There are notable similarities between the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (in its three dimensions, metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics ) and the Indian Buddhist and Brahman doctrines that no one can deny.
Schopenhauer himself recognized it in his work. However these affinities hide important differences. It’s very important to keep in mind that Schopenhauer philosophy and the Indian thought are asymmetric. There is, in first hand, a one-dimensional philosopher of the nineteenth century with a precise idea of his philosophy, and in the other hand, a huge multidimensional ancient civilization, rich with diverse philosophical and religious doctrines.
In the intellectual legacy of Schopenhauer, he was mostly influenced by Plato and Kant, as he says himself. The impact of reading the pietistic Matthias Claudius (at the age of 18 years) was also decisive. And we must add the inspiration received by the great mystics and Western moralists.
Schopenhauer is full of sympathy and admiration for philosophers and religions of India, he was considered as the first Indo-European philosopher of history: “I don’t think, I admit, that my doctrine could have been before the Upanishads, Plato and Kant were able to throw together their shelves in the mind of a man.”
The truth is that it’s for the confirmation and justification of his own theses that Schopenhauer refers to Indian data. India was for him a true “mirror” in which he sees the reflect of his own thinking and the philosopher finds the great superiority of Buddhism and puts it above all the other religions.
Proclaiming the affinity of Buddhism with his doctrine, the philosopher wrote these lines: “This similitude is much more enjoyable to me, as my philosophical thought was certainly free from Buddhist influence because until 1818, during the publication of my book, we only had in Europe rare publications about Buddhism, they were confined almost entirely to a few essays, published in the first volume of “Asiatic researches” and relating mainly to Brahmanism and Buddhism”.
So let’s start with the great thesis of Schopenhauer: “The will is affirmed, then denies” the affirmation and negation of the will to live are simple and velle nolle. The subject of these two acts is one and the same and therefore will be not destroyed by either the one or the other”.
If the first is the will to live, the second will be the phenomenon of the will not to live. This diagram shows many similarities with Sanskrit texts : desire / no desire, activity / inactivity, engagement / renunciation experience / enjoyment of the world, withdrawal / rejection of the world.
Schopenhauer put them in touch with the world of transmigration and extinction / liberation (Nirvana).
So what did he mean by “ the will” ?
In the philosophical system of Arthur Schopenhauer, there is no clear distinction between “will” and “will to live”. We must not understand it as a faculty to be able to do or not something or the “intention to do something,” but: it is all about foolish desire, a blind and irresistible desire, as the one we see in the vegetable life, and their laws, as well as in the vegetative part of our own body, it’s “somehow synonymous with the pulse energy or the original power.”
The phrase “will to live”, following those remarks, did not make much sense. “Will” simply to express the will to live.
This notion has affinities with the concepts of Brahman in Upanishad, which refers to the one and all, the universal self, precisely the periodic creation of the universe.
But why we must deny the will to live?
To achieve the mental state where a man needs to deny the will, he must have understood how life is only suffering, and above all he must have felt it. Man must see “the terrible side of life, pain nameless anxieties of humanity, triumph over the wicked, the irretrievable defeat of the innocent”.
The pain is manifested in two ways in the life of a man: first in the constant desire and in the constant struggle. He must accept the true death.
“The will, at all levels of its manifestation, has no final end and is incapable of a final satisfaction. “
This idea has similarities with the Indian concepts of desire (kama) in all its forms, with the passionate attachment (raga) and thirst (trsna). This is according to the Buddhist texts, thirst of pleasure (kama-trsna).
These similarities are striking. Schopenhauer was studying the Indian link between desire (will to live) and suffering (duhkha). In concordance with the Buddhist texts he noted that suffering is the foundation of all life. (See the oath of Benares-everything is pain).
Man can’t stop his desire and therefore he will be the slave of the Will, the suffering will be linked to it. If ever a desire is satisfied (note that a desire can’t be fulfilled, but in the best of cases satisfied), satisfaction is only to avoid suffering and not a positive granted happiness . This idea shows what vision of life Schopenhauer had: man suffers and if he reaches a desired object, it is only to suffer less and not to be happy. It’s a different state of mind of one who would take as truth: the man is happy and satisfies a desire, it boosts happiness.
Schopenhauer was truly a pessimist, a pessimist man can only survive, optimistic man lives. Once a satisfied desire (which is hard and as we said before serves only for the appeasement of suffering), man may miss new objects to be desired which will bring him boredom. This lack of object to be desired is because the Will itself lacks object to be desired and this puts people in a “terrible void.” However, man has found a way to not get bored, and hide “the emptiness and banality of existence”: his mind superstitions are created by an imaginary world. These creations of the mind are made by the people for whom life is easy (“with a mild climate and soil,” says Schopenhauer): Hindus, Greeks, Romans … The imaginary world which Schopenhauer speaks is a world in which man manufactures likeness of demons, gods, saints. He then made sacrifices, prayers and other rituals. This imaginary world and the actions that follow are “the effect and symptom of the dual need of man, the need of help and assistance to shorten the time.”
Schopenhauer notes that “all the various forms of nature and life forms dispute the matter.” To live, we must make efforts and the idea of effort for him is the very idea of the will. We must continually fight against the interminable obstacles (otherwise there would be no struggle) and therefore continuously suffering. Schopenhauer says admirably: “With every sip of air that we reject, it’s death that would penetrate us, and we hunt; so we deliver a new battle every second, and even though at longer intervals, when we take a meal, when we sleep.., etc. Finally death will have to triumph; because it is enough to be born to befall sharing; and if for a while death plays with her prey, she is waiting to devour us. When you blow a bubble, you put take the time to take care of it, to appreciate it; but it will burst away, we all known that ».
This passage shows us two things: man must fight and his life is about survival (Every second he must fight until death, one can’t reasonably talk about life). The metaphor of the bubble is that Schopenhauer put the human adult as child. Indeed, it is mainly the children who play blowing bubbles. This is a naive and childish behavior: focusing on one thing as quickly perishable as a bubble. However, this behavior certainly is touching the bottom. The life that we have, ultimately do not belong to us (since it is about the Will), which is similar to billions of other lives and therefore not worth more and, at the scale of infinite existence of the will, as it does not represent anything.
To understand the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, the reader should really be concerned with what is said, the pain must be felt. Otherwise we will find absurd Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we must first admit that suffering is our world . Schopenhauer was a philosopher who lives what he writes, he has such great contempt for optimism: “I can’t conceal my opinion here; is that optimism, when it is not a pure meaningless verbiage, as happens in these flat heads, where all guests staying in words, is worse than absurd way of thinking; it’s a really infamous opinion, hateful mockery, facing unspeakable pain of humanity”.
But then what is the purpose of the negation of the will and its relation to the Hindu Maya?
Maya is the veil of illusion that covers the eyes of the mortals, makes them see a world where we can’t say if it’s real like the sunlight on the sand.
And issuanceamong the Buddhistsis the supremegoal(parama-purusartha). Schopenhaueralsois seeking for anultimate goalbut it’s not the samething as his philosophyends withthe nonsense, theabsurdand it is verydifficult to find aphilosophy ofabsurd ortragicin the Indian context.
The Hindutheory of the fourhumangoals (purusartha) is the way for a Buddhistsalvation, while for Schopenhauer,to denythe willis not so muchto stopsuffering but the absolutecessationof desire.
Desire iswhat ailsthe man. By denyingthe Will, which createsour desire, we end it.
The philosophy of Schopenhauer is not a depressive philosophy in a state of passivity. What he proposes is a real fight, surely the most difficult because it is a fight against ourselves .
But there is a big difference between the bright and peaceful lucidity of Buddha and the bitter and morbid lucidity of Schopenhauer. Buddha wants the liberation of man by the(marga) way which takes into account the human initiative (purusakara) in the large circular and cyclical time and (kalpa yuga ) where everyone has the opportunity to improve his future and the qualities of his future births depends on what we do now.
Schopenhauer is a pessimist, he hates crowds, he does not mix with the herd, he thinks the world as will and for him no genius can’t be sociable.
While most philosophers fight the divine idea of god, Schopenhauer believed that religions are necessary for people, but as he says himself: “Ask a Goethe or a Shakespeare to accept dogmas is like asking a giant to wear shoes of a dwarf. “
For Schopenhauer, if we did not have to die we would not be religious except for Buddhism, which is a religion without God and aspires to a real death by interrupts the cycle of rebirth. His central thesis is that death is an illusion, the lives of parents is the same life of children. That’s why he gave all his dogs the same name.
The fear of death is unknown for him, his biggest problem is precisely that death does not kill in the substance that is the world as Will, when a body decomposes, its elements make up a new one, Death does not kill because it is not beyond the world. Human existence persists in its lust.
In Buddhism, death (mrtyu) is not equivalent to the issuance (moska) except in the case of the accomplished sage. But Schopenhauer seems to ignore the Buddhist notion of deliverance from the body (videhamukti). When the survival of the species is valued in the first part of the Veda, there even has rituals to ensure the continuity of generations as in periods of Upanishads and in the midst of ascetics: “We make seed, we who with the Atman, have the salvation? Give up search for a son to seek for a wealth … “.
Despite this position, Schopenhauer never had any intention of acting on the world or to improve the human condition, unlike Descartes, Nietzsche or Spinoza for example. For him, if the intelligible substance of the world is reducible to chance it makes the idea of a revolution contradictory and the world can’t be changed.
Schopenhauer deconstructs the Will and the illusion of freedom, He is also the thinker of selfishness, I would even say that there are no more selfish than him, he never made a generous act, he was a total asocial person. He even said once that sociability of someone is inversely proportional to his intellectual value.
Schopenhauer has a very little success in the universities; maybe his weakness comes from his break between the will to live and intelligence. Intelligence is entirely a matter of feelings for him, which explains the lack of debt he has obtained from the philosophers. But personally I think that thanks to him we escape the cult of reason since Plato has given utmost importance to intelligence But Schopenhauer gives more importance to instinct and desire, he takes the opposite path.
Actually the whole philosophy of Schopenhauer leads us to stop the will to live a bit like the Buddha.
Getting Back into Schopenhauer texts made me smile a lot, knowing that the essence of Judaism is the will of man. I wonder about the interest to write an article about Schopenhauer under the microscope of Judaism.