Nothing More (feat. Alan Watts) – Pyre

When you opened your eyes on the world for the first time as a child,
How brilliant the colors were, what a jewel the sun was,
What marvel the stars, how incredibly alive the trees were…

And to love again and again, and have people to whom we are deeply attached go to sleep and never wake up…
And the laughter echoes only in one’s mind… but then the echo goes… the memory, the traces are all gone.

All your efforts, all your achievements, all your attainments turning into dust, Nothingness… what is the feeling? What happens to you?

The idea of God as the potter, the architect of the universe,
It makes you feel that life is, after all, important, that there is someone who cares.
It has meaning, it has sense, and you are valuable in the eyes of the Father.
But after a while it got embarrassing, the superstition, the myth, the absolutely unfounded idea… why does anybody believe that?

So you become an atheist, and then you feel terrible after that because you got rid of God…
But that means you got rid of yourself, you’re just nothing but a machine…
And your idea that you’re a machine is just a machine too… (a machine in the system)…

So if you think that that’s the way things are, you feel hostile to the world.
You feel that the world is a neurological trap into which you somehow got caught… trapped…
You run from the maternity ward to the crematorium and that’s it… that’s it…
So if you’re a smart kid you commit suicide.

Now I want to propose another idea altogether…
The real you, is not a puppet which life pushes around.
The real you, the real deep down you, is the whole universe.
You cannot confine yourself to what happens inside the skin.
Your skin doesn’t separate you from the world, it’s a bridge.
But just as a magnet polarizes itself in north and south, but its all one magnet,
So experience polarizes itself as “Self” and “Other”, but it’s all one.

What you call the “External world” is as much YOU as your own body.
Most people think that when they open their eyes and look around that what they are seeing is outside…
It seems, doesn’t it, that you are behind your eyes.
We haven’t realized that life and death, black and white, good and evil, being and non-being, come from the same center.

When you look for your own particularized center of being which is separate from everything else, you wont be able to find it.
The only way you’ll know it isn’t there is if you look hard enough, to find out that it isn’t there.
It isn’t there at all, there isn’t a separate you.
There are, in physical reality, no such things as separate events.

People can’t be talked out of illusions.
If a person believes that the earth is flat, you can’t talk him out of that, he knows that it’s flat.
He’ll go down to the window and see that its obvious, it looks flat.
So the only way to convince him that it isn’t is to say, “Well let’s go and find the edge”.

Songwriters: Daniel Oliver / Jonathan Taylor Hawkins / Mark Anthony Vollelunga / Alan Watts

Pyre lyrics © Downtown Music Publishing

The Parable of the Arrow


The Buddha was sitting in the park when his disciple Malunkyaputta approached him. Malunkyaputta had recently retired from the world and he was concerned that so many things remained unexplained by the Buddha. Was the world eternal or not eternal? Was the soul different from the body? Did the enlightened exist after death or not? He thought, “If the Buddha does not explain these things to me, I will give up this training and return to worldly life.”

Thus, he approached the Buddha with this question, who replied:

It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends and companions, kinsmen and relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name and clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkyaputta, there is still birth, old age, death, grief, suffering, sorrow and despair – and these can be destroyed in this life! I have not explained these other things because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquility and Nirvana. What I have explained is suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering. This is useful, leading to non-attachment, the absence of passion, perfect knowledge.

Thus spoke the Buddha, and with joy Malunkyaputta applauded his words.

– Majjhima-nikaya, Sutta 63

Religion & Nothingness

Keiji Nishitani – “Religion and Nothingness”

religion and nothingness

Originally Published on Strong Reading


Keiji Nishitani attempts in this book to reformulate the question “What is religion?” away from attempts to amass historical evidence from a variety of traditions in order to create a universal definition of religion based on certain shared characteristics, from using an objective viewpoint to encounter religion as some type of object whose characteristics can be catalogued and compared. Instead, Nishitani seeks the home-ground of religion, its existence as it is lived by people. The question of religion is to be approached by a person questioning what religion is specifically to them, how they live what they call religion, treating that practice as religion’s sole existence, “where religion emerges from man himself, as a subject, as a self living in the present.” (xlviii) So Nishitani is uninterested in what religion “has been,” but in what it “ought to be,” how it can be understood and practiced in such a way as to carry personal conviction.

In so reformulating the question of religion, Nishitani attempts to engage not only with the Zen Buddhist tradition in which he has been raised and practiced, but also with Western philosophies of religion (comparisons of Eastern vs. Western thinking/society are all over this book – I’m too lazy to put scare quotes over all of them…). Nishitani regards the contemporary situation of Western culture (this book was written in 1982) as one whose primary disease is nihilism, the loss of lived belief in personal deities and an ordered cosmos, replaced by what he sees as empty worship of human capacities. In order to overcome this situation, Western thought must come to recognize the Buddhist standpoint of sunyata, and the perspective it opens on human affairs and the natural world.

Nishitani insists that his account is meant to be non-doctrinal, equally applicable to all religions, but he ultimately criticizes Christianity and Judaism for embodying a pre-nihilistic viewpoint, that of a personal deity and of individual chosenness and election by God, a fundamentally self-centered viewpoint, which he argues can only be overcome, along with the nihilism to which it has succumbed, by adoption of certain Buddhist concepts and perspectives, heavily inflected with concepts taken from Heidegger, Hegel, and Kierkegaard.

Chapter 1: “What is Religion?”

The question “What is religion?” or, more importantly, the question “Why do we need religion?” is ambiguous: asking the question is a demonstration that religion has not yet become a necessity for the questioner, but religion should be necessary even for one who does not yet see its value. This ambiguity arises from the fact that religion cannot be defended in terms of its utility: “a religion concerned primarily with its own utility bears witness to its degeneration.” (2) Utility is a form of evaluation that is fundamentally self-centered; when I ask what purpose religion serves I really ask what purpose it serves for me.

The question of religion opens up, for Nishitani, at the point where we no longer understand utility as a viable form of evaluation, in what are called limit experiences such as death, illness, poverty, etc., undermines “the roothold of our existence and bring[s] the meaning of life into question – become[s] pressing personal problems for us.” (3) The value of all our previous projects undertaken for our own sakes is dissolved in these limit experiences, and we recognize that “not one of all the things that had made up the stuff of life until then is of any use.” (3) Nishitani argues that, following Kierkegaard and Heidegger, “that abyss is always just underfoot,” and that the nihility, “that which renders meaningless the meaning of life,” always underlies the projects we create for ourselves (3-4). Religion arises at these moments of crisis where nihility has overcome our self-centered existence and called the meaning of our lives into question, such that we are force to asked for what purpose we exist. Religion, then, for Nishitani, is the practice, the lived experience, of an individual’s answering this question for herself, the overcoming of self-centered living through the replacement of self-love by life lived for a purpose which becomes the new object of live, which he will later compare to love of one’s neighbor.

Nishitani, noting that there are many different perspective by which one can view religion, chooses to focus on religion as the “real self-awareness of reality,” which refers both to our awareness of reality and reality’s realizing (actualizing itself and coming to its self-awareness) itself within our awareness and actions (5). Reality realizes itself in us by appropriating us to reality, thus altering not only our thoughts, but also our actions and practices to take up their “essential determination,” thus bringing us to live in the fullest sense of the term according to our real being (6).

Reality for Nishitani is unrelated to bare physical existence, as the nihility representing the meaninglessness of physical things and the death representing the negation of life are equally real phenomena. When Nishitani speaks of reality, he refers to “a great harmony among all things in the universe that brings them into being and sustains them in mutual dependence and cooperation, a mystical order that rules over all things so that God can be seen in the most trivial of things.” (8-9) In other words, reality constitutes that perspective whereby we can see within each individual thing, in its course of changes and ultimately its inevitable death, its essential relationship and harmony with all other things in the universe. Reality realizes itself in us when we not only see the universe according to this perspective, but actively take it up in our practices of living, behaving and becoming a harmonious being in relationship with all other things, described in more detail in later chapters.

Two types of self-centeredness, however, prevent us from living within what Nishitani calls the field of reality: the first, already described above, is the self-centeredness of our intentions and interests, understanding all of our activities in terms of their utility for us. The second is a conceptual self-centeredness, or the “subjective autonomy of the ego” that arises from Cartesian philosophy (10). Modern philosophy regards the ego as a separate individual, cut off from the world which it represents to itself and thus comprehends as a set of objects. This egocentric perspective prevents us from comprehending the pre-Cartesian view of the universe, as an organic whole whose parts are in sympathy with each other, connected by the souls of each thing.

The modern egocentric perspective sees only its own intentions and representations, its forms of knowledge and emotions, reflected back to it when looking into the universe. The egocentric subject is closed within its own self-understanding, such that “ego means self in a state of self-attachment.” (14) Nishitani opposes what he refers to as the elemental self to this form of encountering the world, where one recognizes and therefore lives within one’s roots or grounds within universal harmony. The passing-over from the self-attached to the elemental selves begins in the limit experiences outlined above, which create in the individual “the Great Doubt,” a Zen phrase Nishitani uses to express the “fundamental uncertainty about the very existence of oneself and others.” (16) The Great Doubt involves recognizing that nihility not only is present as a threat amongst our everyday existence, but is fundamentally at its root, that nihility, meaningless and formlessness, lies “concealed at the ground of all that exists, at the ground of the world itself,” a recognition that does not negate the reality of the world, but “nullifies” it, bringing us face-to-face with the impermanence and evanescence of our own existences, along with that of all things (16).

Nishitani compares the experience of the Great Doubt to the Christian recognition of sin and evil. An individual’s recognition of his or her own sinful state is connected with recognizing the sinfulness of all humanity, that in the very ground of humanity’s existence as humanity, it is in essence sinful. True recognition of sin is deeper than secular definitions of evil as the latter only isolate instances of evil actions, whereas the former recognizes the transtemporality and essentiality of sin to humanity as such, in other words that humanity is in itself corrupt. In Christianity, faith must exist within this experience of sin, beginning in the recognition that sin, the shunning of divine love, is only possible inasmuch as humanity is essentially a receptacle for divine love, such that the “point of contact” between humans and God is found within “the very awareness of the fact of complete corruption itself.” (25)

Nishitani labels this realization the “Great Reality,” which follows from the Great Doubt in Zen Buddhism. In both religions, faith comes upon the recognition that humanity, in its state of nihility/sinfulness, is in reality essentially connected by its point of contact with some form of divine love. It follows that humanity is transtemporally and essentially connected not only in its sinfulness, but also in its relationship with the divine, the “‘Power of the Original Vow’ (that is, the saving will) of the Tagatha (Buddha) in the direction of all sentient beings,” or God’s agape. (26) Our recognition of our relationship with all other sentient beings and thus also with the divine is the only way to fully overcome our egocentric selfhood, fully break apart our solitude, and actualize our true elemental selfhood through faith.

Modern atheism in fact provides the key to start each individual’s personal journey towards faith. Nishitani chooses Sartre as his representative for modern atheistic humanism, basing his understanding of the ego on “subjective nothingness,” where no transcendent meaning grounds human existence, such that humans are capable of choosing “an image of what he believes man ought to be” and living that image out (31). In place of the imago Dei as the transcendent ground of human ethics, Sartre has humans create an “image of man” by which they model themselves. In this way, Nishitani argues, humans become fully closed within their ego’s projections of who they ought to be, blinded to the nihility that underlies their projections.

Modern atheism does not, however, liberate humanity from nihility, but rather brings it closer to it. Limit experiences will still call into question an individual’s existence, but this time with no grounding meaning to their lives outside of that which they have created and has just been called into question. In response, religion must reassert itself by coming to terms with two issues that have traditionally hampered it. First is a paradox regarding the ontological status of humanity vis a vis God. God has in traditional Christianity been understood as creator ex nihilo, meaning that God is ultimately more real than creation, being its archetype and architect. At the same time, however, creation is seen as imbued and sustained by divine love, and so the exact ontological status of creation is unsettled. Second, religion must come to terms with the problem of evil, of theodicy. Religion must finally be able to answer the problem of how a good and omnipotent God can allow evil and, for Nishitani, nihility, in the world.

Chapter 2: “The Personal and the Impersonal in Religion”

The two great intellectual crises of our time, Nishitani argues, are the resolution of the debate between religion and science, and the overcoming of philosophical nihilism, seen most prevalently in the form of modern atheism described above. The twin forces of science and philosophical nihilism began to challenge religion as the classical view of a teleologically ordered universe collapsed. The 1755 Lisbon Earthquake (destroyed lots of the city, churches destroyed, brothels not, etc., the idea that natural disasters were divine punishment was shattered) demonstrated that God and humanity do not have a personal relationship with each other, such that God responds to and ultimately supports human interests. In its wake a materialistic and mechanistic view of the universe, “a world cold and dead, governed by laws of mechanical necessity, completely indifferent to the fact of men.” (48) Without the idea of soul or spirit, the world now began to be seen as a collection of matter that followed impersonal rules.

This materialistic and mechanistic view of the physical universe was accompanied by a social vision of human progress. Under this vision, humans were viewed as the subjugators of nature, making the world conform to its own will and conceptions of justice and rationality. These three ideas, materialism, mechanism, and progress, are for Nishitani the three poles of modern atheism. The problem of nihility, however, was not resolved in the modern atheistic view of the world, but in fact was made into a presupposition of it. Humans became the masters of their own destiny with no structure of transcendent meaning (ie. metaphysics or religion) to ground their self-understanding, thus making them free to self-define.

The nihility underlying the modern atheistic subject, however, is not overcome by this kind of freedom, as limit experiences will always call into question whatever self-definition the subject gives itself. The only appropriate response to nihilism, for Nishitani, is to affirm the indifference of nature, but “not a cold and insensitive indifference, but an indifference of love. It is a non-differentiating love that transcends the distinctions men make between good and evil, justice and injustice.” (58) This type of love for Nishitani is the common denominator between Christian agape and Buddhist non-ego, both ways of indifferently appreciating all things, regardless of individual differences.

Nishitani explains the link between non-ego and agape in his reading of Meister Eckhart. For Eckhart, the essence of God is “absolute nothingness,” equated with the “Godhead” as opposed to the personal God, and a transcendence of any mode of divine being (61). When humans are made in the image of God, then, this includes the Godhead as well, such that each human has an element of absolute nothingness in his or herself. Union with God, then, requires that individual subjectivity be transcended in order to attain the divine element of absolute nothingness in the depths of the individual soul, such that “the element of self is broken through again and again” in mystic ascent (62). The individual in mystic ascent dies to his or her individual subjectivity, but begins to live a divine life having found and taken up his or her absolute nothingness, entering a condition Nishitani calls “death-sive-life,” the unity of death and life in mystic union (63). Having reached this union, Eckhart warns against rapture and self-intoxication in divine perfection, but advocates living everyday life with a higher sense of the value of all activities, each inspired with divine perfection. In fact, for Eckhart there is no divine soul beyond this everyday activity, such that Nishitani concludes that the mystic soul “bears witness to God as present in the Dasein of the soul itself.” (64) God does not stand in some transcendent ground beyond human experience, but in fact only exists as the Existenz, existence without essence, only through activity, of humans, the point of intersection between human and divine nature in the godhead which reveals itself as perfect practices of living.

In order to achieve this state, however, the subject must overcome the self-centered view of personhood implied in modern atheism. Modern atheistic subjects create and define themselves against a backdrop of nihility. Mystic ascent begins by affirming this nihility, recognizing that nothing underlies human subjectivity. There is no thing that models human existence, and the recognition of this opens the possibility of awareness of absolute nothingness: “true nothingness means that there is no thing that is nothingness, and this is absolute nothingness.” (70) Absolute nothingness can only be experienced as this lack of grounding of human subjectivity, experienced in succumbing to the experience of nihility in limit situations. Grounding subjectivity, in other words, is absolute nothingness, which opens up therefore as an individual’s true self:

The ‘nothing at all’ behind the person comes out into the open on the side of the self, the original self. If person [ie. modern atheistic subjectivity] be regarded as the sheer mode of self-being itself, ‘behind’ which there is nothing, this is so because the matter is being looked at from the side of the person. […] When the ‘nothing at all’ opens up on the near side of the personal self, however, and is seen as the sheer self itself, then nothingness really becomes actualized in the self as the true self. (70-71).

Instead of living as a “person,” an independent subject, we find ourselves, when recognizing that absolute nothingness is our ground, to be a “persona,” a role we play and nothing more. We are actors playing out roles that absolute nothingness delimits: our true nature is absolute nothingness, and so we merely embody the nature of absolute nothingness. Nishitani compares this situation to a wave and water. The wave is water and behaves as water does, but it an individual unit of it. There is no water that is not a wave, just as there is no ideal “humanity” that exists without individual humans, such that humans are the form and its instantiation at the same time. So it is not that humans are formless, but have no-form, have nothingness as their form, such that we are not “personal” beings, but are impersonal in our existence: “Seen from that aspect, every man, such as he is in the real Form of his suchness, is not man. He is impersonal. In other words, he is ‘man’ as an appearance with nothing at all behind it to make it an appearance,” and is “impersonal-sive-personal,” or beyond the duality of personality and impersonality. (74)

Chapter 3: “Nihility and Sunyata”

The similarity between religion and science/modern atheism is that each religion, and modern science as well, is grounded on a particular ontology or worldview. Each worldview acts as a basis for the truths expounded by the religion or science, and science, no less than religion, “seems to regard its own scientific standpoint as a position of unquestionable truth from which it can assert itself in all directions.” (78) Nishitani has already argued that modern science possesses a worldview of mechanism and materialism, or that the matter comprising the universe follows predictable laws. Each event in the universe, then, is an instance of those laws of nature.

Human freedom, then, follows a peculiar course for the scientific subject. Humans begin already appropriated to particular laws of their nature, those of human instincts. However, the ideal of progress requires transcendence of mere instinct to gain knowledge. At the same time, though, “knowledge advances and develops through the technological labors of man; and the advance of knowledge in turn advances technology.” (81) As humans free themselves from their bondage to instinct, they ultimately submit to the mechanistic rules of nature through technology. The condition of modern life is one of increasing impersonalization and mechanization of everyday human activity, so that just as humans liberate themselves from instincts often described as “animal,” they re-enslave themselves to their technology, causing the “mechanization of man, toward the loss of the human.” (85)

At the same time as human everyday life has become increasingly mechanized and routinized, however, humans themselves have become increasingly hedonistic. Humans see themselves as unbound by any laws whatsoever, free only to follow their personal desires, engaged in what Nishitani calls “crypto-nihilism,” the denial of any transcendent grounding of human subjectivity but without the Sartrean “image of man” or the Nietzschean drive toward self-transcendence that provided some guide to and impetus for subjective aspirations.

The standpoint that allows for movement beyond the mechanistic and hedonistic lives of modern subjects living by scientific atheism is the standpoint of sunyata, which in Buddhism refers to emptiness. Sunyata is the standpoint where each individual person becomes manifest as they are “as concrete human beings, as individuals with both body and personality. And at the same time, it is the point at which everything around us becomes manifest in its own suchness.” (90) The standpoint of sunyata is accessed through nihility. As one experiences the Great Doubt described above, all things in the world begin to appear meaningless and inessential, and beings become eclipsed by the absolute nothingness that not only serves as our ground, but the ground of the entire world. Sunyata, then, is the way of interpreting experience from the standpoint of absolute nothingness, how the world appears when being has been transcended.

Here the wave metaphor comes in handy again. Whereas classical Christianity would see God as inaccessibly transcendent to humanity, sunyata recognizes that each thing is like a wave in the ocean, where no ocean exists outside of the waves, but the waves themselves have no essential independent existence. “Rather, at the point that water and waves are self-identical (as water-waves), this flowing wetness emerges into reality for what it is, water there being water and waves there being waves.” (103) All things are absolute nothingness, but absolute nothingness has no existence (is nothing) apart from the things in the world which are groundless and inessential.

Attaining the standpoint of sunyata requires giving up conceptions of subject and object. Understanding the world as an object, or as a collection of objects, presumes an observing subject separated from those objects, particularly one who can represent the world to his or herself. In sunyata, contrastingly, each thing appears in its elemental existence as an appearance of absolute nothingness, “the point at which the self is truly on its own home-ground. Here plants and trees have penetrated to the bottom to be themselves; here tiles and stones are through and through tiles and stones; and here, too, in self-identity with everything, the self is radically itself.” (110) Sunyata understands each thing in its own selfhood as an appearance of absolute nothingness, thus revealing it not only its original nature but also its essential harmony with other things.

Chapter 4: “The Standpoint of Sunyata”

In classical Western philosophy, however, objectivity has traditionally taken the form of understanding individual things in terms of concepts like “substance” or “essence.” An individual existence is said to be an outgrowth of some form of true essence that explains the individual thing in its particular way of being. In classical philosophy, things are not seen on their home-ground, here defined as their existence as revealed by their particular activities, but rather as mediated through some more general concept that obscures the existenz of those things. In order to reach the standpoint of sunyata, individuals must transcend logical reason which categorizes objects and understands them in terms of universal concepts such as substance, etc.

The standpoint of sunyata regards things not as species within higher levels of logical genera, culminating with universalities such as “substance” or “matter,” but as they appear “with nihility at [their] ground, as lacking roots from the very beginning.” (122) In other words, rather than deriving the activity of things from a ground in universal concepts and laws, the standpoint of sunyata attends to the be-ing of things, their activity or in Nishitani’s terms, their virtus: “that individual capacity that each things possesses as a display of its own possibility of existence. The pine tree is returned to the virtus of the pine, the bamboo to the virtus of the bamboo, man to the virtus of his humanity.” (123-124) So rather than thinking of being as some kind of material base that differentiates itself to produce the myriad of existent things, things are grounded on nihility, and so only exist insofar as they are made visible in their virtus.

The conclusion Nishitani reaches is that being is only a coherent concept when united with emptiness. To explain this paradoxical conclusion, Nishitani gives the example of fire. Fire burns, but it burns something other than itself (ie. oxygen, wood, etc.). In fact, fire’s activity is in burning things other than itself, and not burning itself up in the process. So if we called the virtus of fire combustion, then the being of fire as combustion is dependent on its negation, its not combusting itself, so that fire is grounded on nothingness, non-combustion. The same goes with attributes as with substance. When we say that fire is hot, we do not say that the heat of fire itself is hot, because that statement would presuppose some deeper conception of heat that allows us to say that heat is hot, and so on ad infinitum. Heat is only an intelligible concept because of the existence of non-heat, the negation of heat as a concept, that heat is not itself hot. In both cases, being is grounded upon nothingness, such that being is only intelligible from the perspective of nothingness or sunyata.

For Nishitani, that being is grounded upon nothingness justifies its being labeled an illusion, an appearance that can only exist by virtue of its dependence on nothingness. Thus, the standpoint of sunyata allows us to see things in their truly elemental existence, in the sense described above. Since, furthermore, this standpoint allows things to reveal themselves in their activity, their virtus, rather than as a species within a category, taking up sunyata allows us to affirm the existence of all things as they are in their elemental natures. Things are as they reveal themselves when viewed from the standpoint of sunyata, and so are nothing but their own activity, and are thus radically affirmed, giving Nishitani cause to apply the Nietzschean title “Great Affirmation” to sunyata (131).

The standpoint of sunyata also breaks through the limitations of Enlightenment and German Idealist conceptions of human subjectivity, both sharing the notion of an isolated individual human subject standing apart from the world, representing it to itself as a set of objects. For Nishitani, this conception of subjectivity naturally bleeds into modern atheism, with an independent subject who is able to represent and order the world and himself according to his own faculties of reason and imagination. The Enlightenment/German Idealist subject, then, fails to confront its nihility as with the modern atheist subject. The standpoint of sunyata, however, allows subjects to see themselves as grounded in the same absolute nothingness as all other beings, finally overcoming their isolation and allowing them to affirm themselves and their own virtus in elemental existence. To this state of affairs of interconnectedness of all things by virtue of being grounded in absolute nothingness Nishitani applies the term circumincession, originally a Christian term used to describe the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit of the Trinity. Nishitani also likens it to Leibniz’s monads, each “reflecting one another like living mirrors of the universe.” (150)

Realizing the circumincession of ourselves with the rest of the world allows us to finally overcome the self-centeredness and self-attachment of our everyday lives. All of our activity is grounded on nothingness, such that the absolute nothingness we share with the rest of the world is closer to our true selves than our egos. Sight is only sight because it is also non-sight, the eye does not see itself or it would be eternally lost in itself viewing itself viewing itself, etc., and the same goes for consciousness. By recognizing one’s own grounding in nothingness, we can cease to cling to our ego-based self-recognition that inevitably succumbs to nihility, and rather take up the absolute nothingness that connects us with the rest of the world, thus answering the question of how to overcome the essential nihility at the heart of the human experience posed at the end of chapter 1. Religion also answers the problem of the ontological status of humanity by arguing that humanity is indeed essentially nothingness, but a nothingness that connects it will all things, including the godhead as per Eckhart.

Chapter 5: “Sunyata and Time”

The question of theodicy, however, still remains open, and Nishitani spends the rest of the book dealing with it by reconceptualizing time and history from the perspective of sunyata. Nishitani begins by stating the basic principle of samsara, describing the way sentient beings exist, condemned to a constant cycle of births and deaths of their selves and their projects, or in other words, “the awareness of an unfathomable nihility and “nullification.” (169) Samsara is the state of our being as always threatened by nihility underlying our activity. Nishitani connects samsara with karma, where humans are bound to experience the consequences of their past actions that condition their present possibilities, such that “everyone without exception reaps only the fruits of his own acts.” (169)

Nishitani argues that the recognition of samsaric suffering in the face of constant nihility and our imprisonment to the causal conditions of karma that continually renew our commitment to actions underlain by nihility constitutes Buddhism’s mythos, its fundamental awareness of humanity’s subjective experience. From the mythic perspective of Buddhism, our struggle against suffering and to overcome nihility is fundamentally a search for liberation from samsara and eventually for Nirvana, a state of absolute freedom unbound by karmic conditioning. Buddhism’s mythos provides the interpretive ground to understand human suffering as fundamentally a struggle to overcome the despair brought on by nihility.

Even if, however, we succeed in finding our original selves on the elemental ground of our existence described in the previous chapters, that attainment does not constitute the end of our struggle against despair. Nirvana cannot be considered some paradisiacal state outside of human experience, or only existing after death, but must be lived within ordinary life, as liberation from samsaric suffering while still enduring the “anxious, petty troubles of daily life,” or in Nishitani’s terms, “samsara-sive-Nirvana.” (182) Keeping in mind that samsaric suffering is truly suffering at the nihility grounding all existence, affirming nihility allows us to see the wheel of birth and death in each thing or event in the world as a microcosm of the absolute nothingness that pervades the entire universe, of the godhead that is imbued into all things.

Zen Buddhism refers to the ability to recognize absolute nothingness in any event or object as meditation, zazen, or in other words, religious practice. Through meditation, which in Zen takes the form of “just sitting,” one releases one’s interests and desires that keep one chained to karmic conditions, allowing oneself to experience the godhead hidden within each moment. Nishitani compares the experience of religious practice to opening oneself to the “atom of eternity” Kierkegaard sees in temporality, where every moment may open up transcendence from the despair of everyday life (189). In each moment one can find absolute nothingness, allowing one to view the universal harmony of elemental existence within its microcosm contained in the present moment. Viewing eternity and the fullness of universal harmony within the present moment is, for Nishitani, the standpoint opened and represented by all “religions that have their base in myth,” in recognition and interpretation of our subjective existence. (206)

Chapter 6: Sunyata and History

The standpoint of religion allows us to see eternal and universal harmony among the meaninglessness and suffering of samsara by coming to terms with and ultimately affirming nihility. The problem of theodicy is thus resolved inasmuch as it is only through a recognition of the suffering that is inherent to the samsaric condition of all sentient beings that the ability to see eternity and universal harmony in each moment is opened. Nishitani also seeks, however, to demonstrate that sunyata provides a standpoint to justify ethical behavior and action against suffering and in favor of love, so that religion does not achieve liberation by merely ignoring concrete suffering by seeking eternity within people’s pain.

The Buddhist conception of time is as an infinite system of simultaneous kalpas, closed and complete temporal systems that coexist. These kalpas exist overlain upon “an infinite openness at the bottom of time, like a great expanse of vast, skylike emptiness that cannot be confined to any systematic enclosure.” (219) Thus time is truly irreversible and unique in the Buddhist scheme, as each “now” in one kalpa only exists in the context of an infinite set of other “nows” in other kalpas. Each moment is thus truly impermanent, as no moment could ever be conceivably repeated, unlike a circular system of time, or even Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence. This system of infinite time, always opening onto newness, is both profoundly liberating and profoundly burdensome. For, at the same time as each moment is necessarily and truly new and unrepeatable, the constant becoming of time continually pushes us into having to confront ever-renewed realities, such that the “obligation to unceasing newness makes our existence an infinite burden to us.” (220) The infinite nature of time signifies that we are always caught within karma, that our actions will necessarily feed back upon us in the future and keep us chained to causality.

The Buddhist conception of time also escapes the illusion that time has a beginning and an end, a key grounding of both classical religious and modern atheist histories. The idea of divine election seeks the ground of time in a transcendent being that can create time and give it a sense and purpose. Modern atheist historicism grew in revolt against this notion, affirming instead that there is no ground transcendent to time, that all things exist only within time, not recognizing that “the time that provides it with its field, a time unrestrictedly open to both past and future, can only come about by virtue of an infinite openness lying at the ground of the present.” (227) Progress narratives merely posit a point where history will culminate and fulfill itself, rather than grasping the infinite openness the Buddhist conception of time understands as grounding any temporal system.

While both classical religious and modern atheist understandings of time are future-oriented, however (with the exception of scientific time seeking the causes of things, thus being past-oriented), Nietzsche’s Eternal Return provides a way to come to the Buddhist understanding of time as present-oriented. As time for Nietzsche bends and meets at the extremes of past and future it returns at the beginning of the cycle to now, the present, where in the Great Affirmation one sees the significance of all past and future things in the present moment. The Great Affirmation brings us back to the present moment, where nihility inevitably comes to overthrow whatever sense of meaning we build, thus opening the ground for absolute emptiness to appear in the present moment.

The Buddhist affirmation of nihility allows for the burden of existence to be interpreted in another way than as the field for the pursuit of self-centered endeavors based on our self-definition. Modern atheistic time also contains a form of infinite time, inasmuch as “each of the various facets of human existence becomes autotelic, each as it were becomes autonomous. Each begins to contain a kind of infinity, an infinite finitude.” (235) Each moment can become the fulfillment of human desires inasmuch as one acts exactly according to one’s self-definition at every moment. At this point, however, human activity ceases to serve anything other than its own desires and interests, bringing us back to the beginning of the book where nihility calls into the question the meaning of our projects.

The burden of existence from the perspective of sunyata appears instead as a mission or a debt towards all others with whom we are essentially connected in elemental existence. As discussed last chapter, entering the infinity of the present moment allows to see our connection with all other things in the universe, effecting a liberation from karmic conditioning. The moment of time and the present moment, then, appears from this perspective as instead one unit of time, the present moment, “spreading out endlessly before and after with the present at its point of origin.” (267) This conception of time as one moment spreading out infinitely into the past and future correlates with the understanding of the elemental existence of the universe as one harmony, a single whole. Understanding the universe as essentially connected makes self-love ignoring others impossible, as loving ourselves necessarily entails loving all other sentient beings, such that loving thy neighbor “as thyself” “comes about where each and every ‘other’ has its being as other, namely, at its own home-ground; or again, where all things are gathered into one circumcessional interpenetration as a ‘world’ and ‘All are One.’” (279) Self-centeredness gives way in religion to understanding the entire world as its own center, such that love must be directed towards all others. Thus, only from the perspective of religion can we grasp our ethical purpose in loving all others, seen most clearly for Nishitani in Boddhisattvahood in Buddhism and love of one’s neighbor in Christianity.

Source: Strong Reading

Primary Sources

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism

Religion and Nothingness

Further Reading

Nishitani’s Buddhist Response to Nihilism

Perennial Mysticism

This is the Tao of the Buddha, available to all who desire freedom from suffering, identical to the Way of Epictetus:

To practice silent meditation in an effort not to attain Enlightenment or gain any metaphysical knowledge, but to strip away all desire, which is the cause of all suffering, and to encounter the original state of nonthinking.

Amidst all of the teachings of the world, this Dharma is to be practiced, and nothing is to be believed. Such also is the Way of Christ, where the Way is to be practiced, for the practice of the Way is indeed Faith and Faith the practice of the Way, and nothing is to be believed.

Quiet your thoughts and behold your Original Face before you were born.

Before Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.

To those who do not desire freedom from suffering, do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Nietzsche & Buddhism

In India our religions will never take root. The ancient wisdom of the human race will not be displaced by what happened in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian philosophy streams back to Europe, and will produce a fundamental change in our knowledge and thought.

– Schopenhauer

It was precisely here that I saw the great danger to mankind, its sublimest enticement and seduction—but to what? to nothingness?—it was precisely here that I saw the beginning of the end, the dead stop, a retrospective weariness, the will turning against life, the tender and sorrowful signs of the ultimate illness: I understood the ever spreading morality of pity that had seized even on philosophers and made them ill, as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had itself become sinister, perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to—nihilism?

The desire for a unio mystica with God is the desire of the Buddhist for nothingness, Nirvana—and no more!

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche on Buddhism in The Antichrist

In my condemnation of Christianity I surely hope I do no injustice to a related religion with an even larger number of believers: I allude to Buddhism. Both are to be reckoned among the nihilistic religions–they are both decadence religions–but they are separated from each other in a very remarkable way. For the fact that he is able to compare them at all the critic of Christianity is indebted to the scholars of India.–Buddhism is a hundred times as realistic as Christianity–it is part of its living heritage that it is able to face problems objectively and coolly; it is the product of long centuries of philosophical speculation. The concept, “god,” was already disposed of before it appeared. Buddhism is the only genuinely positive religion to be encountered in history, and this applies even to its epistemology (which is a strict phenomenalism) –It does not speak of a “struggle with sin,” but, yielding to reality, of the “struggle with suffering.” Sharply differentiating itself from Christianity, it puts the self-deception that lies in moral concepts behind it; it is, in my phrase, beyond good and evil.–The two physiological facts upon which it grounds itself and upon which it bestows its chief attention are: first, an excessive sensitiveness to sensation, which manifests itself as a refined susceptibility to pain, and secondly, an extraordinary spirituality, a too protracted concern with concepts and logical procedures, under the influence of which the instinct of personality has yielded to a notion of the “impersonal.” (–Both of these states will be familiar to a few of my readers, the objectivists, by experience, as they are to me). These physiological states produced a depression, and Buddha tried to combat it by hygienic measures. Against it he prescribed a life in the open, a life of travel; moderation in eating and a careful selection of foods; caution in the use of intoxicants; the same caution in arousing any of the passions that foster a bilious habit and heat the blood; finally, no worry,either on one’s own account or on account of others. He encourages ideas that make for either quiet contentment or good cheer–he finds means to combat ideas of other sorts. He understands good, the state of goodness, as something which promotes health. Prayer is not included, and neither is asceticism. There is no categorical imperative nor any disciplines, even within the walls of a monastery (–it is always possible to leave–). These things would have been simply means of increasing the excessive sensitiveness above mentioned. For the same reason he does not advocate any conflict with unbelievers; his teaching is antagonistic to nothing so much as to revenge, aversion, ressentiment (–“enmity never brings an end to enmity”: the moving refrain of all Buddhism. . .) And in all this he was right, for it is precisely these passions which, in view of his main regiminal purpose, are unhealthful. The mental fatigue that he observes, already plainly displayed in too much “objectivity” (that is, in the individual’s loss of interest in himself, in loss of balance and of “egoism”), he combats by strong efforts to lead even the spiritual interests back to the ego. In Buddha’s teaching egoism is a duty. The “one thing needful,” the question “how can you be delivered from suffering,” regulates and determines the whole spiritual diet. (–Perhaps one will here recall that Athenian who also declared war upon pure “scientificality,” to wit, Socrates, who also elevated egoism to the estate of a morality).

The things necessary to Buddhism are a very mild climate, customs of great gentleness and liberality, and no militarism; moreover, it must get its start among the higher and better educated classes. Cheerfulness, quiet and the absence of desire are the chief desiderata, and they are attained. Buddhism is not a religion in which perfection is merely an object of aspiration: perfection is actually normal.–Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it. Here the prevailing pastime, the favourite remedy for boredom is the discussion of sin, self-criticism, the inquisition of conscience; here the emotion produced by power (called “God”) is pumped up (by prayer); here the highest good is regarded as unattainable, as a gift, as “grace.” Here, too, open dealing is lacking; concealment and the darkened room are Christian. Here body is despised and hygiene is denounced as sensual; the church even ranges itself against cleanliness (–the first Christian order after the banishment of the Moors closed the public baths, of which there were 270 in Cordova alone). Christian, too; is a certain cruelty toward one’s self and toward others; hatred of unbelievers; the will to persecute. Sombre and disquieting ideas are in the foreground; the most esteemed states of mind, bearing the most respectable names are epileptoid; the diet is so regulated as to engender morbid symptoms and over-stimulate the nerves. Christian, again, is all deadly enmity to the rulers of the earth, to the “aristocratic”–along with a sort of secret rivalry with them (–one resigns one’s “body” to them–one wants only one’s “soul” . . . ).  And Christian is all hatred of the intellect, of pride, of courage of freedom, of intellectual libertinage; Christian is all hatred of the senses, of joy in the senses, of joy in general . . .

Buddhism is a religion for peoples in a further  state of development, for races that have become kind, gentle and over-spiritualized (–Europe is not yet ripe for it–): it is a summons  ‘that takes them back to peace and cheerfulness, to a careful rationing of  the spirit, to a certain hardening of the body. Christianity aims at  mastering beasts of prey; its modus operandi is to make them ill–to make feeble is the Christian recipe for taming, for  “civilizing.” Buddhism is a religion for the closing, over-wearied stages of civilization. Christianity appears before civilization has so much as  begun–under certain circumstances it lays the very foundations thereof.

Buddhism, I repeat, is a hundred times more austere, more honest, more objective. It no longer has to justify its pains, its susceptibility  to suffering, by interpreting these things in terms of sin–it simply says,  as it simply thinks, “I suffer.” To the barbarian, however, suffering in itself is scarcely understandable: what he needs, first of all, is an explanation as to why he suffers. (His mere instinct prompts him to deny his suffering altogether, or to endure it in silence.) Here the word  “devil” was a blessing: man had to have an omnipotent and terrible enemy–there was no need to be ashamed of suffering at the hands of such an enemy.

–At the bottom of Christianity there are several subtleties that belong to the Orient. In the first place, it knows that it is of very little consequence whether a thing be true or not, so long as it is believed to be true. Truth and faith: here we have two wholly distinct worlds of ideas, almost two diametrically opposite worlds–the road to the one and the road to the other lie miles apart. To understand that fact thoroughly–this is almost enough, in the Orient, to make one a sage. The Brahmins knew it, Plato knew it, every student of the esoteric knows it. When, for example, a man gets any pleasure out of the notion that he has been saved from sin, it is not necessary for him to be actually sinful, but merely to feel sinful. But when faith is  thus exalted above everything else, it necessarily follows that reason,  knowledge and patient inquiry have to be discredited: the road to the truth  becomes a forbidden road.–Hope, in its stronger forms, is a great deal more  powerful stimulans to life than any sort of realized joy can ever be.  Man must be sustained in suffering by a hope so high that no conflict with actuality can dash it–so high, indeed, that no fulfillment can satisfy it: a hope reaching out beyond this world. (Precisely because of this  power that hope has of making the suffering hold out, the Greeks regarded it  as the evil of evils, as the most malign of evils; it remained behind  at the source of all evil.)3–In order that love may be possible, God must become a  person; in order that the lower instincts may take a hand in the matter God must be young. To satisfy the ardor of the woman a beautiful saint must appear on the scene, and to satisfy that of the men there must be a virgin.  These things are necessary if Christianity is to assume lordship over a soil on which some aphrodisiacal or Adonis cult has already established a notion as to what a cult ought to be. To insist upon chastity greatly strengthens the vehemence and subjectivity of the religious instinct– it makes the cult warmer, more enthusiastic, more soulful.–Love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are not. The force of illusion reaches its highest here, and so does the capacity for sweetening,  for transfiguring. When a man is in love he endures more than at any other time; he submits to anything. The problem was to devise a religion  which would allow one to love: by this means the worst that life has to  offer is overcome–it is scarcely even noticed.–So much for the three  Christian virtues: faith, hope and charity: I call them the three Christian ingenuities.–Buddhism is in too late a stage of development, too  full of positivism, to be shrewd in any such way.–

One now begins to see just what it was that came to an end with the death on the cross: a new and thoroughly original effort to found a Buddhistic peace movement, and so establish happiness on earth–real, not merely promised. For this remains–as I have  already pointed out–the essential difference between the two religions of decadence: Buddhism promises nothing, but actually fulfills;  Christianity promises everything, but fulfills nothing.–

When the centre of gravity of life is placed, not in life itself,  but in “the beyond”–in nothingness–then one has taken away its centre of gravity altogether. The vast lie of personal immortality destroys all reason, all natural instinct–henceforth, everything in the instincts that is beneficial, that fosters life and that safeguards the future is a cause of suspicion. So to live that life no longer has any meaning: this is now the “meaning” of life.

. . .

If there is no other world and there is no fruit and ripening of actions well done or ill done, then here and now in this life I shall be free from hostility, affliction, and anxiety, and I shall live happily.

– Buddha

Further Reading

The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche

God Is Dead: What Next?

Nietzsche and Buddhism

The Buddha and Nietzsche (YouTube)

Nietzsche and Early Buddhism Book Review

Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ: Jesus and Buddhism

Great Doubt, Great Death, Great Awakening

The Kyoto School of Philosophy

The Kyoto School (京都学派 Kyōto-gakuha?) is the name given to the Japanese philosophical movement centered at Kyoto University that assimilated western philosophy and religious ideas and used them to reformulate religious and moral insights unique to the East Asian cultural tradition.”[1] However, it is also used to describe several postwar scholars from various disciplines who have taught at the same university, been influenced by the foundational thinkers of Kyoto school philosophy, and who have developed distinctive theories of Japanese uniqueness. To disambiguate the term, therefore, thinkers and writers covered by this second sense appear under The Kyoto University Research Centre for the Cultural Sciences.

Beginning roughly in 1913 with Nishida Kitaro, it survived the serious controversy it garnered after World War II to develop into a well-known and active movement. However, it is not a “school” of philosophy in the traditional sense of the phrase, such as with the Frankfurt School or Plato’s Academy. Instead, the group of academics gathered around Kyoto University as a de facto meeting place, and as its founder, Nishida, steadfastly encouraged independent thinking.

According to James Heisig, the name “Kyoto School” was first used in 1932 by a student of Nishida and Hajime Tanabe. Tosaka Jun (1900–45) considered himself to be part of the ‘Marxist left-wing’ of the school.[2] Afterwards, the media and other academic institutions outside of Japan began to use the moniker, and by the 1970s it had become a universal title – practically by default.


  • 1 History
  • 2 Significance of its notable members
    • 1 Kitaro Nishida
    • 2 Hajime Tanabe
    • 3 Keiji Nishitani
    • 4 Masao Abe
    • 5 Shizuteru Ueda
    • 6 Eshin Nishimura
  • 3 Criticism of the Kyoto School
  • 4 Members
  • 5 Suggested reading
    • 1 Readings byindividual members
    • 2 Secondary sources onindividual members
  • 6 References
  • 7 External links


Masao Abe writes in his introduction to a new English translation of Nishida’s magnum opus, that if one thinks of philosophy in terms of Kant or Hegel, then there is no philosophy taking place in Japan. But if it is instead thought of in terms of the tradition carried out by Augustine and Kierkegaard, then Japan has a rich philosophical history, composed of the great thinkers Kūkai, Shinran, Dōgen, and others.[3]

The group of philosophers involved with the Kyoto School in its nearly 100 year history is a diverse one. Individual members often come from very different social backgrounds. At the same time, in the heat of intellectual they did not hesitate to criticise each others’ work.

The following criteria roughly characterize the features of this school:

  1. Teaching at Kyoto University or at a nearby affiliated school
  2. Share some basic assumptions about using Asian thought in the framework of western philosophical tradition.
  3. Introduce and rationally investigate the meaning of “nothingness” and its importance in the history of philosophical debate.
  4. Expand on the philosophical vocabulary introduced by Nishida.

Generally, most were strongly influenced by the German philosophical tradition, especially the thought of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. In addition, many employed their cultural resources in formulating their philosophy and bringing it to play to add to the philosophical enterprise. However, while their work was not expressly religious it was informed significantly by it. For example, both Tanabe and Keiji Nishitani wrote on Christianity and Buddhism and identified common elements between the two religions.[4] For this reason, some scholars classify the intellectual products of the school as “religious philosophy.”

Although the group was fluidic and largely informal, traditionally whoever occupied the Chair of the Department of Modern Philosophy at the University of Kyoto was considered its leader. Nishida was the first, from 1913 to 1928. Hajime Tanabe succeeded him until the mid-1930s. By this time, Nishitani had graduated from Kyoto University, studied with Martin Heidegger for two years in Germany, and returned to a teaching post since 1928. From 1955 to 1963, Nishitani officially occupied the Chair and since his departure, leadership of the school has crumbled – turning the movement into a very decentralized group of philosophers with common beliefs and common interests.

Significance of its notable members

The significance of the group continues to grow, especially in American departments of religion and philosophy. Since the mid-1980s, there has been a growing interest in East/West dialogue, especially inter-faith scholarship. Masao Abe traveled to both coasts of the United States on professorships, and lectured to many groups on Buddhist-Christian relations.

In addition, although Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki was closely connected to the Kyoto school and in some ways critical to the development of thought that occurred there—indeed, Suzuki personally knew Nishida, Tanabe, and Nishitani—he is not considered a true member of the group.[5]

Kitaro Nishida

Main article: Kitaro Nishida

Nishida, the school’s founder, is most known for his groundbreaking work An Inquiry into the Good and later for his elucidation of the “logic of basho” (Japanese: 場所; usually translated as “place,” or the Greek topos) – which brought him fame outside of Japan, and contributed largely to the attention later paid to philosophers from the Kyoto School.

Nishida’s work is notable for a few reasons, chief among them however is how much they are related to the German tradition of philosophy since Schopenhauer. The logic of basho is a non-dualistic ‘concrete’ logic, meant to overcome the inadequacy of the subject-object distinction essential to the subject logic of Aristotle and the predicate logic of Kant, through the affirmation of what he calls the ‘absolutely contradictory self-identity’, a dynamic tension of opposites that, unlike the dialectical logic of Hegel, does not resolve in a synthesis, but rather defines its proper subject by maintaining the tension between affirmation and negation as opposite poles or perspectives.

Nishitani describes East Asian philosophy as something very different from what the Western tradition of Descartes, Leibniz or Hume would indicate,

It is ‘intuitive and practical,’ with its emphasis on religious aspects of experience not lending themselves readily to theoretical description. True wisdom is to be distinguished from intellectual understanding of the kind appropriate to the sciences. The ‘appropriation’ of Nishida’s thought,…’embraces difficulties entirely different from those of intellectual understanding’…and those who ‘pretend to understand much but do not really understand, no matter how much they intellectually understand’ are the object of his scorn.[1]

Before his death Nishida wrote The Logic of Place and the Religious Worldview, developing more fully the religious implications of his work and philosophy through “Absolute Nothingness,” which “contains its own absolute self-negation within itself.”[6] By this Nishida means that, while the divine is dynamically paradoxical, it should not be construed as pantheism or transcendent theism. Both Nishitani and Abe spent much of their academic lives dedicated to this development of nothingness and the Absolute, leading on occasion topanentheism.[citation needed]

Hajime Tanabe

Main article: Hajime Tanabe

Keiji Nishitani

Main article: Keiji Nishitani

Nishitani, one of Nishida’s main disciples, would become the doyen in the post-war period. Nishitani’s works, such as his Religion and Nothingness, primarily dealt with the Western notion of nihilism, inherited from Nietzsche, and religious interpretation of nothingness, as found in the Buddhist idea of sunyata and the specifically Zen Buddhist concept of mu.

Masao Abe

Main article: Masao Abe

Shizuteru Ueda

A disciple of Keiji Nishitani.

Main article: Shizuteru Ueda

Eshin Nishimura

Main article: Eshin Nishimura

Criticism of the Kyoto School

Today, there is a great deal of critical research into the school’s role prior to and during the Second World War. Hajime Tanabe bears the greatest brunt of the criticism for bringing his work on the “Logic of Species” into Japanese politics, which was used to buttress the militarist project to formulate imperialist ideology and propaganda. Tanabe’s notion is that the logical category of “species” and nation are equivalent, and each nation or “species” provides a fundamental set of characteristics which define and determine the lives and outlooks of those who participate in it.

Some western scholars think this criticism of the Kyoto School is inaccurate and spurious.[7] They have shown that Tanabe did not support the war effort and that Nishitani tried to organize intellectuals to question and criticize the growing militarism of the Tojo junta. This scholarly work attempts to provide an historical understanding of these thinkers’ work in terms of opposition to western colonial imperialism at the same as the thinkers opposed fascist reactionary politics.[8]


  • Kitaro Nishida: 1870 – 1945 (KU Philosophy Dept. 1910-13, Chair 1913-28)
  • Hajime Tanabe: 1885 – 1962 (KU Philosophy Dept. ?, Chair, 1928-35?)
  • Keiji Nishitani: 1900 – 1990 (KU Philosophy Dept. 1928-35, Chair 1935-63)
  • Masao Abe
  • Miki Kiyoshi
  • Hisamatsu Shinichi
  • Shizuteru Ueda
  • Saneshige Komaki
  • Yamanouchi Tokuryu
  • Takeuchi Yoshinori

Suggested reading

Scholarly books

  • The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School.Edited by Frederick Franck. New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1982.

Seventeen essays, most from The Eastern Buddhist, on Zen and Pure Land Buddhism.

Anthology of texts by Kyoto scholars themselves, with additional biographical essays.

  • The Thought of the Kyoto School,edited by Ohashi Ryosuke. 2004.

Collection of essays dealing with the history of its name, and its members contributions to philosophy.

  • Philosophers of Nothingnessby James Heisig. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8248-2481-4

Excellent introduction to the School’s history and content; includes rich multilingual bibliography.

  • Absolute Nothingness: Foundations for a Buddhist-Christian Dialogue,Hans Waldenfels. New York: Paulist Press, 1980.

Good early work, focuses mostly on Nishitani’s relevance for the perspective of Buddhist-Christian dialogue.

  • James W. Heisig, John C. Maraldo (Ed.): “Rude Awakenings. Zen, the Kyoto School, & the Question of Nationalism”, Honololu: University of Hawaii Press, 1994.

Journal articles

  • “The Religious Philosophy of the Kyoto School: An Overview,” by James Heisig.Japanese Journal of Religious Studies17, No.1, (1990), p51-81.
  • “Heidegger and Buddhism,” by T. Umehara. Philosophy East and West,20 (1970), p271-281.
  • “Nishida’s Philosophy of ‘Place’,” by Masao Abe, International Philosophical Quarterly28, No.4 (Winter 1988), p. 355-371.
  • “In Memoriam: Keiji Nishitani (1900-1990),” by E. Kawamura-Hanoka. Buddhist-Christian Studies,12 (1992), p241-245.

Readings by individual members

For further information, see the Nanzan Institute’s Complete Bibliography for all Kyoto School members

  • Kitaro Nishida, An Inquiry into the Good,Translated by Masao Abe and Christopher Ives. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987 (1921).
  • ——, Art and Morality,Translated by D. Dilworth and Valdo Viglielmo. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1973.
  • ——, Intelligibility and the Philosophy of Nothingness,Translated by Robert Schinzinger. Westport: 1958.
  • Tanabe, Hajime, “Demonstratio of Christianity”, in Introduction to the philosophy of Tanabe: According to the English translation of the seventh chapter of the demonstratio of Christianity, translated by Makoto Ozaki, Rodopi Bv Editions, January 1990, ISBN 90-5183-205-2,ISBN 978-90-5183-205-1, ASIN B0006F1CBU.
  • –, “The Logic of The Species as Dialectics,” trns. David Dilworth; Taira Sato, inMonumenta Nipponica, Vol. 24, No. 3, 1969, pp. 273-288. [Available as pdf through JSTOR]
  • –, Philosophy as Metanoetics(Nanzan studies in religion and culture), Yoshinori Takeuchi, Valdo Viglielmo, and James W. Heisig (Translators), University of California Press, April 1987, ISBN 0-520-05490-3.
  • Keiji Nishitani, Religion and Nothingness,Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. ISBN 0-520-04946-2
  • ——, The Self-overcoming of Nihilism,translated by Graham Parkes and Setsuko Aihara. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.
  • Yoshinori Takeuchi, The Heart of Buddhism,translated by James Heisig. New York: 1983.

Secondary sources on individual members

  • Nishida Kitaro,by Nishitani Keiji, translated by Yamamoto Sesaku and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • The Religious Philosophy of Tanabe Hajime,edited by Taitetsu Unno and James Heisig. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.
  • The Religious Philosophy of Nishitani Keiji,edited by Taitetsu Unno. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


  1. a b D.S. Clarke, Jr. “Introduction” in Nishida Kitaro by Nishitani Keiji, 1991.
  2. ^ Heisig 2001, p.4
  3. ^ Masao Abe, “Introduction” in An Inquiry into the Good, 1987, (1921).
  4. ^ Tanabe in Philosophy as Metanoetics and Demonstratio of Christianity, and Nishitani in Religion and Nothingness and On Buddhism.
  5. ^ Robert Lee, “Review of The Buddha Eye: An Anthology of the Kyoto School,” in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol.42, No.4 (Aug.,1983).
  6. ^ The Kyoto School (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
  7. ^ Parkes, Graham, ‘Heidegger and Japanese Fascism: An Unsubstantiated Connection,’ in Japanese and Continental Philosophy, Indiana University press, 2011. Parkes exposes the shabby scholarship of the accusers of the Kyoto School, while leaving open the question of what exactly the politics of the Kyoto school philosophers consisted in.
  8. ^ David Williams, Defending Japan’s Pacific War: The Kyoto School philosophers and post-White power Routledge Curzon, London and New York 2004

External links

  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • The Fascist Next Door? Nishitani Keiji and the ChuokoronDiscussions in Perspective, Discussion Paper by Xiaofei Tu in the electronic journal of contemporary Japanese studies, 27 July 2006.


Between Angels & Insects

Papa Roach – Between Angels and Insects

There’s no money, there’s no possessions
Only obsession, I don’t need that shit
Take my money, take my obsession

I just want to be heard, loud and clear are my words
Comin’ from within, man, tell ’em what you heard
It’s about a revolution in your heart and in your mind
You can’t find the conclusion,
Life-style and obsession
Diamond rings get you nothing but a life long lesson
And your pocket-book stressin’
You’re a slave to the system, working jobs that you hate
For that shit you don’t need
It’s too bad the world is based on greed
Step back and see, stop thinking about yourself
Start thinking about

There’s no money, there’s no possession
Only obsession, I don’t need that shit
Take my money, take my possession
Take my obsession, I don’t need that shit

‘Cause everything is nothing and emptiness is in everything
This reality is really just a fucked up dream
With the flesh and the blood that you call your soul
Flip it inside out, it’s a big black hole
Take your money, burn it up like an asteroid
Possessions ‒ they are never gonna fill the void
Take it away and learn the best lesson
The heart, the soul, the life, the passion

There’s no money, there’s no possession
Only obsession, I don’t need that shit
Take my money, take my possession
Take my obsession, I don’t need that shit

Money, possession, obsession

Present yourself, press your clothes
Comb your hair and clock-in
You just can’t win
Just can’t win
The things you own, own you now

Take my money, take my possession
Take my obsession, I don’t need that shit

Fuck your money, fuck your possession
Fuck your obsession, I don’t need that shit

Money, possession, obsession,
I don’t need that shit

Songwriters: David Buckner / Jacoby Shaddix / Jerry Horton / Jerry Allan Horton / Tobin Esperance

Between Angels and Insects lyrics © Reservoir Media Management Inc, BMG Rights Management

A Buddhist View of Addiction


by Peter Morrell

‘…it is said that as long as one is in cyclic existence, one is in the grip of some form of suffering.’ [1]

In this essay, I refer to drugs – meaning drugs of all kinds, anything we might become habituated to and that we enjoy to the degree of dependency. It seems that drugs are widely misunderstood. They have a very long history. People of all kinds, and in all times, need something to make their lives meaningful and that seems always to have been the purpose of drugs, food and sex, as well as religion. As religion has declined, so drugs of all types seem to have been turned to increasingly, to try and make life more exciting and meaningful. Thus, drugs can be seen as a challenge to our ordinary life, adult perception of the world as being somewhat dull and predictable. To have meaning, life must come to contain some excitement – into each life a little love must fall. It is in these contexts in this essay that I refer to ‘drugs’.

Apart from concepts like Karma and Merit, the 5 skandhas and rebirth – which are alien concepts to most westerners, and therefore require deep thought – Buddhism views human psychology as being mostly driven by two innate impulses: desire, or attraction [craving] and repulsion or aversion [hatred]. They probably represent the pleasure-pain principle in western psychology. In Buddhism, virtually all aspects of psychology and human behaviour, are explained in these terms. Deriving from this, Buddhism asserts that its teachings are based on how man actually is – the condition he is in – and that its ideas are largely observation-driven, rather than being dogmas handed down to us. Buddha encouraged people to test his ideas out for themselves. The impulses of attraction and aversion also reflect a basic form of selfishness and that we are generally driven by a desire to experience and seek out pleasure and to avoid pain.

‘By the power of the two, desire and hatred, intimate or alien, they wander in cyclic existence and thereby undergo suffering.’ [2]

The teachings of Buddhism are entirely designed to help us to become happier and more contented people, by reducing those things in our lives, which cause us suffering [or cause suffering to others], by helping us to reflect more deeply upon the consequences of our actions, and by increasing those things that bring us happiness. There is not really any ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in Buddhism; there are just actions that bring us greater happiness and those that bring us greater pain. To live skilfully, therefore, is to live in harmony with these principles. In general, it means to reduce our selfishness, to give more to others, to increase our happiness and to stop those things that harm self or others – to adopt a life of non-harming. Non-harming to self and all beings.

‘…the afflictive emotions, such as desire, hatred, enmity, jealousy, and belligerence, that bind beings in a round of uncontrolled birth, aging, sickness, and death, are founded on misperception of the nature of persons and other phenomena.’ [3]

In the case of addiction, it is clear from a Buddhist viewpoint that it can be seen as an overactive desire sense, that has gone way beyond normal limits, and which is harmful to self. It is also important to acknowledge that we are all in some ways addicted to something, be it only money, shopping, success, promotion, food or sex. People who are addicted to something have become too solidly locked into a love of pleasure and are reaping the consequences of that lifestyle. It also means that their sense of identity is rewarded only when they indulge whatever they crave, and this has thus become dependent upon their  addiction. A firm sense of self-identity is based solely upon their habit, and without it, they feel invisible and non-existent. This is often termed an ‘addictive personality’ – they believe that life without ‘their fix’ is unfaceable, not worth living and sad and boring. Such people have identified so strongly or solidly with the source of their pleasure that they believe life without it is not possible or is unthinkable. To at least some degree, they have lost control of their life.

‘When the self is alone [without the nine qualities – desire, hatred, effort, pleasure, pain, consciousness, virtue, non-virtue, and activity] – this is said to be the attainment of liberation.’ [4]

While there may well be deeper reasons for this behaviour and also a deeper basis of unhappiness that lies at the root of it [such as in unresolved childhood unhappinesses, or mixing with the ‘wrong people’], Buddhism, in typically pragmatic style, seeks merely to deal with the problem as-is and to reduce the extent and power of one’s current addiction. All other factors can be addressed through meditation, self-restraint and discussion.

‘…the mental factor of desire…accompanies the perception of an attractive object…’ [5]

However, addiction also contains a further element, which is a loss of control and surrender of the will to a craving. It is a situation in which the general balance of the will against whatever in the world is enjoyed, has been progressively weakened or collapsed, and the total craving for that one thing has largely overpowered it. Thus, any treatment of addiction must approach both aspects for success to be achieved. The sense of control, of independent existence and balance that we call willpower must be restored, just as much as any reduction in the craving for whatever one ‘enjoys’. This fact inevitably brings in the need to resuscitate a sense of self and a self-image, which have largely been destroyed in extreme cases of addiction. A coherent sense of self must be rebuilt, and it must be a sense of self that lies independent of any external form.

‘Illustrations of afflictive ignorance are a consciousness conceiving a self of persons and the three poisons [desire, hatred, and ignroance] which arise on account of this conception, as well as their seeds.’ [6]

The idea of self-image also brings with it a sense of self-respect and a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions and whatever state one has ended up in. The addicted person has to gain a new sense of self independent of their habit, and begin to see that the state they are in is predominantly a result of their own actions and therefore they are personally responsible for that state and any recovery from it. No change, therefore, is possible for those who are unwilling or unable to move in the direction of accepting these facts. Addicts often justify their craving by saying they only feel or act ‘normal’ when indulging their particular craving. In such examples, their ‘normal social conduct’ becomes entirely dependent upon their ‘drug’. For others, it is an escape from loneliness [e.g. ‘shopaholics’], sad facts of their existence they would rather not confront, or desire to impress/gain attention. In some cases, it reflects a desire to enter a fantasy realm for ‘artistic purposes’. The first step has to be acceptance of one’s own position, recognition of a problem and a desire to change. Without these as minimum requirements, no change is ever likely to occur.

‘…the three afflictive emotions [are]… desire, hatred and ignorance…’ [7]

Though varying shades of addiction occur, addicts of all types, when questioned, tend to blame some previous event they were not responsible for, or some other factor external to them, for their behaviour. This very conveniently absolves them from any blame for the position they are in. It is thus a crutch they lean on to get through their life. They portray it as normal or harmless – or both. They claim to be the victim of something and are in denial about their own motives and their own responsibility for what they do. They hide, and hide from, their true motivations, past experiences and the real basis for their behaviour. They also play down the harmfulness [to self and others] of what they do. They convince themselves that it is harmless and not serious – but something they can control – and when challenged, they try to convince others of the same viewpoint.

Buddhism can help addicts of all kinds in various ways. Firstly, it encourages moderation, abstention and self-control. That can lead to a degree of self-control. Secondly, it encourages a sense of self-identity not based upon desires, but upon self-fulfilment and self-respect. A self-respect that seeks to do no harm to oneself. It also encourages a harmless lifestyle, love, compassion and equanimity, which in turn encourage reflection and self-analysis.

‘The six root afflictions are desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and afflictive view…’ [8]

In certain Zen monasteries, one has heard about in the media, addiction is treated solely with enforced abstention [withdrawal or denial] and meditation. It is hard to see how this harsh, extreme and un-compassionate approach can be very successful, as it fails to address the central element of personal responsibility for the state a person is in. It is left for the person to figure everything out for themselves; a position of ‘you got yourself in there, so you can get yourself out’ approach. Such a problem might be approached by teaching a person that, though others can help and encourage, they are entirely responsible for their own actions, that there is nothing special [i.e. different] about the state they are in, that life as-is is good, to restore their sense of self-worth, and to gradually lead them away from that which they crave – that life without that ‘thing’ they crave is both possible and can be sweet. This has to include their realisation that the path they are on is for sure a path of self-destruction, a path of pain. It is a central tenet of Buddhism that excess pleasure is painful, and addiction illustrates this theme very well.

Addiction, through desire and aversion, also relates to power and powerlessness, cause and effect, and to the nature of mind and sensations. These are all related topics. It is easy to apprehend a link to power and powerlessness, because to obtain pleasure often also gives pleasure to another [for example, in sexual addiction]. However, it can also give rise to a ‘victim consciousness’ as one adopts a more subordinate role to the other. One also becomes jealously protective of another, primarily, not out of pure compassion for them, but because they are the chief source of one’s own pleasure. That is a form of selfishness. We seek to extend and exert control over, and ownership of, the partner one possesses. One sees this in many relationships where the power balance has become distorted, heavily favouring the more dominant partner. This is ‘bad’ as it brings suffering and restricts the freedom of the one ‘possessed’. It also means their ‘love’ is subject to continuous payment of the pleasure that is being extracted from them. It is thus un-genuine, fake and based upon their continued dominance. Challenge that dominance of their role, and see how much true ‘love’ there is left! Precious little. Causing suffering to another creates bad karma; such relationships are harmful and not as benign as they might appear.

In all addictions, the person has an ambivalent or blurred grasp of cause and effect, power and powerlessness. They exert power over their habit [as a cause] but also let and ultimately crave for it to have power over them [as an effect]. Thus, they never seem to know where they want to be in a ‘power seesaw’, constantly flipping between cause and effect, exerting and then receiving domination; craving power over others and then letting power be exerted over them. All this inevitably gives a person an unclear sense of who they are, what they really want and where the power really lies. They end up having a confused sense of self-identity. Other kinds of addictive behaviour concerning power over others, such as rape, sado-masochism, office bullying, racism, sexual harassment at work and child abuse, do not seem to contain a pleasure element except for the person in control. Such forms of addiction are mainly about power over others – other elements being secondary. The similarity is still present, however, in relation to the craving or need such people manifest in repeating their addictive behaviour. In that sense, they certainly need their ‘victim’ as much as a drug.

In relation to sensation and the nature of mind [Buddhist hermeneutics], this vast topic is far too complex to go into in sufficient detail here. But suffice it to say that ‘objects of sensation’ in the mind can be painful, neutral or pleasant. We desire to give and receive pleasant sensations, in such exchanges, we find pleasure, and to which we can become addicted. We then end up ‘loving’ those with whom we exchange these pleasant sensations. Particles of pleasant sensations in the mind can also be recalled to mind [consciousness] on request and so ‘in fantasy’ can be re-lived as real images. This acts as a pleasant stimulus to renewed pleasure and forms the basis of masturbation, daydreaming, erotic art, and pornography. Seen solely from the viewpoint of Buddhist hermeneutics, it is clear that addiction is primarily the exclusive enjoyment of particles of sensation, which are pleasant to the consciousness. In this sense, it could be said, that it is only ‘further down the same street’ of what all people engage in every day – gazing at attractive forms, delighting in attractive tastes, scents and touches, etc. However, it does also involve a loss of control and a pervasive belief that enjoyment of these sensations is vital to one’s existence and the only way to live out one’s life.

However, any pleasant sensation, in time and through overuse, wears out its own ‘pathway’ in consciousness, treading deeper ruts, such that more and more ‘drug’ is craved to reach the same ‘high’. By contrast, abstinence and self-control or moderation, re-empower the basic pleasure and increase it, while overuse dulls the enjoyment. This broadly applies to all forms of addiction, including food, chocolate, nicotine, sex, alcohol, shopping, promotion, power, etc. Non-attachment cultivates a looser and more nonchalant indifference to pleasure, which must be exhaustively cultivated in order to nullify addictions. This also enhances one’s sense of control over the pleasant sensations to which one has become addicted. And it gradually leads to a new sense of self based just on being who you are.

Cure of addiction necessarily involves unspinning – putting into reverse – the habit as it was formed. It means regaining control over one’s life, denying oneself the sensations to which one has become helplessly addicted, and generally negating the path one has followed. It means the re-establishment by gentle means, of control over the habit, being able to switch it on or off at will, just like a tap. This means stopping gazing at pleasant forms, stopping the internal fantasy element and stopping all the habits associated [attendant rituals of habit] with what is a pattern of addictive behaviour. Inevitably, a very long slow process can take as many years to un-learn as it took to establish in the first place. It means learning how to live day by day on nothing, on a sensory diet of nothing in particular and this will eventually stop the cravings. That is the basis of the Zen approach mentioned above. It means being able to ‘enjoy’ ordinary life as it is. Additionally, it means being able to discover and enjoy oneself just as we are. In these senses, it might be seen as a very joyful and refreshing path to follow. To the addict, this may sound like a very boring form of sense deprivation – which is exactly what it is!

‘Non-attachment…views desire as faulty, thereby deliberately restraining desire…’ [9]

Although addiction is harmful in certain respects [both to self and to others], in other ways, some positive things can come from it and it can be seen as a form of spiritual path. In this respect, it can lead one to make many useful realisations. There are at least three ways in which it can be useful. Firstly, it can lead to a realisation of the need for non-attachment, a greater indifference to the world and greater moderation in one’s habits. It can therefore lead one to a deeper realisation of the fleeting, transient [impermanent] nature of the world and of the mind, and their twin engagement. This is an important Buddhist realisation to make and which addicts of all types can apprehend. Likewise, it leads to an understanding of the way desire leads only to pain.

In another sense, addiction can also lead to a realisation of the fragmentation of corpuscular forms in space and time, which again is a profound realisation of Buddhist emptiness [Shunyata]. There seems little doubt that some addicts can apprehend this important Buddhist realisation with ease. It arises from the fragmentary sense of self many addicts become subject to. It also arises to some degree from the sense that their world is collapsing or disintegrating [‘cold turkey’] even when others reassure them that it is not. It especially arises from many drug-induced experiences in which life, self, the world, other people appear to be vacuous, diaphanous, empty forms, unreal or disintegrating. Such a sensation can persist for a lifetime, many years after the drugs have first been used. Such a sensation can be intensely real. Clearly, from a Buddhist perspective, this is like a direct experience of emptiness based upon an apprehension of the corpuscular nature of reality and the disintegrating nature of ‘unreal forms’. Persistent sensations of this type are illustrative of deep Buddhist concepts normally very hard for ‘normal’ people to comprehend or experience for oneself. Thus, in a sense, the addict has broken a fundamental illusion in our conception of reality that might pre-dispose them towards Buddhist ideas.

Thirdly, we can mention the contemplation of suffering and its causes. With a little guidance, the nature of suffering and its causes can be realised by addicts, without too much difficulty. This in itself can lead one to adopt a more sober, measured and moderate approach to life, and to realise the need for an abstention from indulgence and excesses. The safer and more serene beauty of ordinary life can also be apprehended from the standpoint of the addict. Abstinence alone can lead one to appreciate a Zen-like form of tranquillity as compared to the chaotic frenzy of indulgence in pleasure. It can also lead one to a realisation of the value of creating an inner world of vision, vivid memories recalled in perfect clarity impressed deeply upon the consciousness – this can be used in Buddhist practice to create vivid images of a pure realm of Buddhas.

‘…when you have attachment to, for instance, material things, it is best to desist from that activity. It is taught that one should have few desires and have satisfaction – detachment – with respect to material things…’ [10]

Finally, addiction can lead one towards a deeper interest in the Buddhist view on the nature of mind. Even the idea of karma and rebirth can lead addicts to temper their bad habits and gain some hope for a calmer future. Most of all, addicts should seriously consider the harmfulness of their addiction, both to self and others. In yet another sense, addicts are people who have failed to transform ordinary life into something acceptable or special for them and through which they can then experience life with some joy and fulfilment. The drug or addiction replaces this sense of fulfilment and thus they can only access that sense of life’s joy and meaning, via the drug itself.

To sum up is not easy, as there are many threads. To an extent, Buddhists and addicts seem to share some similar perspectives on the world. They both tend to see the transient and fleeting nature of self and phenomena as being an experience central to their worldview – a view almost utterly obscured to ordinary people. Both are also familiar with non-identity or selflessness, an egoless state in which forms appear diaphanous and unreal, in which self dissolves into nothingness and in which the world is consumed by emptiness. These are profound similarities. By contrast, the addict is not grounded in deep love and compassion for self and the world and is not on a path of self-improvement. Their vision is an essentially pessimistic one, while the Buddhist’s view is predominantly peaceful, hopeful and optimistic. The addict’s view is also harmful to self and others, while a Buddhist’s view is based upon respect and non-harming, love of everything. Though the addict – like a Buddhist – has apprehended the empty and dissolving nature of reality, they do not use that profound insight to construct an inner world of pure forms founded in love and compassion. The addict is essentially leaning on the crutches of their illusions, while the Buddhist leans on nothing, accepts self and the world just as they are and gets on along a path of continuous self-improvement.

‘…the sense of an object as being attractive, unattractive, or neutral…feelings of pleasure, pain, or neutrality arise. Due to such feelings, attachment develops, this being the attachment of not wanting to separate from pleasure and the attachment of wanting to separate from suffering…’ [11]

Other features stand out. The addict seems to have rejected the values of the ordinary person, which the Buddhist has also rejected, such as the permanent nature of reality and the idea that pleasure should be cosy, quiet and decent. The Buddhist aspires to entirely destroy desire and aversion as the root causes of all suffering, and sees both in turn as products of our deluded apprehension of the world as solid and real. The addict has also experienced the emptiness, but has failed to realise that the cause of suffering is aversion and desire – in which they continue to indulge. Thus, the addict appears to sit mid-way between the ordinary person and the Buddhist, and is moving in some ways ‘along the way towards’ Buddhism – chiefly in apprehending the emptiness and in realising that desire and hatred have some problems and price-tags attached. I would therefore conclude that the addict’s is a form of spiritual path – a development away from the ordinary life position – and that involves experiences, which can be more fully understood from a deeper study of Buddhism. These relate to cause and effect, the nature of mind, desire and aversion and finally impermanence and emptiness.

‘…the mental factor of desire…accompanies the perception of an attractive object…’ [12]


[1] The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 1988, Snow Lion USA, p.48

[2] Geshe Lhundup Sopa & Jeffrey Hopkins, Cutting through Appearances: Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism, 1989, Snow Lion, USA, pp.49-50

[3] ibid., p.111

[4] ibid., p.158

[5] ibid., p.188

[6] ibid., p.205

[7] ibid., p.216

[8] ibid., p.272

[9] Dalai Lama at Harvard, p.76

[10] ibid., p.153

[11] ibid., pp.86-7

[12] Sopa & Hopkins, op cit, p.188