This is my free rendering of the crucial passage ("The Vision & the Riddle") from Book III of Nietzszche’s famous revelatory prose-poem about Sri Zarathustra -- the post-metaphysical saint & trans-religious guru. We can speculate endlessly about whether this or that historical sage was aligned with "postmetaphysical spirituality" but it is obvious, overt and intended in the case of Zarathustra. Consequently he should hold a special place of honor in our hearts... and even perhaps a privileged status in the ethos of this online forum.

Fans of this luminous text (Thus Spoke Zarathustra) will know how this passage fits into the basic plot. After attaining illumination, the idiosyncratic and irreligious sage is moved by his natural compassionate abundance. He wishes to share his energy and depth in the human marketplace. But he soon discovers that the world is too full of disparate viewpoints. A superficial cacophony, a motley and bovine assemblage of diverse value systems swarms in the contemporary culture -- refuting all coherence and making mockery of authentic enactments of depth. So Zarathustra turns instead to the cultivation of a small band of friends (the free spirits) who are intellectually and spiritually attracted to his message. Over time, however, he begins to worry that their positive response to him may actually be impeding their own development. Even though they understand and agree with his teachings, they are not yet enough of themselves to really get where he is coming from. Thus he retires from being a “guru” and becomes a wanderer among the Happy Islands. He seeks to discover non-obvious truths which have not been revealed in his enlightenment. He is desperate to discover why higher transformative intelligence is not getting through to human civilization in a more dynamic manner. And he wants to overcome two lingering problems that he has diagnosed in his own psyche -- the egotism of his enlightenment & his sense of depression about modern humanity.

He sets out to sea. This is the setting of The Vision & The Riddle. The subsequent passage in the text is called Of Involuntary Bliss. That is very suggestive. The passage we will examine presents a secret that may generate unforced contentment. This prophetic writing by Nietzsche should be of particular interest to those who have studied Adi Da's description of the insights which led to his own laughing, dancing and peculiar awakening. 



When it became rumored aboard the ship that the controversial sage Zarathustra was among them, a great curiosity and expectancy arose. Yet Zarathustra was brooding on his rare troubles and behaved as if cold and deaf to those around him. He did not respond to glances or queries. However, on the evening of the second day at sea, he relaxed and opened his ears again. He discovered that many strange things were buzzing on board that ship -- which had already come far and still had very far to go. Despite himself, he had always been a friend to those who take long journeys and do not want to live without danger. So behold! By listening to his fellow travelers he found his tongue loosened and his icy solitude broken. Thus he spoke with them, saying:

To you, bold venturers & adventurers, I speak! I speak to whomever has ever embarked with cunning sails upon dreadful seas, to you who are intoxicated by puzzling riddles, who take pleasure in the twilight of dusk, whose soul is lured by flutes into every treacherous abyss. You do not desire to grope for a rope with cowardly hands, and where you can guess you hate to calculate. To you alone do I tell this riddle of what I saw -- the vision of the Most Solitary Man.

Lately, I was walking gloomily through a deathly gray twilight. Gloomily & sternly. With compressed lips. Not only one sun had gone down for me! My path was mounting a mountain defiantly through stark boulders and rubble. It was a wicked, solitary path no longer cheered by any bush or plant -- a mountainous path crunching under my defiant foot.

Striding mutely over the mocking clatter of pebbles, trampling stones and making them slip, my feet forced themselves upward with great effort. Upward -- despite the spirit that drew them downward... down toward the abyss. It was the Spirit of Gravity! My old devil and arch-enemy. Upward I climbed although he sat heavily upon me, half dwarf & half mole, crippled & crippling. He poured lead drops into my ear and leaden thoughts into my brain.

O Zarathustra!” he said mockingly, sounding it out syllable by syllable, “you stone of wisdom! You have thrown yourself so high… but every stone that is thrown must FALL! O Zarathustra, you stone of wisdom, you great projectile, you star-destroyer! You have thrown yourself so high but every stone that is thrown MUST fall! Condemned by your self, condemned to your own stone throwing… O Zarathustra, you has thrown you stone so far but it will fall back upon you!

The dwarf then fell silent for a long time. His silence oppressed me. To be silent like that in company is truly more lonely than to be alone… So I climbed. I climbed, I dreamed & thought, but everything oppressed me. I was like a man with an awful illness who awakens from a nightmare to find himself in an even worse dream.

But there something in me that I am willing to call “courage”. It has always returned to destroy whatever is discouraging in me. This courage at last made me stop and say:

Dwarf! You -- or I!”

Courage is the best destroyer -- a courage that attacks. In every attack there is a small triumphant shout.  

The human being is the most courageous animal. Armed with his courage, he has overcome every beast. With his triumphant shout he has conquered so many natural pains. But inside him is a special human pain that is deeper than all others.

Courage also destroy the giddiness we feel in the face of an abyss. And where does a man not stand facing an abyss? To be able to see oneself -- doesn’t that meaning finding an abyss everywhere?

Courage is the best destroyer. Courage also destroys pity. Pity is the deepest abyss, for as deeply as a person looks into Life they will see into suffering.

Courage is the best destroyer, I say, a courage that attacks. For it destroys even Death when it declares, “Was that life? Very well then -- once more!” There is a great triumphant shout in such a saying. Whomever has hears, let him hear.


“Stop, dwarf!” I said. “It is I - or you! And I am the stronger one -- for you do not know my abysmal thought. You could not endure to know what I am now thinking…

Then I felt suddenly lighter. The dwarf jumped down from my shoulder to examine something. That inquisitive dwarf! He squatted upon a stone and we beheld a strange portal which stood where we had halted.

Behold this gateway, dwarf!” I announced. “It has two sides. Two paths come together here and no one has ever gone to the end of either. This long pathway behind us goes on for an eternity. And that long lane ahead -- that is another eternity. They are opposed to each other but they touch each other. They diverge in conflict but in this gateway they come together. The name written above this threshold is: The Moment. If one were to follow them further and ever further do you suppose, dwarf, that they would remain in opposition?

Everything straight lies,” muttered the dwarf disdainfully. “All truth is crooked and time itself is a circle…

Spirit of Gravity,” I cursed angrily. “Do not treat this so lightly! Or perhaps I will leave you here, squatting where you are on your lame feet. I have carried you so very high!”

That silenced him. I continued:

Behold this moment! From this portal a long eternal lane runs back -- and an eternity lies ahead. Must not all things that can pass not already have passed along this lane? Must not all things that can happen have already happened, been done, gone passed? For they have had forever to do it! And if all things have been here before then what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must not this gateway have been here before? Are not all things entangled so tightly that this moment pulls with it all future things and also itself?

For all things that can pass must run once again forward along this long lane. And that slow spider creeping in this moonlight, and this moonlight, and I & you whispering at the gateway together, whispering of eternal things -- must we not have already been here? And must we not return and pass forward eternally along that long terrible lane that reaches ahead...

Thus I spoke, more and more softly, trailing off… for I was suddenly afraid of my own thoughts and many concerns about this matter. But my worry was interrupted by the sound of a dog howling nearby.

Had I ever heard a dog howl thusly? My memory ran backwards -- yes! Once when I was a child… in my most distant childhood… I heard a dog howling in this way. And I saw it too! Bristling. Its head raised. Trembling in the stillness of midnight when even dogs believe in ghosts. It moved me to pitiful empathy.

The full moon had just gone over the roof of the house, silent as death, and stopped. A still round glow upon the flat roof as if upon a forbidden place. An intrusion. That was what terrified the dog -- for dogs believe in thieves and ghosts. And so when I heard that howling again on the mountain I was again moved to pity.

Where had the dwarf gone? And the gateway? And the spider? Had I only been dreaming? Had I now awoken? All at once I found myself standing alone between wild barren cliffs -- desolate in the most desolate moonlight.

And I spotted a man lying on the ground. Beside him the dog was leaping, bristling, whining, imploring. It saw me coming and howling again. It cried out!  Had I ever heard a dog cry out for help like that?

Truly, I had never seen such a spectacle as I did then:

The man was a young shepherd, the master of a flock, and he was writhing, choking, convulsing with his face distorted. And why? Because a heavy black snake was hanging from his mouth, caught in his throat.

I had never seen so much disgust and pallid horror on a face. Had he been asleep, perhaps? Had the serpent crawled into his sleeping maw and bitten into his throat, locking itself in place?

I rushed to his side and tugged and yanked on the snake but in vain. Those yanks could not tug the snake from the shepherd’s throat. And then I heard my own voice call out:

Bite! Bite its head off! Bite!" All my horror, hate, disgust and pity, all my good and evil cried out of me with a single cry.

You bold men around me on this ship, you venturers & adventurers, those of you who have embarked with cunning sails upon undiscovered seas! You who take pleasure in puzzles -- solve for me the riddle that I saw that night. Interpret for me the vision of the most solitary man!

For it was a vision and a premonition.

What did I see in this allegory? Who is it that must one day come? Who is this shepherd into whose mouth the snake thus crawled? Who is the man into whose throat all that is heaviest and blackest will thus crawl?

The shepherd bit as my cry had advised him. He bit with a good bite -- spitting away the snake’s head and springing to his feet. No longer a shepherd, no longer a man! He was a transformed being surrounded by light. Laughing.

Never yet on Earth has any man laughed as he laughed.

O my brothers, I heard then a laughter that was no longer human and it awoken in me a terrible thirst. My thirst for that laughter consumes me. This longing is never stilled. My longing for this laughter consumes me.

How do I even endure to live without it?

And how could I possibly endure to die now?

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

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#6. "If Nietzsche had been born in a country with meditation then he would have been greater than the Buddha." -- Osho.

#7. Once of the first articulated principles of Nietzsche's illuminated sage Zarathustra is to be "true to the Earth" and "return to the body". The material, biological, terrestrial & embodied self is revalued and asserted as the key to the planetary, post-nihilistic spirituality he envisioned. But along with this passage comes his observation that "if the soul is simply the name for something in the body" then the body is something whose dimensions and spiritual nature we do not yet comprehend.

#8. The books which I consider essential in Nietzsche studies are:

"Nietzsche & Philosophy" by Gilles Delueze
"Nietzsche's Philosophy of Religion" by Julian Young
"Composing the Soul" by Graham Parkes

"Will to Power" (notebooks) the Walter Kaufmann translation.
"Beyond Good & Evil" -- the Marianne Willamson translation.

And, though I disagree with many of its conclusions: Heiddegger's lectures on Nietzsche.

#9. The notion that "God is Dead" must be understood in context -- as a statement made to challenge atheists. In Nietzsche's parable, the Spiritual Madman of the Emerging Age is mocked by non-religious people. They consider the question of God to be meaningless or already solved.

The prophet realizes that he has come "too soon". Modernism is not prepared to understand the historical shift that it is expressing.

By affirming their disbelief in old myths the modern people have only sidestepped the crucial issue of how we relate to our Ultimate Condition. They have not yet, he says, begun to actually suffer from the disengagement.

#10. "Between ourselves, it will by no means be necessary to get rid of the 'soul' itself in this process and thereby do away with one of the oldest and most honorable hypotheses. This often happens to unskilled naturalists. As soon as they touch the 'soul', they lose it. But we want the way open to new formulations and refinements of the soul-hypothesis."

- N. (BGE, sect. 12)

My general impression is how this characterization applies to you as well. Over the time I have been reading your forum participation/experimentation on ILC and maybe here on IPS, you too may have moved quite briskly from one form to the next, perhaps in regard to developmental stages in a vague way, but also in articulating what you have tasted across a broad variety of experiences, mental, material, embodied during this time and priorly. Morphing, refining, probing, trying, growing, well, becoming a monster. If you know what I mean.

Layman Pascal said:

#5. One of the trickiest things for many people is that fact that Nietzsche changes and develops so quickly over the course of his writings. Yet this should pose no mystery to the integral thinker. In his first book he expresses his project as a romantic, neo-pagan revival. He quickly understands this is a potentially dangerous limitation and deliberate uses optimistic scientific humanism to critic it. Then these positions rapidily fuse and are united by his expansive developmental (geneaological) phase. So the fifth rule of Nietzsche Club is -- REMEMBER THAT HE IS GROWING THROUGH STAGES AND SHARING THEM WITH US.

This evening, I find this quite rich, "But along with this passage comes his observation that "if the soul is simply the name for something in the body" then the body is something whose dimensions and spiritual nature we do not yet comprehend."

Layman Pascal said:

#7. Once of the first articulated principles of Nietzsche's illuminated sage Zarathustra is to be "true to the Earth" and "return to the body". The material, biological, terrestrial & embodied self is revalued and asserted as the key to the planetary, post-nihilistic spirituality he envisioned. But along with this passage comes his observation that "if the soul is simply the name for something in the body" then the body is something whose dimensions and spiritual nature we do not yet comprehend.

Thanks for appreciating my becoming-monstrous, Ambo.  And for your sensitive remarks about my attempt to articulate acceptance of the intolerability of death on IL.  As for the soul-body thing... classic Nietzsche.  Take the ideal form, flip it upside down and then enter the inverted depth until it exceeds the original!

#11. We should, I think, take Nietzsche quite seriously when he describes his unending love for Wagner-the-man and his appreciation of Wagner's music as GENIUS. Nothing to the contrary, nothing "personal", is implied by Nietzsche's observation that the content of this quintessentiallly modern genius implies a great deal of nihilism, inauthenticity and "christian performance". Wagner displays the beginning of a clear cultural element which exhibits decadence within its genius -- and is therefore fascinating for anyone who believes that the "style" of the future is the basis of its health and intellectual/moral integrity.

#12. Any reader of the autobiography ECCE HOMO will notice that it interprets the author's life uniquely as a series of "peak experiences". Each of his major accomplishments and books are explained as the result of a moment of tremendous affirmation. Whatever was historically valid is surrendered to the idea that one must "turn every IT WAS into an I WILLED IT THUS" in order to be on the same page as Reality. The theory proposed here is that biography must be predicated upon peaks. This is the case in Adi Da and Osho's biographies. As well as many others. One "becomes what one is" (the subtitle of N's autobiography) by becoming responsible for attaining and emphasizing the moments of superlative consciousness which are available through a particular life-track.

#13. What were Nietzsche's spiritual practices?

In several writings he talks about a minimum number of physical, moral and emotional "self-overcomings" to be performed each day. That reminds us of Gurdjieffian self-struggle practices. From N's autobiography we know that health practices centering around diet and physical exercises were a primary concern.

From his writings about Christ we know how essential he believed it was to voluntarily live without "revenge or ressentiment". This also constitutes a form of self-overcoming. Add to this the persistent "cognitive" development of the revaluation of all values, the bold and ongoing journey from perspective to perspective. Then also we have his devotional yoga to "Dionysus".

And on top of that we see that the "Shakti" (the fundamental subjective power which enlivens all forms of energy in existence) was the more or less constant object of his contemplation... often performed through solitary hiking.

Very famously, of coursem his formula of "amor fati" (to allow of embrace fate) is something we would now recognize as a kind of Tantric spiritual practice.

If we decide to interpret his final writing more as "breakthrough" rather than "breakdown" then the effect is probably the cumulative result of some or all of the practices mentioned above.


The profound poem-novel "Thus Spake Zarathustra" concerns the tale of a man already fully individuated and spiritually illuminated. This story begins with what most other stories seek. It is a post-enlightenment narrative.

Overfull of wisdom and transmission-riches, Zarathustra leaves his cave and heads down the holy mountain. His first encounter is with a traditional religious saint. The saint recognizes him. The saint detects that something has shifted and awakened in Zarathustra. This traditional holy man rejoices in their mutual experience of higher consciousness. Yet their attitudes are very different.

The saint advises Zarathustra not to bother trying to change mankind. And Zarathustra, after parting ways with his comrade, is amazed that this old saint has not yet heard that... God is dead. The first explicitly post-metaphysical enlightenment character begins his journey to wrestle with humanity.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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