Is Buddhism a Form of ‘Passive Nihilism’?

Robert G. Morrison

in Nietzsche and Buddhism

Published in print January 1999 | ISBN: 9780198238652
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191679711 | DOI:
Is Buddhism a Form of ‘Passive Nihilism’?

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To ask whether Buddhism is or is not a form of passive nihilism is to ask whether the summum bonum of Buddhism, nirvāna, can be understood in this sense. In other words, is the seeking after the goal of nirvāna ‘a sign of weakness’, a consequence of the ‘decline and recession of the power of the spirit’, and a pervading ‘state of depression’ that comes from seeing that the world does not have the value we thought it had? Is the attainment of nirvāna the fulfilment of ‘the instinct of self-destruction, the will for nothingness’, a kind of pre-Freudian ‘death-instinct’, ‘the striving for peace and extinction’ finding its consummation? Although Nietzsche does not refer directly to any specific Buddhist doctrine, the doctrine he most likely has in mind in this context, and which shall be used as the framework within which to approach this question, is the doctrine of the ‘Four Noble Truths’ (catur-ariya-sacca). This chapter looks at Nietzsche's view that in Buddhism ‘action…binds one to existence’.

Keywords: Nietzsche; Four Noble Truths; Buddhism; suffering; dukkha; nihilism

Chapter.  9114 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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