomplete picture presented to us by science. Mindfulness is one way of doing this but we must be clear about the limits of scientific understanding and what religion is otherwise we can’t move forward.

    1. says: David Goren

      Dear Alex,

      I highly agree and support everything you said.

      I just want to mention again that I am currently editing the final version of my novel: “Symphony for India, Buddha and Freedom.” This book is a creative nonfiction which describes vividly and exactly the life of Siddhartha till becoming the Buddha and a bit later (till his first sermon to his first five disciples).

      One aspect of the book is that Siddhartha is described as a person on the spectrum (Aspie) which I highly believe he was. Such terms do not appear in the book, but it becomes evident during his personal story starting from infancy and childhood. This also fits extremely well so many aspects of this famous story, which has been my personal source of inspiration during the last 40 years.

      Just referring to what you said, I personally feel that the insight of non-self (anatman) may be better understood by Aspies – I describe the personal psychological journal of the Buddha himself towards this insight.


      Dr. David Goren

  11. says: Michael

    Hello everyone,

    I want to say, firstly, I am not a doctor. I am not a PhD, nor a Neuroscientist. I am a Zen practitioner, who has lived with Asperger’s for 40 years. Anything I say is therefor based upon my own experience, and should be taken with a grain of salt.
    Meditation teaches us to pay attention to the present moment. To come back to your breathing when the mind wanders. Learning to do this, one can slowly learn to apply that in everyday life, thereby learning how to catch when anger, or depression or any triggers of autistic behaviors arise, and learn how to pause before acting, thereby gaining introspective as to WHY such things happen. And while it is a slow and gradual process, it will lead eventually to a largely non-symptomatic life if practiced daily, reinforced by daily meditation practice.

  12. says: Kate

    Excellent article, thanks so much for sharing; I resonated with this so much. I am really seeing a correlation between Asperger and Buddhism, and these articles are helping to clarify that connection. I love the raw grit to your journey and I hope to hear more from you in the future, great job Tom!

  13. says: Gavin Simpson

    Fantastic, thank you for sharing. I’m currently going through diagnosis at 43 and really am starting to understand myself and my place in the world. Buddhism really is teaching me a lot and improving my happiness.

  14. says: Robin Alexander

    Thank you Tom for your wonderful eloquent essay . I am 69 and have only recently been diagnosed as neurodiverse with Asperger’s. I have been a Buddhist for 5 years , and have found the way forward in meditation and feeling of love , compassion and loving kindness after many years of confusion. It is wonderful you have found your way at such a young age and wish you every good wish . On your recommendation I bought “Happiness “ and found it so inspiring . All good things, Robin

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