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Nietzsche and the Buddha

Different Lives, Same Ideas (How Nietzsche May Yet Become the West’s Own Buddha)

Daniel Chapelle

This book examines Nietzsche’s claim that he could be the "Buddha of the West." A close reading of his texts shows substantial similarities with the Buddha’s teachings, suggesting a potential basis and a potentially promising future for a Western Buddhism that would be based on Nietzsche’s philosophy. The book first provides a brief comparative biography of Nietzsche and the Buddha and then a review of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and of what there is in Nietzsche’s writings that is his equivalent to those teachings.

While the West often looks to neuroscience to validate the Buddhist teachings and practices, this book suggests it would be better to study Nietzsche’s thought to discover not only validation for Buddhist teachings but the very foundation of a "Buddhism" that is of the West, by the West, and for the West.

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Trying too hard to see similarities between Nietzsche and the Buddha can amount to what the former calls a case of “weak eyes.”1 His meaning is clear: “Whoever wants to mediate between two original thinkers shows his mediocrity. They lack the eyes to see what is unique. Viewing things as similar and saying that they are the same is the sign of weak eyes.”2 And so, if we are to take Nietzsche’s word for it, this book on Nietzsche and the Buddha may from the start seem to be at risk of becoming an exercise in mediocrity. But the situation is not quite so dire.

Nietzsche’s idea may be true in a general sense (and as we will see, it is true in a sense that plays an important role here), but given his misreading of the Buddha and his failure to see that his own philosophy is more in line with the Buddha’s than he thinks his judgment of “weak eyes” has to be suspended in his own case. And so, even at the risk of seeming to court the possibility of mediocrity, we are justified in taking a close look at what Nietzsche and the Buddha may have in common. It may also help us see that Nietzsche may yet come to matter even more for the twenty first century and for the third millennium than he has mattered for the previous century. And that would certainly not be a mediocre thing...

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