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Human Mind Philosophy Spirituality

Gautama Buddha or Friedrich Nietzsche: Contented Serenity or Agitated Courage?

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered,
serenity to accept what cannot be helped,
and the insight to know the one from the other.
—Reinhold Niebuhr, 19371

Introduction

In the quadrune mind model of spiritual consciousness, we state that the purpose of a Human life is to reduce suffering and increase healing,2 but what does that mean in a world that seems to be losing its mind. In this post we argue that, perhaps paradoxically, a spiritually-oriented person of the secular 21st Century needs both the serene equanimity of the Gautama Buddha and the pugnacious passion of Friedrich Nietzsche to become an effective Healer3 in a non-religious, spiritually suffering world. 

Gautama Buddha and Inner Peace

Buddha taught skills to help people become mentally calm or serene, to experience the world with equanimity. However, equanimity,4 or internal serenity, could be interpreted as a withdrawal from a chaotic world. Upon his enlightenment, in fact, Buddha’s first inclination was to retreat into seclusion. He feared that people would not understand his teachings or even be hostile toward him. He was persuaded by the entreaties of Brahma, king of the Gods, to stay and teach a suffering world how to heal.

Buddha could have secluded himself without the loss of his enlightenment. Apparently, Buddhist awakening does not require engagement in socially progressive causes, perhaps to avoid an attachment to one side of a “worldly” issue or another. This lesson is probably not what the Buddha was teaching. Rather, equanimity can be a mental impartiality, or balance, which allows a person committed to healing the world to approach worldly suffering in an unbiased way toward more fair solutions for all. We would say that equanimity is the Human mind’s ability to overcome attachment to the things that our pre-Human minds cling to for “survival,” be it the illusion of permanence, the idea that our or our family member’s life has more value than any other life, or the belief that our ideals are correct.

We might call the Buddha’s approach “contented serenity.” It is living engaged in the world in a way that recognizes the suffering of the world without allowing it to overwhelm us. It is striving to reduce suffering and increase healing in the world without needing our efforts to result in certain outcomes in order to continue. We can accept and be content with the fact that we will never be able to eliminate all suffering, but this does not lessen the importance of our work as a Healer.5 

Friedrich Nietzsche and Worldly Commitment

At the same time, to address the challenges facing humanity in the 21st century, we may need more “passion” to sustain our actions and urgency to implement change. We believe the naturalistic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche complements Buddhist spirituality to produce the kind of enlightened activist6 that is needed by the world today. 

Friedrich Nietzsche was appalled by the extreme rationalism of Immanuel Kant. From the quadrune mind model, Kant is a prime example of the reasoning new mammalian mind. Kant provided what could be viewed as the poster slogan of a modern science no longer reliant on culturally traditional views of reality. Kant said, “Dare to know [for yourself]!” (Sapere aude.) Nietzsche rejected the dominance of abstract reasoning (new mammalian mind) over the “instinctual” drives (reptilian mind) as the determinant of how the nature of human beings should be expressed in the world. He believed we needed to embrace our passions in order to fully embrace life. The Human mind does not ignore the pre-Human minds but integrates them. Embracing our passions, an important part of who we are, is key to being effective Healers. We might call Nietzsche’s approach “agitated courage.”7

Buddha and Nietzsche: Human Spiritual Consciousness for the Secular 21st Century

Both Buddha and Nietzsche lived during tumultuous times. Both Buddha and Nietzsche were pragmatic in their approaches to how a human being should live. That is, do the person’s values and practices enlarge their engagement with life in the real world? Neither believed that there was one universal set of rules that applied to all people, but some ways of living were more or less life-affirming than others. Neither attributed anyone’s set of values for the good life as having been given by an ultimate authority, such as God, that would apply to all people all of the time. 

Quadrune mind spirituality is not for the “meek” who are faithfully waiting to inherit an earth redeemed for them by God. It is not for people who have a “slave morality, who expect God to someday take revenge on their behalf against their worldly, powerful oppressors. Finally, quadrune mind spirituality is not for the “masters” either, who confidently wield exploitive force over others with impunity.  

Buddha taught an egalitarian spirituality in which all sentient beings contain a seed of “Buddha nature.”8 Nietzsche taught a naturalistic exceptionalism in which the “superman” exceeds the quality of life as it is lived by the masses. The quadrune mind model of spirituality teaches that “Human” consciousness is possessed by Human-minded individuals, who are rare but who have the skills to help others become more Human-minded through loving relationships.9 The Human mind perfectly combines the compassion and wisdom of the Buddha with Nietzsche’s passion and his call for us to be greater than we currently are. Our Human mind gives us the power to more effectively embrace life and live it vibrantly, as it is meant to be lived by human beings.10

Conclusion

Don’t be a Buddhist; be a Buddha./
Don’t be a Christian; be a Christ.—Tony Barrs11
Don’t be the herd; be a superman12
Don’t have an animal mind; have a Human consciousness

Serene Courage

The 21st century is presenting humanity with cascading catastrophes that are quickly adding up to the end of the world as know it. To meet this need constructively, we believe “serene courage” is necessary. The spiritually conscious Human-minded person has the courage to see the world as it is, and to use every skill they have to make the world better for all. However, they do not believe that the ends ever justify the means. They possess the ability to accept their successes and failures with serene equanimity.

speech by Michigan state senator, Mallory McMorrow, 13 seems to exemplify the “courage” part of the 1937 “Serenity Prayer.” Whether or not she possesses “serene” or “agitated” courage remains to be seen, because it’s unknown yet what cannot be helpedWe may not know what we can alter for the uplifting of humanity until we are nearly done. Only then will we be called upon to be serene in the face of our temporal limitations. 

In other words, it is by the 1937 “courageous” version of the “Serenity Prayer” that a Human being lives.

Related Posts

QM and the Human Mind of Siddhartha Gautama

Why Religious Fervor and Spiritual Consciousness Are Not the Same

QM and the End of the World

Additional Resources

Grubin, D. (Filmmaker), & Gere, R. (Narrator). (2010, April 7). The Buddha. Arlington, VA: PBS. 

Hughes, K. (2018, November 21). I Am Dynamite! by Sue Prideaux review – Nietzsche as we haven’t known him beforeThe Guardian.

Kaufmann, W. (1968). The portable Nietzsche. New York: Viking Press.

Nietzsche, F. (1883-1888/1968). The will to power (W. Kaufmann, Ed. & Trans. & R. J. Hollingdale, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.

Prideaux, S. (2018, October 6). Far right, misogynist, humourless? Why Nietzsche is misunderstoodThe Guardian. “As for the myths that have grown up around him, the last word surely should belong to the man himself. ‘I am frightened,’ he wrote, ‘by the thought of what unqualified and unsuitable people may invoke my authority one day. Yet that is the torment of every teacher … he knows that, given the circumstances and accidents, he can become a disaster as well as a blessing to mankind.’” [Sue Prideaux is the author of I Am Dynamite!: A Life of Friedrich Nietzsche].

Solomon, R. C., & Higgins, K. M. (1999). The will to power: The philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company.

  1. Wikipedia, (last edited 2021, October 28). Serenity Prayer.  “A 1937 Christian student publication attributed the prayer to Niebuhr in the following form, which matches the other earliest published forms in requesting ‘courage to change’ before petitioning for serenity: 

    Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”

    [A later version of the “Serenity Prayer” by Reinhold Niebuhr was adapted by Alcoholics Anonymous: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”—A.A. short version. In the A.A. version it seems that we’re first asking for serenity to accept bothersome things that we believe we won’t be able to change. Then, we ask for the courage to change the bothersome things that we already believe we can change. By contrast, in the 1937 version it is after we have tried everything we can and fail, that we ask for serenity for what has to be lived with. In the later versions, including A.A.’s, it seems that more responsibility is put onto God’s broad shoulders to redress grievances than our own, which, from the quadrune mind perspective (and, we would say, Nietzsche’s), is a major lessening of humans’ spiritual responsibility and power].

  2. See pages 5-11 of the Study Guide for more information.
  3. Stampede Greed and Desperate Need. In this post we described “three kinds of people” in the world: Sufferers, Afflicters, and Healers. By definition in the quadrune mind model, all Healers are living at the Human level of spiritual consciousness.
  4. O’Brien, B. (2019, June 25). Buddhism and Equanimity: Why equanimity is an essential Buddhist virtue. Learn Religions. “Although translated as ‘equanimity,’ the precise meaning of upekkha seems hard to pin down. According to Gil Fronsdal, who teaches at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, the word upekkha literally means ‘to look over.’ However, a Pali/Sanskrit glossary I consulted says it means ‘not taking notice; to disregard.’

    “According to Theravadin monk and scholar, Bhikkhu Bodhi, the word upekkha in the past has been mistranslated as ‘indifference,’ which has caused many in the West to believe, mistakenly, that Buddhists are supposed to be detached and unconcerned with other beings. What it really means is to not be ruled by passions, desires, likes, and dislikes.”

  5. Contented Serenity: Some people adjust their individual lives to find serenity in the world as it is. Even though they may act on their desires to lessen the suffering in the world, they are able to remain somewhat detached from the outcomes of their efforts. They do not need to feel in control of life in order to live it serenely. Gautama Buddha taught a path toward serenity in the midst of great suffering occurring throughout Central Asia.
  6. “Enlightened” activism from the quadrune mind model’s perspective, as described in this post, is not to be confused with the current “woke revolution.”
  7. Agitated Courage: Other reformers endorse widespread agitation and suffering in the name of a (their) “cause.” Agitators stir the emotions of people to become courageous in support of the world they are trying to create—even if it causes great suffering to others. Interestingly, a recent study suggested that it takes only 25 percent of a population to change their parochial world for better or worse. During the rise of German nationalism, Friedrich Nietzsche ranted on behalf of a radically bold commitment to one’s earthly life, which specifically included, if not required, great suffering.

    Agitated courage can be expressed in different contexts than the political arena. One of the best examples of the use of comedy to express “righteous aggravation” was by George Carlin.

  8. Compare Buddha nature to our use of panpsychism.
  9. Here are a few diverse examples of people with the skills, perseverance, and courage to be engaged healing agents in the world as it is—whatever the consequences. We include two remarkable relatives:  

    Beutler, M. (2016, June 8). Memories of Ho-Ho the Clown: Remembering the way we were with a look back at the decades of laughter and joy Ed Birchall brought to OKC kids as Ho-Ho the Clown. 405 Magazine. [We were among the many fortunate Oklahomans to receive Ho-Ho’s soothing presence].

    Bromley, A. E. (2016, September 1). In Memoriam: William H. Anderson Jr. UVA Today. [Bill was my {TFS} predoctoral internship supervisor at the University of Virginia. By the end of the year until his illness and untimely death, he was our family’s dear “Papa Bill”].

    Gupta, S. (2022, January 6). Why do some people succeed when others fail? Outliers provide clues: Adopting behaviors of people who buck trends could boost public health and sustainability. Science News. “In any large dataset involving the choices people make, a handful of people will succeed [positive deviance] when most others like them fail. Zooming in on those outliers and mapping out how they made their choices could give those failing in similar circumstances a leg up.”

    Keeping, J. (2012, March 2). Father of late journalist Anthony Shadid speaks about Oklahoma-born son’s book, life, careerThe Oklahoman. [A journalist who humanized for the minds of the West the oft-demonized people of the Middle East]. 

    Khater, A, & Soleim, S. (2016, August 24). Michael Shadid: A Syrian SocialistKhayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies News. North Carolina State University. “Dr. Michael Shadid [was] a medical doctor who spent his adult life in the first half of the 20th century working to bring healthcare to the rural poor in America, and to overcome racial prejudice against Lebanese Americans. Born in Jdeidet Marj’youn (Lebanon) in 1882 to a poor family, Shadid’s childhood made him keenly aware of the devastating impact of poverty. As he narrated in his various autobiographical writings, the tragic and premature death of nine of his eleven siblings due to “summer complaint” (dysentery afflicting children and infants and caused by contamination of food and poor hygiene) could have been avoided with access to affordable doctors.”

    Paresky, P. B. (2022, February 23). Bridging the moral divide over vaccinations: The importance of trust in an era of “fake news.” Psychology Today. “The data revealed that Walmart has over-performed in vaccine distribution across different communities and moral concerns — not through using moral reprove or coercion, but by meeting people where they are.” [Humanizing relationships work well anywhere].Paterniti, M. (2021, December 22). NDAKASIB: B. 2007: A life in three viral photosNew York Times Magazine. “‘You must justify why you are on this earth,’ Bauma says in a documentary. ‘Gorillas justify why I am here.’”

  10. Colina, J. (2018, February 20). 10 People who gave their lives for others in 2017Aleteia. [Here are examples of the best use of religious institutional resources to enable “spirit persons” (see footnote 11) to be Healers to those of us who are among the most suffering].
  11. The two-line quote is from the independent, deeply insightful spiritual thinker Tony Barrs, who writes from a Buddhist orientation. The “Buddhist” line links to his blog. The “Christian” line links to a Unitarian Universalist sermon by Rev. Victoria Weinstein, who is the daughter of a secular Jewish father and a Russian Orthodox mother. The sermon presents Jesus as a spirit person: “The historical Jesus was a spirit person, one of those figures in human history with an experiential awareness of the reality of God. The older, semi-technical term is holy man, but spirit person seems better. Spirit persons are known cross-culturally. They are people who have vivid and subjective experiences of another level or dimension of reality.”
  12. The “herd; superman” line links to a philosophical essay by Eva Cybulska on Nietzsche’s use of these terms: “‘Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Übermensch – a rope over an abyss.’ Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Prologue…. 

    Übermensch is not a tyrant. If anything, he is someone capable of tyranny who manages to overcome and sublimate this urge. His magnanimity stems not from weakness and servitude, but from the strength of his passions. He is rather like “the Roman Caesar with Christ’s soul” (Will to Power; 983), a value-creating and value-destroying free spirit who disciplines himself to wholeness.”

    [Cybulska interprets Nietzsche’s thinking within the contexts of philosophy, mythology, literature, and psychology. In German mensch is gender neutral, as “person” is in English. In any event now we recognize that there has also been a long social history of the use of the term “superwoman.” Also, Human spiritual consciousness may be considered the actualized Übermensch from the quadrune mind model perspective].

  13. Yang, J., & Hastings, D. (2022, April 22). Michigan Sen. Mallory McMorrow explains why she stood up to a culture war attack. PBS News Hour.

2 replies on “Gautama Buddha or Friedrich Nietzsche: Contented Serenity or Agitated Courage?”

Who else but you would think of Buddha and Nietzsche in a collaborative presentation such as this provocative piece! Well done!

Thank you Mike for your very nice compliment. The answer of who would think of this topic, and do most of the writing, is Kerri: she had written a Buddha/Nietzsche paper for her Nietzsche course at NYU. Again, we greatly appreciate your time to read the post and for your thoughtful comment.

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