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Cosmopolitan View of Nietzsche (by Ananda Coomaraswamy)

Dernière mise à jour : 21 déc. 2022

Ananda Coomaraswamy

The Dance Of Shiva: Fourteen Essays

Cosmopolitan View of Nietzsche

"CERTAINLY, Nietzsche was not a philosopher in the strict sense of the word. He is essentially a poet and sociologist, and above all, a mystic. He stands in the direct line of European mysticism, and though less profound, speaks with the same voice as Blake and Whitman. These three might, indeed, be said to voice the religion of modern Europe — the religion of Idealistic Individualism. If it were realised that his originality does not consist in an incomprehensible and unnatural novelty, but in a poetic restatement of a very old position, it might be less needful to waste our breath in the refutation of theses he never upheld.

It is true that we find in his work a certain violence and exaggeration: but its very nature is that of passionate protest against unworthy values, Pharisaic virtue, and snobisme, and the fact that this protest was received with so much execration suggests that he may be a true prophet. The stone which the builders rejected: Blessed are ye when men shall revile you. Of special significance is the beautiful doctrine of the Superman — so like the Chinese concept, of the Superior Man, and the Indian Maha Purusha, Bodhisattva and Jivan-mukta.

Amongst the chief marks of the mystic are a constant sense of the unity and interdependence of all life, and of the interpenetration of the spiritual and material — opposed to Puritanism, which distinguishes the sacred from the secular. So too is the sense of being everywhere at home — unlike the religions of reward and punishment, which speak of a future paradise and hell, and attach an absolute and eternal value to good and evil.

“All things,” he says, “are enlinked, enlaced and enamored” : “I conjure you, my brethren, remain true to the earth, and believe not those who speak to you of super earthly hopes”: “For me — how could there be an outside of me ? There is no outside” : “Every moment beginneth existence, around every ‘Here’ rolleth the ball ‘There.’ The middle is everywhere” : “Becoming must appear justified at every instant . . . the present must not under any circumstances be justified by a future, nor the past be justified for the sake of the present.” All these are characteristic mystic intuitions, or logical deductions from monism, in close accord with the Brahmanical formula, “That art thou.”

The doctrine of the Superman, whose virtue stands “beyond good and evil,” who is at once the follower and the leader and saviour of men, has been put forward again and again in the world’s history. A host of names for this ideal occur in Indian literature: he is the Arhat (adept), Buddha (enlightened), Jina (conqueror), Tirthakara (finder of the ford), the Bodhisattva (incarnation of the bestowing virtue), and above all Jivan-mukta (freed in this life), whose actions are no longer good or bad, but proceed from his freed nature.

Let us see what Nietzsche himself has to say of the Superman.

“Upward goeth our course onward from genera to super-genera. But a horror to me is the degenerating sense, which saith ‘All for myself.’

Is that the doctrine of selfishness ? As well accuse the Upanishad, where it declares that all things are dear to us for the sake of the Self. For the monist there is no true distinction of selfish and unselfish, for all interests are identical. Self-realization is perfect service, and our supreme and only duty is to become what we are (That art thou). This is idealistic individualism, and this doctrine of inner harmony is valid on all planes, for we are not saved by what we do, only by what we are.

“Ye constrain,” he says, “all things to flow towards you and into you, so that they shall flow back again out of your fountain as the gifts of your love. Verily, an appropriator of all values must such a bestowing love become: but healthy and holy call I this selfishness . . . But another selfishness there is, an all-too-poor and hungry kind, which would always steal — with the eye of the thief it looketh upon all that is lustrous: with the craving of hunger it measureth him who hath abundance: and ever doth it prowl round the table of bestowers.”

It is the author of a supposed apotheosis of the “Blonde Beast,” who exclaims :

“Better to perish than to fear and hate: far better to perish than to be feared and hated !”

Nietzsche has certainly a contempt for pity — that is, for sentimentalizing over one’s own sufferings or those of others. Naturally, life is hard: for the higher man it should be ever harder by choice.

“My suffering and my fellow-suffering — what matter about them !” “Ye tell me ‘Life is hard to bear.’ But for what purpose should ye have your pride in the morning and your resignation in the evening ?”

This is certainly different from the “greatest happiness of the greatest number,” which Western democracies have made their aim.


The “Will to Power” has nothing to do with tyranny — it is opposed alike to the tyranny of the autocrat and the tyranny of the majority. The Will to Power asserts that our life is not to be swayed by motives of pleasure or pain, the “pairs of opposites,” but is to be directed towards its goal, and that goal is the freedom and spontaneity of the Jivan-mukta. And this is beyond good and evil. This also set out in the Bhagavad Gita: the hero must be superior to pity; resolute for the fray, but unattached to the result, for, as Whitman expresses it, “battles are lost in the same spirit in which they are won.” If he be wounded, he will urge his comrades onward, rather than ask them to delay to condole with him: and he will not insult them by supposing that they in their turn would do otherwise.

“Let your love be stronger than your pity” : but that is not self-love, it is not even neighbour-love or patriotism —“Higher than love to your neighbour is love to the furthest and future ones; higher still than love to men is love to things and phantoms . . . ‘Myself do I offer unto my love, and my neighbour as myself’ — such is the language of all creators.” “Ah! that ye understood my word,” he says: “do ever what ye will — but first be such as can will. He who cannot command himself shall obey.” This is infinitely remote from the doctrine of “getting our own way” or “doing what we like” — “a horror to us,” as he says, “is the degenerating sense, which saith ‘All for myself.’”

The teaching of Nietzsche is a pure nishkama dharma : “Do I then strive after happiness ? I strive after my work !” and “All those modes of thinking,” he says, “which measure the worth of things according to pleasure and pain, are plausible modes of thought and naïvetés, which everyone conscious of creative powers and an artist’s conscience will look down upon with scorn.” For the Superman, as we should say, is not swayed by the pairs of opposites.

‘Do what ye will’ : this doctrine is neither egotistic nor altruistic. Not egotistic, for to yield to all the promptings of the senses, to be the slave of caprice, is to be moulded by our environment, and the very reverse of far-willing: it is precisely himself the Superman may not spare. It is not altruistic, for where there is naught external to myself, there can be no altruism. The highest duty is that of self-realization.

“Physician, heal thyself,” exclaims Nietzsche : “then wilt thou also heal thy patient. Let it be his best cure to see with his eyes him who maketh himself whole.”

This is nothing but the old doctrine of Chuang Tzu : “The sages of old first got Tao for themselves, and then got it for others. Before you possess this yourself, what leisure have you to attend to the doings of wicked men ? Cherish and preserve your own self, and all the rest will prosper of itself.” It reminds us also of Jesus:

“First cast out the mote from thine own eye.”

The leaders of humanity have never been such as have acted from a sense of duty, in the ordinary sense of the word. Duty is but a means of playing safe for those who lack the Bestowing Virtue. The activity of genius is not an obedience to rules, but dedication of life to what is commanded from within, even though it should appear to all others as evil.

Was Jesus humble, or did He

Give any proofs of humility ?

When but a child He ran away,

And left His parents in dismay:

These were the words upon His tongue

“I am doing My Father’s business.”

What constitutes the virtue of any action is the complete coordination of the actor. We should act according to our own nature: and when that nature has developed to its fullest stature, then what is divine attains complete manifestation. It is with preoccupations such as this that Nietzsche exclaims with such profound conviction:

“That ye might become weary of saying: ‘that an action is good because it is unselfish.’ Ah! my friends ! That your very self be in your action, as the mother is in the child: let that be your formula of virtue.”

This is the very prayer of Socrates, “and may the outward and inward man be at one” — all else is hypocrisy. The inferior man regulates his life by externals : inasmuch as he is constrained by desire for long life, reputation, riches, rank or offspring, he is not free. The superior man is of another sort, and of him it may be said, with Chuang Tzu, “that they live in accordance with their own nature. In the whole world they have no equal. They regulate their life by inward things.”

“What are not the powerful doing ?” says the Prema Sagara. “Who knows their course of action ? They, indeed, do nothing for themselves; but to those that do them honour and seek their aid, they grant their prayers. Such is their path, that they appear united to all; but upon reflection thou shalt perceive that they stand aloof from all, as the lotus leaf from water.”

“The man of perfect virtue” (Superman), says Chuang Tzu again, “in repose has no thoughts, in action no anxiety. He recognizes no right, nor wrong, nor good, nor bad. Within the Four Seas, when all profit — that is his pleasure; when all share — that is his repose. Men cling to him as children who have lost their mothers; they rally round him as wayfarers who have missed their road.” For his is the Bestowing Virtue.

According to Ashvaghosha, too, “it is said that we attain to Nirvana and that various spontaneous displays of activity are accomplished.” The Bodhisattvas do not consider the ethics of their behaviour: “they have attained to spontaneity of action, because their discipline is in unison with the wisdom and activity of all Tathagatas.” “Jesus was all virtue, because he acted from impulse and not from rules.” When Nietzsche says that the Superman is the meaning of the earth he means what we mean when we speak of a Bodhisattva, or of a Jivan-mukta.

This type which represents the highest attainment and purpose of humanity is the most difficult thing for self-assertive minds to grasp. A being “beyond good and evil,” a law unto himself. “How wicked !” exclaims the ordinary man : “for even I feel it my duty to conform to the rules of morality and to restrain my selfish desires.” Thus we shall never comprehend the selfishness which Nietzsche and other mystics praise, if we interpret it according to the lights of those who believe that all actions should be praiseworthy. The pattern of man’s behaviour is not to be found in any code, but in the principles of the universe, which is continually revealing to us its own nature. Consider the lilies . . .

There exists a voluptuousness that is not sensuality, a passion for power that is not self-assertion, and a selfishness that is more generous than any altruism. These are distinctions which Nietzsche himself is careful to insist upon, and only willful misunderstanding ignores it. It is precisely of the great man who fails that he says:

“Once they thought of becoming heroes; but sensualists are they now.” “Art thou the victorious one (jina),” he says, “the self-conqueror, the ruler of thy passions, the master of thy virtues ? Thus do I ask thee. Or does the animal speak in thy wish, and necessity ? or isolation ? or discord in thee ?” “What I warn people against . . . confounding debauchery, and the principle ‘laisser aller’ (i. e. ‘never mind’) with the Will to Power — the latter is the exact reverse of the former.” “And verily, it is no commandment for today and tomorrow to learn to love oneself. Rather is it of all arts the finest, subtlest, last and patientest.” “True and ideal selfishness consists in always watching over and restraining the soul, so that our productiveness may come to a beautiful termination.”

So far, then, from a doctrine of self-indulgence, it is a form of asceticism or ardor (tapas) which Nietzsche would have us impose on ourselves, if we are strong enough. This was precisely the view of Manu when he established a severe rule of life for the Brahman, and one far easier for the Shudra. And understanding this, Nietzsche has praised the institution of caste, for he thought it right that life should grow colder towards the summit. As the Markandeya Purana pronounces, a Brahman should do nothing for the sake of enjoyment.

Those who have comprehended the decline and fall of Western civilization will recognize in Nietzsche the reawakening of the conscience of Europe."

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