[Full disclosure: I am both a Buddhist and a Nietzschean. At first glance, these two philosophies may appear to be at odds. And yet, I do not find- or rather, feel- any particular animosity between them, at least when they are both understood properly. Nonetheless, I have always been aware that my feelings towards their relationship are strange, and have wondered whether or not they might be reconciled. For myself, I have grown convinced that such a reconciliation is not only possible but probable, and can be achieved with little difficulty; what follows is my reasoning.]
Question: Can traditional religion (in this case, Buddhist) be reconciled with natural philosophy (in this case, Nietzschean)? In other words, are religious imperatives compatible with the practical observations of philosophy? Or are we instead doomed to an epistemological dualism: either an essentially religious worldview or an essentially natural worldview- but never both? Put differently, is a unified theory of existence entailing both religion and philosophy tenable at all? Can a practical moral system of behavior be derived from natural philosophy that is in accord with traditional religion, without resorting to intellectual gymnastics?
A few definitions are in order...
Definition 1- "Will": The capacity for action, for causing some effect upon reality.
Definition 2- "Power": The measure of the capacity for action, for causing some effect upon reality.
Definition 3- "Religion": The pursuit of the metaphysical; the pursuit of whatever is higher and greater than physical reality, called by whatever name.
Definition 4- "Morality": The sanctioning of behaviors in accord with those truths revealed by the pursuit of the metaphysical; the suppression of lower, physical instincts and impulses to higher, metaphysical instincts and impulses.
Definition 5: "Self-mastery": The cultivation of the human being through higher, metaphysical instincts and impulses; the realization of spiritual potential, accomplished by means of self-denial of more fundamental thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Now, in order to proceed, we must make two assumptions...
The first assumption, which is fundamentally Buddhist: Whatever is, simply is mind- or rather, altered and affected by mind. Because whatever we perceive to exist is conditioned by our perception of it. However, this must be understood to be an epistemological insight or assertion rather than an ontological insight or assertion- that is, it is a truth about our interaction with reality than than reality in and of itself. Furthermore, it must be understood that the Buddha used two words to describe the mind, the first being citta, the second being manas. This is an important distinction, for citta represents the emotional mind while manas represents the intellectual mind; citta is sometimes even translated as "heart." And so the Buddha was arguing that we create the world with the mind that wills as well as with the mind that knows- and thus, the cultivation of the mind/will is critical to Buddhism (hence its long tradition of seemingly-paradoxical martial-monastic training).
The second assumption, which is fundamentally Nietzschean: Whatever is, simply is power- or rather, will to power (wille zur macht, as it was called by Friedrich Nietzsche). Because all actions- whether moral, amoral, or immoral- are expressions of will in some form, and result in effects that alter reality; these effects are measurable, and the measure of these effects is a quantum of power. But can we get from this assumption to a traditionally religious ground? Or is such a worldview doomed to tyranny and wickedness, as it was during World War II when Nietzsche's philosophy of power was adopted whole-heartedly by the Nazi Party of Germany? Ultimately, the critical factor is not power itself- because everything is power- but rather the manner in which that power is expressed, and whether that expression reveals wellness or sickness, waxing strength or waning strength, the will in control or the will in descent.
Here we come to the ultimate crux of the question, because it may very well be that by using power as an ultimate measure of value- again, because power simply is reality in its essence- that we may construct a value system that is at once cohesive and in yet accord with a traditionally religious worldview. How? By continuing down the rabbit hole; by acknowledging that power is, first and foremost, an internal condition rather than an external condition- that it is mastery over the self that most clearly represents power, and that the fanatical need (all needs represent deficiencies) to overpower another betrays not power at all but rather weakness, internal chaos, or as Nietzsche called it, "anarchy among the instincts." But how can we be certain that power is an internal condition rather than an external condition, or is this rather wishful thinking?
Certainly, there are those that prefer to conceal their weaknesses behind the veil of virtue; they say, "I'm too good to do that," rather than what they ought to say, which is (the truth), "I'm too weak to do that." Nonetheless, because the same will that exists within each of us also exists within each and every other thing and being, our control over things in the world must always be limited- and severely limited, almost to be point of being utterly inconsequential. However, we can control ourselves. That is, after all, the central teaching of Buddhism: We can master ourselves- and that is enough; in fact, that is the path of Awakening!
Nothing else is necessary- only mastery of the self. But what does mastery of the self look like, exactly?
And so it becomes clear that a system of moral behavior rooted in power is possible, provided we are consistent in its application. Would a man who had attained mastery over himself lie? No, because that lie would reveal fear in the face of truth. Would a man who had attained mastery over himself steal? No, because that theft would reveal a deficiency within himself in regards to his own ability to fulfill his own needs. Would a man who had attained mastery over himself rape or murder the innocent? No, clearly, because such crimes would reveal that he had not in fact mastered his own instincts and impulses, and that he remained enslaved before the tyranny of his own passions.
Finally, we are forced to admit that those that have historically spoken about power most loudly have too often been those least acquainted with its possession. For as Nietzsche himself once remarked, "Slaves make the worst masters." Because power- real power- is quiet, self-satisfied and self-sufficient. It needs nothing; it lacks nothing- and so it demands nothing.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
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