BUDDHISM AND NIH-ILISM

KEIJJI

 

 

 

 

 

Nihilism in Europe culminated, we said, in a standpoint of “transcendence to the world” as “the fundamental integration of creative nihilism and finitude.” Taken as a general perspective on the human way of being, this is remarkably close to the standpoint of Buddhism, and in particular to the standpoint of emptiness in the Mahayana tradition, if we look at it from the general perspective of the way of being of humankind .

Following on Schopenhauer’s profound concern with Buddhism, Nietzsche makes constant reference to Buddhist ideas in his discussions of nihilism . He also picked up Schopenhauer’s biases and oversights, however, especially regarding the Mahayana tradition.

 

As I mentioned earlier, he referred to the most extreme nihilism of “nothing (meaninglessness) eternally” as “the European form of Buddhism,” and dubbed the nihilistic catastrophe about to befall Europe “the second Buddhism” (WP 55) .

 

Furthermore, based on the idea that the sincerity cultivated by Christianity reveals the falseness of Christianity itself, he called the standpoint of “everything is false” a “Buddhism of doing” (Tat) , and considers such “longing for nothingness” a quasi-Buddhist characteristic. In Nietzsche’s view Buddhism is the culmination of what he calls decadence: a complete negation of life and wil l . Ironically, i t was not i n his nihilistic view o f Buddhism but in such ideas as amor [ati and the Dionysian as the overcoming of nihilism that Nietzsche came closest to Buddhism, and especially to Mahayana .

 

For example, as mentioned earlier, he spoke of the Dionysian as a “great pantheistic sharing of j oy and suffering” and a “feeli ng of the necessary unity of creation and annihilation” . It is beyond the compass of these pages to go into a comparison with Buddhism . What is clear, however, is that there is in Mahayana a standpoint that cannot be reached even by nihilism that overcomes nihilism, even though this latter may tend in that direction . For this standpoint:

 

By virtue of emptiness everything is able to arise, but without emptiness nothing whatsoever can arise .

In other words: everything is possible in a person in whom the nature of emptiness arises . As a master once said to his students, or “followers of the Way” :

he, who at this moment, before my eyes is shining alone and clearly listening to my discourse-this man tarries nowhere; he traverses the ten directions and is freely himself in the three realms . Though he enters the differentiations of every state, no one of these can divert him. In an instant of time he penetrates the dharmadhatus: on meeting a buddha he persuades the buddha, on meeting a patriarch he persuades the patriarch . . .

 

For the present this standpoint remains buried in the tradition of the past, far from historical actuality. One way to retrieve it and bring it back to life is, as we have been saying, to grasp in advance the point at which our Europeanization is to culminate, and make European nihilism an urgent problem for ourselves.

 

Today non-European powers like the United States and the Soviet Union are coming to the fore; in any event, they are the players who have stepped on to the stage of history to open up a new era .

 

But neither “Americanism” nor “communism” is capable of overcoming the nihilism that the best thinkers of Europe confronted with anxiety, the abyss of nihility that opened up in the spiritual depths of the self and the world. For the time being they are managing to keep the abyss covered over, but eventually they will have to face it.

 

In this regard, Dostoevsky may be a prophet whose time is coming in the Soviet Union, much as Nietzsche’s time is coming in Western Europe . Nietzsche referred to himself as “the spirit of the bird of prophecy,” and his sharp cry still echoes in the ears of thinking Europeans. Stefan Zweig, for example, says that Nietzsche’s ideas are “deeply decisive for our spiritual world”; and Heidegger calls him the last of the determinative thinkers, the one in whom the history of Western philosophy since Plato turned into a question.

 

Both Dostoevsky and Nietzsche anticipated the nihilism that was to come, and dared to descend to the depths of history and humanity to struggle desperately against it. They can even lead us Japanese to the nihilism lurking in the ground of our historical actuality. But in order for us to take up the struggle, we need our own means. The way to overcome it must be of our own creation. Only then will the spiritual culture of the Orient which has been handed down through the ages be revitalized in a new transformation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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