Arthur Schopenhauer was a German 19th century philosopher,
who deserves to be remembered today
for the insights contained in his great work
The World as Will and Representation.
Schopenhauer was the first serious Western philosopher
to get interested in Buddhism.
And his thought can best be read
as a Western reinterpretation and response
to the enlightened pessimism found in Buddhist thought.
“In my 17th year,” he wrote in an autobiographical text,
“I was gripped by the misery of life,
as the Buddha had been in his youth
when he saw sickness, old age, pain and death everywhere.
The truth was that this world could not
have been the work of an all loving Being,
but rather that of a devil,
who had brought creatures into existence
in order to delight in their sufferings.”
And like the Buddha,
it was Schopenhauer’s goal to dissect
and then come up with a solution to this suffering.
It’s simply the fault of universities
that Schopenhauer has always been taught in such a dry academic way
that it has stopped him from being widely known,
read and followed.
And yet in truth,
this is a man who no less than the Buddha
deserves disciples, schools, artworks and monasteries
应该为他建立学校 寺院 制作艺术品 收门徒
to put his ideas into practice.
It’s not too late.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy starts
by giving a name to a primary force within us
which he says is more powerful than anything else,
our reason, logic or moral sense,
and which Schopenhauer terms the Will-to-Life,
in German der Wille Zum Leben.
德语叫做der Wille Zum Leben
The Will-to-Life is a constant force
which makes us thrust ourselves forward,
cling to existence,
and look always to our own advantage.
It’s blind, dumb and very insistent.
What the Will-to-Life makes us focus on
most of all is sex.
From adolescence onwards,
this will thrums within us,
turns our heads constantly to erotic scenarios
and makes us do very weird things,
the most weird of which
is fall in love all the time.
Schopenhauer was very respectful of love,
as one might be towards a hurricane or a tiger.
He deeply resented the disruption caused to intelligent people
by infatuations or what we’d call crushes.
But he refused to conceive of these
as either disproportionate or accidental.
In his eyes, love is connected
to the most important underlying project of the Will-to-Life,
and hence of all our lives—
“Why all this noise and fuss about love?” he asked,
“Why all the urgency, uproar, anguish and exertion?
“所有那些急躁 喧嚣 痛苦和努力又是为了什么？
Because the ultimate aim of all love affairs…
is actually more important than all other aims in anyone’s life;
and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness
with which everyone pursues it.”
“The romantic dominates life because,” Schopenhauer wrote,
“what is decided by it
is nothing less than the composition of the next generation…
the existence and special constitution of the human race
in times to come.
Of course, we rarely think of future children
when we are asking someone out on a date.
But in Schopenhauer’s view,
this is simply because the intellect remains much excluded
from the real resolutions and secret decisions of its own will.”
Why should such deception be necessary?
Because for Schopenhauer,
we would never reliably to reproduce
unless we had first quite literally lost our minds.
This was a man deeply opposed to the boredom,
routine, expense and sheer sacrifice of having children.
单调乏味 花销 和白白的牺牲
Furthermore, Schopenhauer argued that most of the time,
if our intellect were properly in charge of
choosing who we could fall in love with,
we would pick very different people
to the ones we actually end up with.
But we’re ultimately driven to fall in love,
not with anyone we’ll just get on with well,
but with people whom the Will-to-Life recognises
as ideal partners for the project of producing
what Schopenhauer bluntly called “balanced children”.
All of us are a little bit unbalanced ourselves, he thought.
We’re a bit too masculine or too feminine,
too tall or too short,
too rational or too impulsive.
If such imbalances were allowed to
persist or aggravated in the next generation,
the human race would, within a short time,
sink into oddity.
The Will-to-Life must, therefore, push us towards people
who can, on account of their compensating imbalances,
cancel out our own issues.
A large nose combined with a button nose
promise a perfect nose.
He argued that short people
often fall in love with tall people.
And more feminine men with more assertive and masculine women.
Unfortunately, this theory of balancing attraction
led Schopenhauer to a very bleak conclusion,
namely that a person who is highly suitable
for producing a balanced child with is almost never,
though we can’t realise it at the time
because we have been blindfolded by the Will-to-Life,
very suitable for us.
“We should not be surprised,” he wrote,
“by marriages between people who would never have been friends…
Love… casts itself on people who, apart from sex,
除了性以外 爱情…… 让我们选择的人
would be hateful, contemptible, and even abhorrent to us.”
The Will-to-Life’s ability to
further its own ends rather than our happiness may,
Schopenhauer implied, be sensed with particular clarity
in that rather scary, lonely moment just after orgasm.
He wrote: “Directly after copulation,
the devil’s laughter is heard.”
Watching the human spectacle,
Schopenhauer felt deeply sorry for us.
We are all just like animals,
except because of our greater self-awareness,
far more unhappy than animals.
There are some poignant passages
where Schopenhauer discusses the lives of different animals,
but he dwells especially on the mole.
“A stunted monstrosity,” his words,
“that dwells in damp narrow corridors,
rarely sees the light of day
and whose offspring look like gelatinous worms,
but which still does everything in its power
to survive and perpetuate itself.
We’re just like moles, and just as pitiful.
We are driven frantically to push ourselves forward.
We want to get good jobs to impress prospective partners.
We wonder endlessly about finding the One,
and are eventually briefly seduced
by someone just long enough to produce a child,
and then have to spend the next 40 years
in misery with them to atone for our errors.
Schopenhauer was always beautifully and comically
gloomy about human nature.
“There is only one inborn error,” he wrote,
“and that is the notion
that we exist in order to be happy…
So long as we persist in this inborn error…
the world will seem to us full of contradictions.
For at every step, in great things and small,
we are bound to experience
that the world and life are certainly not arranged
for the purpose of being happy.
That’s why the faces of almost all elderly people
are deeply etched with disappointment.”
Schopenhauer offers two solutions
to deal with the problems of existence.
The first solution is intended for rather rare individuals
that he called sages.
Sages are able, by heroic efforts,
to rise above the demands of the Will-to-Life.
They see the natural drives within themselves towards selfishness,
sex and vanity, and override them.
They overcome their desires,
live alone, often away from big cities, never marry
通常远离大城市 独自生活 终生不婚
and can quell their appetites for fame and status.
In Buddhism, Schopenhauer points out,
this person is known as a monk.
But he recognizes that only a tiny number of us
in any generation will ever go in for such a life.
The second and more easily available and realistic therapy
is to spend as long as we can with art and philosophy,
whose task is to hold up a mirror
to the frenzied efforts and unhappy turmoil
created in all of us by the Will-to-Life.
We may not be able to quell the Will-to-Life very often,
but in the evenings at the theatre,
or on a walk with a book of poetry,
we can step back from the day-to-day,
and look at life without illusion.
The art Schopenhauer loved best is the opposite of sentimental:
Greek tragedies, the aphorisms of La Rochefoucauld
and the political theory of Machiavelli.
Such works speak frankly about
egoism, suffering, selfishness and the horrors of married life,
婚姻生活的个人主义 痛苦 自私和恐怖
and extend a tragic, dignified, melancholy sympathy to the human race.
It’s fitting that Schopenhauer’s own work fitted his description
of what philosophy and art should do for us.
It too is deeply consoling in its morbid bitter pessimism.
For example, he tells us:
After spending a lot of time trying, yet failing to be famous,
and trying, yet failing to have a good relationships.
Towards the end of his life, Schopenhauer did eventually
find an audience who adored his writings.
He lived quietly in an apartment in Frankfurt with his dog,
a white poodle whom he called Atman,
after the word “soul of the Buddhists”,
but whom the neighbouring children less respectfully referred to
as Mrs Schopenhauer.
Shortly before his death,
a sculptor made a famous bust of him.
He died in 1860 at the age of 72,
having achieved calm and serenity.
He is a sage for our own times,
someone whose bust should be no less widespread
and no less revered than that of the Buddha he so loved.