[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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Whatever is has power; whatever is not is powerless. Fundamentally, therefore, what we perceive as reality is essentially a system of power, a dynamic and evolving matrix for power-acquisition, power-ascension, and power-annihilation. Power- whether represented through physics, biological complexity, or socio-cultural symbols (money, women, etc.)- simply is reality itself, and everything that exists within reality is an expression of it. This, of course, is hardly a popular idea.
A few great minds notwithstanding, the general trend of modern society has been against "power"- at least linguistically. "Power is bad; power is wicked; power is tyranny"- so goes the argument. However, power itself is neither moral nor immoral; power simply is, and like anything else that exists by virtue of being fundamental to reality itself, power can only be moral or immoral insofar as its use is moral or immoral. But that is not an ontological truth, nor is it an epistemological truth; rather, it is an axiological truth- that is, a truth about values, a truth about virtues. And so it is, simply stated, not a question of philosophy but rather of psychology.
Regardless, even the argument against a philosophy of power remains- an act of power. Because what is power but the capacity for will, willing, and willfulness? It is the capacity for vying, acting, pushing, fighting...the question "For what?" is entirely irrelevant. And so whether we prefer to be honest and forthright- and so call power what it is- or rather lie, deceive, dissemble, and manipulate- and so call it by one of ten thousand socially-sanctioned labels-, the disagreement itself is proof of the point: We cannot exist without power, without seeking power, without contending for power.
The only real question is what one should do with it once he has it. But who asks such questions these days? Nobody. Or rather, nobody but myself...
Agonistic Existentialism I
Today, power is considered only with skepticism. We condemn power; we have been conditioned to be untrusting of powerful persons, and of the pursuit of power in general. It is, perhaps, the consequence of our shared Judaeo-Christian upbringing. But what is life if not a continual struggle for power? Where there is life, there is will, and the will to power- what Nietzsche called der wille zur macht-, for power is merely the capacity to will, and that is the essence of being as opposed to non-being; it is the capacity for the creation of something beyond ourselves. Nietzsche's original term in German, after all, (wille zur macht) implies a creative act- macht as opposed to kraft-, an important distinction that is too often overlooked.
Assuming for a moment that we can all agree that strength of will is worth having- and it is, for nothing can be accomplished without it-, and assuming for a moment that strength of will is a necessary prerequisite of all other virtues- and it is, for virtue is nothing if not the capacity for self-command in the face of temptation-, then we might ask ourselves a question: What is necessary in order to develop power? And the answer is, first and foremost: pain- and not only pain, but perhaps also conflict, suffering, despondency, degeneration, and nihilism. After all, where there is no stress, there is no growth; where is no adversity, there is no overcoming of adversity. Because what is good within us is always entangled with what is dark within us...
And so, we must be grateful for strength, and we must also be grateful for our trials and tribulations. Because it is only through trial and tribulation that we develop the strength of will necessary to overcome the next set of trials and tribulations; we grow, hour by hour and year by year, through pain and the conquest of pain. There are always two forces at work in everything: yin and yang; right and wrong; goodness and darkness; the Buddha and Mara; Jesus and the Devil; nirvana and samsara; AWAKENING and the Wheel of Birth and Death...
This is the essence of the philosophy of power- of agonistic existentialism (Æ)- insofar as the human being is concerned: It is a kind of quasi-moral dialectic. "Is such-and-such right?" we wonder to ourselves. "Perhaps, but it will only seed its opposite: Goodness leads to weakness; weakness leads to darkness; darkness leads to hardness; hardness leads to goodness- and the wheel goes round and round and round..." Finally, we are compelled to admit to ourselves that our foreground estimates of right and wrong- that is, our moral categories- are quite a bit more complicated than most of us would care to admit. Because it is not difficult to imagine, for instance, that one might do a very "good" thing for a "bad" reason- for instance, slavish obedience to the law-, or that one might do a very "bad" thing for a "good" reason- for instance, out of a sense of love and loyalty for a friend or family member. Furthermore, if the relationship between these two categories of value is indeed as complicated as it appears to be- if, in other words, "good" outcomes can come from "bad" inputs and "bad" outcomes can come from "good" inputs-, then we must admit that we require a new standard by which to measure the relative value of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; we find ourselves pressed with a decision either to find a deeper solution to the moral problem, or to abandon moral evaluations of any kind altogether.
Now, clearly, individual human beings cannot be held accountable for the large-scale consequences of their behaviors, which are at any rate incalculable; they can only be held accountable for themselves - and yet that is precisely the point. Because there is only one measure by which we can determine whether or not an action is desirable (we cannot even say "right" or "wrong" in this sense); there is only one question that we must ask ourselves: "Does this reveal strength, and mastery of the individual over himself?" Ultimately, that is all what we all desire, after all, and in any event, we cannot reasonably predict the end results of our actions past their immediate effects. So to judge the value of an action by any other measure conceals from us our own motivations, which leads to deception and dishonesty towards ourselves and others, not to mention moral and psychological slavishness. To judge the value of an action by its consequences, however, is an equally foolish goal, and also destined to fail; the complexity of the world is far too vast to calculate "ends" or "effects" of actions. After all, how far down the road should we calculate the consequences of our actions? A day? A year? And to what extent? How far should our estimations reach, across how many miles and millions of miles? Quickly we realize that such a theory of behavior would lead to insanity- and it has.
Our modern conceptions of right and wrong are deeply flawed; we have traded wisdom, which is ambiguous yet authentic, for short-hand rules for moral action, which are unambiguous but inauthentic. The effect has been disastrous; the world is now filled with philosophical contradictions- we ourselves are filled with philosophical contradictions!-, and too often we find ourselves unwittingly condemning the very causes of the conditions that we claim to support, and vice versa. Everywhere we look, we find turmoil and conflict, and it is entirely due to our inability to recognize three very important truths:
This then- the internalization of the pursuit of power- is what we may call self-mastery, which is a far stronger and more truthful philosophy than what most of us believe in today (if the vast majority of people can be said to believe anything at all; most of us are merely conditioned to believe). It is also the essential characteristic of all ancient religious traditions; it is only because of modernism- that is, the weakening effects of material prosperity on human psycho-physiology- that our religions have decayed. And it is what might be loosely called the way of the warrior. Tragically, the wisdom of old has been almost entirely abandoned, and with catastrophic consequences...
Agonistic Existentialism II
There is no doubt the world is in disarray. For generations, public social policy has been determined largely by academics who long ago abandoned the classical tradition of philosophy. As a result, masculinity of worldview- that is, heroism, in philosophy and in psychology- is no longer even discussed in academic circles, and in spite of the fact that both war and the warrior continue to exist. But as a result of the abolition of masculinity from the humanities (it still exists to some degree in STEM fields, where reality matters and truth is paramount), the classical has been replaced by the modernist; philosophies oriented towards truth, willpower, and meaning have been replaced by philosophies oriented towards contempt for truth, contempt for willpower, and contempt for meaning- in short, nihilism. Consequently, the modernist/post-modernist worldview (if it can even be called a worldview) now has a de facto stranglehold on theory, which has resulted in a long-term, downstream de facto stranglehold on public policy. Because of this, most public policy is now anti-male in orientation, whether policymakers are aware of it or not.
Western society has thus shifted its trajectory away from manhood, sex roles, the natural family, hierarchy, competition, the pursuit of meaning, etc.- and towards a more "progressive" worldview in which truth is suppressed, weakness results from decadence, and nothing has meaning but the satisfaction of physical desires. Such a worldview is untenable; it cannot endure for long- because it runs contrary to the higher needs of the human being and thus results in psycho-social regression. After all, the classical tradition was the fundamental foundation upon which civilization has always been predicated; it developed over thousands of years as a method for leveraging the human condition to the advantage of the species, and as a method for overcoming the selfishness that sleeps at the heart of the human being. And so when the classical tradition is abandoned, the basic underlying principles that make civilization possible are likewise abandoned. Predictably, the fabric of society begins to wear thin, and we find ourselves returning to savagery and tribalism...
The modernist paradigm is a philosophy of weakness: It condemns power and the pursuit of power in theory; it looks with distrust (if not contempt) upon those that possesses power, either as individuals or as groups of individuals; it sees victors and victims everywhere, and cannot even imagine a non-zero sum relationship between individuals of varying strata; it breeds and conditions weakness in practical application, and openly condemns traditional modes of pedagogy merely by virtue of their being traditional- that is, masculine in orientation. This results in the gradual erosion of self-agency at the level of the individual, and the ever-increasing feeling that something is fundamentally wrong with the world- and this is the root of much resentment. Modernism destroys the will by destroying the conditions that strengthen the will, and thus destroys the capacity of the individual for self-determination- and that is slavery almost by definition. Because what is slavery if not the eradication of the will of the individual, and the suppression of his capacity for self-determination?
What is needed most today is a new virilist psychological paradigm to counteract the old feminist psychological paradigm, which has so completely taken over the field of psychology that the study can no longer be said to represent men or manhood at all. Because the current system breeds weakness; it can do nothing but breed weakness, as it has abolished the very principles that result in strength: stress, trial and tribulation, victory in the face of danger. Furthermore, because it destroys the human being, it in effect destroys the basic unit of human civilization itself; it is a ticking bomb laid at the very foundation of society.
~ Joshua van Asakinda
[Note: This content is self-funded and self-published; please consider supporting it by donating through our payment portal at PayPal.]