Schopenhauer on the Upanishads

“Temples and churches, pagodas and mosques, in all lands and in all ages, in splendour and vastness, testify to the metaphysical need of man, which, strong and ineradicable, follows close upon his physical need. Certainly whoever is satirically inclined might add that this metaphysical need is a modest fellow who is content with poor fare. It sometimes allows itself to be satisfied with clumsy fables and insipid tales. If only imprinted early enough, they are for a man adequate explanations of his existence and supports of his morality. Consider, for example, the Koran. This wretched book was sufficient to found a religion of the world, to satisfy the metaphysical need of innumerable millions of men for twelve hundred years, to become the foundation of their morality, and of no small contempt for death, and also to inspire them to bloody wars and most extended conquests. We find in it the saddest and the poorest form of Theism. Much may be lost through translation; but I have not been able to discover one single valuable thought in it. Such things show that metaphysical capacity does not go hand in hand with the metaphysical need. Yet it will appear that in the early ages of the present surface of the earth this was not the case, and that those who stood considerably nearer than we do to the beginning of the human race and the source of organic nature, had also both greater energy of the intuitive faculty of knowledge, and a truer disposition of mind, so that they were capable of a purer, more direct comprehension of the inner being of nature, and were thus in a position to satisfy the metaphysical need in a more worthy manner. Thus originated in the primitive ancestors of the Brahmans, the Rishis, the almost superhuman conceptions which were afterwards set down in the Upanishads of the Vedas.”

The World as Will and Representation (1819; 1844; 1859), E. Payne, trans., Vol. II, Ch. XVII: On Man’s Need for Metaphysics.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860). The wiki entry on him reads, in part:

He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation … which characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind and insatiable metaphysical will. … Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that rejected the contemporaneous ideas of German idealism. He was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Indian philosophy, …

Schopenhauer had a posthumous impact across various disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and science. His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology have influenced many thinkers and artists. Those who have cited his influence include philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Anthony Ludovici, scientists such as Erwin Schrödinger and Albert Einstein, psychoanalysts such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, writers such as Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, George Bernard Shaw, Machado de Assis, Jorge Luis Borges, John Patric, and Samuel Beckett, and, notably, the composer Richard Wagner.

In short, Schopenhauer was one of the greatest philosophers in the Western tradition and he had profound respect for the Indian philosophical traditions. Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Schrödinger, Einstein, Freud, Jung, Tolstoy — the list whom he influenced is long and distinguished.



Author: Atanu Dey


6 thoughts on “Schopenhauer on the Upanishads”

  1. Wow, amazing. Can we imagine a philosopher expressing his/her true opinion of that “wretched book”?? lol. I love this guy. And on top of this he is open minded enough (true thinker) to study Indian philosophical thought and philological tradition. I had read about Schrödinger being versed with Indian philosophy but not the other who’s who of thinkers. Wow


  2. I remember listening to one of Dr. Elst’s talk where he lamented in his usual style that Hindus often are quick to quote “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti” (All wise men tell the same truth in different ways) without actually understanding what it means. A lot of people think it means all the popular Gurus like Sri Sri, Jaggi etc. teach the same wise things. Some things take it to more extreme and claim all religions are same, all holy books teach the same values etc. It is stupid.

    Schopenhauer’s opinion of Upanishads is irrelevant. Upanishads do not need his praise. But what it highlights is that the man was probably wise. He could read both and Upanishads and was capable of applying the bullshit filter pretty well. He was probably a wise guy.

    A lot of Hindus feel happy that some white man in distant land praised their books. Modern day Hindus or Indians have no reason to be proud of Vedas or Upanishads. Modern day Hindus are unable to even control and manage a simple temple on their own in their own land. Any Hindu pride is plain stupid.


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