(English is not my mother tongue, sorry in advance if I make mistakes)

I am currently reading a philosophical book that I stumbled upon by chance, a unique work by a young (23yo) Italian of the early 20th century, after what he killed himself: Persuasion and Rhetoric by Carlo Michelstaedter. I don't know if anyone here has read it? I hope so, because I may not be the clearest.

At first I must confess that I didn't understand it at all, but as I progressed through the book I began to see what he was talking about: I haven't finished his book yet, but I can already tell - it's amazing. There's so much to say, I'll try to keep it synthetic.

This book had been sold to me as "the most depressive philosophical book (that my interlocutor had read)". I'm not disappointed, I got my money's worth. But in fact, its analysis is incredibly deeper than that. Let me be clear: the more I read it, the more I am struck by his observation: his whole book seems to me to be about dukkha. It's really incredible, I'm pretty sure he's never heard of Buddhism and yet his whole book is a wonderful analysis of dukkah, this cosmic suffering-unsatisfaction hidden in the hollow of all phenomena, like a cursed mark on (conventional) life.

He analyses both dukkha caused by boundless desire, dukkha caused by the impermanence of all things, and dukkha caused by conditioning itself. This is wonderful. I would like to quote entire passages from the book to show you that a Buddhist monk could approve everything.

My point is that he committed suicide after this book. And when you read it you can understand why, it's even almost logical: he didn't know Buddhism and therefore the radical teaching of Buddha: certainly dukkha exists and is everywhere, but it is not absolute; a way out is possible (nirvana). Except that Carlo didn't know this way out, and when one realized only dukkha, what's the point of living?

The problem is that I recently read a very good article (PS 5) in the blog 'Politically Incorrect Dharma' about the difficulty of reaching enlightenment: in this day and age, in fact, hardly anyone achieves nirvana. Therefore, even if we can believe the testimonies of the historical enlightened about the existence of a way out (nirvana), when the chances are infinitesimal that we reach it, for us, it is as if there is no way out. From that point on, how can we not be depressed when we have (at least partially) realized dukkha? I'm not talking about a purely intellectual understanding, but a real beginning of realisation. How not to end up like Carlo, or completely depressed at the very least?

PS 1:

At the risk of repeating myself, I have chosen only one part of the book's topics here, apart from the absence of solution (nirvana) because of his ignorance of Buddhism, his whole book sounds deeply Buddhist to me, as it delivers a brilliant and profound analysis of impermanence, desire (tanha), conditioning, life, phenomena and suffering-dissatisfaction.

PS 2:

“Are you persuaded of what you do or not? Do you need something to happen or not in order to do what you do? Do you need the correlations to coincide always, because the end is never in what you do, even if what you do is vast and distant but is always in your continuation? Do you say you are persuaded of what you do, no matter what? Yes? Then I tell you: tomorrow you will certainly be dead. It doesn't matter? Are you thinking about fame? About your family? But your memory dies with you,with you your family is dead. Are you thinking about your ideals? You want to make a will? You want a headstone? But tomorrow those too are dead, dead. All men die with you. Your death is an unwavering comet. Do you turn to god? There is no god, god dies with you. The kingdom of heaven crumbles with you, tomorrow you are dead, dead. Tomorrow everything is finished—your body, family, friends, country, what you’re doing now, what you might do in the future, the good, the bad, the true, the false, your ideas, your little part, god and his kingdom, paradise, hell, everything, everything, everything. Tomorrow everything is over—in twenty four hours is death.

Well, then the god of today is no longer yesterday’s, no longer the country, the good, the bad, friends, or family. You want to eat? No, you cannot. The taste of food is no longer the same; honey is bitter, milk is sour, meat nauseating, and the odor, the odor sickens you: it reeks of the dead. You want a woman to comfort you in your last moments? No, worse: it is dead flesh. You want to enjoy the sun, air, light, sky? Enjoy?! The sun is a rotten orange, the light extinguished, the air suffocating. The sky is a low, oppressive arc. . . .No, everything is closed and dark now. But the sun shines, the air is pure, everything is like before, and yet you speak like a man buried alive, describing his tomb. And persuasion? You are not even persuaded of the sunlight; you cannot move a finger, cannot remain standing. The god who kept you standing,made your day clear and your food sweet, gave you family, country, paradise—he betrays you now and abandons you because the thread of your philopsychia (love of life) is broken.

The meaning of things, the taste of the world, is only for continuation’s sake. Being born is nothing but wanting to go on on: men live in order to live, in order not to die. Their persuasion is the fear of death. Being born is nothing but fearing death, so that, if death becomes certain in a certain future, they are already dead in the present. All that they do and say with fixed persuasion, a clear purpose, and evident reason is nothing but fear of death– ‘indeed, believing one is wise without being wise is nothing but fearing death.”

PS 3:

“Likewise, however little man, in living, demands as just to himself, his duty toward justice remains infinite. The right to live cannot be paid by finite labour, only by infinite activity.

Because you participate in the violence of all things, all of this violence is part of your debt to justice. All of your activity must go toward eradicating this: to give everything and demand nothing; this is the duty—where duties and rights may be, I do not know.”

PS 4 (>Xbox):

“I know I want and do not have what I want. A weight hangs suspended from a hook; being suspended, it suffers because it cannot fall: it cannot get off the hook, for insofar as it is weight it suspends, and as long as it suspends it depends.


Its life is this want of life. If it no longer wanted but were finished, perfect, if it possessed its own self, it would have ended its existence. At that point, as its own impediment to possessing life, the weight would not depend on what is external as much as on its own self, in that it is not given the means to be satisfied. The weight can never be persuaded.

Nor is any life ever satisfied to live in any present, for insofar as it is life it continues, and it continues into the future to the degree that it lacks life. If it were to possess itself completely here and now and be in want of nothing—if it awaited nothing in the future—it would not continue: it would cease to be life.

So many things attract us in the future, but in vain do we want to possess them in the present.”

PS 5:


Edit: I just learned that Evola was a reader of Michelstaedter, that he wanted also to kill himself at 23, and that he changed his mind after reading the Pali Canon. Amazing. My hunch didn't come out of nowhere!

5 Answers 5


Carlo certainly discovered the first Noble Truth of suffering, but there are three others:

SN56.32:4.5: ‘After truly comprehending the noble truths of suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path, I will completely make an end of suffering.’

Indeed he understood the fickleness of craving and its role in suffering, which is the second Noble Truth, the origin of suffering.

SN35.106:1.11: Mind consciousness arises dependent on the mind and thoughts. The meeting of the three is contact. Contact is a condition for feeling. Feeling is a condition for craving. This is the origin of suffering.

But without the third Noble Truth, the cessation of suffering, one might be driven to despair:

SN35.106:2.5: When that craving fades away and ceases with nothing left over, grasping ceases. When grasping ceases, continued existence ceases. When continued existence ceases, rebirth ceases. When rebirth ceases, old age and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, sadness, and distress cease. That is how this entire mass of suffering ceases.

And without the fourth Noble Truth, the path to end suffering, one would be definitely be lost:

MN9:70.4: Defilement originates from ignorance. Defilement ceases when ignorance ceases. The practice that leads to the cessation of defilement is simply this noble eightfold path, that is: right view, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right immersion.

Carlo's despair is stated as If it were to possess itself completely here and now and be in want of nothing—if it awaited nothing in the future—it would not continue: it would cease to be life. Carlo fell into the trap of defining delight and relishing as life. The Buddha's counterpart is:

MN60:56.2: They live without wishes in the present life, extinguished, cooled, experiencing bliss, having become holy in themselves.”


As i see it, one can't rightfully declare suicide to be a solution to the drudgery of mundane life lest one knows exactly what life is.

Saying things like 'life is unjust' ie is quite rediculous because it begets the question what exactly is unjust about it, is the spin of an electron unjust? Is the speed of causality ulucky? Hence when one thinks about life in terms like these ie 'there is so much inequality, misfortune and injustice in the world, it is making me sad' it is really not scientific at all and is rather delusional.

Therefore one can't rightly arrive at the conclusion of suicide being a solution for this kind of existential depression.

On how not to fall victim to this kind of depression; Just don't give attention to this kind of faulty reasoning about the world. Remove the attachment to wrong views and the doctrine of self. Develop insight and be devoted to the truth, think thoughts connected with knowledge and do your own work.

People don't achieve Nibbana not because it's 1:1billion chance of success but because so few actually take time to read the texts for themselves, to make their own analysis of teachings, to detach himself from a group and do the work wholeheartedly.

Most people just look for a teacher, they prefer reading works that are entertaining or are popularizations rather than the nitty gritty of the pali canon, they to rely on commentators or authority for interpretations, like children relying on parents, with little faith in their own ability, they seek belonging, take pride in following a tradition and are delighted in a group. They look for ways to pace themselves, to combine work and pleasure and with mediocre effort they get mediocre results.

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    – ChrisW
    Commented Jan 24, 2020 at 14:39

I believe this is one of those questions which we need to make less complicated, rather than more.

In my opinion 'dukkha' doesn't take some kind of profound realization. That life is difficult is something that most people intuitively understand, whether or not they've studied Buddhism.

The question from that point - life is hard - forward, is how you deal with it.

In my opinion, the first step is acceptance. If life is hard no matter what we do, refusing to accept it will only cause me to fight and squirm against something I can't control. Rather than fight, just accept and embrace it.

After that point, what Buddhism does is give us a guide on how to live within that framework. How can we orient our behavior in such a way to reduce our pain, and maximize our well-being. If you're expecting to one day find enlightenment and never feel pain again you're bound for disappointment. Rather, enlightenment is accepting that you will feel pain, and that this is life - which minimizes the impact of the suffering you're feeling.

Beyond that I'd say that just because life is hard, doesn't mean it can't be enjoyable. There are difficult parts, and there are enjoyable parts. Learn to appreciate the good in your life.

Oh, and take care of your body too.

Hope that helps.


How not to end up like Carlo, or completely depressed at the very least?

Keep on questioning, keep on looking for truth. If everything is dukkha, which it is, don't run away - keep getting closer until it's right here. Keep getting closer so you can see dukkha for what it is.

Dukkha has to be fully understood, first-hand, directly in front of your own eyes. What dukkha is (its nature), how (why) it arises, and when (why) it does NOT arise.

P.S. This guy who wrote your PS 5 has gold in his backyard while begging for food. Perhaps he can open his eyes and consider Mahayana. Then everything may suddenly get clear, who knows.


You wanna read “Myth of Sysphus” by Camus who basically says, if life is meaningless and dukkha, so does suicide.” Did anyone tell you that it gets better after that?

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