The Philosophy of Life
by Swami Krishnananda


Chapter 14: Friedrich Nietzsche

For Schopenhauer the Will-to-live is the all. But Nietzsche conceives the Will-to-power as the supreme. Both are philosophers of the Will; the former teaches a voluntaristic idealism, the latter a voluntaristic individualism. Nietzsche propounds the theory which holds that the instinct for the acquisition of power is the prime factor that motivates all the activities of life. The Will as the desire for power is the principle of Reality. Intellect, reason, knowledge are all instruments of this Will. Knowledge is a means to acquire power. We observe that everything in this world has a tendency to try to overcome others, to gain superiority over everyone else, to vanquish or rule the whole world of beings. The law that directs all activities in life is the law of power, the urge to excel all others in strength. This urge is universally present and its aim is the production of the superman, the master of all beings, who is above all others in power. This Will-to-power can achieve its purpose only by striving and suffering and an inevitable loss on the part of the weak. Life is meaningful only on account of struggle. War is good; peace is a stagnation which is not worth desiring. War strengthens the race, peace weakens them. There is no universal truth, no unity, no oneness. All is difference, inequality, strife. Courage and strength are the greatest virtues; pity and compassion are bad, for they contradict the Will-to-power. Self-denial and asceticism, peace and happiness, non-resistance and equality are all oppositions to the primary instinct in life, the Will-to-power. Life is struggle for existence at its highest. The test of a man is energy and ability. The desire of the superman is to face danger, to encounter strife in order to be supreme himself.

Nietzsche’s philosophy is that of human egoism, of the assertion of individuality which all great philosophers have advised us to overcome in order that we may become really great and blessed. Nietzsche’s superman cannot acquire universal power unless he realises his universal existence. How can omnipotence and individual existence be compatible with each other? Supreme power can only he in the infinite. Where, then, comes this boasted power? There is no true power when one is bound to temporal individuality. And when universal power is attained, there is a transcendence of individual existence, for then it gets identified with Reality which is infinite. Nietzsche’s doctrine is obviously a proud affirmation of the principle of the ‘struggle for existence’ and ‘survival of the fittest’. Well; courage is good, bravery is laudable. But this should be an inner toughness born of the realisation of a superhuman ideal of divinity, or at least of a sincere aspiration for this realisation. Nietzsche’s superman has nothing of the divine in him; he is a proud individual. Power without knowledge is a harmful weapon, and he who wields it shall be vanquished in the course of time. The humility of the saint is not a confession of weakness but an announcement of universal Self-experience. Brutality or boorishness cannot be called a virtue. That the weak may be subjugated by force is no teaching of wisdom. And after all, who can be contented to be weak, if everyone becomes a candidate for lordship with the power of the superman? Any transvaluation of values has to be in conformity with the deepest implications of the spiritual consciousness in man, and these implications stretch towards a oneness which is beyond individualism. Nietzsche would appear to be a protagonist in the drama of evil and vice if his craving for power is not submerged in the aspiration for higher spiritual knowledge and experience where power reaches its culmination. Knowledge is power. Power in conscious beings has to be defined as the force generated by inner illumination, by the direction of consciousness to Reality. Our power becomes great in proportion to our nearness to the Absolute.

Morality is not a weapon of the weak, as Nietzsche thinks. It is the precondition to self-control which paves the way for the knowledge that brings genuine power. That happiness is bad and peace undesirable, that war is preferable and strife indispensable is not the voice of a healthy mind. Nietzsche has not in him the insight of a Hegel to discover the good, the reality and the power of the individual in wider fields of experience where all these get transmuted in self-transcendence; not even the honesty of a Schopenhauer to detect the evils of individual existence. The greatest men of all ages were not balloons swelling with the pride of strength, but tranquil contemplatives on the light that shines beyond the realm of struggle and pain. Worldly knowledge may be a tool for exercising power over others; but knowledge as such, the wisdom of the Truth behind which dance the marionettes of all things, is not confined to any single individual; it hails supreme as the heart and soul of the entire power of the universe. Here knowledge and power are one, and the exercise of power is the exercise of knowledge, not on anyone else, for there is no other to such knowledge. Even in the relative plane where power can be exercised over others, it is knowledge that determines the intensity and extent of power. One cannot have power without knowledge with good as its result. The good is the true which is also wisdom and power.

The struggle for existence seen in individuals is no proof of the supremacy of the Will-to-power in them. Struggle for existence is first the expression of the Will-to-live, and includes, as Schopenhauer points out, the Will-to-reproduce. The struggle to live at one’s highest, again, is not a craving for power, but an attempt at the acquisition of the greatest happiness possible. No one strives for power as an end in itself, and those who think they do are obviously working under the influence of a delusion. The aim that directs the longing for unlimited power is the acquisition of unlimited happiness; and happiness is identical with freedom. Freedom at its highest is not to be had in any state of individual existence. Individuality acts as a shackle that restricts the manifestation of the infinite power potential in man, and this infinite is the Absolute. Thus, all struggle for existence is ultimately a sign of the longing for the bliss of the Absolute, which, incidentally, is unsurpassed power, also. The survival of the fittest is the success of those individuals in their environments, who approximate the more to the consciousness of the Absolute. The supreme value of life is in the realisation of this highest consciousness. Exploitation in itself is not the meaning of the struggle for existence. Hegel’s dialectical process and Whitehead’s ingressive evolution better explain the significance of what appears to us as struggle for existence and exploitation of others. All beings discover their meaning in realms of consciousness which gradually transcend individuality and point to the existence of the Absolute.