Nietzsche and Other Buddhas

Philosophy after Comparative Philosophy

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Jason M. Wirth
World Philosophies
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    Indiana University Press
    , March
     2019.
     250 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780253039712.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Jason Wirth’s Nietzsche and Other Buddhas: Philosophy after Comparative Philosophy is a tour de force that both challenges and expands our understanding of the very practice of philosophy in general, and comparative philosophy in particular.

Drawing from both expertise as a professional philosopher and experience as Zen practitioner, Wirth skillfully shifts the practice of comparative philosophy beyond the enumeration of affinities and differences between “western” and “eastern” thinkers towards a global horizon of world philosophy. Along this non-dualistic horizon, Wirth brings the perspectivism of Friedrich Nietzsche into dialogue with Continental, American, and East Asian Mahāyāna thinkers to lay bare the non-philosophical soil from which philosophical activity germinates and flourishes throughout different historical periods and geographical locations. Similar to Nietzsche’s method of philosophizing with a hammer, Wirth philosophizes with a kyosaku—Zen awakening stick—so as to awaken us from our somnambulant anthropocentrism, and thereby rethink what is worthy of philosophical reflection.

A central theme within this book is the idea of “philosophy as medicine.” However, rather than an over- the-counter pill sold by “big pharma,” philosophy is more in keeping with Āyurvedic values wherein food is recognized as the best medicine; and, just as the nutrients and medicinal benefits of food are only attainable via proper digestion, if we are seeking to realize the medicinal benefits of philosophy, we must learn to properly digest the philosophies we read and encounter. According to Wirth, philosophical thinking after comparative philosophy—after horizontal sorting of affinities and differences—is a practice of rumination whereby, through “chewing again,” one is able to digest and transform the epistemic, ontological, and existential nutrients into a healthy, non-dyspeptic perspective.

Framed by a vertical vantage point along a “plane of immanence” (planomenal), Wirth’s exploration of Nietzsche in dialogue with other Buddhas —Arthur Schopenhauer, William James, Gilles Deleuze, Dōgen, Shinran, Hakuin, and Hajime Tanabe—helps disambiguate the “pure experience” of doing philosophy from a non-dualistic perspective. By avoiding the snares and traps of binary/dualistic thinking (e.g., post hoc ergo propter hoc and hasty generalization fallacies), Wirth illuminates some novel insights that are discoverable when exploring Nietzsche and East Asian thinkers in dialogue together, including the ambiguity of sickness and health, and, the idea of “medicinal poison,” vis-à-vis psilocybin mushrooms, MDMA, and other psychoactive drugs.

Throughout several chapters of this book, readers will no doubt hear echoes from Nietzsche’s Human, All-Too-Human: “You must learn how to emerge out of unclean situations cleaner, and if necessary to wash yourself with dirty clean water” (Cambridge University Press, 1986, 230). And, as these echoes reverberate, one will confront, and perhaps penetrate, paradoxical Zen barriers, including “delusive passions are themselves enlightenment” (bonnō soku bodai), and “the whole body is illness, the whole body is medicine” (Tsūshin kore yami tsūshin kore kusuri).

What is particularly unique about Wirth’s ruminations is the attention and care devoted to the subject matter of food proper. As the subject matter of food ethics continues to grow within the academia as well as mainstream society, this treatment is all too timely in light of what Michael Pollan describes as the “American paradox”: unhealthy people that are “consumed” by healthy eating. By braiding the perspectives of Nietzsche and Dōgen together, readers will discover the ingredients for a “philosophy of nourishment” that is born out of zazen—seated meditation—and embodied within the ways we grow, harvest, preserve, prepare, serve, eat, and digest food. Thus, Wirth’s reflections on Dōgen’s instructions for the tenzo (the head cook of a monastery), particularly in light of Nietzsche’s non-dualistic conception of health, sets the “philosophical table” with the tools and utensils of critical thinking for “mindfully cooking our lives.”

Nietzsche and other Buddhas: Philosophy After Comparative Philosophy is a creative contribution to the field of comparative philosophy. By engaging the work of contemporary Nietzsche Zen scholars, including Graham Parkes, Bret Davis, and André van der Braak, Wirth’s ruminations provide a clearing for realizing the importance comparative philosophical dialogues have as our world faces a host of social and environmental illnesses.

 

 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joseph Markowski is Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Castleton University, VT.

Date of Review: 
April 27, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jason M. Wirth is Professor of Philosophy at Seattle University.

Comments

Jason M. Wirth, Seattle University (author)

A thousand deep bows to Joseph Markowski. It is an honor and a happiness to be read so well and to begin working together to help philosophy recover its generosity and generativity.

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