Shengren – Chapter – Arthur Schopenhauer

Having seen how Hegel expressed his disinclination for Sino-Tibetan intellectual culture in his The Mongolian Principle, we now turn to someone who could not disagree more with Hegel: Arthur Schopenhauer.

Although he had many spiritual qualities, Schopenhauer was neither a Buddhist practitioner nor a professional orientalist, but a philosopher. But like no other German philosopher, he explored the Buddha nature and studied the Buddhist literature, and he saw something in it that was new and unique and never heard of in Germany. Schopenhauer saw flaws in Kant’s rationalism and Hegel’s idealism, and with his understanding of Eastern thoughts on interconnectedness, he tried to enlighten Germany. In rational Germany, the spiritual Schopenhauer always remained a peripheral figure. But who can tell, history is still young and Europe might see Schopenhauer’s influence grow and prosper yet. For now, however, the readership of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818) mainly consists of two groups: those who are receptive for Eastern spirituality, and those who found Schopenhauer through his most prominent admirer: the philosopher who announced “Gott ist tot” [God is dead] – Friedrich Nietzsche. Surprisingly, they can be read in either direction, because Schopenhauer inspired Nietzsche, and Nietzsche legitimized Schopenhauer.

Arthur Schopenhauer is not known as a Weiser (sage) in Germany. His thoughts are called metaphysical analysis, pessimistic philosophy, existentialism, or philosophy of the will. Maybe Schopenhauer’s work is about sagehood, but sagehood is not a word in Germany and a German translation for sagehood is yet to be found.

The eccentric man was a critic of the German system that failed him: Schopenhauer dropped out of academia as a young lecturer, and was never employed in his life thereafter. His writing style is clear and aphoristic, not despite his departure from academic philosophy but because of it. Schopenhauer writes about music, beauty, genius, about a world full of representations and our will to live. He knew about Buddhism and Taoism, and about the superior man. Isolated and lonely, but not alone, he raised two poodles called Atman and Butz. Schopenhauer had made good use of his time with reading. Despite his clear language, the requirements for the reader, if he then decided to go beneath the surface, were extraordinary: Schopenhauer quoted in Latin, Greek, French, and English (which was not the lingua franca it is today). He refers to his doctoral dissertation Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grund as the actual introduction; and he further recommends the preparatory Lektüre (reading) of both Kant and Hegel no less. And finally, the basic knowledge of Buddhist doctrine and knowing what is meant by the word “Upanishads” are an unspoken prerequisite for reading Arthur Schopenhauer’s World. The book in its third edition has few contradictions. Schopenhauer had worked on its perfection for 46 years. At the end of his life, however, he has not become a Buddhist, and he did not consider himself einen Weisen; in fact, Schopenhauer rejected the idea of profound wisdom – he called it “utterly boring cream puff”.