Shengren – Chapter – Friedrich W. Nietzsche

Readers of Schopenhauer also read Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, and vice versa, although their philosophies were distinguished, they shared a profound spiritualism and engaged in existential themes: most notably that of the will to live (Schopenhauer) and that of the will to power (Nietzsche). Friedrich Nietzsche transported his personality into his philosophy, a breach of academic form, and his ideas appear prophetic and delusional. In his Thus spoke Zarathustra (1885), Nietzsche speaks as a prophet who climbs down into the valley and teaches his concept of die Ewige Wiederkunft (Eternal recurrence). Zarathustra is an unusual sage, one who at times loathes the people because he feels intellectually superior to them; this one Nietzsche did not get right about sagehood – a sage treats the people with respect, and he relates, not loathes them. Nietzsche apparently wanted to be a spiritual teacher, but his German rational mind and the need to point out to flaws in others did not allow that. In any case, even if Nietzsche felt like a sage, the German people took no notice and catalogued his works under philosophy.

Robert Morrison once talked about “the ironic affinities” between Nietzsche and the Buddha, which posed a dilemma: In his book Nietzsche and Buddhism (1999), Morrison recalled the philosopher’s outspoken disdain for Buddhism. Nietzsche called Buddhahood “withdraw into self-extinction” and “a disease of the Will”.[1] Nevertheless, the philosopher’s nihilism bore resemblances to the Buddha’s doctrine of eternal suffering. Is Nietzsche a sage, a Buddhist sage, even a German Buddha? Morrison indeed suggested that Nietzsche was a spiritual being, something like a Buddha. Friedrich Nietzsche saw himself above the philosophers; called himself a god; on another occasion, he announces [the Christian] God’s dead. The departure from the philosophical and the divine, and still talking authoritative about human affairs – that was Nietzsche’s crossing into the realm of the sages.

Paul Riceour, an expert on the philosophy of the will, believed that Friedrich Nietzsche – along with Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Michel Foucault – was the Western voice to “sound out the many distortions of human communication which conceal the permanent exercise of domination and violence”. Nietzsche is a terror for the Europeans. He said once: “I could have been the Buddha of Europe”. Few understood – and still have no clear conception – what that meant: the exodus of Christianity and philosophy, and the beginning of sage culture.

Did Nietzsche want to be the Buddha of Europe? He certainly was drawn to supernatural abilities when he announced his concept of the Űbermensch (superman). Is the Űbermensch a European version of the Oriental sage, or a German version of the humans of highest virtue and perfection, a German shengren? No. Nietzsche, like all the other philosophers, had never heard about the shengren. Sages were unknown to the Germans, a relic of the forgotten past. If Nietzsche had sages in mind, that European Űbermensch-sage had a poor set of ethics, an inflated ego, and almost certainly would not be content with the Middle way. Moreover, Nietzsche’s behavior was self-destructive and his books highlight the course of a mental disease: The Űbermensch was probably the product of a madman (and it stands to reason whether it was [German] society that drove him mad – a theme that was picked up by Lu Xun in his Diary of a Madman). Did Nietzsche, that German madman, create evil sages? The Chinese know, they are the experts on sages, and only if the Germans start to see the shengren, will they be able to understand China and sage culture. Call the shengren philosophers or saints, and the Germans will learn nothing.

Zarathustra, the sage – the Germans say: prophet – was a product of Nietzsche’s German mind. That mind broke during the process. In Christianity, a prophet is the intermediary between man and the divine. But Nietzsche said God was dead. He wanted to hint the Germans about something that was above Greek philosophy and beyond Christianity. Without knowing the correct names, however, that was an impossible task: How can somebody explain in German words what is beyond and above German? The Antichrist (1888), Ecce Homo (1888) and The Will to Power (1888) are not the works of a philosopher. But Germany has no concept for sages, not even for evil ones. Philosophy of the will, this is what they call the thought of Nietzsche, the philosopher.


[1] Nietzsche, 1974, p. 289