NIETZSCHE VERSUS BUDDHA
from Betrand Russell's "A History of Western Philosophy"
If Buddha and Nietzsche were confronted, could either produce any argument
that ought to appeal to the impartial listener? I am not thinking of political
arguments. We can imagine them appearing before the Almighty, as in the
first chapter of the Book of Job, and offering advice as to the sort of
world He would create. What could either say?
Buddha would open the argument by speaking of lepers, outcast and miserable;
the poor, toiling with aching limbs and barely kept alive by scanty nourishment;
the wounded in battle, dying in slow agony; the orphans, ill-treated
by cruel guardians; and even the most successful haunted by the thought
of failure and death. From all this load of sorrow, he would say, a way
of salvation must be found, and salvation can only come through love.
Nietzsche, whom only Omnipotence could restrain from interrupting,
would burst out when his turn came.
"Good heavens, man, you must learn
to be of tougher fibre. Why go about sniveling because trivial people
suffer? Or, for that matter, because great men suffer? Trivial people
suffer trivially, great men suffer greatly, and great sufferings are
not to be regretted, because they are noble. Your ideal is a purely
negative one, absence of suffering, which can be completely secured
by non-existence. I, on the other hand, have positive ideals: I admire
Alcibiades, and the Emperor Frederick II, and Napoleon. For the sake
of such men, any misery is worth while. I appeal to You, Lord, as the
greatest of creative artists, do not let Your artistic impulses be
curbed by the degenerate fear-ridden maunderings of this wretched psychopath."
Buddha, who in the courts of Heaven has learnt all history since his
death, and has mastered science with delight in the knowledge and sorrow
at the use to which men have put it, replies with calm urbanity:
"You are mistaken, Professor Nietzsche, in
thinking my ideal a purely negative one. True, it includes a negative
element, the absence of suffering; but it has in addition quiet as
much that is positive as it to be found in your doctrine. Though I
have no special admiration for Alcibiades and Napoleon, I, too, have
my heroes: my successor Jesus, because he told men to love their enemies;
the men who discovered how to master the forces of nature and secure
food with less labour; the medical men who have shown how to diminish
disease; the poets and artists and musicians who have caught glimpses
of the Divine beatitude. Love and knowledge and delight in beauty are
not negations; they are enough to fill the lives of the greatest men
that have ever lived."
For my part, I agree with Buddha as I have imagined him. But I do not
know how to prove that he is right by any argument such as can be used
in a mathematical or a scientific question. I dislike him Nietzsche because
he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into a duty,
because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness
in causing men to die. But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy,
as against any unpleasant but internally self-consistent ethic, lies not
in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to emotions. Nietzsche despises
universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards
the world. His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it
is coming rapidly to an end.
"All the same," Nietzsche
replies, "your world would be insipid. You should study Heraclitus,
whose works survive complete in the celestial library. Your love
is compassion, which is elicited by pain; your truth, if you are
honest, is unpleasant, and only to be known through suffering;
and as to beauty, what is more beautiful than the tiger, who owes
his splendour to his fierceness? No, if the Lord should decide
for your world, I fear we would all die of boredom." "You might," Buddha
replies, "because you love pain, and your love of life is a sham.
But those who really love life would be happy as no one can be
happy in the world as it is."
[Keep in mind that Russell wrote this in the latter stages of WWII
as Allied armies were closing in to defeat Nazi Germany]