Nietzsche and Buddhism

This post presents Benjamin Elman‘s views on the relationship between the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Buddhism. Elman holds that a thorough understanding of Nietsche’s philosophy must attend closely to Buddhist teachings. He goes as far as to say that, “Buddhism lies at the center of any attempt to understand Nietzsche’s thought in its entirety.” Citing Guy Welbon, Elman suggests that we consider a direct correspondence between, for instance, eternal recurrence and samsara, and Zarathustra and the bodhisattva-ideal. In short, Elman holds that there “is sufficient evidence to indicate that Nietzsche’s presentations do witness Buddhist influences.”

Who knows? My interest is in Nietzsche’s and Gotama’s (i.e., the Buddha’s) positions vis a vis nihilism. Both Gotama and Nietzsche were, as Elman writes, intent on understanding “the structure and meaning of the human condition,” In their pursuit, both, I think, found themselves at the precipice of nihilism. Nietzsche, of course, retreated to his stone sanctuary of eternal recurrence, stretched his legs, and was heard from no more. Gotama, I am arguing elsewhere (in a paper called “Meditation as Organon of Dissolution”), did not retreat from nihilism, but rather disguised it for political and financial reasons. Or perhaps that was the work of his canonical editors? More on that later. Continue reading “Nietzsche and Buddhism”