[Buddha-l] Yet again: Nietzsche and Buddhism

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Thu Apr 17 20:40:43 MDT 2008

Dear denizens,

When I was just beginning my teaching career, I got involved in the
supervision of an honours BA thesis on the topic of Nietzsche's
attitudes toward Buddhism. The student, a young Korean man, who wrote
the thesis was quite smitten with Nietzsche and obviously almost as
hostile to Buddhism as his philosophical hero. Reading the thesis was
so unpleasant that I had no choice but to give it an A.

Since then, of course, we have had Robert G. Morrison's fine book on
Nietzsche, which argues (if I may be excused for oversimplifying it
inexecusably) that if Nietzsche had understood Buddhism better, he
might actually have approved of it. Somehow, the claim is made,
Nietzsche might have forgiven the Buddha for providing an ideology
that, like Christianity, promoted weakness of the will of the sort
that makes slaves forget their own will to power and accept their
miserable lot.

Yesterday I heard a paper by Paul Katsafanas, who argues that
Nietzsche's "will to power" has been misunderstood by many who have
dealt with it. Katsafanas maintains that the will to power is nothing
more than the drive to overcome obstacles, whether they be internal or

If Katsafanas provides a good understanding of Nietzsche, then we
could probably conclude from it that Buddhist practice, which consists
in overcoming many an inner obstacle to human flourishing, would
please Nietzsche mightily. That irritates me, because it means I will
have to stop finding Nietzsche so irritating. I thrive on being deeply
annoyed. Kanzeon damn it, I'm too old to have another existential

I know too little about Nietzsche to assess the view of the
will-to-power doctrine summarized above, but I am told by experts that
Katsafanas is in fairly good company in this interpretation.

Any Nietzschean Buddhists out there care to comment?

Richard Hayes
Department of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

More information about the buddha-l mailing list