why Nietzsche accused buddhists of nihilism

Why Nietzsche was so critical of Buddhism

I have to be honest: my interest in mindfulness started off, and still is, almost completely secular. I do not aspire to awakening and all those other big things that spiritual teachers preach (market). For me, it is more about resting the brain so as to allow it to function at its peak. This may sound cold and clinical, but all it is really is that I don’t have massive expectations.

All the same, I figured that if I am to get good at mindfulness, I need to explore it properly. The language used to explain mindfulness: non-attachment, non-judgement, acceptance – seemed very confusing to me. Confusing to the point of seeming to defy basic human nature.

The best way I can phrase it now is that the practice of mindfulness requires us to treat thoughts and emotions as if we are just watching them.


But it did beg the question: how do you make sense of acceptance and non-judgement? How does that gel with constant resistance and overpowering ourselves that we are all so familiar with? How, and why, do we set and strive for goals if we are meant to be just accepting? I did wonder if there is a certain nihilism to the teachings behind mindfulness.

So who better to ask than Professor Nietzsche, nihilism-connoisseur in chief?

Nguyên Giác and I like to explore the thinking behind Buddhism, so in this latest piece I discuss Nietzsche’s understanding, rejection and emulation of Buddhism in his philosophy and explain the logic behind his claim that it is a nihilistic religion.

If you want the quick version, here it is:

  • Nietzsche misunderstood the concepts of Buddhism by mistaking interdependence for emptiness, probably due to lack of context and good translations
  • He defined Buddhism as a “true-world theory”, meaning that Buddhism claims there is another, superior form of existence (Buddho, Nirvana, etc) and that inherently defies the value of our common, normal, unawakened life, hence it is nihilistic
  • Despite Nietzsche’s rejection of Buddhism, his own philosophy is, in places, remarkably similar to it.


Nihilism? Decadence? Will to power? Superman? True World? Eternal Recurrence? Nietzsche was a complex guy. Read this to learn more about how his ideas stood in comparison to those commonly put forward by Buddhist traditions.

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6 thoughts on “Why Nietzsche was so critical of Buddhism”

  1. “This may sound cold and clinical, but all it is really is that I don’t have massive expectations.”

    Personally, I find any form of personal improvement/personal introspection outside the typical purpose “to become something higher” very refreshing. I spent to many years in a religion that teaches; man is as “God once was and God is what man my become”, so I’ve grown very weary of the attainment theories of theistic style teachings. One of them (certainly not all of them, for that would be impossible) may be “right” in their teachings, but I have serious doubts about that. So, I find your writing quite refreshing; a very nice change from the norm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind comment. To be honest, while I recognise that most of it well intended and the placebo effect is a powerful force, the extent to which these theories are ubiquitous on the internet is sad. Above all it is a reflection on how gullible people are and love to click on “this will solve all your problems”. There have to be better ways!


  2. Very interesting to read about the Nietzche’s angle on buddhism, he is still very popular in Eastern Europe – philosophy amateurs still read him a lot, personally, I always had my reservations as he only tells a part of a story whereas buddhism is able to answer more holistic issues of existence…

    Liked by 1 person

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