Nietzche and Buddhism: the problem of compassion
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Nietzsche, Buddhism, compassion, ethics, good and evil, emptiness, sunyata

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Strelkova, A. (2020). Nietzche and Buddhism: the problem of compassion. Multiversum. Philosophical Almanac, 1(1), 43-56.


n this article is presented a comparative analysis of the philosophical foundations of the notion of “compassion” in Nietzsche (Mitleid) and in Buddhist thought (karuna). In Christianity and in Buddhism the compassion is one of the most important spiritual virtues. Nietzche, on the contrary, is known due to his extremely negative attitude to compassion as to a form of suffering and dangerous weakness. The destructive force of compassion in Nietzsche’s interpretation is most prominently represented by his famous phrase “God is dead” (Gott ist todt), being just compassion with the humans the cause of God’s death. It is shown that it is Buddhist thought where Nietzsche finds affinities to his own ideas (to the extent that he calls himself “Buddha of Europe”). Since a common starting point and goal for Nietzche and for Buddhism is the existence of suffering (not of the sin as in Christianity) in the world and the need of its overcoming. This struggle against suffering leads both project “beyond good and evil” (usual conventional morals), to the plane of absolute, “ontological” morals or ethics of “emptiness”. This “ethics of emptiness” can be characterized by the idea that “the wisdom-prajña is compassion-karuna and the compassion-karuna is wisdom-prajña” (following the classic formula of prajñaparamita: “the form is emptiness and the emptiness is form”). As a result, the Buddhist ideal of compassion aiming at the complete extinction of suffering (not reduplication, doubling of suffering as in Christianity, according to Nietzsche) as an attribute of samsaric being is much closer to Nietzche than the Christian view of compassion by his Western contemporaries (including his spiritual predecessor Arthur Schopenhauer), which he qualified as a form of fatal worldview pessimism and nihilism.
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