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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 14. Unsentimental Compassion



Unsentimental Compassion

1. Buddha’s compassion

A traditional story tells of an encounter in which a Brahmin asks the Buddha how he can attain union with his god Brahma.1 The Buddha answers by saying that this can be achieved by developing lovingkindness and compassion, rather than by offering sacrifices, as per ancient Vedic belief and custom. In this respect the Buddha is in agreement with the Hebrew prophet Hosea, who has the God of the Israelites say: “I desire merci, not sacrifice.”2 He is also in agreement with Jesus, who, in Matthew’s rendering, says similarly: “I will have mercy, not sacrifice.”3 When Ananda, the Buddha’s personal assistant for many years, asks if it would be correct to say that karuna (Pali, Skt) or “compassion” is a part of the practices for awakening the Buddha answers: No, it is not a part of the practice, it is all of the practice.

Most people know that Buddhism involves a practice of compassion. Most people who read Nietzsche know that he is a master of controversy, and so, to the surprise of no one, he advocates not compassion but the opposite. We must, so he says, learn to “overcome compassion.”4 But things are not as they seem, and Nietzsche is far more compassionate than this idea would suggest.←247 | 248→

Neither the Buddha nor Nietzsche takes compassion to be something that is well enough understood to require no further commentary....

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