- Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy by Antoine Panaïoti
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. xiv + 244pp.
isbn: 978-1-107-03162-3. Paper, $44.99.
The studies on Nietzsche and Buddhism in the Nietzsche literature are rather recent. The first English monograph on the subject was Freny Mistry’s Nietzsche and Buddhism: Prolegomenon to a Comparative Study (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1981), followed by Robert G. Morrison’s Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997). While Mistry’s study focuses on the Buddhist and the Nietzschean [End Page 140] theories of eternal recurrence, Morrison’s compares Nietzsche’s concepts with Buddhist tenets. In contrast, Antoine Panaïoti’s Nietzsche and Buddhist Philosophy aims to show how Nietzsche and Buddhism have a similar ethics based on the principle of health. Indeed, at the end of the book, Panaïoti suggests a “Buddho-Nietzschean” ethics in response to modern nihilism. Panaïoti’s methodology also emphasizes continuity: he rejects the standard subdivision of Nietzsche’s thought into three periods as well as the common partition of Buddhism into two main traditions, the early Theravāda and the later Mahāyāna. He treats Buddhism as a philosophy, not a religion, by abstracting what he calls “a distinct philosophical core” (9) common to all Buddhist schools from its historical forms.
The book is divided into three parts, “Nihilism and Buddhism,” “Suffering,” and “Compassion,” each consisting of two chapters. In the first chapter, “Nietzsche as Buddha,” Panaïoti shows the similarities between Nietzsche’s philosophy and Buddhism by considering the sense in which Nietzsche calls himself “the Buddha of Europe” (KSA 10: 4). As Buddha, Nietzsche rejects the metaphysical conception of permanent and static being by rejecting the bedrock on which that conception is based, namely, the understanding of the self as a fixed substance which remains unchanged through time. For Panaïoti, then, “it is by exploding those same myths in their European form (soul, God, Heaven) that Nietzsche assumes the role of Europe’s Buddha” (49). On this basis, Panaïoti claims that both Nietzsche and Buddhism elaborate an ethics that affirms becoming.
Yet, in the second chapter, “Nietzsche as Anti-Buddha,” Panaïoti argues that Nietzsche is also “anti-Buddha” because he rejects the two main tenets of Buddhism, nirvāṇa and compassion. In particular, under the influence of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche interprets nirvāṇa as a cessation of the samsaric cycle of birth and death, and thus as a will to nothingness and symptomatic of the sickness of nihilism. And Nietzsche rejects compassion insofar as it involves assuming another’s suffering and thereby increasing suffering, which is the root of the nihilist sickness.
In the third chapter, “Amor Fati and the Affirmation of Suffering,” Panaïoti analyzes Nietzsche’s notion of amor fati. In doing so, he also engages in the debates over the will to power, arguing that Nietzsche considers the will to power not as a metaphysics, but just as one perspective among others. For Panaïoti, Nietzsche “simply felt that such a perspective on the world’s nature was most expressive of a healthy attitude to life—that describing the world as will to power is a gesture of self-affirmation” (115). Panaïoti describes amor [End Page 141] fati, on the other hand, as the highest health, achieved by affirming suffering through affirming the eternal recurrence (of suffering). The embrace of suffering involves “overcoming the great challenge of looking at this monstrous world with an unswerving gaze,” and declaring “it ‘beautiful’ rather than ‘evil.’” For this reason, amor fati is “the highest self-overcoming, the most exalted manifestation of the will to power” (130).
The fourth chapter, “Nirvāṇa and the Cessation of Suffering,” aims to demonstrate that Nietzsche is in fact mistaken in conceiving of nirvāṇa as a will to nothingness. On the contrary, Panaïoti argues, nirvāṇa overlaps with amor fati by virtue of its embrace of becoming. He claims that by means of nirvāṇa Buddha aims to free human beings not from all suffering, but from the suffering caused by “thirst”—that...