Dialogue of Buddha and Nietzsche before God

[Bertrand Russell, in his own voice]:

The ethical, as opposed to the political, question is one as to *sym­
pathy*. Sympathy, in the sense of being made unhappy by the sufferi­
ngs of others, is to some extent natural to human beings; young
children are troubled when they hear other children crying. But the
development of this feeling is very different in different people.
Some find pleasure in the infliction of torture; others, like Buddha,
feel that they cannot be completely happy so long as any living thing
is suffering. Most people divide mankind emotionally into friends and
enemies, feeling sympathy for the former, but not for the latter. An
ethic such as that of Christianity or Buddhism has its emotional basis
in universal sympathy; Nietzsche’s, in a complete absence of sym­
pathy. (He frequently preaches against sympathy, and in this respect
one feels that he has no difficulty in obeying his own precepts.) The
question is: If Buddha and Nietzsche were confronted, could either
produce any argument that ought to appeal to the impartial listener? I
am not thinking of political arguments. We can imagine them appear­ing
before the Almighty, as in the first chapter of the Book of Job, and
offering advice as to the sort of world He should create. What could
either say?

[Bertrand Russell’s imaginary dialogue between Buddha and Nietzsche]:

Buddha would open the argument by speaking of the lepers, outcast and
miserable; the poor, toiling with aching limbs and barely kept alive
by scanty nourishment; the wounded in battle, dying in slow agony; the
orphans, ill-treated by cruel guardians; and even the most successful
haunted by the thought of failure and death. From all this load of
sorrow, he would say, a way of salvation must be found, and salvation
can only come through love.

Nietzsche, whom only Omnipotence could restrain from inter­rupting,
would burst out when his turn came: “Good heavens, man, you must learn
to be of tougher fibre. Why go about snivelling because trivial people
suffer? Or, for that matter, because great men suffer? Trivial people
suffer trivially, great men suffer greatly, and great sufferings are
not to be regretted, because they are noble. Your ideal is a purely
negative one, absence of suffering, which can be completely secured by
non-existence. I, on the other hand, have positive ideals: I admire
Alcibiades, and the Emperor Frederick II, and Napoleon. For the sake
of such men, any misery is worth while. I appeal to You, Lord, as the
greatest of creative artists, do not let Your artistic im­pulses be
curbed by the degenerate fear-ridden maunderings of this wretched
psychopath.”

Buddha, who in the courts of Heaven has learnt all history since his
death, and has mastered science with delight in the knowledge and
sorrow at the use to which men have put it, replies with calm
urbanity: “You are mistaken, Professor Nietzsche, in thinking my ideal
a purely negative one. True, it includes a negative element, the
absence of suffering; but it has in addition quite as much that is
posi­tive as is to be found in your doctrine. Though I have no special
admiration for Alcibiades and Napoleon, I, too, have my heroes: my
successor Jesus, because he told men to love their enemies; the men
who discovered how to master the forces of nature and secure food with
less labour; the medical men who have shown how to diminish disease;
the poets and artists and musicians who have caught glimpses of the
Divine beatitude. Love and knowledge and delight in beauty are not
negations; they are enough to fill the lives of the greatest men that
have ever lived.”

“All the same,” Nietzsche replies, “your world would be insipid. You
should study Heraclitus, whose works survive complete in the celestial
library. Your love is compassion, which is elicited by pain; your
truth, if you are honest, is unpleasant, and only to be known through
suffering; and as to beauty, what is more beautiful than the tiger,
who owes his splendour to his fierceness? No, if the Lord should
decide for your world, I fear we should all die of boredom.”

” *You* might,” Buddha replies, “because you love pain, and your love
of life is a sham. But those who really love life would be happy as no
one can be happy in the world as it is.”

[Bertrand Russell, in his own voice]:

For my part, I agree with Buddha as I have imagined him. But I do not
know how to prove that he is right by any argument such as can be used
in a mathematical or a scientific question. I dislike Nietzsche
because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit
into a duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors,
whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the
ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant
but internally self-consistent ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts,
but in an appeal to the emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I
feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world.
His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is
coming rapidly to an end.
[conclusion of Chapter 25, titled
“Nietzsche”]


from Bertrand Russell’s “A History of Western Philosophy,” Chapter 25,
p. 771-3; Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-671-20158-1, copyright 1945,
renewed 1972.

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3 thoughts on “Dialogue of Buddha and Nietzsche before God

  1. Ah I want to read this book! I’ve seen it but it looks large to carry around. Nietzsche’s life was characterised by a lot of suffering so it’s interesting to see how he responds to it in relation to Russell, who also engaged with suffering, but more so through social justice.

  2. Pingback: Tornem! Nietzsche i Buda imaginats per Bertrand Russell | Grup de debat filosòfic de Lleida

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