My life as a young man can be described in a single phrase: it was a period absolutely without hope… My life at the time lay entirely in the grips of nihility and despair… My decision, then, to study philosophy was in fact – melodramatic as it might sound – a matter of life and death… In the little history of my soul, this decision meant a kind of conversion. That a materialistic philosophy cannot answer the problems of the soul is clear to me from my own experience. For me there is no way to doubt that the problems of the soul are the fundamental ones for man.
– Keiji Nishitani
My journey began, as I assume many do, as an uncompromising search for objective truth regardless of the consequences. Born and raised in the Pentecostal tradition, I naturally had faith with regard to the existence of the God of Abraham. Fundamental existential questions swarmed my mind since as far back as I can remember. Questions such as: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” and “Why do I exist, or, what does it mean to exist?”
I did not question the existence of God at this time because it was simply obvious to me that a cosmic Creator was “out there” sustaining the universe. My personal reality tunnel tended to filter information into interpretations that fit this worldview. I did, however, develop a God-relationship and sincerely felt the presence of God in my life. The experience of gradually losing faith left me feeling like the least my Heavenly Father could do was give me the truth, and so I filled the “God-shaped hole” in my heart with “truth.”
I was disturbed by my own existence and the thought of my own death. Thoughts about death, what it meant, how it felt, what happened after, were at all times ruminating either consciously or subconsciously. This rumination increased when I had lung surgery twice in my teenage years to repair and prevent multiple spontaneous pneumothoraces. This was an incredibly dreadful and life-changing experience. I remember having the Bible at the hospital and then I started to carry it with me at school. When I came of age to make my own decisions, I attended Faith Baptist church with a good friend and his family twice a week. I possessed a strong conviction of purpose in the universe, which Christianity provided for me.
During my second semester at Lawrence Technological University, however, seemingly unprovoked but incredibly severe panic attacks began to seize control of my life. These absolutely horrific feelings of impending doom literally forced me to face my own mortality. During these so-called panic attacks, I felt like I was going insane and dying at the same time. I wouldn’t hesitate to describe the experience as a state of eternal hell. This existential crisis in 2003-2004 prompted the beginning of a life-long search for “Absolute Truth” and meaning in life.
After concluding that I agreed with neither Pentecostal nor Baptist doctrine I began to attend a non-denominational church, which was a little more liberal in biblical interpretation. During this period I studiously read the Holy Bible in its entirety. I created a website at which I wrote various essays defending and promulgating my Christian beliefs. After careful research of the Bible, Christian theology, and history I came to the conclusion that the correct interpretation of the Bible was to be found in Messianic Judaism. I thus began attending a Messianic synagogue, Congregation Shema Yisrael, all the while studying theology and apologetics.
I read Kant. You can ask, Why did you read Kant? For me the question was somehow: I can either study philosophy or I can drown myself, so to speak. But not because I didn’t love life! No! As I said before – I had this need to understand… The need to understand was there very early. You see, all the books were in the library at home; one simply took them from the shelves.
– Hannah Arendt
However, my personal will to find objective truth (presumably born and/or nurtured by my Christian upbringing) eventually gave way to its own demise. Upon taking up the study of Western philosophy, I found every argument of natural theology to be invalid and inadequate. I also spent a great amount of time studying the history of numerous world religions. Around this period I wrote Natural Theology & Classical Apologetics.
I began to see natural explanations for biblical prophecy and miracles in place of supernatural explanations. My eschatological view shifted from futurism to preterism. I began to interpret most of the teachings of the Bible as metaphorical rather than literal. I discovered that a metaphorical interpretation yielded much greater spiritual edification; much wisdom is never to be found by the one who remains preoccupied with defending the truth of literal interpretation. Myth has its own way of teaching. It is of absolutely no consequence whether God created the world in six days or billions of years. How did that even become the issue in Genesis, while the deeper lessons concerning wisdom and morality are on the same page? I digress.
Nonetheless, I told myself that even if God was proven to not exist I would still retain my faith, as it was my sole reason for living. As my belief in eternal life steadily eroded away, my conclusion was found to be agnosticism with regard to the existence of God. At some point in 2006, I wrote Epistemology and the Metaphysics of the Soul. I began drifting through many differing schools of thought within Western philosophy as I continued to pursue objective metaphysical truth. Years passed until I came to the realization that I was pursuing cold, dead, impersonal truth (akin to scientific truth) that had no bearing on my original intention of finding meaning and purpose in this life.
My path was not the normal one of professors of philosophy. To decide to become a philosopher seemed as foolish to me as to decide to become a poet. Since my schooldays, however, I was guided by philosophical questions. Philosophy seemed to me the supreme, even the sole, concern of man. Yet a certain awe kept me from making it my profession.
– Karl Jaspers
An epiphany of existential proportions struck me when I became acquainted with Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. It gradually became clear to me how and why men created gods and God in their own idealistic images of moral perfection. There was no longer any room in my life for monotheistic beliefs or a God-relationship, and I could not go back from the abyss that I found myself thrown into.
Since that time I have been in pursuit of a more subjective and inward truth, that is, a telos in existence and an inquiry into the “self.” Upon studying Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a nihilistic tendency began to occupy my thoughts, regardless of the fact that they both proposed solutions to existential nihilism and despair. Sartre and Nietzsche made it impossible for me to believe in the existence of a theistic God that previously gave my life meaning, while Kierkegaard taught me the difference between belief and faith.
Though it is of great interest to me, I have never used any strong psychedelic substances (LSD, mushrooms, ayahuasca, etc.) to induce a mystical or spiritual experience. I have, however, had many interesting experiences as a result of consuming a natural medicinal plant, commonly known as marijuana. I seem to have a particularly sensitive central nervous system alongside a natural attraction to things spiritual, which made the effects of marijuana uniquely intense for me. My experiences ranged from full-fledged dread to profound inner peace, from pure existence in the moment to deeply abstract thought, from complete ego-death to viewing the world with a childlike sense of wonder.
Looking back, I highly appreciate these experiences and consider them psychologically and spiritually beneficial. Some would say that nature provides spiritual medicine, and I am inclined to agree. Aside from learning that the world can be seen in many different ways, I learned how to simply “let go,” with no fight, no flight, and no sense of panic. This “medicine for the spirit” proved a valuable tool in the confrontation and self-conquest of my greatest fears about death and impermanence, which I have eventually come to understand and accept.
I admit that twice two makes four is an excellent thing, but if we are to give everything its due, twice two makes five is sometimes a very charming thing too. Merciful Heavens! but what do I care for the laws of nature and arithmetic, when, for some reason I dislike those laws and the fact that twice two makes four? Of course I cannot break through the wall by battering my head against it if I really have not the strength to knock it down, but I am not going to be reconciled to it simply because it is a stone wall and I have not the strength.
– Fyodor Dostoevsky
In early 2008 I began to suffer from an increasingly severe chronic daily headache. It was debilitating to the point that I literally could not get out of bed when it was in full force. I had no health insurance and no doctor had been able to diagnose exactly what the problem was and I could not find an “existential” psychologist to discuss my infinitely deep religious concerns with. So they prescribed pills. After around two years of suffering, I managed to find a neurologist that was able to help control the symptoms with magical pills that served only to make my central nervous system comfortably numb.
I believe the problem underlying the symptoms was at least partially related to or caused by my existential concerns. Years ago I attempted to stop the medication cold turkey and the withdrawal was devastating. At one point I felt so trapped by my own addiction to media – video games, movies, television – that I physically destroyed my laptop and television. This chronic headache began to be something that I learned to overcome myself, similar to the “panic, anxiety, and associated depression” I was diagnosed with earlier on. Ironic as it may sound, the thought of suicide was at all times a comfort as well as immensely liberating.
Eventually, I began to view philosophy as a uniquely deep spiritual and moral form of autobiography, just as any instrument (e.g. our central nervous system) we use to measure the universe tells us as much about the instrument as it does the universe. I began to dismiss any notion of finding truth in metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. With regard to morality, reason was indeed a “slave to the passions,” thus rendering morality an emotional reaction. Political theory and aesthetics were the only two branches of philosophy in which I retained interest as there is no absolute truth to ascertain therein.
During a particularly rough period of my life, at which time I was hopelessly addicted to certain substances in my vain grasping after truth, I wrote The History of an Error. Value gradually became a more significant problem for me than metaphysics. Most recently, I have been studying the close relationship between Western existential thought and non-dualistic Eastern Buddhist thought.
As the realization overcame me that, at the time, there was no true philosophy at the universities, I thought that facing such a vacuum even he, who was too weak to create his own philosophy, had the right to hold forth about philosophy, to declare what it once was and what it could be. Only then, approaching my fortieth birthday, I made philosophy my life’s work.
– Karl Jaspers
Below is a somewhat chronological list of some of the most important writings that I have read throughout the years that have each had a great influence on my way of thinking.
This book constituted my initial exposure to a serious study of world religions. Smith does a fantastic job of delving into the core of the world’s many religions. I have yet to read the classic companion to this book by the same author: Forgotten Truth: The Common Vision of the World’s Religions.
If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.
– Huston Smith
My preferred translation plus the supplemental material to put things in context and aid in understanding the culture and age. For the first two decades of my life, I considered this grouping of books to be written by God Himself and, therefore, an infallible source of the nature of reality and of the correct way to exist (i.e. the one true source of absolute truth and morality).
Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.
– 1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV)
Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler
My first exposure to natural theology. This was the book that I used to logically defend my beliefs for a long time. At first glance Geisler’s arguments for theism are sound but eventually, I found flaws in each one. It was around this time that I wrote the first edition of Natural Theology and Classical Apologetics in defense of my beliefs, primarily using natural theology and Biblical prophecy to validate my beliefs. A few years later I took to editing and rewriting each argument and my final conclusion was that reason alone was utterly incapable of proving the existence of a theistic God.
So I cast my lot with him-not the one who claimed wisdom, Confucius; or the one who claimed enlightenment, Buddha; or the one who claimed to be a prophet, Muhammad, but with the one who claimed to be God in human flesh. The one who declared, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am’ – and proved it.
– Norman Geisler
Plato: Complete Works
The Basic Works of Aristotle
My first exposure to Western philosophy. Ancient Greece became a starting point for a spiritual and metaphysical journey that proceeded like a continual discourse between several great minds throughout the centuries. Notably, Plato advanced the abstract epistemological theory of the Forms, while Aristotle, being a student of Plato and mentor to Alexander the Great, seemingly studied everything under the sun and demonstrated a slightly more concrete and scientific bend. Both of their writings have played an essential role in the development of Christianity. Medieval theologian St. Thomas Aquinas is famously known for his reverence of Aristotle and his incorporation of Aristotle’s thought into Catholic theology. As for Plato, his theory of the Forms provided the foundational theistic paradigm for budding Christianity. Aside from being greatly influenced by Greek philosophy, Christendom shares many mythological elements with various mystery religions, ancient cults and even Buddhism and Taoism. Regardless of their faults, I still hold more respect for the philosophers of ancient Greece than for most important modern philosophers. I still recognize virtue ethics as the only valid approach to morality.
There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance… The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing… I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.
If there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake, clearly this must be the good. Will not knowledge of it, then, have a great influence on life? Shall we not, like archers who have a mark to aim at, be more likely to hit upon what we should? If so, we must try, in outline at least, to determine what it is.
Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy by Rene Descartes
This was my introduction to modern metaphysics. Descartes is widely considered the father of modern Western philosophy, particularly rationalism. He is also well known by mathematicians for his Cartesian equations. This marked the beginning of a meta-scientific journey in which I pursued the ultimate nature of reality relentlessly, which I apparently presumed would lead to an ultimate telos of life.
If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. I suppose therefore that all things I see are illusions; I believe that nothing has ever existed of everything my lying memory tells me. I think I have no senses. I believe that body, shape, extension, motion, location are functions. What is there then that can be taken as true? Perhaps only this one thing, that nothing at all is certain.
– Rene Descartes
A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume
The Natural History of Religion by David Hume
David Hume‘s radical empiricism marked the beginning of a period of skepticism and Great Doubt in my religious worldview. Being a strict empiricist, Hume was a man determined to call into question and inevitably invalidate most of humanity’s conventional wisdom along with everything born of rationalism – e.g. inductive logic, cause and effect, morality, miracles, natural theology, the immortality of the soul, etc. This was an attempt to push empiricism to its furthest logical conclusions.
During this period I read various holy books including the Qur’an (English translation), the Hadith, the Tanakh (orthodox translation), the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, the Tao Te Ching, the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Egyptian Book of the Dead, various Buddhist texts, and all too many more. My thirst for truth was unquenchable.
Custom, then, is the great guide of human life. It is that principle alone which renders our experience useful to us, and makes us expect, for the future, a similar train of events with those which have appeared in the past.
Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.
– David Hume
Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley
Berkeley‘s metaphysical idealism temporarily gave me a way to hold on to religious belief, however frail it had become by this time. He would argue that the mind is all that exists, while the intuition of an external continuum was sustained in the mind of God. This so-called Idealism was the result of taking rationalism to its furthest logical conclusions.
It is indeed an opinion strangely prevailing amongst men, that houses, mountains, rivers, and in a word all sensible objects have an existence natural or real, distinct from their being perceived by the understanding. But with how great an assurance and acquiescence soever this principle may be entertained in the world; yet whoever shall find in his heart to call it in question, may, if I mistake not, perceive it to involve a manifest contradiction. For what are the forementioned objects but the things we perceive by sense, and what do we perceive besides our own ideas or sensations; and is it not plainly repugnant that any one of these or any combination of them should exist unperceived?
– George Berkeley
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
Known famously for his political theory, which provided the foundation of modern democracy, it was Locke‘s metaphysical theory that first caught my attention. My search was essentially existential and religiously driven, even when I mistakenly thought that metaphysics would provide answers to my existential questions. This is a fact that I did not understand until later. Locke made an attempt to rectify the two prevailing schools of thought in Western philosophy during his time, namely rationalism and empiricism. However, he would never attain the depth of insight achieved by Immanuel Kant.
For where is the man that has incontestable evidence of the truth of all that he holds, or of the falsehood of all he condemns; or can say that he has examined to the bottom all his own, or other men’s opinions? The necessity of believing without knowledge, nay often upon very slight grounds, in this fleeting state of action and blindness we are in, should make us more busy and careful to inform ourselves than constrain others.
– John Locke
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant
The Critique of Practical Reason by Immanuel Kant
The Critique of Pure Reason stands as the one most difficult book that I have ever read, but I walked away shaken and speechless from Kant‘s “Copernican Revolution.” He reversed the ancient and prevailing assumption that experience is determined by external objects. Instead, he took it upon himself to examine whether, perhaps, objects of perception must conform to the regulating faculties of the mind, to how our brains are capable of perceiving. For example, space-time becomes not something external, but rather the very mode in which the mind perceives. Are synthetic a priori truths possible? For a long time I aligned myself with Kant’s philosophy, both epistemological and ethical. He made the legendary attempt to define the limits of reason itself and claimed to leave room for faith in God, morality and the immortal soul. Claiming to have been “awakened from his dogmatic slumber” by reading the works of David Hume, he made it his mission to reconcile rationalism and empiricism. Kant’s transcendental idealism and deontological ethical theory profoundly changed the way I view the world. Kant still stands as one of the most influential Western philosophers to exist. One cannot study Western philosophy without inevitably encountering the thought of this man.
Hitherto it has been assumed that all our knowledge must conform to objects. But all attempts to extend our knowledge of objects by establishing something in regard to them a priori, by means of concepts, have, on this assumption, ended in failure. We must therefore make trial whether we may not have more success in the tasks of metaphysics, if we suppose that objects must conform to our knowledge.
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.
– Immanuel Kant
Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre
Sartre sparked my interest in existential philosophy, as I began to notice that it dealt with my real concern in philosophy. He operated on the assumption that for a being like a man, “existence precedes essence,” thereby excluding any preconceived Form of man created in God’s image. Man’s task was to invent himself. Sartre attempted to logically pursue an atheistic position to its very end, though he would never attain the insight and profound understanding of such an end as did Nietzsche. It was around this time that I also read The Existentialist Tradition: Selected Writings by Nino Langiulli and Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre by Walter Kaufmann.
Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. It is up to you to give life a meaning.
Existentialism is nothing else but an attempt to draw the full conclusions from a consistently atheistic position. Its intention is not in the least that of plunging men into despair. And if by despair one means as the Christians do – any attitude of unbelief, the despair of the existentialists is something different. Existentialism is not atheist in the sense that it would exhaust itself in demonstrations of the non-existence of God. It declares, rather, that even if God existed that would make no difference from its point of view. Not that we believe God does exist, but we think that the real problem is not that of His existence; what man needs is to find himself again and to understand that nothing can save him from himself, not even a valid proof of the existence of God. In this sense existentialism is optimistic. It is a doctrine of action, and it is only by self-deception, by confining their own despair with ours that Christians can describe us as without hope.
– Jean-Paul Sartre
Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein brought along a skepticism about the relationship of the nature of language to philosophical discourse. Is all philosophical thought mere semantics? Does the nature of language limit the possibility of philosophical discourse? Can words adequately describe reality?
Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.
We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
Basic Writings of Nietzsche
The Portable Nietzsche
Friedrich Nietzsche stands as the one greatest influential mind that has formed my worldview. Nietzsche himself was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, who has had only an indirect influence on myself. Most people have only heard about him in passing, perhaps something about the eternal return, the death of God, or the will to power. Unfortunately, Nietzsche has quite a bad reputation among those who haven’t read his work. Many mistakenly label him a nihilist. Furthermore, only a fraction of those who have read his work will understand him. I would venture to say that this man is the most misunderstood philosopher yet to live. With each writing Nietzsche was attempting to explain and overcome precisely what I had been feeling, that is, existential nihilism, despair, and dread. Life is a balance of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the latter of which is found sorely lacking in Western philosophy. He traced the roots of nihilism back to Plato’s theory of the Forms (specifically, the Form of the Good and the duality of pure Being over becoming), which in turn, combined with ascetic stoicism and “slave morality,” became what is presently known as Christian theology. Nietzsche recognized that Christendom’s very own elevation of absolute Truth (i.e. pure Being) to divine status had finally become its ultimate undoing. He personally viewed Christianity itself as nihilistic insofar as it denies the present world in favor of an “afterlife.” His thoughts on valuation, will and the nature of truth, including the value of truth, were highly influential, as were his notions of immoralism, amor fati, and perspectivism. At this point, my belief in a personal theistic God had completely vanished, as had my will to objective metaphysical truth. Nietzsche’s proposed solution to nihilism and his genealogy of ideas such as God, morality, and metaphysics have influenced not only my thought, but also my life.
The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”? Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks. And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater.
– Friedrich Nietzsche
The Essential Kierkegaard
Søren Kierkegaard has been the single greatest influence on my understanding of faith, authenticity, and subjective truth. Kierkegaard remains a true Bodhisattva in Western philosophy and religion. I would that his writings were mandatory reading for every so-called Christian, as he explores the unique profundity of faith and the abyss that separates faith from belief. Unfortunately, I have not met a single Christian that is acquainted with Kierkegaard. His interpretation of Christianity disregards any arguments for the existence of God as offensive to a truly lived God-relationship. Kierkegaard teaches us to live on purpose and not on accident. In direct opposition to Hegel, he argues that personal subjectivity is truth, which is a complete reversal of the traditional Western assumption that impartial objective truth is somehow the one and only goal of philosophy (i.e. truth as an end-in-itself; the foundation and subconscious will of modern science). Many regard Kierkegaard as the father of existentialism and modern psychology. His writings are full of humor and irony. To this day his concept-transcendent Concept of Anxiety still reverberates in academia and in the personal lives of men.
The thing is to find a truth which is a truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die…. What use would it be in this respect if I were to discover a so-called objective truth, or if I worked my way through the philosophers’ systems…? And what use would it be in that respect to be able to work out a theory of the state…which I myself did not inhabit but merely held up for others to see? What use would it be to be able to propound the meaning of Christianity, to explain many separate facts, if it had no deeper meaning for myself and my life? One must first learn to know oneself before knowing anything else… Only when the person has inwardly understood himself, and then sees the way forward on his path, does his life acquire repose and meaning.
When subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, then truth, objectively defined, is a paradox; and that truth is objectively a paradox shows precisely that subjectivity is truth, since the objectivity does indeed thrust away, and the objectivity’s repulsion, or the expression for the objectivity’s repulsion, is the resilience and dynamometer of inwardness.
In so-called Christian speculative thought, what other presupposition can there be at all than that Christianity is the very opposite of speculative thought, that it is the miraculous, the absurd, with the requirement that the individual is to exist in it and is not to waste time on speculatively understanding. If there is speculative thinking within this presupposition, then the speculative thought will instead have as its task a concentration on the impossibility of speculatively understanding Christianity.
– Søren Kierkegaard
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
At first, Heidegger thoroughly confused my life. However, his quest for the original ground of Being and his existential concepts of Dasein and being-toward-death, once properly understood, finally aided in the transcendence of metaphysics.
Why are there beings at all instead of nothing? That is the question. Presumably it is not an arbitrary question, “Why are there beings at all instead of nothing”- this is obviously the first of all questions. Of course it is not the first question in the chronological sense… And yet, we are each touched once, maybe even every now and then, by the concealed power of this question, without properly grasping what is happening to us. In great despair, for example, when all weight tends to dwindle away from things and the sense of things grows dark, the question looms.
– Martin Heidegger
Principia Discordia, or How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate Of Malaclypse The Younger, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything
This book, while on the surface appearing as the sacred text of a sarcastic parody religion (which it is and is not), implicitly challenges more than a few ideas central to Western philosophy and religion. It has been called Zen for wide-eyes. The Discordian religion has been described as both an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, and a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. It has also been described as a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion. I love this little book because it never ceases to put a smile on my face. Whenever I find myself being too serious I always know I can count on The Principia Discordia and I Heart Huckabees for some comic relief. Robert Anton Wilson was a Discordian Pope who helped spark my interest in Eastern philosophy.
All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense… The world is not governed by facts or logic. It is governed by BS (belief systems).
– Robert Anton Wilson
The Aneristic Principle is that of apparent order; the Eristic Principle is that of apparent disorder. Both order and disorder are man made concepts and are artificial divisions of pure chaos, which is a level deeper than is the level of distinction making.
– Discordian Catma
A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.
– Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Keiji Nishitani
Religion and Nothingness by Keiji Nishitani
I was introduced to the work of Nishitani through a book authored by Carl Olson entitled Zen and the Art of Postmodern Philosophy: Two Paths of Liberation from the Representational Mode of Thinking. Religion and philosophy in Japan are not as differentiated as they are in Western traditions. Nishitani and others of the Kyoto School have made possible a dialogue between East and West. He attempts to portray Eastern religion (de-mythologized Zen Buddhism in particular) in the form of Western philosophy.
All things that are in the world are linked together, one way or the other. Not a single thing comes into being without some relationship to every other thing. Scientific intellect thinks here in terms of natural laws of necessary causality; mythico-poetic imagination perceives an organic, living connection; philosophic reason contemplates an absolute One. But on a more essential level, a system of circuminsession has to be seen here, according to which, on the field of Śūnyatā, all things are in a process of becoming master and servant to one another. In this system, each thing is itself in not being itself, and is not itself in being itself. Its being is illusion in its truth and truth in its illusion. This may sound strange the first time one hears it, but in fact it enables us for the first time to conceive of a force by virtue of which all things are gathered together and brought into relationship with one another, a force which, since ancient times, has gone by the name of “nature” (physis).
– Keiji Nishitani
While the history of Japanese metaphysical speculation, based on peculiarly Asian religious experiences, goes back to the eleventh century, Japanese philosophy as organized in accordance with Western concepts and assumptions is barely a century old. Ever since they came in contact with the culture and philosophy of the West, Japanese thinkers have considered it their task to search for a harmonious integration of two philosophical worlds; to reformulate, in the categories of an alien Western philosophy, the philosophical insights of their own past.
For the East the principle of salvation was made into a basic principle for all reality… the Kyoto school (of which Nishitani is a “member”) simply transfers this process to an ontological level in accord with the Western scheme of things. In contradistinction to Western culture which considers form as existence and formation as good, the urge to see the form of the formless, and hear the sound of the soundless, lies at the foundation of Eastern culture. The idea of ‘being’ is the Archimedean point of Western thought. Not only philosophy and theology but the whole tradition of Western civilization have turned around this point. All is different in Eastern thought and Buddhism. The central notion from which Oriental religious intuition and belief as well as philosophical thought have been developed is the idea of ‘nothingness.’
– Religion and Nothingness, Foreword and Translator’s Introduction
Like Nietzsche, Nishitani understands the causes and effects of the looming presence of nihilism in contemporary society and attempts to teach his audience how to overcome such nihilism via non-dualistic thought and by revealing the emptiness (dependent origination) of the self and the world. Nihility itself is emptied out when encountering Śūnyatā (Absolute Emptiness). Thus both meaning and nihilism are ruled out and everything becomes understood as dependent origination.
A nihilistic interpretation of the concept of emptiness (or of mind-only) is not, by any means, a merely hypothetical possibility (cf. Nietzsche); it consistently was adopted by Buddhism’s opponents, wherever the religion spread, nor have Buddhists themselves been immune to it. Emptiness does not mean nothingness, but rather that all things lack intrinsic reality, intrinsic objectivity, intrinsic identity or intrinsic referentiality. Lacking such static essence or substance does not make them not exist – it makes them thoroughly relative and interdependent.
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More recently I have studied The Teaching of Buddha and have come to understand the essence of Buddha. I recognize the perennial wisdom, which is deeply hidden in plain sight, to be found within the esoteric teachings of the religions and philosophies of the world. I was quite surprised to find that Buddha had sufficiently explored most, if not all, of the problems that have plagued Western philosophy and religion for thousands of years. In close correlation to my comparative study of Continental and Oriental philosophy (particularly with regard to Western existentialism and Zen Buddhism, morality and shame, and the relationship between the task of metaphysics and that of existential analysis), I have been researching how to put their combined wisdom into practice (particularly with regard to existential psychology).
While still learning how to become my authentic self (as opposed to many years of learning how to conform myself to the will of others), I have made a leap into existence and, therefore, out of abstract thought. I feel, for lack of a better term, a divine calling again, similar to what I felt back in 2004 at LTU. The difference now is that the crippling fear of death and impermanence, which caused my “panic disorder,” is now gone. I’ve recognized that I’ve been much too lost in thought, obsessively stuck in my own head. In general, I question the motives of industrialized medicine and recognize a certain degree of moralism in mainstream psychological theory and practice. In specific, I question the medical, psychological and spiritual competency of those doctors who would have me solve my existential problems, which were conveniently covered under the umbrella terms of depression and anxiety, with mind-numbing pills.
After an unfathomably depressed and nihilistic period of my life in which I mourned the death of God, I felt a sense of liberation. I realized that my very personal nihilism was a reactionary speculation at best (i.e. it would not have been possible without the premise of Christianity and eternal life in the first place) and a self-induced delusion at worst. Thus I became a free spirit. I no longer feel any need to validate, justify or explain neither the world nor my own existence in it and with it. The truth is that thinking way too much about anything will make you neurotic. Existential nihilism (or despair) is made manifest as mental “disorder” such as depression, insecurity, apathy, or anxiety. Each of these so-called disorders are complex parts of what make us human. They are products of the mind and may be successfully mediated by honest and deep introspection. Personally, I found that I must change the way that I experience the world.
Have you reckon’d a thousand acres much? have you reckon’d the earth much?
Have you practis’d so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?
Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.
– Walt Whitman
My position was terrible. I knew I could find nothing along the path of reasonable knowledge except a denial of life; and there — in faith — was nothing but a denial of reason, which was yet more impossible for me than a denial of life. From rational knowledge it appeared that life is an evil, people know this and it is in their power to end life; yet they lived and still live, and I myself live, though I have long known that life is senseless and an evil. By faith it appears that in order to understand the meaning of life I must renounce my reason, the very thing for which alone a meaning is required…
I asked: “What is the meaning of my life, beyond time, cause, and space?” And I replied to quite another question: “What is the meaning of my life within time, cause, and space?” With the result that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: “None.”
I understood that if I wish to understand life and its meaning, I must not live the life of a parasite, but must live a real life, and — taking the meaning given to live by real humanity and merging myself in that life — verify it.
– Leo Tolstoy