F riedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, poet, philologist, and Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history. He began his career as a classical philologist before turning to philosophy. He became the youngest ever to hold the Chair of Classical Philology at the University of Basel in 1869, at the age of 24. Nietzsche resigned in 1879 due to health problems that plagued him most of his life, and he completed much of his core writing in the following decade. In 1889, at age 44, he suffered a collapse and a complete loss of his mental faculties.
Hayagriva dasa: Whereas Schopenhauer spoke of the blind will of the individual as being the basic propelling force that keeps us tied to material existence, to transmigration, Nietzsche spoke of der wille zur macht, "the will to power," which is a different type of will. This will is not so much a subjugating of others as a mastering of one's lower self. It is characterized by self-control and an interest in art and philosophy. Most people are envious of others, but it is the duty of the philosopher to transcend this envy by sheer willpower. In Nietzsche's words, the philosopher "shakes off with one shrug much vermin that would have buried itself deep in others." When the philosopher has rid himself of resentment and envy, he can even embrace his enemies with a kind of Christian love. An example of such a powerful man in action would be that of Socrates meeting his death with good cheer and courage.
Srila Prabhupada: This is called spiritual power. Envy is a symptom of conditioned life. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, it is stated that the neophyte who is beginning to understand the Vedic literatures should not be envious. In this material world, everyone is envious. People are even envious of God and His instructions. Consequently, people do not like to accept Krsna's instructions. Although Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and is accepted as such by all acaryas, there are men called mudhas who either reject Krsna's instructions or try to eschew some contrary meaning from them. This envy is symptomatic of conditioned souls. Unless we are liberated from conditioned life, we will remain confused under the influence of the external material energy. Until we come to the spiritual platform, there is no possibility of escaping from envy and pride by so-called power. The transcendental stage is described inBhagavad-gita as brahma-bhutah prasannatma samah sarvesu bhutesu (18.54). When we attain that stage, we can look at everyone with the same spiritual understanding.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche calls the man who possesses such spiritual power the Ubermensch, a word literally meaning "above man," and often translated as "the superman." The Ubermensch is totally self-possessed, fearless of death, simple, self-knowing, and self-reliant. He does not need any props, and he is so powerful that he can change the lives of others simply on contact. Neitzsche never referred to any historical person as the Ubermensch, and he did not consider himself such.
Srila Prabhupada: We accept the guru as the superman because he is worshipped like God. Yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah (Sri Gurv-astaka 8). By the mercy of the superman, one can get in touch with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Caitanya Mahaprabhu also accepts this:
brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija
"According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service." ( Caitanya-caritamrta, Madh. 19.151) By the mercy of Krsna and the guru, or the superman, we receive information about spiritual life so that we can return home, back to Godhead. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu requested everyone to become gurus, or supermen. The superman distributes transcendental knowledge strictly according to the authorized version he has received from his superior. This is called parampara, the disciplic succession. One superman delivers this supreme knowledge to another superman, and this knowledge was originally delivered by God Himself.
Hayagriva dasa: In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche concludes that all men want power. At the top of the hierarchy in the quest for power is the ascetic and the martyr. The Ubermensch would be one who has conquered his passions and attained all good qualifications. His actions are creative, and he does not envy others. He is constantly aware that death is always present, and he is so superior to others that he is almost like God in the world.
Srila Prabhupada: In Sanskrit, the Ubermensch or superman is called a svami , or gosvami. He is described by Rupa Gosvami:
vaco vegam manasah krodha-vegam
etan vegan yo visaheta dhirah
sarvam apimam prthivim sa sisyat
"A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind's demands, the actions of anger, and the urges of the tongue, belly, and genitals, is qualified to make disciples all over the world." (Upadesamrta 1) These forces that drive men are six in number: speech, the tongue, mind, anger, belly, and genitals. A gosvami can control these forces, especially the genitals, belly, and tongue, which are very hard to control. Bhaktivinoda Thakura says: ta'ra madhye jihva ati, lobhamoy sudurmati, ta'ke jeta kathina samsare . "Among the senses, the tongue is the most voracious and uncontrollable; it is very difficult to conquer the tongue in this world." ( Gitavali, Prasada-sevaya 1) The force of the tongue is very great, and for its gratification we create many artificial edibles. Nonsensical habits like smoking, drinking, and meat eating have entered society due to the urges of the tongue. There is no real need for these undesirable things. A person does not die because he cannot smoke, eat meat, or drink intoxicants. Rather, without these indulgences, he can elevate himself to the highest platform. Due to the urges of the tongue, people have become addicted to drinking, smoking, meat eating, and frivolous conversation. It is therefore said that one who can control the tongue can control the urges of the other senses also. One who can control all the senses, beginning with the tongue, is called a gosvami or svami, or, as Nietzsche would say, the Ubermensch. But this is not possible for an ordinary man.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche believed that everyone seeks power, but that the weak seek it vainly; instead of trying to conquer themselves, they attempt to conquer others, and this is the will to power misdirected or misinterpreted. For instance, in his will to power, Hitler sought to subjugate the world, but was ultimately unsuccessful, and he brought disaster upon himself and Germany. The Ubermensch, on the other hand, strives to overcome himself, and demands more of himself than others. In this striving for perfection, he transcends the ordinary man.
Srila Prabhupada: Politicians like Hitler are not able to control the force of anger. A king or politician has to use anger properly. Narottama Dasa Thakura says that we should control our powers and apply them in the proper cases. We may become angry, but our anger must be controlled. We should utilize anger at the proper place and in the proper circumstances. Although a king may not be angry by nature, he has to display his anger toward a criminal. It is not good for a king to try to control his anger when a criminal act is performed; therefore Narottama Dasa Thakura says that anger is controlled when it is properly used. Kama-krodha-lobha-moha. Kama refers to lust; krodha means anger; lobha means greed; and moha means illusion. These can all be properly utilized. For instance, kama, which is great eagerness, or lusty desire, can be utilized in attaining the lotus feet of Krsna. If we desire Krsna, our strong desire is very laudable. Similarly, anger can be properly utilized. Although Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught that we should be very submissive, humbler than the grass and more tolerant than a tree, He became angry upon seeing Nityananda Prabhu hurt by Jagai and Madhai. Everything can be properly utilized in the service of Krsna, but not for personal aggrandizement. In the material world, everyone is certainly after power, but the real superman is not after power for himself. He himself is a mendicant, a sannyasi, but he acquires power for the service of the Lord. For instance, I came to the U.S.A. not to acquire material power but to distribute Krsna consciousness. By the grace of Krsna, all facilities have been afforded, and now, from the material point of view, I have become somewhat powerful. But this is not for my personal sense gratification; it is all for the spreading of Krsna consciousness. The conclusion is that power for Krsna's service is very valuable, and power for our own sense gratification is to be condemned.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche was not very clear about the utilization of power, but he concluded that power results from self-control. According to him, no one has ever attained the level of the superman.
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot do anything without power. Power is required for Krsna's service, not for sense gratification. One who can act according to this principle is a superman. Generally, people use power for their own sense gratification, and therefore it is not easy to find anyone on the level of the superman.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche claims that because the Ubermensch subjugates his own passions, he is beyond good and evil and not subject to mundane dualities.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because the superman acts on behalf of God, he is transcendental. At the beginning of Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna was thinking like an ordinary person in his reluctance to kill his kinsmen. From the material point of view, nonviolence is a good qualification. Arjuna was excusing the others, although they had insulted him and his wife and usurped his kingdom. He pleaded on their behalf before Lord Krsna, arguing that it would be better to let them enjoy his kingdom. "I am not going to fight." Materially, this appears very laudable, but spiritually it is not, because Krsna wanted him to fight. Finally, Arjuna carried out Krsna's order and fought. Clearly, this kind of fighting was not for personal aggrandizement, but for the service of Krsna. By using his power for the service of the Lord, Arjuna became a superman.
Hayagriva dasa: Concerning religion, Nietzsche felt that because Christ's own disciples misunderstood him, Christianity as such never existed. "The last Christian died on the cross," he wrote. Although Christ was totally pure and free from all resentment and envy, Christianity has had envy and resentment as its focal point from its very beginning, even though it calls itself the religion of love. Thus Nietzsche proclaimed, "God is dead," in the sense that the God of the Christian religion is dead.
Srila Prabhupada: If you create an artificial god, it is better that he is dead so that he cannot inflict more injuries.
Hayagriva dasa: Then it is better to have no conception of God than a bad conception?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, better. But Christ was the embodiment of tolerance. There is no doubt about this.
Hayagriva dasa: It is not that Nietzsche criticizes Christ himself, but his followers.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, actually we can see that the Christians hate the Jews because the Jews crucified Christ. They even utilize the symbol of the cross to remind people that the Jews crucified him. Even in the churches there are pictures of Lord Jesus, with thorns on his head, being forced to carry his cross. In this way, the people are reminded of all the troubles that the Jews gave to Christ. Emphasizing Christ on the cross is a way of prolonging resentment against the Jews. But the fact is that Christ had many other activities, which are not brought into prominence. Actually, it is very painful for a devotee to see his master being crucified. Even though Christ was crucified, that scene in his life should not be emphasized.
Hayagriva dasa: Neitzsche considered Buddhism and Hinduism superior to Christianity, but he disliked the nihilism of the Buddhists and the caste system of the Hindus, especially the Hindu treatment of the untouchables.
Srila Prabhupada: That is a later concoction by the caste Hindus. The true Vedic religion does not speak of untouchables. Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself demonstrated His system by accepting so-called untouchables like Haridasa Thakura, who was born in a Mohammedan family. Although Haridasa Thakura was not accepted by Hindu society, Caitanya Mahaprabhu personally indicated that he was most exalted. Haridasa Thakura would not enter the temple of Lord Jagannatha because he did not want to create commotion, but Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself came to see Haridasa Thakura every day. It is a basic principle in the Vedic religion that we should not be envious of anyone. Krsna Himself says in Bhagavad-gita:
mam hi partha vyapasritya
ye 'pi syuh papa-yonayah
striyo vaisyas tathasudras
te 'pi yanti param gatim
"O son of Prtha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaisyas [merchants], as well as sudras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination." (Bg. 9.32) Despite birth in a lower family, if one is a devotee, he is eligible to practice Krsna consciousness And return to God, provided the necessary spiritual qualifications are there.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche believed that by stressing the transcendental world, a person would come to resent this world. He therefore personally rejected all formal religions.
Srila Prabhupada: This material world is described as a place of suffering. Abrahma-bhuvanal lokahpunar avartino 'rjuna. "From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery, wherein repeated birth and death take place." (Bg. 8.16) We do not know whether Nietzsche realized this or not, but if one really understands the soul, he can realize that this material world is a place of suffering. Being part and parcel of God, the soul has the same qualities possessed by God. God is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, eternal, full of knowledge and bliss, and He is eternally enjoying Himself in the company of His associates. The living entities have the same nature, but in material life, eternity, knowledge, and bliss are absent. It is therefore better that we learn to detest material existence and try to give it up. Param drstva nivartate (Bg. 2.59). The Vedas advise us to understand the spiritual world and try to return there. Tamasi ma jyotir gama. The spiritual world is the kingdom of light, and this material world is the kingdom of darkness. The sooner we learn to avoid the world of darkness and return to the kingdom of light, the better it is.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche was greatly influenced by the ancient Greeks, and he was astounded that out of so few men, so many great individuals emerged. He believed that mankind ought to be constantly striving to produce such great men, men who conquer their evil instincts, and he considered this to be mankind's only duty.
Srila Prabhupada: Everyone is trying to be a great man, but one's greatness is accepted when he becomes God realized. The word veda means "knowledge," and a person is great when he is conversant with the lessons of the Vedas. The object of knowledge, as described in Bhagavad-gita, is God, or the self. Since the individual is part and parcel of God, one is self-realized whether he realizes himself or God. There are different methods for self-realization, which is difficult. However, if one realizes God, he automatically realizes himself. If the sun is out, we can see everything very clearly. In the Vedas [Mundaka Up. 1.3], it is said, yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati. By understanding God, we understand all other things and automatically become jolly. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma (Bg. 18.54). The wordprasannatma means "jolly." Samah sarvesu bhutesu ( Bg. 18.54). At that time, we can see that everyone is exactly like ourselves, because everyone is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. At this point, service of the Lord begins, and we attain the platform of knowledge, bliss, and eternity.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche emphatically states that there has never been a superman. "All too similar are men to each other," he writes. "Verily, even the greatest found I all too human." Nor does the superman evolve in the Darwinian sense. The Ubermensch is a possibility at present if man uses all of his spiritual and physical energies. But how is the superman possible without an object for his spiritual energies?
Srila Prabhupada: We become supermen if we engage in the service of the Supreme Person. The Supreme Being is a person, and the superman is also a person. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam (Katha-Upanisad 2.2.13). God is the chief amongst all personalities. The superman has no other business than carrying out the orders of the Supreme Being.
silanam bhaktir uttama
"Uttama bhakti, or unalloyed devotion unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, involves the rendering of devotional service in a way that is favorable to the Lord. This devotional service should be free from any extraneous motive and devoid of fruitive karma, impersonal jnana, and all other selfish desires." ( Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11) Krsna comes to make everyone a superman. He therefore orders, sarva-dharmanparityajya mam ekam saranamvraja. "Just give up everything and surrender to Me." ( Bg. 18.66) Unless we are supermen, we cannot understand this instruction. If we can surrender to Krsna, we are supermen.
bahunam janmanam ante
jnanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma sudurlabhah
"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bg. 7.19) The ordinary man thinks, "I have my independence and can do something myself. Why should I surrender?" However, as soon as he realizes that his only duty is to surrender to Krsna, and that he has no other duty in this material world, he becomes the superman. This consciousness is attained after many, many births.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche would reject dependence on anything exterior to the superman himself. That is, he would reject props. But isn't it impossible for a man to elevate himself to that platform independent of the Supreme Lord?
Srila Prabhupada: Of course, and therefore Krsna says, "Depend upon Me." You have to be dependent, and if you do not depend on Krsna, you have to depend on the dictations of maya, illusion. There are many philosophers and politicians dependent on others, or dependent on their own whimsical ideas, but we should depend on the perfect instructions of God. The fact is that every living being is dependent; he cannot be independent. If he voluntarily depends on the instructions of God, he becomes the superman.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche's superman seems to resemble the hatha-yogi who elevates himself seemingly independent of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, seemingly. As soon as a hatha-yogi gets some extraordinary mystic powers, he thinks that he has become God. This is another mistake, because no one can become God. To some extent, a yogi may attain some mystical powers by practice, or by the favor of the Lord, but these powers are not sufficient to enable him to become God. There are many who think that through meditation, or hatha-yoga, it is possible to become equal to God, but this is another illusion, another dictation of maya. Maya is always saying, "Why depend on God? You can become God yourself."
Hayagriva dasa: Independence seems to be central to Nietzsche's philosophy. In a sense, his superman is somewhat like Hiranyakasipu, who made the demigods tremble to see his austerities.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and ultimately he was outwitted by the Supreme Himself. It is not good to struggle for material power and control over others. If one becomes a servant of God, he becomes the superman automatically and acquires many subordinate followers. One does not have to undergo severe austerities to control others. Everything can be mastered in one stroke. As soon as you become a devout servant of God, many people will follow you. Separate endeavor is not required.
Hayagriva dasa: And what of sense control?
Srila Prabhupada: Control of the senses is automatically there.
yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana
sarvair gunais tatra samasate surah
harav abhaktasya kuto mahad-guna
manorathenasati dhavato bahih
"All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge, and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. On the other hand, a person devoid of devotional service and engaged in material activities has no good qualities. Even if he is adept at the practice of mystic yoga, or the honest endeavor of maintaining his family and relatives, he must be driven by his own mental speculations and must engage in the service of the Lord's external energy. How can there be any good qualities in such a man?" (Bhag. 5.18.12) If one becomes a devotee of the Supreme Lord, he controls his senses and many other living entities. But he never thinks that he has become God or the actual controller. Rather, he receives his power automatically.
Hayagriva dasa: One last point on Nietzsche. He believed in eternal recurrence—that is, after this universe has been destroyed, it will be repeated again after many aeons.
Srila Prabhupada: In Bhagavad-gita, it is stated, bhutva bhutva praliyate (Bg. 8.19). This material world is manifest at a certain point, maintained for a certain period, then destroyed. Brahma, Visnu, and Siva are in charge of creation, maintenance, and destruction. Above them is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is the nature of everything material to be created, maintained, and annihilated.
Hayagriva dasa: Well, that's one type of general repetition, but Nietzsche believed that everything will be repeated infinitely in every detail. That is, the detailed arrangements of this world will eventually recur sometime in the future.
Srila Prabhupada: The creation will be repeated in detail in that the twenty-four elements will again be assembled. There are the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether—and three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and ego. There are the ten senses, and the five sense objects. All these will be created again.
Hayagriva dasa: That's one type of detail, but he believes that eventually, Friedrich Nietzsche will live again from 1844 to 1900.
Srila Prabhupada: The year 1844 is an element of time, and from the moment of creation, we may begin to assign dates. In this way, the date may again be repeated. For instance, every day is a new day, but in every day there is six o'clock, eight o'clock, and so on. There is automatic repetition.
Hayagriva dasa: If this is the case, if one has to continue being Friedrich Nietzsche, or whoever, how is liberation possible?
Srila Prabhupada: This material world is created for the conditioned soul, who is put here in order to learn his position as the eternal servant of God. Lord Brahma, the first created being in the universe, is given the Vedic instructions, and he distributes them through the disciplic succession, from Brahma to Narada, from Narada to Vyasadeva, from Vyasadeva to Sukadeva Gosvami, and so on. These instructions encourage the conditioned soul to return home, back to Godhead. If the conditioned soul rejects them, he remains in the material world until it is annihilated. At that time, he remains in an unconscious state, just like a child within the womb of his mother. In due course of time, his consciousness revives, and he again takes birth. The point is that anyone can take advantage of the Vedic instructions and go back to Godhead. Unfortunately, the conditioned living entities are so attached to the material world that they repeatedly want to take up material bodies. In this way, history repeats. There is again creation, maintenance, and destruction.
Hayagriva dasa: Nietzsche believes that even the minute details will recur. That is, he would again be Friedrich Nietzsche, living in Germany, going through the same actions, writing the same books, and so on.
Srila Prabhupada: Why is he so attached to Germany? That is his attachment for maya. Under maya's influence, we think that we will again return in these same bodies and do the same things. Sometimes when people hanker after this repetition, they go to an astrologer and ask, "Can we again come back as husband and wife?" This is all due to attachment. There may be an accidental recurrence, and one will again be a husband and have a wife, but he will not have exactly the same wife. That is an illusion. What is the point in combining the same husband and wife? The living entities combine for some sense gratification, and they get it, be it this husband or that wife. The purpose is the same, though the minute details are different.
Hayagriva dasa: Sometimes people claim to have experiences of deja-vu, thinking that they have been at the same spot before doing the same thing. This convinced Nietzsche of the doctrine of eternal recurrence.Srila Prabhupada:
People simply want the same atmosphere. This is due to maya's