Nagarjuna and Nihilism
Buddhism and Madhyamika school of thought within that does not subscribe to “Nihilism”. On the contrary, with its emphasis on interconnectedness and nothingness offers us a hope for liberation. Contrasting with the western emphasis on man as a separate entity and the gut wrenching alienation of a person from his or her environment, Buddhism offers solace by asking us to see us as part of a “whole” rather than an “atomic” existence. Nagarjuna, in particular, with his concept of “Sunyata” made us look within and without negating one’s existence offers hope and comfort against an overriding sense of “non-existence”.
By placing the individual at the center, western thought has essentially given rise to a narcissistic emphasis on me and myself. In contrast, Nagarjuna exhorts us to rise above “self” and concentrate instead on the ever changing nature of reality. By positing man as part of a “flux”, Buddhist thought offers us salvation and an escape from Nihilism.
Self denial is as much an antidote to self hatred as a sense of wider participation. In these times, when we are grappling with a profound crisis of meaning where we seem to lack the tools necessary for humanity to survive as a whole, Madhyamika philosophy offers us the concept of emptiness to point out that we can overcome the self defeating thoughts and emotions that arise out of a nihilistic attitude stemming out of the post-modern crisis. Sunyata does not mean that one is irrelevant. Instead, it says that one’s relevance increases with a sense of identification and the positive emotions that are at the center of Buddhist thought can only lead us to more happiness and fulfillment. Nietzsche saw Buddhism as a “psychological balm” to the excesses of materialistic growth. For him, overcoming nihilism through dissolution of ego was the central concern. And this more than anything else was what Nagarjuna was trying to dispel.
The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy