Thursday 30 June 2016

Bettany Hughes, Nietzsche, Buddhism and Suffering

Last night I caught up with Bettany Hughes' documentary on Nietzsche on iPlayer and I was struck with how the philosopher's view that life is suffering is sort of similar to the Buddhist view of life - but the Buddha and Nietzche appeared to come to diametrically opposite conclusions on what to do about it.

According to the programme, Nietzsche decided that the way out of misery is to strive for greatness, to aim for some grand goal and in doing so become a godlike superman. He felt that compassion for those in need would get in the way of this ambition and is a therefore a weakness. Suffering that happened along the way to that goal would only make you stronger.

Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that too much attachment to goals and material things is the main cause of the suffering in life and the best way forward is to become less attached, but instead to foster compassion and kindness to our fellow humans.

I have to say my own view is somewhere between the two. I really like having goals - they give me purpose in life and I like that - but I agree that getting too attached to anything is probably a bit foolish because nothing lasts forever. Compassion and kindness, on the other hand, are very much needed if humanity is to thrive - particularly at this time when there seems to me such a lot of unkindness and lack of compassion about. In my experience kindness has a way of helping achieve goals rather than getting in the way.

Do forgive me if I am very much oversimplifying both Buddhism and Nietzsche - I'm certainly no expert in either. Comments are welcome.

You can see the BBC documentary here:

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