In Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the chapter titled The Bestowing Virtue has the protagonist Zarathustra suddenly announcing to his few disciples that he is to leave them. He observes that they’re no longer thinking for themselves, due to their idolising and adulation of his teachings. On reading it I was reminded of the “You’re all individuals” scene in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Below is Zarathustra’s address to his followers, deliberately expressed in archaic language which is used throughout the book. I’ve omitted a couple of sentences but the basic gist of his message is contained in the quote:
‘I now go alone, my disciples! Ye also now go away, and alone! So will I have it. Verily, I advise you: depart from me, and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he hath deceived you. The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends. One requiteth a teacher badly if one remain merely a scholar…. Ye venerate me; but what if your veneration should some day collapse? Take heed lest a statue crush you! Ye are my believers: but of what account are all believers! Ye had not yet sought yourselves: then did ye find me. So do all believers; therefore all belief is of so little account. Now do I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return unto you.‘
Zarathustra’s followers were initially inquiring of mind, curious and questioning that which they’d learnt, but had over time become content to assume that everything Zarathustra told them was correct. Psychologists might describe this as ‘vicarious learning’, to learn in a second-hand way rather than one’s own experience. It is a common trait among the majority of people, especially in how they relate to authority figures, individuals of clout, etc.
“…be ashamed of him! Perhaps he hath deceived you. The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends. One requiteth a teacher badly if one remain merely a scholar. ”
Why would Zarathustra caution his followers to be on their guard against him, and even be ashamed? My own interpretation: No matter how correct a teacher may be in many areas, ultimately it is their experience and not our own. Not only that, the teacher may even get some things wrong. It’s akin to the musician who’s so in awe of their favourite instrumentalist that they indiscriminately copy everything their hero plays, even the mistakes! Also, perspectives that ring true at one period may be of less validity with the passage of time, so it’s a good idea to periodically examine your beliefs to see if they still hold relevance to your life. To love enemies and hate one’s friends I feel is symbolic of not staying with the familiar and being open to learn from sources that are outside of your regular mental terrain.
The overall message is to find your own truth. It doesn’t preclude learning from others, but as it’s been expressed by different individuals throughout history, ultimately all the knowledge you’re looking for is already within. The best teachers are those that act as a catalyst for the student to unlock it.
Imagine any educational institution or any other seat of learning today saying to its students, “Sorry, we’re closing down for a while, and I think you should all go home until you stop believing every single thing we tell you.” A tad impractical, yes, but not a bad idea at all, in theory.