“And if the stars don’t want to fall from the sky for you, then throw your stars into the sky: let that be the extent of your evil.”
“I love the turbulence of a bad reputation: just as the ship loves to hear the resistance of the wave through which its keel breaks. My own path seems easier when resistance foams around me.”
“Every deep knowledge flows cold, the deepest wellsprings are ice cold: and that’s why it is refreshing to all hot hands and heated doers.”
“The best mask we wear is our own face.”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments 1882-1884
The basic premise of nonduality is that man is a localization of an absolute self-governing whole identical with the totality of nature and existence. The teleological implication is that man may align himself with the interests of the whole and thereby bring personal suffering to an end. As he is man perceives himself as a separate being and as such his consciousness acts to further distinguish his separateness. From the point of view of ultimate reality, this is an inevitably lost battle grounded in illusion. All things derive their being from and share being with the absolute. Nondual soteriology (possibility of salvation) states that it is only by merging one’s individual consciousness with the absolute will that one can be saved.
Nietzsche, for example, saw how ideas of virtue and morality falsely promise escape from this situation by ignoring what-is. More specifically, every virtue is the opposite of what is actually real. Non-violence isn’t real, only violence exists in nature. Making an ideal of non-violence through repression falsifies you. Man is violent and this cannot be wished away or shamed out of existence through the creation of a morality. The ontological reason is that the violence in man is a localization of the violence inherent in the self-governing force of the absolute itself. Nietzsche’s religion was an immanent divine humanism for the very reason that he refused to begin his philosophy with the commonly accepted should’s and should-not’s that falsified people and kept them in a state of perpetually and impotently trying to negate their own intrinsic nature. Nietzsche called such psychologies of repression life-denying religions. By beginning with what-is, without assumption or inherited morality, he (Zarathustra) would propose a life-affirming religion.
What-is becomes perverted and corrupted through the assumptions you make about how it should be otherwise:
“I should not be angry. I should not be greedy. I should not be lustful….”
Anger is suppressed, bottled up and explodes later. Or it is released through controlled fits and expressed unconsciously through self-lacerating punishments and further increased ascetic domination of your other emotions.
Greed also doesn’t disappear but appears in different forms as the desire for eternal happiness in the afterlife, recognition as a righteous person, and covert contracts with the universe expecting to be rewarded for one’s good behavior.
Lust doesn’t disappear either but reappears through fantasy, dreams, and other unconscious outlets of excess in your behavior.
Nietzsche’s argument is that the human being won’t change because this is what he is as a result of the absolute force that has willed him this way. The only solution is to end life-denying religions that pretend to offer salvation but use nothing more than carrot and stick methodology to keep him at war with himself. Nietzsche’s ultimate doctrine says that human beings cannot get out of this situation themselves. The best they can do is come to terms with what-is and through accepting their wretchedness open the door for a super species to evolve which has superior qualities. It is important that Nietzsche doesn’t dangle the Superman as another hope in front of the reader. He never says that this is something you can attain to if you should only work hard enough. The Superman is by definition out of reach and can only come into being after a life-affirming religion spreads over the earth following the radical acceptance that God is Dead.
Consider the following beautiful verses from Gitanjali expressing the nondual perspective. Then a short exchange between a poet and a physicist that took place in 1930. And lastly a quote from an Jungian psychoanalyst.
“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.
It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.
It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.
I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.”
Rabindranath Tagore, Stream of Life
EINSTEIN: …We attribute to truth a superhuman objectivity. It is indispensable for us—this reality which is independent of our existence and our experience and our mind— though we cannot say what it means.
TAGORE: In any case, if there be any truth absolutely unrelated to humanity, then for us it is absolutely non-existing.
EINSTEIN: Then I am more religious than you are!
“Man’s task in the world is to remember with his conscious mind what was knowledge before the advent of consciousness.”
Neumann is in agreement with Einstein here that there is objective truth independent of human observation. Tagore holds that what is unknowable, such as truth independent of our minds, is logically non-existent. Einstein admits that it is unknowable and thus describes his position as a “belief” and “my religion”. Finally he jokes that his belief in objective independent truth is a stronger religious claim than Tagore’s own faith.
Neumann is echoing Platonic anamnesis and also Nietzschean eternal recurrence by saying there is unconscious knowledge that can be remembered consciously. If there is independent objective truth then it makes sense that humans might be able to access it somehow and also that it would probably feel like truth to them. However, if Tagore is correct and such a thing might as well be non-existent, then it would appear that even the best human truths are ultimately groundless illusions. Hence the Hindu doctrine of Maya.
Einstein and Tagore both agree that beauty does not exist independently of human judgement. The difference between Tagore and Einstein boils down to the limits of human accomplishment. Einstein believes that humans actually approach objective truth whereas Tagore believes humans can only move around in circles like a protractor from their limited starting point.
It is interesting to consider which position is actually more religious (e.g. unbelievable):
A. Within man’s otherwise illusory and limited conception of truth is the absolutely true knowledge (1) there exists an unknowable truth (Brahman) he can never reach, and (2) the self-awareness granting doctrine of Maya.
B. Within man’s limited conception of truth is the absolute knowledge that his conception is patterned after an absolute truth that exists independent of his limited ability.
Einstein’s view (B) seems much more intuitive and natural than the Hindu doctrine. In fact, Einstein doesn’t even bother to defend that this notion of an objective independent truth is actually true and says, “I cannot prove my conception is right, but that is my religion.” And, “Our natural point of view in regard to the existence of truth apart from humanity cannot be explained or proved, but it is a belief which nobody can lack—not even primitive beings.” Thus it was sufficient for Einstein to anchor his evidence in the rational intelligence (i.e. common sense) which tells of us a priori knowledge. Einstein felt that reason is its own best argument. Whereas Tagore perplexingly felt that reason is the best argument against reason.
Tagore’s claim is overreaching. He states that within the flawed common sense are also objectively true details about its limitation and a transcendent unknowable absolute truth. It is difficult to understand why one should take the leap to that conclusion (i.e. Hinduism). Tagore says: “According to the Indian philosophy there is Brahman, the absolute truth, which cannot be conceived by the isolation of the individual mind or described by words, but can be realized only by merging the individual in its infinity.” It isn’t clear how an individual can be merged into infinity. But this theme will appear again later in Schopenhauer’s writings as we interpret Nietzsche’s doctrine of the Will.
We will also get Nietzsche’s opinion on how to approach metaphysical inquiries such as the ones Einstein and Tagore were discussing.
“My ambition is to say in ten sentences what everyone else says in a book—what everyone else does not say in a book.”
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
“The faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism. We have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world.”
Nietzsche, The Will To Power
“It is not enough to prove something, one also has to seduce or elevate people to it.”
Nietzsche’s doctrine of ’the will’ is not academically formulated in an articulate way. To deduce the meaning and significance of the Will to Power, we can turn to his contemporary Arthur Schopenhauer (whose ideas Nietzsche was fully aware of) for a fully articulated and explicit formulation from his book The World As Will and Representation (1819).
Kastrup writes eloquently in his book Decoding Schopenhauer (2020) that “life is the will’s means to meta-cognize itself.” We will briefly summarize Kastrup’s reading of Schopenhauer and then excerpt at length from Chapter 14: The Metaphysical Meaning of Life and Suffering.
For Schopenhauer, the Will is the ultimate causal determination of all things and reaches an apex in man who is meta-cognitively aware of Itself. Prior to (an ontological dissociation of) individuated meta-cognitive small wills, there was (and still is) a single primitive universal will that commands everything from the Mineral Kingdom to spiders. The human being at the apex of this ontological drift towards self-understanding apprehends the universal will’s instinctive yearnings through (Platonic) Eternal Ideas. The Eternal Ideas are what The Will endeavours towards but can never actualize. In fact, it is the contemplation of the Eternal Ideas through meditation that Schopenhauer designates to be the cure for the suffering caused by ontological dissociation from the whole.
We actually see the forerunner thought of the Superman in Schopenhauer’s writings. Kastrup writes: “The metaphysical meaning of all non-human life, in turn, is to enable the realization of the meaning of human life.” Nietzsche continued this logic by announcing the death of God and thereby allowing the adding of new chapters to the previously closed book of Time. Why shouldn’t man go the way of other forms of life and also make way for a superior species to better realize the Will’s instinctive drives?
“I have annihilated your good and evil, I have torn these nooses to pieces: only in this way did I learn to love my goodness.”
“I overcame even love for you with love for the superhumans. And as I endure you, you must endure yourselves, out of love for the superhumans. To me, you are the stone in which the most sublime of all statues sleeps: there is no other such stone. And as my hammer swings at you, you should swing at yourselves for my sake! The call of the hammer should awaken the sleeping statue! And should I want to mount my wildest steed, my spear will get me up there the best: it is the most ready servant of my feet.”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments 1882-1884
Nietzsche wasn’t impressed with humanity and wasn’t convinced that we were the ultimate endpoint of divine willing. He suspected that the religious myths of creation could not possibly be referring to the same wretched creature he knew himself to be. He didn’t see how anyone could possibly believe that humanity had any divinity in it. But, he granted the possibility that man had the potential to will future divinity into being. The difference is that man would never acquire, embody, or know this divinity himself. In order for man to make true on his religious myths, he would need to voluntarily sacrifice his own existence and will his own downfall in a deliberate altruistic effort to transform the future into a brighter place. This is how Nietzsche reasoned that the death of God is necessary for true religiosity (i.e. Zarathustra) to be born. Man is too satisfied by his self-congratulatory fables to ever realize what he claims to aspire after. Nietzsche wanted to provoke mankind by challenging him with the doctrine of the Superman who can only appear in conjunction with humanity reaching an epitome in altruism and selfless generosity. Indeed the Superman is a call for absolute sacrifice for something which you will never know. In this regard, it finds the closest parallel in the doctrine of reincarnation and karma which requires an equal level of altruism as one lives righteously so as to hand over one’s accumulated positive karma at the moment of death into a new life which will have a blank slate memory and identity and won’t know whom to thank for its inheritance.
“The will’s continual development of progressively more meta-conscious configurations… is the embodiment of its teleological strife: the degrees of manifestation of the will correspond to steps or phases—each triggered and enabled by the previous, and each unfolding according to one of the will’s natural modes of excitation—of its ‘blind’ attempt to achieve self-understanding. Human beings are the apex of this progression, so our role is to bring into explicit, meta-cognitive awareness that which was previously known only instinctively.”
Kastrup, Decoding Schopenhauer p. 105
“To put it more directly, the metaphysical meaning of human life is to achieve meta-conscious awareness of the dynamics of the will. Through introspection we can meta-cognize it as it manifests within ourselves, and through contemplation of the eternal Ideas we can meta-cognize it as it manifests in the world beyond ourselves, both organic and inorganic realms. The metaphysical meaning of all non-human life, in turn, is to enable the realization of the meaning of human life. According to Schopenhauer, nature conspires—albeit in a confusing, instinctive, non-monotonic manner plagued by frequent missteps—towards developing meta-conscious humanity and then unveiling itself to humanity in the form of the eternal Ideas. But the will’s strife leads, in living creatures, to constant suffering. The restlessness that characterizes life is a reflection of the will’s relentless pursuit of its goal. The more living creatures struggle, the more they suffer. Yet they can’t stop struggling because—as they are nothing but local configurations of the will itself—they instinctively partake of the latter’s desperate battle to figure itself out. Schopenhauer opens the door to a solution, though. By attaining insight into how and why they suffer, living beings can take a substantial step towards easing their suffering, as any present-day psychotherapist would confirm.”
ibid, p. 105-106
Now we are going to see Schopenhauer’s cure for mankind’s alienation from the absolute whole. First, we must clarify that however painfully separate the individual feels himself to be it is actually impossible for him to not always be one with the absolute. Therefore the problem is not how to bring about unity because unity can never be broken. The problem is how to cease the sensation of being separate and bring an end to the illusion of a separate self. This is what Tagore meant by merging into infinity. It is bringing an end to the individual’s perceived sense of lack, distance, and limitation. The nondual doctrine of salvation is that you must stop impotently willing yourself to be separate amidst a perceived apathetic and cold chaotic universe. In reality, the universe is equally within you as you are within it. You share the noumenal being with every phenomenal appearance in reality. There is no separation possible between your inner being and the self-governing absolute force that drives nature. All that must be done is to cease consciously willing your illusions. It is a non-doing on your part. You must stop doing something. Namely, stop volunteering your energy by participating in thoughts, illusory ideas, and ideals.
Kastrup refers to the separate self as an “alter” and as having “endogenous experiential states”.
“Consequently, the denial of the will cannot be the denial of any particular type of endogenous experiential states—say, desire as opposed to anger—for all types can be looked upon as ultimately volitional. Yet it cannot be the denial of the whole will either, for the latter is all there is. Instead, what Schopenhauer means by the denial of the will is the overcoming of endogenous feeling states of an individual alter—thus not of the will-at-large—which arise in connection with the alter’s survival instinct. Indeed, because the will instinctively wants to understand itself, it stimulates itself into giving rise to dissociative configurations—alters, living creatures—that, over time, develop self-reflection. But there is nothing in Schopenhauer’s argument to suggest that the primordial will, prior to alter formation, suffers. The original impetus is self-understanding, not the avoidance of suffering. Only living creatures suffer, as a side effect of their seeming separation or alienation from the rest of nature. To overcome suffering, all that is thus needed is for individual subjects—alters—to overcome their own endogenous feeling states; for we have no reason to believe that the will-at-large suffers, and so its endogenous feeling states need not be supplanted. Now, what this overcoming entails is a nuanced point. Schopenhauer summarizes it as “a temporary preponderance of the intellect over the will” (W2: 367), but there is much more subtlety to it. The alter’s endogenous feeling states become supplanted when it discerns the eternal Ideas through the apparatus of perception…”
Kastrup, Decoding Schopenhauer, p. 108
“And as we’ve also seen earlier, the pure or timeless subject of knowledge corresponds to the contentless universal recipient of experience, the core-subjectivity of the universal will that underlies and grounds each alter. Here, thus, Schopenhauer is establishing a correspondence between the universal recipient of experience and the eternal Ideas: the latter can only be discerned when an alter dis-identifies with its particular endogenous feelings, there remaining only the former. Notice how it all adds up: in order to become contentless, the alter has to subdue its endogenous volitional states; otherwise, it would still have salient endogenous contents. The way to achieve this is to observe an object in the world in such a manner as to “lose ourselves entirely in this object” (W1: 178, original emphasis). The “entire consciousness is [then] filled and occupied by a single image of perception” (W1: 179), which is the eternal Idea behind the object. And because eternal Ideas are universal and their apprehension independent of individual perspective—as opposed to individual objects, whose apprehension is defined by the particular spatio-temporal point of view of an alter within its physical world—once the alter’s meta-consciousness becomes filled with them, the alter loses the ability to identify itself with any non-universal content of consciousness, thereby temporarily forfeiting its individuality. Schopenhauer’s recipe for subduing an individual’s endogenous volitional states and reducing suffering is thus one of sensory overload.”
ibid, p. 109
“So by allowing an eternal Idea to completely fill the canvas of its meta-consciousness, an alter can supplant its own individual, endogenous volitional states—attendant upon its instinctive desire to survive as an organism—and thereby become the pure, painless subject of knowledge, who doesn’t suffer. In the process of doing so, the alter also helps realize the metaphysical meaning of human life, insofar as contemplation of the eternal Ideas is a necessary step towards achieving the will’s goal of explicit self-awareness.”
“The apprehension of the eternal Idea must be the sole and complete focus of attention of the alter, so as to supplant any intellectual processing of endogenous feelings. Indeed, the latter must not be re-represented at all, so to free the entire field of self-reflection for the re-representation of the archetypes of the will’s objectification. This is what the ‘denial of the will’ means in Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, and it is entirely coherent. Notice that, when Schopenhauer says that subject and object cannot be distinguished from one another during the apprehension of eternal Ideas, he is not implying that the subject-object split itself comes to an end—i.e. he does not mean that there is no re-representation. Indeed, he is very clear in asserting that an Idea “includes object and subject in like manner” (W1: 179) and that it has the fundamental property “of being-object-for-a-subject” (W1: 175). So initial re-representation does take place in the cognition of Ideas. However, because the meta-consciousness of the alter is filled solely with a reflection of the objectification archetype, it becomes qualitatively identical with the latter. To put it simply, subject and object still persist as distinct but indistinguishable entities, just as two cars of the same year, make and model can be indistinguishable while remaining distinct. In summary, when Schopenhauer talks about the denial of the will he is referring merely to the subjugation of the endogenous feeling states of an alter by the alter’s overwhelming apprehension of eternal Ideas through sense impressions. But this apprehension itself also consists of (non-individual) states of the will. As such, the ‘denial of the will’ isn’t actually a denial of the will as ground of being, but merely a suppression of particular experiential states from the field of self-reflection of an alter. This is Schopenhauer’s recipe for the temporary end—or at least alleviation—of human suffering, and for the achievement of life’s metaphysical meaning.”
ibid, p. 111
“the person who is involved in this perception is no longer an individual… he is pure will-less, painless, timeless subject of knowledge.”
“the subject, by passing entirely into the perceived object, has also become the object itself, since the entire consciousness is nothing more than its most distinct image.”
“we are no longer able to separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one”
“we do not let abstract thought, the concepts of reason, take possession of our consciousness, but, instead of all this, devote the whole power of mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein.”
Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Representation
We have seen the significance of Eternal Ideas for Schopenhauer’s doctrine of nonduality. We must tread carefully because Nietzsche is going to disagree. First Kastrup’s commentary:
“According to both Plato and Kant, perceived things and phenomena, for being transitory, have no existence in themselves, but are merely the expressions of something eternal, universal and essential. Plurality and becoming exist only in the expressions, whereas what is essential simply is what it is, outside time and space. Plato calls this eternal essence the ‘Ideas,’ whereas Kant—whom Schopenhauer follows—calls it the ‘thing-in-itself.’ That said, Schopenhauer does recognize a marked difference between these two concepts: whereas the eternal Ideas can be discerned through representation—Plato even talks of them as ideal ‘Forms,’ which seems to immediately place them in the realm of perception—the thing-in-itself is precisely that which is not representation and has no form. So do the Ideas belong to representation or are they—as Schopenhauer claims—directly related to the thing-in-itself?”
Kastrup, Decoding Schopenhauer, p. 96
And now for Nietzsche’s opinion of Plato:
“Thus did Plato flee from reality and desire to see things only in pallid mental pictures; he was full of sensibility and knew how easily the waves of his sensibility could close over his reason.”
Nietzsche, Daybreak, p. 448
Nietzsche has a disdain for the transcendent and for the covering-up of the majestic vitality of nature with words. He frequently calls it “making the world conceivable” and uses the same insult in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche believes that our faith in language itself is a superstition. He attacks philosophers because they have superstitiously assumed the magical power of their simple minds to capture transcendent realities using common words.
“The sun went down long ago, the meadow is damp, coolness is coming from the woods: something unknown surrounds me and looks down pensively at me. What, you still live! Why do you still live? Whatever moves us from within, this astonishes us, as something incomprehensible: now we invent sounds and words for it—and now we think, too, that it might have become comprehensible. This superstition is in everything that makes sounds: the insanity of the ear. Will to truth? Oh, my wisest brothers, this is a will to making the world conceivable. Even the world should now be visible in its smallest dimensions: then you think you can grasp it: this is the folly of the eye. Let us speak of it: even if it is bad; to be silent about it is terrible! I saw other oceans, their blue seemed unbelievable to me, it seemed to me like makeup on rough skin: the blood flowed down gray and ghastly. But here is the ocean’s blood—blue. Nothing is more costly than a false illusion about good and evil! “A good human being is impossible: life itself contains nothing but ill-will, delusion and injustice. And this would be the ultimate will to goodness, to deny all life!” With your good and evil you have estranged yourselves from life, made your will weary; and your assigning value was itself the sign of a will in decline, longing for death.”
Nietzsche, Unpublished Fragments 1882-1884
“What urges you on and arouses your ardour, you wisest of men, do you call it ‘will to truth’? Will to the conceivability of all being: that is what I call your will! You first want to make all being conceivable: for, with a healthy mistrust, you doubt whether it is in fact conceivable. But it must bend and accommodate itself to you! Thus will your will have it. It must become smooth and subject to the mind as the mind’s mirror and reflection. That is your entire will, you wisest men; it is a will to power; and that is so even when you talk of good and evil and of the assessment of values. You want to create the world before which you can kneel: this is your ultimate hope and intoxication.”
Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
“I entreat you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of superterrestrial hopes! They are poisoners, whether they know it or not. They are despisers of life, atrophying and self-poisoned men, of whom the earth is weary: so let them be gone.”
It would appear from his rhetoric that Nietzsche doesn’t care about any proposed world other than this one, including metaphysical doctrines of any sort. But this isn’t entirely the case. Nietzsche sees a metaphysical Will manifested imperfectly in humans and having reached a certain degree of dismal understanding. He speculates that a future superhuman would be an even greater expression of the Will and is thus inevitable. To that end, he attacks what he perceives to be poor philosophy and life-denying (e.g. Will-denying) religions of psychological repression. He writes to shatter the chains that man adorns and wears proudly so as to allow a better expression of the Will (e.g. life) that he truly loves.