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Schopenhauer's Encounter with Indian Thought

Representation and Will and Their Indian Parallels

Stephen Cross

Publication Year: 2013

Schopenhauer is widely recognized as the Western philosopher who has shown the greatest openness to Indian thought and whose own ideas approach most closely to it. This book examines his encounter with important schools of Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and subjects the principal apparent affinities to a careful analysis. Initial chapters describe Schopenhauer’s encounter with Indian thought in the context of the intellectual climate of early nineteenth-century Europe. For the first time, Indian texts and ideas were becoming available and the belief that they could bring about a second Renaissance—an “Oriental Renaissance”—was widespread. Schopenhauer shared in this enthusiasm and for the rest of his life assiduously kept abreast of the new knowledge of India.

Principal sections of the book consider the two main pillars of Schopenhauer’s system in relation to broadly comparable ideas found, in the case of Hindu thought, in Advaita Vedanta, and within Buddhism in the Madhyamika and Yogacara schools. Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the world as representation, or a flow of impressions appearing in the consciousness of living beings, is first considered. The convergence between this teaching and Indian idealism, especially the doctrine of illusory appearance (maya), has long been recognized. Schopenhauer himself was aware of it, emphasizing that it was the result not of influence but of a remarkable convergence between Eastern and Western thought. This convergence is subjected to a much more detailed examination than has previously been carried out, undertaken in the light of twentieth-century Indology and recent studies of Schopenhauer.

The second main pillar of Schopenhauer’s system, the doctrine of the world as will, is then examined and its relationship to Indian thought explored. This section of the work breaks new ground in the study of Schopenhauer, for although the similarity of his ethical and soteriological teaching to that of Indian religions (particularly Buddhism) has long been noted the underlying reasons for this have not been grasped. It is demonstrated that they are to be found in hitherto unrecognized affinities, of which Schopenhauer himself was largely unaware, between the metaphysics of the will and Indian ideas relating to karmic impressions (vasanas), the store-consciousness, the causal body, and sakti as the “force” or “energy” that maintains the existence of the world.

Final chapters discuss the controversial and difficult question of the relation of the will to final reality in Schopenhauer’s thought in the light of Indian conceptions, and suggest that the two central pillars of his philosophy may be seen, to a greater extent than previously supposed, as a bridge by which the Eastern and Western traditions of philosophical thought may be brought into a closer and more creative relationship.

Stephen Cross is a fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society and the Temenos Academy (London), and serves on the Academic Board of the latter.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs


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pp. 1-9


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pp. ix-xii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xiii-xiv

It is a sobering thought that more than a century and a half after his death Arthur Schopenhauer remains, as Bryan Magee has pointed out, the only major Western philosopher to have shown a serious and sustained interest in the thought of Asia and to have consistently sought to relate it to his own philosophical ideas; ...


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pp. xv-xvi

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Chapter One: Introduction

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pp. 1-8

Those who have read Thomas Mann’s novel Buddenbrooks will remember the episode toward the end when the protagonist, Thomas, now sensing the approach of death and close to despair, takes from his shelf a volume of philosophy, purchased years before but never opened, and as he turns its pages for the first time is overwhelmed by its contents. ...

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Chapter Two: Schopenhauer in Context: The “Oriental Renaissance”

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pp. 9-19

Schopenhauer’s interest in Indian thought was not an isolated phenomenon. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries many of the leading thinkers in Europe, like the Transcendentalists in New England some decades later, shared his enthusiasm for “the divine inspiration of ancient Indian wisdom.” ...

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Chapter Three: Schopenhauer’s Indian Sources: Hinduism

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pp. 20-36

Schopenhauer himself tells us of the origin of his interest in Indian thought. In a letter written in 1851 and after speaking of his friendship with Goethe in Weimar during the winter of 1813–1814, he writes, “At the same time, the orientalist Friedrich Majer introduced me, without solicitation, to Indian antiquity, and this had an essential influence on me.”1 ...

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Chapter Four: Schopenhauer’s Indian Sources: Buddhism

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pp. 37-48

Reliable sources for a knowledge of Buddhism became available to Europe later than did those for Hinduism. Wilkins’s translation of the Bhagavad Gītā was published in 1784; William Jones’s translation of the Gītā Govinda appeared in 1792 and his translation of the Hindu legal code (Manusmṛti) in 1794; the Oupnek’hat appeared in 1801–1802, ...

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Chapter Five: “Representation”: Schopenhauer and the Reality-Status of the World

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pp. 49-65

We come now to the first of the two principal comparative sections of this study. The first of these is concerned with Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the world as representation and analogous Indian teachings. In this chapter the main features of Schopenhauer’s doctrine are examined, ...

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Chapter Six: The Reality-Status of the Empirical World: The Mādhyamika Teaching

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pp. 66-77

We have seen that one of the reasons for Schopenhauer’s interest in the Oupnek’hat was that in its pages there was to be found a teaching that appeared to broadly resemble his own doctrine of the world as representation. Such a teaching plays a significant part in Indian thought, in both its Buddhist and Hindu forms. ...

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Chapter Seven: Advaita Vedānta: The World as Illusory Appearance

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pp. 78-89

Within Hinduism, it was the Advaita or “non-dual” school of Vedānta that most closely examined the reality-status of the world.1 It was largely through this school that from about the sixth century onward, the Hindu tradition was able to produce an adequate response to the intellectual challenge presented by Mahāyāna Buddhism. ...

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Chapter Eight: Conclusions: Schopenhauer’s Representation and Its Indian Affinities

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pp. 90-102

Schopenhauer was aware of an affinity between his own early research into the principle of sufficient reason and teachings of the Vedānta regarding the deceptive nature of the empirical world. It was one of the main reasons for his interest in the Oupnek’hat, and it may well be as Berger has suggested that this translation of the Upaniṣads, ...

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Chapter Nine: Schopenhauer’s Conception of the World as Will

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pp. 103-119

We come now in the third part of our study to Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will and to the question of whether equivalents for this doctrine, perhaps cast in very different forms, are to be found among the teachings of the Indian philosophers. Is there any common ground between Schopenhauer’s doctrine and Indian thought? ...

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Chapter Ten: Schopenhauer: The Will in Its General Forms (Ideas)

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pp. 120-131

While the will-to-live shows itself in the first place as an effort to maintain the life of the individual, this is not its final purpose, for behind the individual forms that the will assumes are more fundamental forms that are likened by Schopenhauer to the Ideas of Plato. Schopenhauer tells us that he uses the word “Idea” (Idee) not in the manner of Kant ...

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Chapter Eleven: Metaphysical Factors behind the Empirical World: Advaita Vedānta

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pp. 132-147

Having briefly sketched Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will, we now return to the thought of India. Turning first to the Hindu tradition, let us inquire how Śaṃkara and other Advaitins conceived the process by which the world comes into being and appears as external reality. ...

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Chapter Twelve: The Arising of the Empirical World in Buddhism: The Yogācāra Teaching

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pp. 148-164

The Buddhist tradition (as well as that of the Jains) shares with Hinduism essentially the same understanding of karmic impressions, formative forces, and “seeds” (vāsanās, saṃskāras, bījas) and of their collective outcome as action and its results (karman). In the older schools of Buddhist thought these ideas occur largely in the context of the twelvefold chain of dependent origination, ...

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Chapter Thirteen: Conclusions: Schopenhauer’s Will and Comparable Indian Ideas

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pp. 165-180

Already in these words we find the central motivation of Schopenhauer’s philosophy: the need to understand the will, this mysterious force or “love insatiable” that like some evil magician imprisons us in a world of imperfection and suffering. It is the same motivation that we find at the base of the Hindu and Buddhist thought of India: ...

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Chapter Fourteen: The Ontological Status of Will

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pp. 181-192

We have seen that striking points of contact exist between the Indian concept of divine energy or power, personified as the goddess Śakti, and Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will. However, while Śakti is always seen in close relation to Śiva — almost, if not quite, one with him — and never as an opposed principle, the ontological status of will is much less clear. ...

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Chapter Fifteen: Beyond the Will: “Better Consciousness” and the “Pure Subject of Knowing”

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pp. 193-206

There remains an aspect of Schopenhauer’s thought to which we have paid no attention. Until recently it received little notice in the majority of studies, for it does not feature, except in a shadowy and implied manner, in the writings published during his lifetime. ...

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Chapter Sixteen: The Hidden Compass: Schopenhauer and the Limits of Philosophy

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pp. 207-216

It may appear surprising that Schopenhauer chose not to take his analysis of consciousness further, but he himself makes the reason plain. It is that philosophy should not trespass upon the territory of mysticism. The two have different starting points and different outcomes. ...

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Chapter Seventeen: Schopenhauer and Indian Thought

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pp. 217-230

We are near the end of our exploration of Schopenhauer’s ideas in relation to the thought of India, and it is time to survey the ground we have covered. What are the principal results of our inquiry? ...


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pp. 231-264


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pp. 265-274


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pp. 275-288

E-ISBN-13: 9780824839086
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824837358

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy Monographs

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Subject Headings

  • Schopenhauer, Arthur, 1788-1860.
  • Hindu philosophy.
  • Buddhist philosophy.
  • Will.
  • Representation (Philosophy).
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