Buddhism and Nietzsche

An open and inclusive investigation into Buddhism and spiritual cultivation

Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Kusala » Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:59 am

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Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Sam Vara » Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:33 pm

Thanks for this - it is interesting, but like a lot of academic papers it relies heavily on a particular "reading" of Buddhism in order to fit the argument. I am uneasy with this bit:

The most important type of dukkha, however, is sankhara-dukkha, an existential incompleteness due to spiritual ignorance. This incompleteness arises from being limited to one's own contingent and unenlightened perspective.


which seems to be a bit trite and misleading.
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby daverupa » Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:36 pm

The Buddhist response to them both would be that they failed to understand the system fully because they failed to adopt Buddhist practices aimed at enlightenment - at which point they would have developed the capacity to conceive of Nirvana.


:juggling:

"He directly knows nibbana as nibbana. Directly knowing nibbana as nibbana, let him not conceive things about nibbana, let him not conceive things in nibbana, let him not conceive things coming out of nibbana, let him not conceive nibbana as 'mine,' let him not delight in nibbana. Why is that? So that he may comprehend it, I tell you.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby DAWN » Sat Nov 17, 2012 7:42 pm

Deleted :smile:
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby nem » Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:17 am

I must say Nietzsche had a profound impact on my life, quite the opposite of the Bhudda.
In 2003, I began a study of Beyond Good and Evil and also Genealogy of Morals. After reading these books several times, I became convinced that 'there is nothing' and that any moral code is simply for the weak. That morality and ideas of good and evil, are part of an effort to keep people like me (like I was) from feeling free to do what we want to do. In a Genealogy of Morals, as I remember it was put forth that 'good' had been defined since the earliest times as whatever the powerful did, and 'bad' was anything that the weak or poor people did who differentiated them from the powerful or rich. In this way, he turned it into a class struggle issue and totally wiped away the idea that there is any real utility to morals, any karma, any effect of deeds. You can make a strong argument for doing almost anything from the standpoint of his teachings.

After becoming indoctrinated in this, I became totally cold, heartless, closeminded and basically did all kinds of immoral things. It was only after the effects harmed other people, and then finally harmed me, that I finally realized that Nietzsche was teaching a doctrine that works in some fantasy, where there are no consequences to our actions, while I live in an experience where the consequences are real and often immediate. The error of his teachings aside, he has to be the most egotistical author to ever touch pen to paper and this alone was almost intolerable and shows his ignorance of the Dhamma. It seemed that perhaps 25% of his words were dedicated to the glorification of the philosopher as a supreme example of human perfection. :zzz: All this need for self-glorification calls into question the validity of his teaching, as if the content of the teaching alone could not show its worth. As a young 20-something, hearing his teachings without sufficient life experience to know where they lead, I did so many bad things by using his philosophy as an 'out' or 'excuse' to run rampant. I hope this isn't something that people are typically reading, it's interesting but it's a hindrance.

I also did note that everything was very 'Westernized.' I often thought, why is he constantly hacking away the supports of Christianity and Judaism and speaking of Europe? He speaks of a philosophy that would apply to the whole world if true, but it's like he typically forgets any cultures outside the West. He needed to show that everyone else is wrong, in order to make his idea work, not just the Westerners. The Bhudda is not so easy to hack at, because his teaching is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end with the right wording and phrasing to stand the test. So Nietzsche never seemed to follow down that path too much, a slippery slope for him, he might have fallen in the Dhamma! Would have made my life easier, if he'd thrown all his manuscripts in the trash. But being deluded by his ideas, and coming out of it, is part of my development, so...
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Buckwheat » Sun Nov 18, 2012 5:34 am

For Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, nothingness is what is left when these illusions are removed. This explains their sharply opposed responses to the human condition as they understand it. Schopenhauer and, according to Nietzsche, Buddhism, prescribe a surrender into nothingness that can only be actualized by extinction of the will. Nietzsche, on the other hand, asserts an affirmation of the illusion by becoming the creator of it. His überman, by accepting the groundlessness of his own 'truths'and yet maintaining them and continually creating them - wanting to create them over and over again (as opposed to wanting to escape the cycle) - represents an ideal response to existence.


How does one benefit from maintaining the illusion?
Disciples, this I declare to you: All conditioned things are subject to disintegration – strive on untiringly for your liberation.

Sotthī hontu nirantaraṃ - May you forever be well.
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby nem » Sun Nov 18, 2012 6:18 am

Buckwheat wrote:
For Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, nothingness is what is left when these illusions are removed. This explains their sharply opposed responses to the human condition as they understand it. Schopenhauer and, according to Nietzsche, Buddhism, prescribe a surrender into nothingness that can only be actualized by extinction of the will. Nietzsche, on the other hand, asserts an affirmation of the illusion by becoming the creator of it. His überman, by accepting the groundlessness of his own 'truths'and yet maintaining them and continually creating them - wanting to create them over and over again (as opposed to wanting to escape the cycle) - represents an ideal response to existence.


How does one benefit from maintaining the illusion?


My understanding of his teaching, is the idea is that if the Super Man does not create a 'proper' reality for people to believe in, then they will fall back into believing things that are hostile to life. For example, when Bhuddist monks practice celibacy. He would say that this practice is delusional, the product of nihlistic religions that want to extinguish humanity, since sex is how we got life. I can't really refute arguments that he has about sex, because really it's true, if everyone in the world went forth, and practiced celibacy, then of course in a couple generations there would be no more humans on earth. But if you Keep following the line of reasoning that he uses toward various things, of teachings as a sickness, eventually you could convince the general populace to kill all Bhuddist monks, since he would say they are spreading a doctrine that if widely practiced, would wipe out the human race. That's what I mean, when I say you can follow his teachings to any conclusion that you want, and justify it somehow. But from what I've read in the Canon, the Bhudda never intended that the entire human race would go forth into celibacy. In fact, it seemed that he was fine with the idea of lay people, just being lay people, and was not too enthused with the idea of women going forth. So even if the Bhuddist ideas were widely and strongly practiced, 70% of the men went forth, and few of the women, I'm sure the 30% laymen would be capable of sustaining the human race. But someone using Nietzsche as a reference would miss this entirely, and could do something drastic. He wanted to eliminate anything which was not affirming to life, from a philosophical standpoint. The Bhudda's simile of extinguishing the flame by not generating karma, is something that Nietzsche would point to, as a reason why Bhuddism is not life-affirming and needs a replacement. Maybe he did, and I just didn't read that.
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Kusala » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:39 am

nem wrote:I must say Nietzsche had a profound impact on my life, quite the opposite of the Bhudda.
In 2003, I began a study of Beyond Good and Evil and also Genealogy of Morals. After reading these books several times, I became convinced that 'there is nothing' and that any moral code is simply for the weak. That morality and ideas of good and evil, are part of an effort to keep people like me (like I was) from feeling free to do what we want to do. In a Genealogy of Morals, as I remember it was put forth that 'good' had been defined since the earliest times as whatever the powerful did, and 'bad' was anything that the weak or poor people did who differentiated them from the powerful or rich. In this way, he turned it into a class struggle issue and totally wiped away the idea that there is any real utility to morals, any karma, any effect of deeds. You can make a strong argument for doing almost anything from the standpoint of his teachings.

After becoming indoctrinated in this, I became totally cold, heartless, closeminded and basically did all kinds of immoral things. It was only after the effects harmed other people, and then finally harmed me, that I finally realized that Nietzsche was teaching a doctrine that works in some fantasy, where there are no consequences to our actions, while I live in an experience where the consequences are real and often immediate. The error of his teachings aside, he has to be the most egotistical author to ever touch pen to paper and this alone was almost intolerable and shows his ignorance of the Dhamma. It seemed that perhaps 25% of his words were dedicated to the glorification of the philosopher as a supreme example of human perfection. :zzz: All this need for self-glorification calls into question the validity of his teaching, as if the content of the teaching alone could not show its worth. As a young 20-something, hearing his teachings without sufficient life experience to know where they lead, I did so many bad things by using his philosophy as an 'out' or 'excuse' to run rampant. I hope this isn't something that people are typically reading, it's interesting but it's a hindrance.

I also did note that everything was very 'Westernized.' I often thought, why is he constantly hacking away the supports of Christianity and Judaism and speaking of Europe? He speaks of a philosophy that would apply to the whole world if true, but it's like he typically forgets any cultures outside the West. He needed to show that everyone else is wrong, in order to make his idea work, not just the Westerners. The Bhudda is not so easy to hack at, because his teaching is good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end with the right wording and phrasing to stand the test. So Nietzsche never seemed to follow down that path too much, a slippery slope for him, he might have fallen in the Dhamma! Would have made my life easier, if he'd thrown all his manuscripts in the trash. But being deluded by his ideas, and coming out of it, is part of my development, so...


From the Dhammapada

"Even royal chariots rot,
the body too does rot, decay,
but undecaying’s Dhamma of the Good
who to the good declare."


Explanation: Such beautiful and attractive objects as the carriages of kings also disintegrate. The human body too decays. But, the experience of truth never decays. The calm ones experience this truth.

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Homage to the Buddha
Thus indeed, is that Blessed One: He is the Holy One, fully enlightened, endowed with clear vision and virtuous conduct, sublime, the Knower of the worlds, the incomparable leader of men to be tamed, the teacher of gods and men, enlightened and blessed.

Homage to the Teachings
The Dhamma of the Blessed One is perfectly expounded; to be seen here and now; not delayed in
time; inviting one to come and see; onward leading (to Nibbana); to be known by the wise, each for himself.
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby zavk » Sat Nov 24, 2012 4:17 am

I too am curious about reading Buddhism alongside Nietzsche. But since such an exercise requires some effort, I shall refrain from making any claims about specific arguments—I say this not so much to imply anything about others' capacity or interest (or lack thereof) in doing the same; I'm just admitting my lack of proficiency, for now at least.

Nevertheless, what I'd like to point out here is that whether we engage in comparative reading exercises like this one or not, we are always and already taking a particular interpretation of Buddhism. That this is the case does not make one's position or preferred interpretation inherently 'suspect' or 'flawed', but it does raise the question of how critically reflexive we are about the assertions we make.

With regards to the question of whether certain Buddhist ideas are consonant with Nietzschean ideas or not: I'd say that it is counter-productive to insist that our current modern understanding offers us a kind of 'neutral' or 'objective' ground for evaluation, because contemporary, especially 'Western', interpretations of Buddhism emerged out of a historical context in which the discourses of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, amongst others, set the frameworks of understanding through which 'modern' and subsequently 'Western' Buddhism are refracted.

Whether we choose to engage in a cross comparative reading exercise or not, our Buddhist understanding today is not as 'pure' or 'un-coloured' by other modes of thinking as we would like to believe. And mindfulness of this is important, if we wish to learn about Buddhism and not just reinforce a bad narcissistic habit (a habit that everyone suffers from, myself included) of speaking to ourselves of ourselves and about ourselves, even as we claim to speak for and about 'Buddhism'.

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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby zavk » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:16 am

Hi all

Ok... this thread has caught my attention. As it turns out, I'm engaging with certain Nietzschean themes in my work at the moment. So if I may share some of my thoughts for collective consideration. I'm not an expert on Nietzsche as such but I think there may be certain questions provoked by his thinking that warrants attention. I am not seeking to argue for the a 'fit' between Nietzschean and Buddhist thought—this will always be a limited exercise because they are both very DIFFERENT modes of knowledge-practices. If anything, such comparative exercises are more about exploring the 'shared spirit' or 'ethos' or 'attitude'. And this is how I'd like to offer the following thoughts...

Nietzsche is most (in)famous for his proclamation of the 'death of God'. This, however, ought NOT be read as a atheistic statement about the non-existence of 'God'. Rather, what it refers to is the collapse of the framework of authority which has allowed (Western) man (I'm not using gender neutral language because of the historical privilege accorded to masculinity) to comfort himself with metaphysical certitude. What the 'death of God' says is that it is no longer possible for us to expect any shelter or stable ground of metaphysical certitude. Nietzsche wasn't the only one to talk about the 'death of God'. Feuerbach and Hegel too explored the idea but took the view that Reason and human conscience would replace 'God'. The Nieztschean interpretation refuses to posit this, NOT because it rejects our capacity for reasoning or because it suggests that we don't have to act on good conscience, but because it recognises that this risk replacing the Absolute Ideal of 'God' with another Absolute Ideal of Reason/Man. Nietzsche's refusal to posit what replaces the absence of God, to my reading, is not unlike the Buddha's refusal to respond to Vacchagotta: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


There is a question here in relation to Buddhism that we could ask. With the humanisation of the Buddha, demythologisation of traditional Buddhist outlooks, and rationalist approach we have developed—do we need to be mindful of whether we have slipped in through the back door a certain ideal of Reason or Man as a replacement of the Absolute Ideal of 'God'? Are we introducing another subtle 'True Self'? I don't have the answer but I think it is important to always be mindful of this.

[to be continued in next post].
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby zavk » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:25 am

What the Nieztschean interpretation of 'death of God' posits is that God's death leaves exposed an EMPTY space that cannot be filled. I think we could explore the parallels with Buddhist ideas about emptiness, in both the Theravada and Mahayana. But it is beyond my expertise to go into this here. All I wish to to say is that the 'death of God' raises a certain cautionary note. In the face of this emptiness, there arises the risk that humankind would turn to other ways to slake their thirst for metaphysical certitude—and we have good examples of this in the horrors of the 20th century: Nationalism, Technology, Money, etc, all of which could stand in as new idols to replace 'God'. These are the 'shadows' of 'God' that still loom large over us. Our habitual craving for certainties, even if it were expressed in 'secular' or 'atheistic' or 'skeptical' terms, is not that different to the craving for certainty in 'God'. As Buddhism teaches us, craving is craving is craving. Nietzsche said:

“God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. – And we – we still have to vanquish his shadow too.” (The Gay Science, § 108, p. 167.)

“The impulse to desire in this domain nothing but certainties is a religious after-shoot, no more – a hidden and only apparently skeptical species of the ‘metaphysical need...” (Human, All Too Human, § 16, p. 308)


Nietzsche's 'death of God' is not all doom and gloom. Because the 'death of God' opens up the space for us to free ourselves from a certain form of morality conditioned by a Platonic-Judeo-Christian lineage. This morality is predicated on an approach to the ascetic ideal that encourages self-mortification and generates resentment and guilt towards self and the world because it clings onto the belief that suffering in this life can and must only be endured in anticipation of an other-worldly redemption. With the 'death of God', we are thrown back into the reality of this worldly physical existence, and forced to question anew the great suffering that is immanent to life. This is an opportunity to question whether we need to adopt such a morality or not, or whether we could craft and fashion anew a different morality. What this requires is a new ethics for our times, one that would continuously defuse the habit of CRAVING metaphysical certitude. As Nietzsche wrote:

We have absolutely no need of these certainties, regarding the furthest horizon to live a full and excellent human life… What we need, rather, is to become clear in our minds as to the origin of that calamitous weightiness we have for so long accorded to these things, and for that we require a history of the ethical and religious sensations (Human, All Too Human § 16, p. 308).


I'm very curious about the phrase 'religious sensations'. I think the emphasis should be placed on the word 'sensations', because I think what he is alluding to is the need to come to terms with the burden of this bodily life, with all its pain and pleasures, this unavoidable physical experience of suffering that all sorts of thought and practices created by humankind (including religion) have tried to ease. Maybe this is why Nietzsche said: 'There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy'

And this reminds me of:

"I tell you, friend, that it is not possible by traveling to know or see or reach a far end of the cosmos where one does not take birth, age, die, pass away, or reappear. But at the same time, I tell you that there is no making an end of suffering & stress without reaching the end of the cosmos. Yet it is just within this fathom-long body, with its perception & intellect, that I declare that there is the cosmos, the origination of the cosmos, the cessation of the cosmos, and the path of practice leading to the cessation of the cosmos." AN 4.45



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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Ben » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:30 am

Well said, Ed!
"Only those who take to meditation with good intentions can be assured of success. With the development of the purity and the power of the mind backed by the insight into the ultimate truth of nature, one might be able to do a lot of things in the right direction for the benefit of mankind."

Sayagyi U Ba Khin


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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby Javi » Tue Nov 27, 2012 4:54 pm

Yea great post! From what I have read of Nietzsche I think his views are definitely close to Nagarjuna's conception of emptiness though making comparisons of two such difficult thinkers one must tread carefully since interpretations of both vary widely. His entire philosophy is definitely difficult to interpret because his writings are all over the place. I think that people who see him as a nihilist or amoralist do him a disservice though. Nietzsche is at his strongest when describing the existential dukkha of the post modern post Christian west. Still important especially for those in the USA since the death of god has only just recently become a big issue. All in all, Nietzsche is engaged in a sort of soteriological project similar to Buddhism in the sense that his target is the suffering caused by the death of god and a path of transcendence that leads out of that. He is just coming from a classical Greek perspective that looks back to Homer and pre Socratics like Heraclitus.
Non qui parum habet sed qui plus cupit pauper est.
It's not he who has little, but he who craves more, that is poor. - Seneca
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Re: Buddhism and Nietzsche

Postby zavk » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:11 am

Thank you Ben and Javi.

Look, I have to be honest. I've been selective with my reading of Nietzsche. I know thinkers like Betrand Russell (a precise analytical mind, no doubt!) had criticised Nietzsche and dismissed his writings, saying something to the effect that they are literary works passing off as philosophy. I don't think it is a fair assessment, even though it is true that his writings do not conform to the norms of the Western philosophical canon. But I think that's precisely the point, he was agitating for a radical rethink of Western philosophy, drawing attention to its hubris and pretensions. Ok... maybe he did over-indulged himself, what, with titles like "Why I Am So Wise", "Why I Am So Clever", "Why I Write Such Good Books" and "Why I Am a Destiny'. But to give an analogy.... I imagine a bona fide motorcycle mechanic would be somewhat disappointed that a book like, say, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance does not outline a systematic system or processes for maintaining motorcycles. :)

Anyway, with regard to the common misperception that he was a nihilist... he did use the term 'nihilism', and even advocated it. But he also carefully distinguished between an incapacitating kind of nihilism and a more affirmative kind. I don't have the means to explain them competently here. As with before, for the purpose of exploring a common ethos, I'll just quote the following to illustrate how he actually articulated a hopeful outlook:

The discipline of suffering, of great suffering – do you not know that only this discipline
has created all enhancements of man so far? That tension of the soul in unhappiness
which cultivates its strength, its shudders face to face with great ruin, its inventiveness and
courage in enduring, persevering, interpreting, and exploiting suffering, and whatever has
been granted to it of profundity, secret, mask, spirit, cunning, greatness -- was it not granted
to it through suffering, through the discipline of great suffering? (Beyond Good and Evil, § 225, p. 344)

Indeed, we philosophers and “free spirits” feel, when we hear the news that “the old god
is dead,” as if a new dawn shone on us; our heart over-flows with gratitude, amazement,
premonition, expectation. At long last the horizon appears free to us again, even if it should
not be bright; at long last our ships may venture out again, venture out to face any danger;
all the daring of a lover of knowledge is permitted again; the sea, our sea, lies open again;
perhaps there has never yet been such an “open sea. (The Gay Science, § 343, p. 280)

Saying Yes to life even in its strangest and hardest problems, the will to life rejoicing over
its own inexhaustibility even in the very sacrifice of its highest types – that is what I called
Dionysian, that is what I guessed to be the bridge to the psychology of the tragic poet. Not
in order to be liberated from terror and pity, not in order to purge oneself of a dangerous
affect by its vehement discharge – Aristotle understood it that way – but in order to be
oneself the eternal joy of becoming, beyond all terror and pity – that joy which included
even joy in destroying. (Twilight of the Idols in The Portable Nietzsche, “What I Owe to the Ancients,” pp. 562-563)

To “give style” to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey
all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until
every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a
large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of the original nature has been
removed – both times through long practice and daily work at it. …. In the end, when
the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and
formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important
than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste! (The Gay Science, § 290, p. 232)



Now, obviously there are several allusions here which could be misleading if not read in relation to his other writings. I think I ought to flag this. Also, we could see here that where he talks about 'the eternal joy of becoming', Buddhism would speak of unbecoming. This is a key difference that should noted. Though, I would say that there is room to extrapolate from what he suggests. I am thinking of, for example, Thanissaro Bhikkhu's The Paradox of Becoming. In any event, reading the above reminds me of:

And furthermore, just as the ocean has a single taste — that of salt — in the same way, this Dhamma & Vinaya has a single taste: that of release... This is the sixth amazing & astounding quality of this Dhamma & Vinaya because of which, as they see it again & again, the monks take great joy in this Dhamma & Vinaya. ~ Uposatha Sutta

What wealth here is best for man?
What well practiced will happiness bring?
What taste excels all other tastes?
How lived is the life they say is best?


Faith is the wealth here best for man;
Dhamma well practiced shall happiness bring;
Truth indeed all other tastes excels;
Life wisely lived they say is best

~ Alavaka Sutta


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