The contingency of willing
a Vijñānavāda critique of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
Much has been written in the past century, and particularly in the last few decades, on the degrees to which Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were influenced by their acquaintances with South Asian Buddhist thought. In addition, comparative philosophy scholars have, apart from historical issues of influence, speculated about various ways in which Schopenhauerian or Nietzschean thought might have some significant resonance with various systems of classical Buddhism. However, considerably less has been written about how the works of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche might be assessed from Buddhist perspectives. In this essay, I wish to critically examine these two seminal nineteenth century thinkers on the basis of what ended up becoming one of the most important schools of Buddhist thought, namely early South Asian Vijńānavāda. I will demonstrate that Schopenhauer, with some qualification, argues that, though the ascetic can "deny the will-to-live" in a final act of world-renunciation, the will as thing in itself remains the ground of the world's existence. For Nietzsche, the act of willing remains what I will call an "incorrigible" element of our existence, for even the act of interpreting on the part of would-be ascetics is a function of their will(s) to power and life. Classical Vijńānavāda thinkers, however, given their special reformulations of standard Abhidharma Buddhist frameworks, maintain that willing is a contingent function of the human psyche and conduct, and that eliminating it through practice is indeed the key to genuine and lasting awakening. In the end, Schopenhauer's and Nietzsche's differing conceptions of the will are thus profoundly un-Buddhist.
Berger, D. L. (2018)., The contingency of willing: a Vijñānavāda critique of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, in G. F. Davis (ed.), Ethics without self, Dharma without atman, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 161-177.
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