RCR – Nietzsche’s Koan: Eternal Recurrence


Heidegger wrote; “Nietzsche’s word, ‘God is dead'” Which just about perfectly sums it all up!

To write anything is to write of an experience that exceeds all possibility of expression. Such expression is simply absence; language is only ever the attempt to bring to presence that which is absent in order to name existence.

In Heidegger’s words of Nietzsche’s words there is then a double absence, a double negation, and as every child is taught a double negative is a positive.

In Heidegger’s phrase we hear that which remains unspoken in Nietzsche, it is only the God that can be named who is dead, the God beyond all naming, conception, the God that has no name, the nothingness of Meister Eckhart’s ‘desert’, remains to this day untouched.

When people describe Nietzsche as an ‘atheist’ they simply attribute more words to express the experience Nietzsche had, which is not the experience itself. In the reams of empty words that have been used to explain Nietzsche’s idea of Eternal Recurrence, not one step is being taken closer to understanding just what it was Nietzsche experienced 6000 feet above mankind, in August 1881, as he walked near lake Silvaplana, in the Upper Engandine valley of the Swiss Alps.
Curiously, however, if we were to use Eternal Recurrence as a koan, something else comes to be discovered amid the meaningless rubble of the words that have been expended on this fascinating idea over the last century. Just as with the Rinzai zen master, Hakuin’s, more famous koan, ‘What is the sound of one-hand clapping?’, so too Nietzsche has given us a gateless gate into reality – but only if we forget the expression and contemplate the experience!

Nietzsche called Eternal Recurrence his ‘most abyssal thought’, here it is as a koan:

You are standing in front of a large gate, two roads meet at this gate, which no one has ever walked to the end. One road leads back to eternity, the other leads onwards to eternity. On the gate the word ‘moment’ is inscribed.

Zarathustra says, “Look at this moment! From this gate a long eternal ring road runs back: behind us lies eternity. Of all those who can run must they not have run this ring road once already?”

The eternal past and future passes through this gate marked ‘moment’; what is yet to come has already existed, what is past is also what is yet to come.

Everything goes, everything comes back: eternally rolls the wheel of Being. Everything dies, everything comes up again, eternally runs the year of Being.
Everything breaks, everything is put together anew; eternally the same house of Being built itself. Everything parts, everything greets itself again; eternally the ring of Being remains faithful to itself. In every now Being begins, around every here rolls the ball of there. The middle is everywhere. The path of eternity is curved.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra, III, 13

Is the effect of the koan of Eternal Recurrence different from that of Hakuin’s? Of plotinus ‘One’ experienced in ‘ekstasis’? Of St Augustines experience of ‘Touching eternity within the present moment’? Of Kierkegaard’s ‘Augenblik’, not as a moment of time, but as a moment of eternity?


Anyway, these are some of the thoughts that came while making bread and the first apple jam of the season.


About Jamie Nicol

Living in the forested hills of Catalonia, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Zen teacher, recovering philosopher, small-scale natural farmer. Writing just what comes.
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