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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 4. Third Noble Truth: Ending Unhappiness



Third Noble Truth: Ending Unhappiness

1. Buddha

No self. No problem.

Psychoanalysis, so Freud writes in the last paragraph of his first book about it, transforms neurotic misery into common unhappiness.1 As one leading American scholar of Buddhism says in response: “Thanks a lot!”2 Freud’s disappointingly limited promise constitutes a self-imposed and fundamental shortcoming of Western psychology. The Buddha’s promise, in contrast to Freud’s, is not aimed at developing a less neurotic sense of self and then leaving one to fend for oneself. It shows a practical path to liberation from unhappiness.

Since, in the Buddha’s view, the primary cause of unhappiness is tanha or “thirst,” ending unhappiness comes from ending tanha. And since tanha involves the false belief in a definable personal self for whose sake we do everything we do, ending unhappiness comes from ending that false belief. “To be rid of the conceit ‘I am’—that is the greatest happiness of all.”3 Or as one Buddhist teacher puts it: “No self. No problem.”4

The Buddha does not say that there is no self. That would be a metaphysical claim, and he does not make metaphysical claims. His concern is←129 | 130→ practical, and focused on ending mind-made unhappiness. This is to be done by overcoming attachment to the beliefs that contribute to it, in the first place the belief in an independently existing self-in-itself. The path to the goal of “No...

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