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Buddhism Nietzsche and The Superman

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by Sangharakshita

The Higher Evolution of Man

Tape 82: Buddhism, Nietzsche, and `The Superman' I am sure that all of you, or at least very nearly all of you, have seen those nice, thick, glossy mail order catalogues. We know, in any case, that Christmas is coming and usually at this time of year there's rather a lot of these catalogues around. Well, let's just suppose something. Let's just suppose that, just for once, you do what you don't usually do, you yield to temptation after flicking over these rather glossy, rather colourful pages. You yield to temptation, you fill in a form, and you send it away: you order something. It can be anything; it can be a coat for the winter or it can be a new dining room table, or it could be a washing machine or an electric razor - it could be anything. And suppose, after days, possibly weeks, of waiting it comes. The parcel comes, just before Christmas. And suppose that when the parcel comes you very eagerly undo the wrappings, take it out of its box or whatever else it's in; but suppose then you find that the article which you had ordered, which you had started unwrapping with so much eagerness, was in fact only half-made, only half-complete, that it wasn't all there, maybe the dining room table has just two legs instead of four, or maybe there are some parts missing from the washing machine, and so on. Well, in those circumstances what would be our reaction? Would we be satisfied with what we had received? I think we can be pretty sure that, far from being satisfied, we would be very dissatisfied indeed; not only dissatisfied but disappointed; not only disappointed, even indignant; not only indignant, even angry. And no doubt we would at once send the half-made, incomplete article straight back to where it came from and probably accompanied by a rather strongly-worded note. This is no doubt what would happen. But strange to say, there's one article that we order as it were, that arrives in a half-made, half-finished, incomplete state but with which we seem perfectly satisfied, which we show no inclination at all to send back. And what is that article? I am sure you've already guessed it. That article, that incomplete, that unfinished article, with which usually we are perfectly satisfied, which we never dream of sending back, is of course ourselves. Strange to say, we want everything else, all our possessions to be complete, to be perfect, to be well-made, to be highly polished, to be beautifully finished; but we are quite satisfied, perfectly well satisfied with ourselves as an incomplete and imperfect, badly-made, half-made, not to say botched and unfinished job. And one of the purposes of the present series of lectures, is to make us dissatisfied and disgruntled with ourselves; make us want, as it were, to send ourselves back.

Now how does one become dissatisfied? In what way, by what method, if you like, does one become dissatisfied? One becomes dissatisfied when one compares oneself, as one is here and now, with oneself as one can, as one could, even as one must in the future, be. We become dissatisfied with ourselves as we are now when we get a glimpse, even just a little glimpse, of our own tremendous potentialities compared with which what we are now is as nothing; potentialities which have literally no limit at all. And this is what happens when we consider this subject of the Higher Evolution of Man - that is to say when we consider that whole process of development from unawareness to awareness, from collectivity (the herd) to true individuality, from reactivity to creativity, and from unenlightened to Enlightened humanity. When we see that vision, as it were, that vision of the Higher Evolution, that vision of what we can become, what we must become, then we become dissatisfied, become disgruntled with ourselves as we are now.

And it is, as you know very well, with this subject of the Higher Evolution of Man that we've been concerned over the last two months. Being concerned with it, we have tried to see it at work, we have tried to see its underlying principle at work, in a number of different fields of human activity, at different levels within widely different contexts. We've examined, to begin with, the concept of Higher Evolution:- - within the context of science, especially biology and what we called metabiology; - we've examined it, similarly, within the context of history and anthropology; - within the context of art; - within the context of comparative religion; - within the context of Buddhism in general; - within the context of the Hinayana form of Buddhism - in other words, within the context of the process of individual emancipation; - and finally we've examined it within the context of the Mahayana form of Buddhism, that is to say within the context, the widest possible context on this occasion, of the whole cosmic order.

---oOo--- Now tonight we are going to consider the whole evolution of Man within yet another context. We are going to consider it tonight within the context of modern Western thought. Tonight we come to the eighth and last lecture of this series and we come to the topic of Buddhism, Nietzsche and `The Superman'. Now I am going to begin by referring back to lecture number two [tape 76].

This was on The Axial Age and the Emergence of the New Man. You may remember that on that occasion, in that lecture, surveying human history, we divided the whole half-million-year period of the history of Man into four great successive segments: (i) first of all there was the Promethean Age, the Age of Fire; (ii) then there was the Age of Divine Kingship, the Age of Agriculture; (iii) then there was the Axial Age; (iv) finally there was the Age of Science and Technology.

Now tonight I'm going to suggest an alternative name for the fourth Age, that is to say for the Age which we called in that lecture the Age of Science and Technology. I am going to suggest, tonight, that this Age - the Age in the midst of which we are now living - could also be called the Age of Globalisation. I am afraid `globalisation' is a rather ugly word. It is, I believe, an American coinage and like quite a number of these rather ugly American coinages, it's rather expressive and very useful. I say Age of Globalisation rather than the Global Age, which would have been simpler and sweeter, because the process of globalisation is still going on. The Age in which we live, or perhaps towards the end of which we are living, is very much a period of the breaking down of barriers.

First of all, it is, largely was, has been, a period of the breaking down of geographical barriers.

Formerly for thousands, for tens of thousands of years, the different parts of the world, the different sections of humanity, the different races of mankind, were comparatively, if not almost entirely, isolated from one another, and they developed more or less in isolation from one another. If there was any contact it tended to be peripheral and it tended to be occasional. But all that has now changed, in fact is changing, though the change seems to have been almost completed by now. We find that all the different sections of the human race, all the different races of mankind, all the different populations of the world living in different countries, following different customs, evolving different cultures, have all now come into closer and closer contact with one another.

And we find that this has been brought about due to immensely increased facilities of communication. First of all, at the very beginning almost of this period, this Age of Globalisation, there came the railway, linking continents together. Then there came the ocean-going steamship. Then there came the telegraph and the telephone. And finally, at an ever-increasing pace there came, in this century itself, the aeroplane, the radio and television.

And this vast, this intricate communications network has made it very much easier than ever before simply to get around. And it has made, therefore, metaphorically speaking, the world a very much smaller place, so much so that it has created what one modern thinker, [Marshall] McLuhan2, calls the global village. Nowadays we are, as it were, living on top of one another.

Everybody in the world, everybody who cares to know, knows what is happening everywhere in the world, at the very time that it is happening, just as in a village. If you're living in a little village, whether it is in India or in this country, maybe a hundred, maybe two hundred houses, if Mr So-and-so is going to get married, or if Mrs So-and-so hung out her washing half-an-hour late yesterday, you know it within a matter of minutes, within a matter of hours. You're just one little tight community and news flashes around very quickly. Well, now the characteristic of this Age in which we are living, this Age of Globalisation, is that this sort of thing happens so far as the world as a whole is concerned. The world itself has become a sort of village, and we, all of us millions and millions though we may be, are as it were villagers in this global village. And this is the first time in the history of the world that such a thing has happened. So we have all been drawn much closer together. We are all living, as it were, almost literally on top of one another in this world at present. The repercussions of this as it were tightening up of everything, this in-folding of everything upon itself, this in-folding, as Teilhard de Chardin puts it, of the human race in upon itself has had repercussions in all the different fields of life and human activity.

First of all, most obviously, there are the political and the economic repercussions. One hears on the radio, for instance, about something happening in West Germany, some election result or other, ...

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