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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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Chapter 2. First Noble Truth: Unhappiness (Dukkha)

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First Noble Truth: Unhappiness (Dukkha)

1. Buddha

Buddha’s starting point: The unhappiness of everyday life

The Buddha says that he teaches one thing and one thing only: dukkha (Pali, Skt duhkha) or unhappiness, and the end of unhappiness. More precisely, his teachings address the unhappiness of ordinary unenlightened life or samsara (Pali and Skt) and transform it into the profound cheerfulness of nibbana (Pali, Skt nirvana).

Unhappiness is not simply done away with but transformed. Paradoxically, it is necessary so that it can be transformed. Unhappiness is therefore a good starting point, indeed the best and only starting point, to get to the profound cheerfulness of the experience of nibbana. It is the means to liberate oneself. Without it there can be no liberation because there can be no transformation and no nibbana.

Equally importantly, happiness does not come after unhappiness ends. We do not have to become a different person first and we do not need different life circumstances first, whether in this world or in another world, before we can transform unhappiness into lighthearted cheerfulness. There is therefore no←73 | 74→ point in waiting or hoping or even working for it. The happiness the Buddha has in mind does not exist in the future. The only place and time where it is possible is here, now, in the circumstances as they are. It exists in the same moment and in the same place and circumstance...

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