Overcoming the passions in Spinoza: a Buddhist reading

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Assumption University Press
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13 pages
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Prajna Vihara: The Journal of Philosophy and Religion 21, 2 (July-December 2020), 93-106
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Spinoza’s philosophy and Buddhism have often been compared based upon their tendencies towards seeing the world as a single order and moving beyond our passions and desires. But the comparison of these philosophies also creates interesting problems. One problem is the way we relate to this order itself. In Spinoza we achieve enlightenment when we recognize that we are a part of a single substance which has its own order and necessity. This leads us to transcend the bondage of our passions through reason. And when we reach the highest level of the intellectual love of God, we show kindness on all beings still trapped in this bondage. Buddhist enlightenment is the recognition of the dependent origination of all things. It is a larger order of causality which we are a part. We suffer within this order through our attachments so our goal is to eliminate our attachments. When we see the world in this way, we do not judge through the categories of good and evil and we show compassion to all living creatures still in the state of ignorance. So there are obvious similarities. But a major difference in these two approaches is differing ways they regard the order itself. Spinoza focuses on the love of this order – intellectual love of God – which leads him affirm non-judgment and kindness. And Buddhism focuses on the non-attachment to this order which leads to compassion. Comparing and contrasting these two philosophies is valuable because it allows a deeper understanding of the Buddhist role of compassion as a special kind of (non-passive) passion which breaks the suffering of others. It also clarifies elements of Spinoza’s philosophy which are not easily understood, for instance, his claim that pity as a useless emotion.
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