Not sure how I came across this substack but great read and followed.

Expand full comment
Jan 20·edited Jan 22Liked by The Living Philosophy

"The Ascetic Ideal draws us away from this world. Fasting, chastity, simplicity, renunciation — these pillars of the Ascetic Ideal take us away from life. They cut us off from the richness of the human experience."

One of the ironies here (which I'm sure the author is aware of) is that few people best exemplified the ascetic ideal more than Friedrich Nietzsche. No wife, children, job, little contact with family and friends (esp as he aged), an almost-complete withdrawal from the world to concentrate on his brilliant work. He was essentially a meek and kind virgin who wouldn't hurt a flea (or horse). I think in one of the Italian towns he lived they called him "the Little Saint".

In all these arguments the labels and classifications often oversimplify and the blurry edges get erased. I'm sure many of the writers and thinkers we love were some combo of both Dionysian and Ascetic: even wordly men like Wilde and Whitman had their moments of escape and contemplation, certainly Tolstoy was famously both, and as far as the Taoists being immersed in the world, there is also Chuang Tzu's wandering on the way, rambling and roaming, but never being foolish enough to get embroiled in human conflicts.

I don't always necessarily think that things like "Fasting, chastity, simplicity, renunciation" take us away from life, in my own experience they can also show people another way to live, so even if they don't become monks they at least learn to separate a bit from our modern rat race. In this way, I think ascetics do offer much to the world, at the very least just suggesting to people that they pull their eyes from their phones long enough to contemplate eternity.

Ideally we can be a little of both, or more likely, as a passionate Dionysian ages they mellow into a wise and kind ascetic.

Expand full comment

Hmm, there basically is a lot of potential for a new sort of spirituality in Nietzsche but it seems it hasn't been tapped? Unless you want to count Hitler and the Nazis as an example.

Maybe someone needs to deliver a Nietzschean Sermon on the Mount, unless Nietzsche himself did that? From what I know of his stuff it all seems too esoteric next to the Sermon.

Expand full comment

"The problem with enlightenment is that it draws people who have a lot of wisdom and a lot of good to offer away from the world. It makes them feel dirty for interacting with the worldly and so it creates a barrier between wisdom and the world thus making the world a shittier place. Either you follow the ascetic path of the Buddha or else you are turning your back on your spiritual path. You are caught in a polarised binary."

Isn't the Buddhist teaching of the "middle way" in part about rejecting the binary between ascetism and hedonism? And one might also make some distinction between Theravada Buddhism which is more focused on individual enlightenment, and Mahayana Buddhism where there is the Boddhisatva vow of continued return to the world for the purpose of enlightening all beings, and the "two truths" of relative vs. absolute truth where absolute truth does not see Samsara and Nirvana as ultimately distinct from one another, reflected in things like the Zen oxherding pictures where the last picture in the sequence is a return to the world.

Nietzsche also has a kind of no-self view which has some similarities to Buddhism, where the self is ultimately the interaction of many more basic drives without any kind of ultimate coordinator or ego. But Nietzsche thinks the greatest individuals are those where one main drive has achieved a kind of mastery over all the others, whereas I think a Buddhist would encourage a kind of dis-identification with any specific drive, though it's a subtle question as to how this makes sense if there is no separate self to be dis-identified from the drives (maybe one could here make a connection to Hegel and the notion of sublating seemingly contradictory views in a sort of a-ha moment that realizes the seeming contradiction was based on a partial, incomplete understanding).

Expand full comment

I’ve noticed a compulsive, viral aspect to beliefs that stick with me. It seems comparable to an addiction of sorts, one which I love. Maybe that is what we love about certain beliefs and practices, that they provide us with a sort of anchor. Over time we may move our anchor, but isn’t the self an anchor as well? We are constantly bombarded by change, so we have a void inside of us yearning for stability and order, a fix, a philosophy, a new journey to take, a new perspective. It seems like in the end it doesn’t really matter where we get our fix from, just that we get it, however we must go about it. Maybe never finding what we are really looking for is a blessing in disguise.

Expand full comment