Eastern Philosophical Concepts in Spinoza’s Pantheism & Ethics

Benedict Spinoza (1632–1677)

There are several Brahmanical and Buddhist elements that parallel many of Spinoza’s philosophical conceptions. Philosophers maintain that it is philosophically irrelevant where an idea came from, and they are not surprised to see the same conceptualizations appear in multiple cultures across time as it is expected that the search for truth would result in similarities or a convergence. Historically, it remains a matter of scholarly interest whether these ideas were transmitted or developed independently. However, this is an interesting aspect of his philosophy that has long been overlooked by many scholars. Indeed, Hongladarom (2015) noted:

A search through the literature on Spinoza and Buddhism provides only very scanty result: one of the earliest works on the topic is Melamed (1933), where only a handful of others — Wienpahl (1971), Wienpahl (1972), and Ziporyn (2012) — explore it in a more contemporary vein. This is rather surprising given the fact that Spinoza aims to give an account of how the best possible life can be achieved, which appears to be Buddhism’s goal, too. For Spinoza, the key to this is achievable only through intellectual understanding, which compares to the Buddhist view that wisdom (or paññā) is necessary for realizing such life. The metaphysics are similar, too: all things are interconnected for Spinoza, since they are modes of either the attribute of body (if they are material things), or of the attribute of the mind (if they are mental entities). In any case, all are parts of the one substance: God. We might thus read Spinoza as claiming that things, whether physical or mental, do not possess independent existence in themselves because the only thing that possesses such an existence is God. In Buddhism, rather similarly, things are also interconnected; and though it is well-known that Buddhist philosophy entertains no conception of a personal God, the Buddhist must surely find some comfort in Spinoza’s conception.

Nadler (1999, pp. 109, 242) cited the influence of Greek Stoicism on Spinoza’s thoughts, based on his education and books found in his personal library. However, to the reader unfamiliar with the Greeks but with a basic understanding of Eastern philosophies, the Buddhist thought in Spinoza is readily apparent; it practically jumps off the page and begs to be acknowledged. Schopenhauer (1909, p. 13 footnote 1) noted the connection: ‘The banks of the sacred Ganges were their [Bruno and Spinoza] spiritual home; there they would have led a peaceful and honoured life among men of like mind.’ Amsterdam being a trading hub, it is not outside the realm of possibility that Spinoza had some exposure to Buddhist thought coming back on the trading ships from the Far East, especially given that his family were merchants and he worked in the business as a young man. Perhaps future scholarship will uncover documentary evidence of such a link, just as Revah found the reasons for Spinoza’s excommunication in the Inquisition archives only in the 1950s.

Greco-Indian Cultural Diffusion

There are many aspects of Greek and Indian philosophy that overlap. Scholars debate the exact nature of possible cross-pollination, as ideas from each culture are thought to have influenced the other. For example, McEvilley (2002, p. 649) asserted that the monistic concept influenced the Greeks; and the Greeks brought formalized logic and dialectic to Indian philosophy. Both McEvilley and Beckwith commented on the nature of these shared ideas. Anthropologists have long noted this curious tendency, and Campbell (1988, pp. 51–2) discussed the two possible origins: cultural diffusion, or independent development which Jung characterized as archetypes of the collective unconscious. McEvilley (2002, p. 59) wondered if the Jungian archetypes were at play, but Beckwith (2015, pp. 124; 173) pointed out that, given the trade and diplomatic links that followed Darius I’s conquest of the Indus Valley in 515 BCE and the submission of Ionian Greece by 510, there would be no need to invoke Jasper’s (1951, p. 98) premise of the separate development which characterized the Axial Age — the period around 500 BCE when several spiritual thought leaders (Zoroaster, Buddha, Confucius) emerged contemporaneously from China to Greece and laid the foundations of the several major belief systems which still dominate the world today

There is a link between Greek philosophy and Buddhism, and it comes from the campaigns of Alexander the Great. The founder of what later became the school of Greek Skepticism, Pyrrho, traveled with Alexander’s army and he brought back concepts which were wholly new in Greek thought that influenced, among others, the Stoics. Some similarities between Greek and Indian thought predate Alexander, as Beckwith (2015, p. 40) noted that Pyrrho’s tetralemma, once thought to be based on Buddha’s trilaksana, appeared in the works of Aristotle and Plato. McEvilley (2002, p. 332) also noted that Plato’s (360, para. 86b-c) Timaeus contains an ethic that aligns with the basics of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:

Such is the manner in which diseases of the body arise; the disorders of the soul, which depend upon the body, originate as follows. We must acknowledge disease of the mind to be a want of intelligence; and of this there are two kinds; to wit, madness and ignorance. In whatever state a man experiences either of them, that state may be called disease; and excessive pains and pleasures are justly to be regarded as the greatest diseases to which the soul is liable. For a man who is in great joy or in great pain, in his unseasonable eagerness to attain the one and to avoid the other, is not able to see or to hear anything rightly; but he is mad, and is at the time utterly incapable of any participation in reason.

Not a Stoic, but an Epicurean

Beckwith (2015, pp. 154; 201) noted the shared central ethic of Epicureans and Stoics — apatheia (without suffering) and ataraxia (tranquility) — was derived from Pyrrho’s philosophy who brought it back from India where he was exposed to and influenced by the teachings of Early Buddhism. Therefore, the Stoic and Epicurean ethic was ultimately based on Buddhist philosophy; an Indian legacy which Schopenhauer deduced from the obvious parallels. Apatheia and ataraxia are also key features of Spinoza’s Ethics (1677, IV. Appendix 4 & 9), particularly Part IV: Human Bondage, or the Power of the Affects.

Thus in life it is before all things useful to perfect the understanding or reason, as far as we can, and in this alone man’s highest happiness or blessedness consists, indeed blessedness is nothing else but the contentment of spirit, which arises from the intuitive knowledge of God: now, to perfect the understanding is nothing else but to understand God, God’s attributes, and the actions which follow from the necessity of his nature. Wherefore of a man, who is led by reason, the ultimate aim or highest desire, whereby he seeks to govern all his fellows, is that whereby he is brought to the adequate conception of himself and of all things within the scope of his intelligence. . . .

. . . Nothing can be in more harmony with the nature of any given thing than other individuals of the same species; therefore for man in the preservation of his being and the enjoyment of the rational life there is nothing more useful than his fellow-man who is led by reason. Further, as we know not anything among individual things which is more excellent than a man led by reason, no man can better display the power of his skill and disposition, than in so training men, that they come at last to live under the dominion of their own reason.

Though there are surface similarities to Stoic ethics and pantheism in Spinoza, labeling him a Stoic is a miscategorization. Perhaps this mistaken belief arose from the Stoic authors found in his personal library and because a handful of scholars mistakenly attributed a Stoic influence which has held sway, but Spinoza was actually an Epicurean. Like much of Spinoza’s thinking, his admission was neither straightforward nor in his published writings. In Letter 56 to Boxel, he disparaged the three icons of Greek philosophy and cryptically aligned himself to the Epicurean school of thought:

The authority of Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates, does not carry much weight with me. I should have been astonished, if you had brought forward Epicurus, Democritus, Lucretius, or any of the atomists, or upholders of the atomic theory..

Aside from this single enigmatic admission, Vardoulakis (2020, pp. 2–7) notes three other points of alignment between Epicurus and Spinoza that illustrate the influence of the former: the monadic concept of the creation of the universe out of nothing, the authority of the state which rules through fear and superstition, and the utility of people defined by Spinoza as justice and loving-kindness for our neighbors. The connection is apparent in the Letter to Herodotus by Epicurus, to which Spinoza’s thought bears striking similarities.

In opposition to Stoic pantheism which required a creator deity, Epicurus and Spinoza rejected creationism and asserted that the existence of the universe is explained as its being part of nature. Vardoulakis (2020, pp. 15–17; 27–28) notes that in Ethics (1677, IV Proposition 20), Spinoza echoing Letter to Herodotus, asserts that it is impossible for something to come from nothing, the creation ex nihilo of those who believe in a deity, and this substance monism is the proper context for understanding Spinoza’s Epicurean admission in Letter 56. Regarding the second Epicurean theme, authority, Vardoulakis connected the central premise of both Spinoza’s TTP and On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, the later Roman disciple of Epicurus. Vardoulakis (2020, p. 25) pointed out both works open with an attack on superstition driven by fear, just as Epicurus outlined fear as the root of human insecurities, and how this leads people to concede religious and political authority to others.

The third Epicurean theme, utility, has the most bearing on the topic of this section and its origins in Eastern thinking. Vardoulakis (2020, pp. 31–32) points out the connection between the Letter to Menoeceus in which Epicurus connected mind and body to Ethics (1677, II Proposition 11), where Spinoza wrote in the corollary:

Hence it follows, that the human mind is part of the infinite intellect of God; thus when we say, that the human mind perceives this or that, we make the assertion, that God has this or that idea, not in so far as he is infinite, but in so far as he is displayed through the nature of the human mind, or in so far as he constitutes the essence of the human mind; and when we say that God has this or that idea, not only in so far as he constitutes the essence of the human mind, but also in so far as he, simultaneously with the human mind, has the further idea of another thing, we assert that the human mind perceives a thing in part or inadequately.

Tying this to the first Epicurean theme that the universe can be explained through nature, therefore, all knowledge cannot exist outside of nature, or God as Spinoza termed it here. What the Greeks called phronesis, or practical knowledge, equates with Epicurus and Spinoza’s peace of mind (ataraxia/nirvana), that can be achieved by truly understanding nature and our place within it. As both Buddha and Pyrrho rejected the dogmatism of religion and philosophers, Vardoulakis (2020, pp. 13–15; 34) demonstrated that the practical knowledge of Epicurus was a rejection of the Nicomachean Ethics, or theoretical rationalizations, of Aristotle. Just as Buddha sought the harmonious Middle Path, this Epicurean utility was mirrored by Spinoza’s second aspect of true religion — justice and loving-kindness for others — which repeated throughout the TTP and was also a central feature of the humanism in Ethics (1677, IV, Proposition 35):

Therefore, men in so far as they live in obedience to reason, necessarily live always in harmony one with another.

Indian Monadism

A further direct link between Spinoza and Eastern philosophies is the concept of the monad, expanded upon by Epicurus, which played a key role in his ontological (11:1–3) and cosmological (11:4) arguments:

God, or substance, consisting of infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality, necessarily exists.

Proof. (11:1) If this be denied, conceive, if possible, that God does not exist: then his essence does not involve existence. (2) But this is absurd. (3) Therefore God necessarily exists. (1677, I. Proposition 11:1–3).

Another Proof. (11:4) Of everything whatsoever a cause or reason must be assigned, either for its existence, or for its non-existence. (1677, I. Proposition 11:4).

In Greek philosophy, the monad was represented as a circle with a dot in the middle, and represented the divine origin of all things. In terms of modern physics, it would be the Big Bang singularity from which all life emanated, and is tied directly to Spinoza’s concept of an impersonal God indistinguishable from nature.

My opinion concerning God and Nature is far different from the one modern Christians usually defend. I maintain that God is the indwelling cause of all things, not the cause from outside. (Spinoza 2016, Letter 73 to Oldenburg).

A concept he borrowed from Pliny (Pliny 1967, II. v5. pp. 183, 187):

That that supreme being, whate’er it be, pays heed to man’s affairs is a ridiculous notion. Can we believe that it would not be defiled by so gloomy and so multifarious a duty? . . .

. . . Which facts unquestionably demonstrate the power of nature, and prove that it is this that we mean by the word “God.”

Whether monism originated in the East and was transmitted to the West, or if the concept arose in both cultures through separate development, remains a matter of scholarly debate particularly as Parmenides developed his monist concept two hundred years before Pyrrho’s experiences in India. McEvilley devoted the entirety of his second chapter to examples of the monadic development in the late Bronze Age in Egyptian and Sumerian mythologies, the latter which influenced the Indians beginning in the Middle Vedic period, around 1000 BCE. McEvilley (2002, pp. 60–1) asserted that as polytheistic mythologies ran out of explanations for the natural world, they began evolving towards a concept of one, creating a new philosophical monism. Indian writings from the Middle Vedic on began to reflect this new monism, while the Greek literature of Homer and Hesiod maintained its polytheistic hold on Greek mythology for several more centuries. In an example of the two-way transmission of ideas, echoes of Parmenides also appear in the Bhagavad Gita.

McEvilley made some interesting comparisons. One, that monism arrived in Greece via India and permeated ancient Greek philosophical monism, which informed the later ideas of Spinoza and the Germans Leibniz, Hegel, and Heidegger (2002, p. 505). Two, the cosmology of the Stoics resembles Vedantic and Vaishnava basic conceptions of the universe in that the monad/God/prime mover/first creator is manifest in, yet apart, from nature (2002, pp. 540–1). Three, that because the Stoic and Upanishadic cosmologies have such significant congruences, the Stoics can be considered the first Western pantheists (2002, p. 541. Cf. Reale, 1985, p. 214).

McEvilley (2002, p. 542) also noted the Stoic conception of Zeus, who was indistinguishable from the world and whom people were to revere and love, which also resembles the Hindu Ishvara monad. Following this cosmological conception, the Stoic ethic developed along a similar path to the Bhagavad Gita in that we must reconcile ourselves to destiny and the futility of resistance, which culminated in the great Stoic maxim from Cleanthes: ‘Fate leads the willing. The unwilling it drags.’ (McEvilley 2002, pp. 542–3. Cf. Epictetus, Enchiridion, 53; Seneca, Epistles, 107.11)

Ziporyn (2012, pp. 126–8, 134) added to the Eastern conceptions that parallel some of Spinoza’s thought, stating that Spinoza was definitely a monist, but not one who equated existence with perception of the mind as some Buddhist philosophical schools do. Further, he noted that Spinoza distinguished three different types of knowledge: imagination, including perception; rationality; and intuition, specifically regarding the monistic idea of the substance which was the basis of his ontological argument.

This leads to the question: when a mind perceives something, does it occur only in the mind of the individual, or did that something exist in the mind of God? That question is particularly reminiscent of Hindu creation mythology. There is no one consistent creation story given the varying Hindu traditions that grew over the centuries from different sources (Vedas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, that came together in what scholars call the Hindu synthesis) and were merged rather inconsistently with either Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, or some combination as the creators and known in Hinduism as the Trimurti.

Recumbent Vishnu & the Creation of Brahma

There are a few variations that lend themselves to the cosmogony of Spinoza’s substance. In one story, Vishnu is the sleeping god whose dream is the universe and reality. In the other seemingly intertwined tale, Brahma sits on a lotus growing from Vishnu’s navel and everything that occurs in the universe happens only so long as Brahma is awake and his eyes are open. Once his eyes close, existence disappears again (Campbell 1988, p. 63). In a third variation, Shiva is the creator, and in the Shaiva sect which reveres Shiva as the supreme deity, Brahma is a manifestation of Shiva who creates the universe.

In later vedic texts, Māyā connotes an illusion: that which we perceive as reality is a mirage; it is really the dream of Brahma. A parallel could be drawn to the modern hypothesis that what we perceive as reality is really a complex computer simulation. In Buddhism, Māyā became the mother of Buddha. Beckwith (2015, pp. 12; 161; 167) pointed out the later fictional narratives of Siddhartha Gautama’s origin story were retroactively projected onto his legend. Therefore, it is likely the name of Buddha’s mother drew upon the mysticism of Indian culture. One formulation bringing much of this together is that Brahma is the Creator who dreams the universe into existence; Vishnu, the Preserver, maintains the dream; using Māyā to generate the illusion that we perceive as the world. In all these versions, existence occurs in the mind of God, which relates back to the third kind of knowledge in Spinoza that Ziporyn (2012, p. 129) noted ‘necessarily follows from the existence of God.’

Spinoza (1677, II. Proposition 47) presented his conceptions regarding the thoughts of God:

The human mind has ideas, from which it perceives itself and its own body and external bodies as actually existing; therefore it has an adequate knowledge of the eternal and infinite essence of God. Q.E.D.

Note. Hence we see, that the infinite essence and the eternity of God are known to all. Now as all things are in God, and are conceived through God, we can from this knowledge infer many things, which we may adequately know, and we may form that third kind of knowledge of which we spoke.

Buddhist Metaphysics

Ziporyn’s (2012, p. 138) analysis of Spinoza’s proposition then moves from Hindu cosmogony into the realm of Buddhist meditation: knowing yourself leads to a deeper understanding of existence in the outside world. Ziporyn (2012, p. 139) posited that Spinoza’s conception may possibly be uniquely distinct in the West, but that it shares some fundamental parallels from two other Eastern thinkers, one from Daoism and another from Chinese Buddhism. To overcome the solipsism (the self can only know its own mind), the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi simply accepted it: one may not be able to see beyond their own perspective, but having a perspective necessitates that others have one, too. Similar to Zoroastrian duality, a perspective cannot exist in a vacuum without another perspective to provide a contrast. Modern psychologists refer to this as theory of mind, and Bering (2012, p. 37) devoted an entire book to this topic and the concept of God’s mental states. Hongladarom (2015) concluded:

. . . [W]e might say there are a number of similarities between the conception of the self within Spinoza and Buddhism. First, they are both unions of mind and matter that are limited by their own kind. This is meant both literally and metaphorically: the self is limited physically by the existence of others; but also recognized as such to the effect of limiting what the self is. This is in line with the idea that selves are not merely inert object, but the seats of subjectivity and the source of thoughts and ideas.

The second example Ziporyn gave, possibly derived from Daoism, comes from Huayan Buddhism: ‘all phenomena are present in each phenomenon,’ and that ‘no phenomenon knows another phenomenon.’ Ziporyn (2012, pp. 139–40) cited a quote in his footnotes from Fazang, one of the Patriarchs of Huayan Buddhism:

One small speck of dust . . . pervades all times and places, and yet this one speck of dust, and all other phenomena do not know each other or see each other. And why? Because each one is the entire perfectly interpenetrating universe, integrating all into itself with no other universe outside of it. Thus they do not need to further know or see each other. Even when we speak of knowing or seeing, all of it is the entire universe knowing and seeing; ultimately there is no additional universe to see or know.

What is intriguing about this conceptualization, is that it seems to intuit quantum entanglement and multiverse theory, joining ranks with the monad and the example of the Big Bang singularity. American scientist Carl Sagan and science writer Dick Teresi have both noted the wisdom of the ancients. Teresi (2002, p. 210) stated that Indian cosmogony was the closest in terms of theorizing quantum physics and the atom, which may have influenced the Greek atomists. Both Teresi (2002, p. 159) and Sagan (Sagan & Malone 1980, Episode 10) noted that of all the creation myths of world religions, only the Hindus approached the actual number, estimating over four billion years. This brings to mind one of Sagan’s (Sagan & Malone 1980, Episode 1) most famous quotes: “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.”

Ziporyn (2012, p. 140) concluded by observing how interesting it is when we ponder ‘the unusual epistemological resonances between these disparate systems.’ Thus, Spinoza’s conception of nature (God) may then have been built on Brahminical and Buddhist philosophies that had been filtered through the lens of Greek monism, but he seemed to be unaware of the pedigree of these ideas. (McEvilley 2002, p. 547).

Symmetries between Spinoza and Buddhist Enlightenment

While Spinoza’s cosmogony and pantheism have parallels, if not origins, in Indian philosophy, his ethics contain an unmistakably Buddhist character, especially his ideas on the soul and salvation. Spinoza’s assertion that souls die with the body was one of the reasons he was excommunicated in 1656 by the Jewish community, and by 1660 he had codified his thoughts on the topic in his Short Treatise on God, Man and His Well-Being. For Spinoza (1910), the soul was simply our conscious mind (p. 129), which perishes with the body (p. 136):

And since he consists of such a body of which there must necessarily be an Idea in the thinking thing, and the Idea must necessarily be united with the body, therefore we assert without fear that his Soul is nothing else than this Idea of his body in the thinking thing. . . .

. . . From this, then it can easily be seen, that if it is united to the body alone, and that body happens to perish, then it must perish also; for when it is deprived of the body, which is the foundation of its love, it must perish with it.

Spinoza’s conceptualization of the soul as synonymous with consciousness does strongly correlate to the Buddhist idea. Hongladarom (2015) noted:

A basic tenet in Buddhist philosophy in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions is that the self is regarded as being composed of form (rūpa), feelings (vedanā), perceptions (saññā), thought formations (sankhāra) and consciousness (viññāna). (For an introduction to Buddhist philosophy, see Siderits, 2007 and Gethin, 1998. The analysis of the self as consisting of five elements here is fundamental in all Buddhist schools.) These five elements can be grouped together into physical and mental entities whereby form belongs to the former and the other four aggregates to the latter. The argument is that, as the self is divisible into these five aggregates, it cannot be found as an inherently existing entity because the self dissolves itself by virtue of being so divisible. Any characteristic that is thought to belong to the self, such as having a certain personality, is not found to belong to any of these aggregates. The personality may be thought to belong to perceptions and memories, but these are fleeting and constituted by countless short episodes, so cannot be considered as a candidate for the self that is thought to endure as a source of personality. The same kind of analysis applies when the self is equated with the body. In short, the Buddhist takes up the usual way in which the self is conceived: as existing as a life-giving soul, and finds that it is nothing more than a collection of these five aggregates.

As to what Spinoza (1677, V. Cf. Nadler 1999, pp. 170, 190) meant by salvation, it was something very similar to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment: an awakening of consciousness by becoming self-aware and learning to take control of the ever-changing whims of our emotions and the freedom this entails:

At length I pass to the remaining portion of my Ethics, which is concerned with the way leading to freedom. I shall therefore treat therein of the power of the reason, showing how far the reason can control the emotions, and what is the nature of Mental Freedom or Blessedness. (Preface).

From what has been said we clearly understand, wherein our salvation, or blessedness, or freedom, consists: namely, in the constant and eternal love towards God, or in God’s love towards men. (Proposition 36 note).

Whereas the wise man, in so far as he is regarded as such, is scarcely at all disturbed in spirit, but, being conscious of himself, and of God, and of things, by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be, but always possesses true acquiescence of his spirit. (Proposition 42 note).

The Theological-Political Treatise (TTP from the Latin title, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus), contains a few passages with Eastern leanings[emphasis added]:

The true happiness and blessedness of each person consists only in the enjoyment of the good, and not in a self-esteem founded on the fact that he alone enjoys the good, all others being excluded from it. For whoever views himself as more blessed because things are well with him, but not with others, or because he is more blessed and more fortunate than others, does not know true happiness and blessedness. The joy he derives from that comparison comes from envy and a bad heart — if it isn’t mere childishness.

For example, the true happiness and blessedness of man consists only in wisdom and in knowledge of the truth, not at all in the fact that he is wiser than others, or that others lack true knowledge. For their ignorance does not increase his wisdom at all, i.e., his true happiness. So someone who rejoices for that reason rejoices because of an evil occurring to someone else. He is envious and evil, failing to know either true wisdom or the peace of true life. (Spinoza 2016, TTP iii. 1–2).

Finally, almost all the Prophets found it extremely obscure how the order of nature and what happened to men could agree with the concept they had formed concerning God’s providence. But this was always quite clear to the Philosophers, who strive to understand things, not from miracles, but from clear concepts. They locate true happiness only in virtue and peace of mind; they are concerned, not that nature should obey them, but that they should obey nature; they know with certainty that God directs nature as its universal laws require, not as the particular laws of human nature require, and that God takes account, not of the human race only, but of the whole of nature. (Spinoza 2016, TTP vi. 34).

However, the majority of Spinoza’s concepts that parallel Buddhism are in the Short Treatise, Ethics, and in the Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect as demonstrated by Nadler’s (1999, pp. 101–2) citation of its opening paragraph:

After experience had taught me that all the things which regularly occur in ordinary life are empty and futile, and I saw that all things which were the cause or object of my fear had nothing of good or bad in themselves, except insofar as [my] mind was moved by them, I resolved at last to try to find out whether there was anything which would be the true good, capable of communicating itself, and which alone would affect the mind, all others rejected — whether there was something which, once found and acquired would continuously give me the greatest joy, to eternity.

Spinoza’s phrasing of ‘empty and futile’ is evocative of the Buddhist concept of Śūnyatā, or emptiness, encapsulated by:

Here, O Sariputra,
form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form;
emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,
the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.
(Heart Sutra)

Photo by Manuel Cosentino on Unsplash

The intellect is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Ideas… Intellect-consciousness… Intellect-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on intellect-contact — experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain — that too is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self.
(Suñña Sutta SN 35:85)

Once again, Spinoza, whether consciously aware of his choices or not, was echoing distinctly Buddhist conceptualizations. As meditation and mindfulness have become increasingly popular in the past few years, it is a tribute to Spinoza’s genius that profound ideas endure and come back around; just like the Wheel of Dharma.

This article has been excerpted from a chapter on Hobbes & Spinoza in my forthcoming book, Dangerous Ideas. For additional text from this chapter, including a breakdown of Spinoza’s ontological argument above, please see my blog.


Beckwith, C. I. (2015). Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s encounter with early Buddhism in Central Asia. Princeton University Press.

Bering, J. (2012). The Belief instinct: The Psychology of souls, destiny, and the meaning of life. W. W. Norton & Company.

Campbell, J. (1988). The Power of myth with Bill Moyers. Doubleday.

Hongladarom, S. (2015). Spinoza & Buddhism on the self. The Oxford Philosopher. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2NpUiqk

Jaspers, K. (2015). Way to wisdom: An introduction to philosophy. Yale University Press.

McEvilley, T. C. (2002). The Shape of ancient thought: Comparative studies in Greek and Indian philosophies. Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/37ZrbDB
Cf. Reale, G. (1985). A History of ancient philosophy III: Systems of the Hellenistic age. (J. Catan Trans.) SUNY Press.

Nadler, S. (1999). Spinoza: A life. Cambridge University Press.

Plato. (360 BCE). Timaeus. Infomotions. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/3dvyPXB

Pliny the Elder. (1967). Natural history. (H. Rackham Trans.). Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Vi4AgC

Schopenhauer, A. (1909). The World as will and idea (Vol. 2). (R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp Trans.). Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Z4V9Co

Spinoza, B. (1677). Ethics. Infomotions. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2CF2oJE

Spinoza, B. (1910). Short treatise on God, man, and his well-being. (A. Wolf Trans. & Ed.). Internet Archive. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/31i0hFI

Spinoza, B. (2016). The Collected works of Spinoza (Vol. 2). (E. Curley Trans. & Ed.). Princeton University Press.

Teresi, D. (2002). Lost Discoveries: The Ancient roots of modern science — from the Babylonians to the Maya. Simon and Schuster.

Vardoulakis, D. (2020). Spinoza, the Epicurean: Authority and utility in materialism. Edinburgh University Press.

Ziporyn, B. (2012). Spinoza and the self-overcoming of solipsism. Comparative and Continental Philosophy, 4(1), 125–140.

~~ Media ~~

Sagan, C., Druyan. A., Soter. S. (Writers), & Malone, A. (Director). (1980, September 28). The shores of the cosmic ocean (Season 1, Episode 1) [TV series episode]. In A. Malone (Executive Producer), Cosmos. KCET.

Sagan, C., Druyan. A., Soter. S. (Writers), & Malone, A. (Director). (1980, November 30). The edge of forever. (Season 1, Episode 10) [TV series episode]. In A. Malone (Executive Producer), Cosmos. KCET.

~~ Websites ~~

Hindu Wisdom. Hindu Cosmology. Retrieved June 15, 2020, from http://www.hinduwisdom.info/Hindu_Cosmology.htm



Jason (Diogenes of Mayberry) covers the backstory of Judeo-Christian doctrines to refute evangelical literalism related to socio-political action.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jason Sylvester

Jason (Diogenes of Mayberry) covers the backstory of Judeo-Christian doctrines to refute evangelical literalism related to socio-political action.