[Buddha-l] Yet again: Nietzsche and Buddhism

Erik Hoogcarspel jehms at xs4all.nl
Fri Apr 18 13:17:53 MDT 2008

Richard Hayes schreef:
> 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
> external. 
> 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
> crisis. 
Nietzsche wanted to irritate you, he enjoyed to be a pain in the ass. 
Not because he hated people, but just because he thought this is the 
best way to serve them. He wanted to be the philosophical mountian that 
you have to climb in order to get to higher levels.
> 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?
I see the will to power as the urge for development. To live means to try to improve yourself. Now some people fool themselves into thinking that the meaning of life is improving the company, your country, God, science or what else others come up with. This is counterproductive. You need to overcome obstacles if you want to get better. If you understand this you see obstacles as means to 'become what your are'. So they're your benefactors. This is why Nietzsche said 'yes' to life though he knew perhaps more then many others that life is suffering.
So whether Nietzsche agrees with Buddhism depends in my view on how you see Buddhism. Many Buddhist teachings are presented as means to get rid of suffering. The logic of refuge is good for cattle, not for the lonely soul. The Ubermensch is a bodhisattva who takes on endless rebirths not in order to serve, but in order give an example. In this way s/he teaches beings to develop themselves. So I see a definite difference in approach here. But Buddhist excercise is not necessarily running away, it may also been seen as a way to realise your potential. I think that Nietzsche would have been quite pleased with the sadhus and yogis, but not with most of the monks. He might have applauded Vimalakirti, but mocked Shantideva as the greatest clown of his time. He would have applauded Naagaarjuna, but take a piss on Vasubhandhu. He would write to the list that he is not interested in any Buddhist medal, because it is to difficult for sitting minds to follow a dancer.


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