At first glance both of them might seem like 2 fundamentally diametrical opposites. Nietzsche believed that a fundamental truth of life was that "the strong always oppress the weak", and that morality is simply another means through which this is achieved (Christian morality vs the nobility). Throughout his books, he heavily critizes the idea, that an objective truth and morality exists. He therefore rejects the absolute value of morality and comes up with the will of power, which ultimately guides all behaviour. The Ubermensch is the person who lets his behaviour be guided by the will of power and is not contstrained by morality, the idea of The Overman being the Nietzschean interpretation of Enlightenment, you could say.

Ultimately, a striking similarity between them is the lack of objective morals - according to buddhism, what is deemed good or not is relative to whether it brings an individual towards enlightenment or not, meaning that it rejects the idea of objective morality (corect me if im wrong). I think that both philosophies perceive morality in an utilitarian perspective, not an objective one. They both make the individual want to strive towards enlightenment, the means through which it's achieved being subjective and relative to each individual.


4 Answers 4


it rejects the idea of objective morality (corect me if im wrong)

Your definition of "objective" seems to be "non-relative" -- "relative" being, "relative to whether it benefits a person in some way" (for any definition of "benefit").

So your use of "objective" seems to me to be maybe, "a physical fact, like a stone, and nothing to do with people" -- which doesn't make much sense to me.

I guess I'd argue instead that the opposite of "objective" is "subjective", not "relative". The fact that a thing can be judged, relative to some criterion, is what helps to make it an objective decision and not a random/personal/capricious decision.

I guess that Nietzsche's is a selfish criterion -- "Does this benefit me? Does it help me to become an immoral overman"?

But Buddhism's doctrine of morality is not selfish:

  • It's best if an action benefits "self and others" -- acknowledging "others" i.e. "other people" makes the decision "objective" instead of entirely selfish/personal/subjective
  • Basic moral rules, the precepts -- i.e. don't kill, don't steal, etc. -- the Vinaya spells out that these precepts exist (and are broken) when other people exist (and are killed or stolen from)

I think that both philosophies perceive morality in an utilitarian perspective

I think it's absolute, e.g. "killing is wrong", "the brahmaviharas are right", etc.

Buddhism also sometimes tries to persuade people to act morally, to argue in favour of acting morally, and to provide measures by which to assess whether behaviour is moral, by using utilitarian arguments -- that actions have consequences, that various consequences are better or worse, etc.


Nietzsche believed that there is no absolute morality and he also believed in joyful recurrence. Both the ideas are diametrically opposite to the Buddha’s teaching. Buddha’s morality emerges from a logical thinking based on three marks of existence ,namely :

  1. All conditioned phenomena are impermanent.
  2. All conditioned phenomena are suffering.
  3. All conditioned and unconditioned phenomena are not Self.

If all conditioned phenomena are impermanent then are not those phenomena source of suffering? If those phenomena are suffering then aren’t they not Self ? If life is suffering then shouldn’t it arouse compassion in you for everyone ? Shouldn’t you abstain from doing anything which will hurt you or others ? Shouldn’t you seek liberation from samsara? Shouldn’t you seek liberation from the chains of rebirth , ageing and death ?

All the morality derived from the above are kind of absolute if you wish to achieve Nibbana. You can’t steal or kill or have any kind of lust or aversion or delusion , if you want to be liberated.

Nietzsche talks about coming back to samsara or life if it is joyful. Buddha’s conclusions are very deep and visionary. Buddha tells you to escape life through renunciation of all sanskharas.


This may be incorrect but from the way I first learned of Buddhist ethics, in fact there ARE NO objective good and bad actions, there is only cause and effect. The understanding is that actions bring results, some results bring one to a favourable condition conducive to liberation, others do the opposite.

Good and bad themselves are just mental concepts, all there really is, is dependant relationship, cause and effect.

Good and bad morality is often tied with a sort of reward system from a higher power, creation god. If you do this action you go to heaven and that is "good", if you do that action you go to hell and that is "bad". Buddhist understanding know that both heaven and hell are still abodes in the prison, so neither action is inherently good or bad, just the "good" action brings one to a favourable condition and the "bad" action to an unfavourable condition. So strive to avoid bad actions and create good actions. Though I used good and bad for explanation, its explained as wholesome and unwholesome rather than good and bad.

Most of the ethics from the vinaya is/was only in place as a result of things at the time of the Buddha that caused disharmony in the sangha (including intoxication which is one of the 5 most basic ethical principles for even lay people), Buddha even said to the sangha they can let go of the lesser rules while he was dying, just the sangha could not conclude what was lesser rules so kept all the rules.

As for Nietzsche, you have to remember that he is talking about rather mundane trivial understandings of morality, ethics etc from a sociological PoV, the general idea/gist of what you stated above is that the "pure man" or great man overcomes the fallacies that society have placed on him by their ethical restraints.

Where Buddhas explanation of karma and then ethics is about the fundamental metaphysical understanding of how actual reality functions. They are completely different PoV. Nietzsche coming from a mundane understanding, Buddha from a supramundane perspective.

Karma itself is known as a "universal law", like how modern science states physical "laws" like gravity, newtons third law etc. It is near synonymous with modern science understanding of causality. Karma is an underlying function that supersedes trivial notions of good and bad, or what will allow a person to be perceived as a "superior man" by others like Nietzsche wants. The ethical advice given by Buddha were simply advice for humans living in this human experience to be able to avoid creating causes that are unconducive to escape from the prison.

They both make the individual want to strive towards enlightenment

Also to add with this if Nietzsche is talking about enlightenment, he is again talking from a trivial PoV, a sociological PoV. Enlightened like the age of enlightenment, as in becoming so refined as a composer or artist (or any field of work) to be the best in your field. Its trivial.

Remember that the word enlightenment used from a Buddhist understanding, well it is just a bad translation, closest we have in the english language as there is no actual english word for it.

It's to be awake, to have gone beyond, to be liberated, to be free. Inexplicable really. If you are equating the 2 usages of the words as the same, that is incorrect.

  • Thank you a lot for the insightful reply!
    – zeozea
    Commented Apr 9 at 17:25
  • I don’t think Nietzsche view is “trivial” from “beyond good and evil” With regard to the superstitions of logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small, terse fact, which is unwillingly recognized by these credulous minds—namely, that a thought comes when “it” wishes, and not when “I” wish; so that it is a perversion of the facts of the case to say that the subject “I” is the condition of the predicate “think.” …
    – blue_ego
    Commented Apr 10 at 11:05
  • “One thinks; but that this “one” is precisely the famous old “ego,” is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an “immediate certainty.” After all, one has even gone too far with this “one thinks”—even the “one” contains an interpretation of the process, and does not belong to the process itself.”
    – blue_ego
    Commented Apr 10 at 11:05

Buddhism inherently explains there are good (skilful) & bad (unksilful) actions.

The view there are no good & bad actions is called 'nihilism' (natthikavāda) in Buddhism. About 'nihilists' who believe there are no good or bad actions, Buddhism literally says:

Regardless, that individual is still criticized by sensible people in the present life as being an immoral individual of wrong view, a nihilist. For they are criticized by sensible people in the present life, and when their body breaks up, after death, they will reappear in a place of loss, a bad place, the underworld, hell.

MN 60

And what is wrong view? 'There is nothing given, nothing offered, nothing sacrificed. There is no fruit or result of good or bad actions. There is no this world, no other world, no mother, no father, no instantly arisen beings [manifest/afffected by instant kamma] ...

MN 117

He holds wrong view and has an incorrect perspective thus: ‘There is nothing given, nothing sacrificed, nothing offered; there is no fruit or result of good and bad actions; there is no this world, no other world; there is no mother, no father; there are no beings spontaneously arisen; there are in the world no ascetics and brahmins of right conduct and right practice who, having realized this world and the other world for themselves by direct knowledge, make them known to others.’ One possessing these ten qualities is deposited in hell as if brought there.

AN 10.211

In Buddhism, good actions cause a reward and bad actions cause a punishment. The scriptures say:

When my concentrated mind was thus purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. With the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate. I understood how beings pass on according to their actions thus: ‘These worthy beings who were ill conducted in body, speech, and mind, revilers of noble ones, wrong in their views, giving effect to wrong view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a state of deprivation, in a bad destination, in perdition, even in hell; but these worthy beings who were well conducted in body, speech, and mind, not revilers of noble ones, right in their views, giving effect to right view in their actions, on the dissolution of the body, after death, have reappeared in a good destination, even in the heavenly world.’ Thus with the divine eye, which is purified and surpasses the human, I saw beings passing away and reappearing, inferior and superior, fair and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate, and I understood how beings pass on according to their actions.

MN 4

MN 130 in particuar describes in graphic detail the multitudes of punishments that can occur to those who "didn’t do good by way of body, speech, and mind", such as:

'My good man, didn't you see among human beings kings — catching a thief, a criminal — having him tortured in many ways: flogging him with whips, beating him with canes, beating him with clubs; cutting off his hands, cutting off his feet, cut off his hands & feet; cutting off his ears, cutting off his nose, cutting off his ears & nose; subjecting him to the 'porridge pot,' the 'polished-shell shave,' the 'Rāhu's mouth,' the 'flaming garland,' the 'blazing hand,' the 'grass-duty (ascetic),' the 'bark-dress (ascetic),' the 'burning antelope,' the 'meat hooks,' the 'coin-gouging,' the 'lye pickling,' the 'pivot on a stake,' the 'rolled-up bed'; having him splashed with boiling oil, devoured by dogs, impaled alive on a stake; cutting off his head with a sword?'

Based on the information in the question, the impression is the ideas of Nietzsche are not related to objective morality but instead related to worldly political gains (advantages) & losses (disadvantages).

In Buddhism, objective morality follows the 'Golden Rule' (refer to SN 55.7) and is about not harming oneself and not harming others. Particularly, the reality of harming oneself can only be truly comprehended in deep meditation (where the neurological impacts of bad wicked evil thoughts & emotions can be directly felt by the body). People who minds are affected by the five hindrances and particuarly by drugs & alcohol cannot comprehend objective morality. DN 31 says:

There are, young householder, these six evil consequences in indulging in intoxicants which cause infatuation and heedlessness:

(i) loss of wealth,

(ii) increase of quarrels,

(iii) susceptibility to disease,

(iv) earning an evil reputation,

(v) shameless exposure of body,

(vi) weakening of intellect (paññāya dubbalikaraṇītveva).

In summary, the purported Nietzsche idea "the strong always oppress the weak" is worldly and unrelated to the objective moralities of true religion and Buddhism. In true religion and Buddhism, the purpose of morality is to prevent disturbing mental states from afflicting the mind; and also to prevent social dysfunction.

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