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Is Buddhism nihilistic?

 
 
hue-man
 
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 02:18 pm
Friedrich Nietzsche argued that Buddhism, though the least misguided of religions, was nihilistic. He also claimed that Christianity was nihilistic, but unlike Christianity, Buddhism does not create a fictional world to cope with pessimism. Instead, Buddhism teaches people how to accept pessimism without the delusional belief in a supernatural world beyond this one.

The case in point is that Buddhism says that life is suffering, and that we should cease to desire anything in life, including life itself, through the noble eightfold path. Also, Arthur Schopenhauer, a well known pessimist and metaphysical nihilist, incorporated many of the teachings of Buddhism into his pessimistic philosophy.

Your thoughts?
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Krumple
 
  2  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 02:31 pm
@hue-man,
Quote:
The case in point is that Buddhism says that life is suffering, and that we should cease to desire anything in life, including life itself, through the noble eightfold path. Also, Arthur Schopenhauer, a well known pessimist and metaphysical nihilist, incorporated many of the teachings of Buddhism into his pessimistic philosophy.

Your thoughts?
This isn't entirely accurate nor is it the correct view of a Buddhist. You see a Buddhist is only trying to minimize the amount of suffering that either is caused by oneself or causing others. The Buddha points out what the cause is, so now the Buddhist has the tool in which to use. In no way is the Buddha saying here is the knife, cut off all the fat and get rid of it all because it all is evil and bad. That is an extremist view of what the Buddha taught. All desire is not equal, all desire does not always end with the amount of suffering that you are prescribing should be abandoned. Such as the desire for enlightenment, or the desire to help world peace come about. Sure even those can be viewed as problematic, but they are far less problematic then other desires.

A person who has a strong desire for life, will ultimately feel very mournful or fearful of losing their life. It is the strong desire for life that might effect how they live their life and the fear creates reoccurring suffering. If you can reduce the strength of the over all desire for your life then in turn the fear will also diminish. This is what the Buddha is trying to point out. The thing he is NOT saying is, give up your desire for living, become a person who loathes living, become anti life, become pessimistic towards life, become bitter towards your life. People take this extreme and come to the conclusion that this is what he wanted you to do. But that is not right, or correct view, yet I see this as the argument all the time.

There is a very fine line between becoming nihilistic and pessimistic with Buddhist thought. If you are the type of person who takes extremes you will fall into this problem often when studying Buddhism. The only way you can pull yourself out is to go back to the middle way, and realize that to be completely desireless is like starving the body of food. Your body needs food but by starving it, it will break. So a little desire is necessary to life itself.
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 02:53 pm
@Krumple,
Krumple;85831 wrote:
This isn't entirely accurate nor is it the correct view of a Buddhist. You see a Buddhist is only trying to minimize the amount of suffering that either is caused by oneself or causing others. The Buddha points out what the cause is, so now the Buddhist has the tool in which to use. In no way is the Buddha saying here is the knife, cut off all the fat and get rid of it all because it all is evil and bad. That is an extremist view of what the Buddha taught. All desire is not equal, all desire does not always end with the amount of suffering that you are prescribing should be abandoned. Such as the desire for enlightenment, or the desire to help world peace come about. Sure even those can be viewed as problematic, but they are far less problematic then other desires.

A person who has a strong desire for life, will ultimately feel very mournful or fearful of losing their life. It is the strong desire for life that might effect how they live their life and the fear creates reoccurring suffering. If you can reduce the strength of the over all desire for your life then in turn the fear will also diminish. This is what the Buddha is trying to point out. The thing he is NOT saying is, give up your desire for living, become a person who loathes living, become anti life, become pessimistic towards life, become bitter towards your life. People take this extreme and come to the conclusion that this is what he wanted you to do. But that is not right, or correct view, yet I see this as the argument all the time.

There is a very fine line between becoming nihilistic and pessimistic with Buddhist thought. If you are the type of person who takes extremes you will fall into this problem often when studying Buddhism. The only way you can pull yourself out is to go back to the middle way, and realize that to be completely desireless is like starving the body of food. Your body needs food but by starving it, it will break. So a little desire is necessary to life itself.


So you're saying that Buddhist ethics is similar to Aristotelian virtue ethics? Does the golden mean parallel the noble eightfold path? However, it is easy to see why someone would take the saying "life is suffering" as a reason for pessimism and metaphysical nihilism. Just saying that life is suffering gives the impression of an incomplete view of life. Life is not only suffering; life is also joy.
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Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 04:41 pm
@hue-man,
Quote:
Life is not only suffering; life is also joy.


See that is just the thing, dukkha does not equal suffering. It is a rough translation of dukkha and often taken solely as suffering. The Buddha in no way says life is suffering peroid. Dukkha means unfavorable or inconsistent. What does that mean? Well it means that even if you do something nice it doesn't always result in nice things? We like to believe that it always does but clearly and honestly it doesn't always turn out that way. Be realistic the Buddha says. You can be wildly optimistic towards life but at what point are you kidding yourself? If you are living a life of delusional happiness are you really happy or just fooling yourself? I can see some already wondering if fooling yourself into happiness as being in any way bad. That's my point.

The thing about life being joy, the Buddha never said it can't be. If you believe he missed this or ignored it or dismissed it, then you haven't studied it at all and I would go as far as to conclude that you are taking a second hand account of Buddhist knowledge. What the Buddha DOES mention is that we often times attach ourselves to the joy of life, expecting it to last for ever, or wishing for that joy to always be present but when it fails to, we can't figure out why. He says it is obvious why joy can't last for ever, because it is subject to change, joy is impermenant and thus gives way to lack of joy at times. This isn't being negative or pesimistic in any way, it is being realistic. This is the problems of the emotions. You feel one but ultimately at some point will experience their opposite. You can't have one without the other. People want to ignore this fact and that is why we have problems that we can't figure out.
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 05:03 pm
@Krumple,
Krumple;85850 wrote:
See that is just the thing, dukkha does not equal suffering. It is a rough translation of dukkha and often taken solely as suffering. The Buddha in no way says life is suffering peroid. Dukkha means unfavorable or inconsistent. What does that mean? Well it means that even if you do something nice it doesn't always result in nice things? We like to believe that it always does but clearly and honestly it doesn't always turn out that way. Be realistic the Buddha says. You can be wildly optimistic towards life but at what point are you kidding yourself? If you are living a life of delusional happiness are you really happy or just fooling yourself? I can see some already wondering if fooling yourself into happiness as being in any way bad. That's my point.

The thing about life being joy, the Buddha never said it can't be. If you believe he missed this or ignored it or dismissed it, then you haven't studied it at all and I would go as far as to conclude that you are taking a second hand account of Buddhist knowledge. What the Buddha DOES mention is that we often times attach ourselves to the joy of life, expecting it to last for ever, or wishing for that joy to always be present but when it fails to, we can't figure out why. He says it is obvious why joy can't last for ever, because it is subject to change, joy is impermenant and thus gives way to lack of joy at times. This isn't being negative or pesimistic in any way, it is being realistic. This is the problems of the emotions. You feel one but ultimately at some point will experience their opposite. You can't have one without the other. People want to ignore this fact and that is why we have problems that we can't figure out.


You're right, I haven't studied Buddhism in depth, which is why I'm asking you questions. This approach to life, that it sometimes involves suffering and sorrow, is my approach to life. I, however, believe that great things can come out of suffering, such as insight and strength. I believe that even when the goodness of life is at its lowest point, such as pain acquired during the dying process, that life was still worth living. I'm a rational optimist, which simply means that I believe that life is ultimately good, but I don't deny the reality of suffering and sorrow. It is often believed that optimism entails the denial of suffering and sorrow, but it does not. Optimism is just a positive way to look at life while accepting the reality of misfortune. While pessimism represents an extreme view of the negativity in life, optimism represents a more complete view of life and the human condition. This is my perspective of optimism. With that said, my personal philosophy seems to be in harmony with the teachings of the noble eightfold path.
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LWSleeth
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 05:07 pm
@hue-man,
hue-man;85829 wrote:
Friedrich Nietzsche argued that Buddhism, though the least misguided of religions, was nihilistic. He also claimed that Christianity was nihilistic, but unlike Christianity, Buddhism does not create a fictional world to cope with pessimism. Instead, Buddhism teaches people how to accept pessimism without the delusional belief in a supernatural world beyond this one.

The case in point is that Buddhism says that life is suffering, and that we should cease to desire anything in life, including life itself, through the noble eightfold path. Also, Arthur Schopenhauer, a well known pessimist and metaphysical nihilist, incorporated many of the teachings of Buddhism into his pessimistic philosophy.

Your thoughts?
out of context that part of the Buddha's message that he could twist into his own nihilism. It is ridiculous, to the extreme, to call the Buddha nihilistic. To say that is like claiming that because a surgeon cuts open a patient, he believes in stabbing people. The surgeon's cut is only part of the story.

Similarly, what the Buddha taught was that chasing after happiness and fulfillment in a situation that is doomed to death (i.e., biological life), and is subject to relentless change, is to make your happiness dependent on that which is unstable and transitory. All you are doing is setting yourself up for misery.

Now, if all the Buddha offered was a criticism of attachment to temporary life, then Nietzsche might have had a case. What Nietzsche didn't know about was the experience the Buddha offered those who wanted a way out of the futile path. Why didn't Nietzsche know about that? Because it cannot be grasped with the intellect (all Nietzsche seemed to attempt), but can only be known through an inner experience.

The Buddha said, "There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension nor motion. . . there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising. . . . There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded . . . [and] because [that exists] . . . an escape can be shown for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded."

So the Buddha didn't say our only destiny is suffering and death (which would be nihilistic), he said we have a choice, a way out for those who will work to develop the experience in themselves.[/SIZE]
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 05:32 pm
@LWSleeth,
LWSleeth;85858 wrote:
out of context that part of the Buddha's message that he could twist into his own nihilism. It is ridiculous, to the extreme, to call the Buddha nihilistic. To say that is like claiming that because a surgeon cuts open a patient, he believes in stabbing people. The surgeon's cut is only part of the story.

Similarly, what the Buddha taught was that chasing after happiness and fulfillment in a situation that is doomed to death (i.e., biological life), and is subject to relentless change, is to make your happiness dependent on that which is unstable and transitory. All you are doing is setting yourself up for misery.

Now, if all the Buddha offered was a criticism of attachment to temporary life, then Nietzsche might have had a case. What Nietzsche didn't know about was the experience the Buddha offered those who wanted a way out of the futile path. Why didn't Nietzsche know about that? Because it cannot be grasped with the intellect (all Nietzsche seemed to attempt), but can only be known through an inner experience.

The Buddha said, "There is, monks, that plane where there is neither extension nor motion. . . there is no coming or going or remaining or deceasing or uprising. . . . There is, monks, an unborn, not become, not made, uncompounded . . . [and] because [that exists] . . . an escape can be shown for what is born, has become, is made, is compounded."

So the Buddha didn't say our only destiny is suffering and death (which would be nihilistic), he said we have a choice, a way out for those who will work to develop the experience in themselves.


I don't consider myself to be a "Nietzschean", but I do recognize that the man made some great philosophical insights whether you agree with him or not. Nietzsche can arguably be considered to be the most misunderstood philosopher ever. The misconception of his philosophy is partially his fault and partially the fault of his interpreters.

I disagree that Nietzsche was cold and emotionless in his thinking. Much of his philosophy was due to his personal trials, and so there was a strong emotional streak within his thought process. I do, however, believe that he may have had an incomplete view of the teachings of Buddha. His interpretation seems to have been that Buddhism was pessimistic and therefore nihilistic; and that is wasn't life affirming.
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jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 11:14 pm
@hue-man,
Generally I think Nietzche completely misunderstood Buddhism. But then, he probably never had the option of sitting down with an actual Buddhist. Such information as he would have had was filtered through other sources, such as Schopenhaur, who also admired Buddhism but also miunderstood it, or translated it into his own somewhat tortuous and leaden philosophical lexicon. What? A' Religion' with no "God"? How could that be? Is Buddha a god? Is Nirvana god? What is 'the absolute' in Buddhism? And so on.

The first decent scholar to really make progress was T.W. Rhys Davies, a British Civil servant who was posted to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in the last part of the 19'th Century. At the time, the actual scriptures and beliefs of Buddhism were hardly know except some specialists. He was so taken with the beauty of the Buddhist Pali (i.e. ancient Indian dialect) Scriptures, delicately transcribed on palm-leaf manuscript, that he formed the Pali Text Society to translate them. It is still operating and has done a great deal to dispell the many misconceptions about Buddhism - including that the idea that it is nihilistic :bigsmile:

---------- Post added 08-27-2009 at 03:19 PM ----------

and also, despite Neitzche's undoubted brilliance, he really was a tortured soul, and there are those who believe that his absolutely magnificent baroque imagination and the tremendous drama and flights of fancy that he pursued in his thinking was a proximate cause of his collapse into irretreivable insanity. We have had this dialog before, of course, and not everyone agrees with that opinion, but I would like to believe that the occupation of philosophy would at least deliver some measure of detachment and serenity in life. Otherwise, I don't see much use for it.
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 11:38 pm
@hue-man,
The only problem I have with Buddhism, if I can even call it a problem is that everything it teaches can be got through secular means. For some this is a no duh statement and others will be slightly insulted by it. What I mean to say is that, sure Buddhism has pointed out some wisdom but it is not wisdom that couldn't have been got unless you were Buddhist. Not a single thing in Buddhism is unique to itself, which is the beauty of it and also it's problem. Why is it a problem? Because it does not provide anything other than what you already have.

If I am feeling upset, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind or become less reactionary to that situation.

If I am worried about finances, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind or become less reactionary to the issue.

If I am afraid of contracting an illness, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind, ect, ect, ect.

If I want to understand the nature of self, well go meditate or reflect on it with a calm mind or become less reactionary to the self.

Where has Buddhism provided the solution that can not be got without it?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Wed 26 Aug, 2009 11:49 pm
@hue-man,
Not true at all, not in the least. After the Buddha realised enlightenment, he sat and pondered for a long time as to whether he should try and teach anybody. Why? Because Nibanna is profound, deep, difficult to fathom, and only perceivable by the wise. After some time, according to legend, Brahma Sampatti appeared from one of the heaven worlds and appealed to the Buddha to teach for the benefit of many 'for there are those with but a little dust in their eyes'. And so the teaching mission began.

If you think it is an easy path, you should try one of Goenka's 10-day Vipassana Retreats.
0 Replies
 
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 12:14 am
@hue-man,
Quote:
Not true at all, not in the least.


Then give me an example of something that can only be got through Buddhism.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 12:22 am
@hue-man,
I don't really understand how that question relates to the rest of the post from which it was copied? Also if you want me to 'sell' it, I am not going to do that. I am not the least interested in 'evangalising' Buddhism.
0 Replies
 
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 12:38 am
@hue-man,
Quote:
I don't really understand how that question relates to the rest of the post from which it was copied? Also if you want me to 'sell' it, I am not going to do that. I am not the least interested in 'evangalising' Buddhism.
Then why did you challenge me?

I only made the statement that Buddhism provides nothing that can not be got through secular means. You responded with my statement not being true. So I asked you, for an example of how my statement is not true. Please provide for me something that Buddhism teaches that can not be got through secular means?

How would answering my question be "evangelizing" Buddhism? Besides you can't sell me something in which I have already bought and returned.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 04:09 am
@hue-man,
OK fair enough. I will try and explain it. the meaning of the word 'secular' is a bit slippery here. Buddhism does lend itself very well to being a secular philosophy and approach to life. But on the other hand, it does have a moral code which is expressed in the 5 precepts:

1. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking life.
2. I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.
3. I undertake the training rule to abstain from sexual misconduct.
4. I undertake the training rule to abstain from false speech.
5. I undertake the training rule to abstain from fermented drink that causes heedlessness.

Furthermore, to progress in dharma, in other words for it to produce fruit in your life, so that you experience its benefits, then really it is necessary to sit regularly in meditation, to reflect on the teachings, and to embody them in your relationships with people. It is necessary to persist for some period of time, and it also helps to go on retreats.

So - if you regard that as 'secular means' then it is perfectly true. I think there are other ways to reach the same end. I don't think the Buddha declares a monopoly on truth. He didn't even declare a monopoly on Buddhahood, because that is a condition of realisation, not a specifically personal attribute (though very rare.)

I don't know if that addresses the question you raised, please feel free to let me know.
0 Replies
 
hue-man
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 06:51 am
@jeeprs,
jeeprs;85934 wrote:
and also, despite Neitzche's undoubted brilliance, he really was a tortured soul, and there are those who believe that his absolutely magnificent baroque imagination and the tremendous drama and flights of fancy that he pursued in his thinking was a proximate cause of his collapse into irretreivable insanity. We have had this dialog before, of course, and not everyone agrees with that opinion, but I would like to believe that the occupation of philosophy would at least deliver some measure of detachment and serenity in life. Otherwise, I don't see much use for it.


The idea that Nietzsche went insane because of his philosophy is BS. Nietzsche showed symptoms consistent with having a meningioma in his brain even before he actually went insane. Saying that it was because of his philosophy is a desperate and unfair judgment.

Nietzsche's Madness: Did Nietzsche Suffer from Syphilis?
0 Replies
 
LWSleeth
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 10:42 am
@Krumple,
Krumple;85939 wrote:
The only problem I have with Buddhism, if I can even call it a problem is that everything it teaches can be got through secular means. For some this is a no duh statement and others will be slightly insulted by it. What I mean to say is that, sure Buddhism has pointed out some wisdom but it is not wisdom that couldn't have been got unless you were Buddhist. Not a single thing in Buddhism is unique to itself, which is the beauty of it and also it's problem. Why is it a problem? Because it does not provide anything other than what you already have.

If I am feeling upset, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind or become less reactionary to that situation.

If I am worried about finances, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind or become less reactionary to the issue.

If I am afraid of contracting an illness, well go meditate or reflect on the situation with a calm mind, ect, ect, ect.

If I want to understand the nature of self, well go meditate or reflect on it with a calm mind or become less reactionary to the self.

Where has Buddhism provided the solution that can not be got without it?


At least part of problem is that you don't know what you are talking about. The meditation the Buddha taught has nothing to do with "reflection."
0 Replies
 
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 03:58 pm
@hue-man,
Quote:
The meditation the Buddha taught has nothing to do with "reflection."


Yeah either do I. I guess you are ignoring the "or" between meditate and reflect.

If I don't know what I am talking about, then by all means, educate me then? What is it you are trying to say?
LWSleeth
 
  2  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 05:39 pm
@Krumple,
Krumple;86120 wrote:
Yeah either do I. I guess you are ignoring the "or" between meditate and reflect.

If I don't know what I am talking about, then by all means, educate me then? What is it you are trying to say?


I am trying to say that you don't understand the meditation the Buddha taught (samadhi). Even if we include your "or" in the equation, your statements still are off the mark since you might reflect on any of the issues you mentioned, but it is literally impossible to meditate on them (or anything else) if you are practicing what the Buddha taught.

Let me try an analogy to contrast reflecting and samadhi meditation. Let's say you are a light, and all your life all you've known about yourself is what you see when you shine your light on things. You've learned how to turn your light-self toward most anything you wish to study, but that's all you know; plus, because that's all you know, you have come to believe all you are is something that illuminates other stuff.

Then someone comes along and tells you that you can learn to experience yourself as pure light, not only as an illuminator of things, and that this light-practice both makes you brighter as a light, and produces bliss and wisdom. In this light-practice, you have to stop illuminating "things" in order to experience what you are as an essence. So if anybody comes along and says you can illuminate a problem using the light-practice, then you know they don't understand the practice.

Similarly, samadhi meditation is the experience of your being, withdrawn from mental functions like reflection. It is a raw experience of light, vibrancy, and a subtle pulse that seems part of what your being is. There is no object of contemplation, you yourself are what is being felt/experienced in a more or less formless state. When samadhi is achieved, there are no thoughts, no distinctions . . . only oneness. You sort of float, feeling separate from the body and with breath virtually suspended. Afterwards one feels a very solid peace, and a joy that is not caused by external circumstances. Also, I have found that the experience leaves me viewing the world with the "whole-view" more emphasized over micro-focusing, though one can micro-focus when required.

From practicing daily for many years, I acquired new consciousness skills I can't imagine learning without practicing. I say this so you know there are practical reasons why people put so much effort into it. It isn't always "religion" or the need to believe or belong. The Buddha knew the power of this practice, and that is exactly why he set up his sangha . . . as a place devoted to samadhi meditation.

As I mentioned in another post, unfortunately most people don't understand what the Buddha was teaching (even Buddhists), and so have taken all the principles and ideas developed to help a person practice samadhi as ends in themselves. Buddhists typically disagree with me on that assessment, but if you want to test my claim, cruise the many Buddhist sites on the net and see how much discussion you find about meditation practice versus the vastly larger amount talk on Buddhist concepts, principles, morals/ethics, etc.
0 Replies
 
Krumple
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 06:09 pm
@hue-man,
Quote:
From practicing daily for many years, I acquired new consciousness skills I can't imagine learning without practicing.


What are these skills?

Also, you don't think a person could meditate without ever learning it from Buddhism?
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Thu 27 Aug, 2009 07:36 pm
@hue-man,
There are definitely cognitive skills you get from meditation. There is a lot of research on it (but on the other hand if you practise, you don't need for it to be verified). There is a Doctor called (from memory) Herbert Benson, who wrote a book called the Relaxation Response, and has continued a program of research. His latest results got some press last week - practitioners have lower blood pressure, better immune response, and so on. I don't suppose they are skills, but in my experience, the skills I have acquired are better concentration, greater emotional stability (if that is a skill), more patience, and a lot less anxiety. Also, and I don't know if this is related, I never get headaches and haven't had one for years, whereas I used to get them frequently.

And - YES, there are many schools of meditation, east and west, sacred and secular. I personally recommend and prefer the Buddhist approach but would encourage anyone interested to survey the field.

---------- Post added 08-28-2009 at 11:40 AM ----------

actually it is interesting to note that my 'experience' of meditation is quite different to the one described above. Actually I rarely have any experiences of any kind while sitting. But I just accept that. For me it is sufficient to just sit. This is called in Zen, shikan tanza. It is the approach of Master Dogen. Thngs nevertheless happen. That is what is magic about it.
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