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Parsifal
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A Letter from Richard to Mathilde


Reincarnation and Karma
 

Introduction

The following notes refer to the extract from a letter to Mathilde Wesendonck reproduced on the preceding page. Wagner's letters to Mathilde are of great value in understanding his Parsifal. This letter in particular, when read with an awareness of what Wagner had been reading and writing elsewhere during the years 1854-1860, not only explains several aspects of Parsifal but also opens up a perspective on the work that is at odds with its interpretation in the 20th century. In order to show why this true, unfortunately, it will be necessary to venture out into the deep waters of philosophy and religion.

Anyone who has read Lucy Beckett's book on Parsifal will know that, in her interpretation, the work is thoroughly and exclusively Christian. So much so, she tells her readers, that Nietzsche was understandably shocked by Wagner's apparent conversion to the slave-morality of Christianity. For Nietzsche, when Wagner wrote about purity he was promoting chastity, a subject on which, Nietzsche remarked with typical sarcasm, Wagner was a leading authority. Beckett's view of Parsifal is often encountered; most recently it was summarised in the program book for the latest Covent Garden production, which states that Beckett's book is recognised as the standard work on the opera. Although her book does indeed contain much interesting and relevant information about Parsifal, this note will show where Beckett's "proposed interpretation" is fundamentally wrong.

Lucy Beckett's view of Parsifal is one that is rooted in the English tradition. Initially at least Parsifal was received in England as a work of Christian mysticism. A century ago it was not unusual for English Wagnerians to prepare for a performance of Parsifal, in Bayreuth or elsewhere, with prayer and fasting. Beckett follows Jessie L. Weston in regarding Parsifal as a work in which there is a tension between pagan elements (drawn from Celtic and Germanic mythology) and Christian elements, a tension that originates in Wagner's medieval sources. Weston took the view that the primary source and inspiration for Wagner's last drama was Wolfram's Parzival and this was uncritically accepted by Beckett. While this misunderstanding is excusable where Weston -- who was relying on Wagner's own account in his autobiography -- was concerned, it is inexcusable that Beckett -- writing half a century later -- ignored other medieval sources that relate to the inner and the outer action of Parsifal. It is at best a half-truth. 

Another interpretation of Parsifal has been influential during the last thirty years. It was put forward by Robert Gutman in the last chapter of his Richard Wagner: the Man, his Mind and his Music. In this bizarre interpretation, which seems to be accepted as absolute truth by the current generation of stage directors, Wagner created Parsifal as the gospel of Nazism, an ideology that Gutman and his followers believe to have been Wagner's invention. In this interpretation, when Wagner's text refers to purity, he means racial purity. In Parsifal, according to Gutman, Wagner set forth a religion of racism under the cover of Christian legend. Parsifal is an enactment of the Aryan's plight, struggle, and hope for redemption, a drama characterized not only by the composer's naively obscure and elliptical literary style, but also by the indigenous circumlocutions of allegory, the calculated unrealities of symbolism, and, especially, the sultry corruptions of decadence. Strong stuff, indeed, and even more fundamentally wrong than Beckett's interpretation. As this letter of August 1860 reveals.

Mathilde Wesendonck

Right: Mathilde Wesendonck portrayed by K.F. Sohn in 1850.

Metempsychosis

open quotes Only a profound acceptance of the doctrine of metempsychosis has been able to console me by revealing the point at which all things finally converge at the same level of redemption, after the various individual existences - which run alongside each other in time - have come together in a meaningful way outside time. close quotes (Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, August 1860)

The more perceptive of his biographers recognise that the most important event in Richard Wagner's life was his discovery, in the autumn of 1854, of the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, whose book The World as Will and Representation changed Wagner's life by changing his understanding of the universe. In the course of a year he read the book four times and also (according to a letter he wrote to Hans von Bülow) read Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralipomena and then (according to Wagner's Annals) some of his minor works. These probably included his essay On the Basis of Morality, in which the philosopher argues that the only true basis of morality is compassion, and On the Will in Nature, which provided (in its 1854 edition and subsequent revisions) a reading list of books and articles about Oriental religions. One of the books recommended was Burnouf's Introduction to the History of Indian Buddhism. It was in this book that Wagner found the story that was to be the basis of his sketch for a Buddhist drama, Die Sieger (The Victors). He was also fascinated to read, in this and other books recommended by Schopenhauer, about reincarnation. In his recent book on Parsifal, Peter Bassett explains:

open quotes Wagner was especially attracted to the story's secondary theme of reincarnation as a vehicle for his compositional technique of Emotional Reminiscence, usually referred to by the term 'leitmotiv'. "Only music", he said, "can convey the mysteries of reincarnation". Die Sieger was never developed beyond a sketch but some of its ideas were used again in Parsifal, and Prakriti [the outcast maiden] reappeared (transformed) as Kundry. Wagner's fascination with Buddhism intensified as the years went by and coloured his general philosophy. It is seen most vividly in Parsifal and Tristan und Isolde (where, for example, one finds a correlation between Truth, Nirvana and Night) but there are also traces in Der Ring des Nibelungen. In 1856, the same year as Die Sieger, Wagner drafted a Buddhist ending for the Ring, with Brünnhilde achieving enlightenment (becoming a Buddha herself) and attaining Nirvana. That ending was subsequently replaced by the present one. close quotes

Just over four years later, in August 1860, Wagner wrote to Mathilde Wesendonck that he had accepted the doctrine of metempsychosis, Seelenwanderung. This was a doctrine that, according to Schopenhauer, was found not only in Indian religions but throughout the ancient world, for example taught by the Greek philosophers Pythagoras and Plato. (Schopenhauer added, with his usual dry humour, that reincarnation would be a good thing if it meant that one could remember the Greek grammar that one had learned in an earlier existence!). Clearly Wagner was influenced by Schopenhauer's summary of the Vedic doctrine of metempsychosis:

open quotes This teaches that all sufferings inflicted in life by man on other beings must be expiated in a following life in this world by precisely the same sufferings. It goes to the length of teaching that a person who kills only an animal, will be born as just such an animal at some point in endless time, and will suffer the same death... The highest reward awaiting the noblest deeds and most complete resignation, which comes also to the woman who in seven successive lives has voluntarily died on the funeral pyre of her husband, and no less to the person whose pure mouth has never uttered a single lie -- such a reward can only be expressed by the myth only negatively in the language of this world, namely by the promise, so often recurring, of not being reborn any more ... or as the Buddhists, admitting neither Vedas nor castes, express it: You shall attain to Nirvana, in other words, to a state or condition in which there are not four things, namely: birth, old age, disease and death. close quotes (The World as Will and Representation, tr. E.F.J.Payne)

As  Schopenhauer explained in the 1859 edition of his magnum opus -- an edition which Wagner had not yet read when he wrote this letter -- he had experienced some difficulty in understanding the difference between metempsychosis (the doctrine taught by the Greeks and also found in Hinduism =Brahminism) and the subtler Buddhist doctrine of palingenesis. (Schopenhauer explained that he had understood more after reading the Manual of Buddhism by Robert Spence Hardy. That Wagner subsequently also read at least part of Spence Hardy's book is suggested by an addition that he made to the second act of Parsifal in 1877). So what Wagner had understood as a beautiful Buddhist doctrine probably was not Buddhist at all, but some version of metempsychosis, the migration of souls, as described above. It is important to remember, when considering the Buddhist ideas that have been identified in Parsifal, that both Schopenhauer and Wagner had an imperfect understanding of Brahmin and Buddhist concepts.


Mathilde Wesendonck and son

Left: Mathilde Wesendonck as sketched by E.B. Kietz in 1856.

It might strike the observant reader as strange that Wagner, when he wrote this letter, was thinking of Lohengrin as the reincarnation of Parsifal, since his Lohengrin speaks of his father as if he were still alive. The most likely explanation is that Wagner was trying to reconcile two different concepts of reincarnation: one of them an imperfectly understood Buddhist/Brahmin doctrine, the other a concept introduced by Schopenhauer. As the philosopher belatedly realised, reincarnation was a logical consequence of his doctrine of the pacification of the will. If the will was not pacified, then suffering would continue; hence his doctrine that suicide, or death in general, was not a way out. Wagner illustrates this doctrine in Parsifal when Amfortas expresses the belief that the prophesied one who will come to end his suffering is death. His desire for death then becomes the cause of the distress and suffering of the community. In Schopenhauer's doctrine of reincarnation, it is the individual will (which is in fact a manifestation of the universal Will) that is passed on from generation to generation. It can be passed on from parent to child, even while the parent is still alive; this aspect of the doctrine clearly is related to the sexual nature of the Will, which causes new generations to be born to suffering. Even if Wagner was aware that the Buddhist doctrine (in which it is a karmic record that is inherited) and the Schopenhauerian doctrine (in which the will of a parent or ancestor is inherited) were incompatible, he was quite capable of believing in two incompatible doctrines at the same time!

Another writer who has examined Wagner's fascination with the concept of reincarnation is Wolfgang Osthoff, the author of the definitive study of Die Sieger. He points out that the original reason for legend on which Wagner's sketch was based, that of showing the Buddha teaching against the tradition of caste, was of little interest to Wagner. Osthoff notes that the story had two other main points, ones that were of interest:

open quotes (1) The redemption of the individual which, arising from a spontaneous emotional crisis and the resulting insight and purification, renounces all natural passion and personal will. This takes place in Prakriti - but "emotional experience" and a "new insight" lead even the Buddha himself to the "final blessedness": through compassion for the woman he fulfils "his saving path through this world for the weal of all creatures".

(2) The long path of individual redemption leading through the suffering of reincarnations, resulting from past faults, to the deliverance in sanctification. The Buddha shows this in the case of Prakriti.

From these features, it is clear that the Buddha's attaining of new insight through compassion (or sympathy) is particularly relevant to Parsifal, who also finds "knowledge through compassion". close quotes

In fact, as I have suggested elsewhere, a comparison between the Buddha's compassion for Prakriti in the last act of Die Sieger and Parsifal's compassion for Kundry in the last act of Parsifal is the key to understanding what happens in the Good Friday meadow. Returning to Wagner's letter to Mathilde, Wagner continues:

open quotes According to the beautiful Buddhist doctrine, the spotless purity of Lohengrin is easily explicable in terms of his being the continuation of Parzifal [sic] - who was the first to strive towards purity. Elsa, similarly, would reach the level of Lohengrin through being reborn. Thus my plan for the Victors struck me as being the concluding section of Lohengrin. Here Savitri (Elsa) entirely reaches the level of Ananda. close quotes (Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, August 1860)

As  if this letter were not obscure enough for modern readers already, Wagner has changed the name of his heroine from Prakriti to Savitri, who was the heroine of a different story entirely. Osthoff comments:

open quotes A reflection of this speculative tracing of a connection from Lohengrin back to The Victors can perhaps be seen in the music of Parsifal. Now Parsifal's entrance is marked by his wanton slaughter of a wild swan ... In musical terms, this report [by the 1st knight] is an episode of almost uncanny peacefulness within the agitated scene. The accompaniment is in the deep woodwind and divisi violas. The scene opens with a drum roll that -- at the entry of the mentioned woodwind -- moves the second kettledrum, which should be muted. Such muting of timpani was in the 18th and early 19th centuries characteristic of funeral music. Wagner certainly knew this tradition... Heinrich Porges, who once again took part in the rehearsals in Bayreuth in 1882, recorded the instruction Wagner gave specifically for the entry of the woodwind and muted kettledrum: The orchestra must be like an invisible soul. close quotes

It is not beyond all possibility that Wagner intended the swan to represent a reincarnation of Parsifal's mother, Herzeleide. Another bird that appears in Siegfried, in a scene that Wagner was scoring during the summer of 1856, might also be interpreted as a reincarnation, in this case of Siegfried's mother, Sieglinde. H.C. Chamberlain, writing in the Bayreuther Blätter in 1933, claimed that Wagner had described the bird as the motherly soul of Sieglinde; and in her book about Wagner's dramas, Judith Gautier wrote: would this not be the soul of his mother?  

One does not have to look to external references in order to find ideas concerning reincarnation in Parsifal. In the first act Gurnemanz thinks aloud: She (Kundry) may be cursed. She lives here now, perhaps reincarnated, to atone for some offence in a former life... (Hier lebt sie heut', vielleicht erneut, zu büssen Schuld aus früh'rem Leben...) In Buddhist and Hindu (Brahmin) belief (and here I hope that Hindus and Buddhists will forgive some simplification of their doctrines) the rebirth of an (apparent) individual depends on actions that were performed in an earlier life. The Sanskrit word for action is karma. It is widely used to mean the consequences of actions (i.e. merit or demerit) and, in Buddhism, an extended concept of cause and effect that is believed to be the fundamental principle of the universe. When he wrote of Elsa achieving the level of Lohengrin, or of Savitri (Prakriti) achieving the level of Ananda (cousin and disciple of the Buddha), beyond any doubt whatsoever he is declaring his belief not only in reincarnation but also in karma, which involves the possibility of gaining or losing merit (purity) through our actions in this life, with consequences for subsequent lives. It should also be noted that Buddhists believe in the possibility of giving away our merit to help other sentient beings.

Parsifal's Purity

When Nietzsche read the text of Parsifal, he interpreted Wagner's references to purity in terms of chastity. The Grail community were pure in the sense that they abstained from sex and all forms of sensuality, and this was the source of their power and strength. By deserting the Grail in the service of love (Minne dienst), Amfortas had lost that protection and therefore he was wounded by the spear when he tried to use it against Klingsor. Nietzsche's reading was understandable but wrong.

When Gutman read the text of Parsifal, he interpreted Wagner's references to purity, following a suggestion by Adorno and notes made by Wagner in 1882, in terms of race. The Grail community were pure in the sense that they had pure blood, untainted by that of inferior races. By his erotic misadventure with the mysterious seductress (Kundry), Amfortas had lost the protection of the Grail etc. Gutman's reading was understandable but wrong.

It is incredible what interpretations can be imposed on Parsifal if one ignores what Wagner actually wrote about it! In this letter to Mathilde, Wagner states clearly and unambiguously that when he refers to the purity of Parsifal, he means the hero's karma (i.e. merit or demerit) acquired in previous lives, when the youth had those many names that he has now forgotten. It is through his merit (purity=karma or more accurately, karmic merit) that Parsifal is able to resist Kundry. It is on account of his merit (purity=karmic merit) that the Spear will not harm him, instead it rests in the air above his head (like the magic weapon did in the account of the life of the Buddha that Wagner, according to Karl Heckel, found in Spence Hardy's Manual of Buddhism). It is by means of his merit that Parsifal is able to find the path of deliverance, at the end of which he achieves total enlightenment (perhaps even becoming a Buddha himself) after which, transferring his superabundance of merit (purity= karmic merit) to Kundry, allows her to achieve Nirvana. Osthoff is surely right when he states: her deliverance [Erlösung] is extinction [=Nirvana] in the Buddhist sense.

Parsifal Act 1, Norwegian Opera Parsifal Act 1 in the Norwegian Opera production. Parsifal: Reiner Goldberg, Gurnemanz: Manfred Schenk. ©Den Norske Opera.

Time and Space

open quotes ... but since time and space are merely our way of perceiving things ... close quotes (Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, August 1860)

Wagner's Parsifal is not a Buddhist drama, even if it makes use of Buddhist ideas. The "religion" of Parsifal, which Wagner referred to as a religion of compassion, is a synthesis of what Wagner saw as the common fundamentals of Buddhism and Christianity, i.e. the teachings of the historical Buddha and those of the historical Jesus, at best imperfectly preserved in the respective scriptures of Buddhism and the Christian Church. In essence, however, Parsifal is a work written under the influence of Schopenhauer, and in particular the ideas that the philosopher had described in On the Basis of Morality. In the appendix to that essay, Schopenhauer explained how his ideas about morality were a consequence of his metaphysics. Although Parsifal is more concerned with Schopenhauer's ethical teaching and less with his metaphysical teachings than is Tristan und Isolde, those metaphysical teachings are relevant to the former because they underpin the ethical teachings that are at its core. Therefore On the Basis of Morality is as important for an understanding of Parsifal as The World as Will and Representation is to both (even if Lucy Beckett might disagree).

These brief notes cannot be expected to review Schopenhauer's metaphysics. The following are the relevant points to this discussion; the reader is recommended to read The World as Will and Representation for the full story. Schopenhauer's starting point is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a philosopher whom Schopenhauer greatly respected. This did not inhibit him from correcting what he regarded as Kant's errors, both in his metaphysical teachings and his ethical teachings. Kant taught that human beings (actually he wrote about "rational beings", for which Schopenhauer -- who had obviously never seen Star Trek -- took Kant to task, saying that the only known rational beings were human, and even some of them were not noticeably rational) interpret the world through sensory phenomena (what our senses tell us about "things in themselves") and interpret this data using mechanisms hard-wired into our brains. These mechanisms (which in Schopenhauer's terms amount to "the world as representation") include a "world-view" that is defined by the a priori institutions of three-dimensional space and the dimension of time, together with some general concepts or "categories". As he developed his critique of Kant, Schopenhauer eventually arrived at a philosophy that was radically different from contemporary western philosophy, while still recognisably Kantian.

In Schopenhauer's development of Kant's ideas, there are no individuals, since the "principle of individuation" is no more that a concept hard-wired into our brains. There are no separate individuals, whether living beings or inanimate objects. Furthermore, events are neither separated in space nor ordered in time, since these dimensions are also no more than a priori fictions that our brains use to interpret sense-data. Developing ethical ideas from these metaphysical ideas, Schopenhauer arrived at the conclusion that what we do to others, we really do to ourselves, since there are no separate individuals. He also concluded that the world is characterised by suffering and that the only escape from suffering is to correct the error of existence. He was delighted to discover that these ideas, which he had developed from western philosophy, had been taught by the Buddha and his followers for more than two millenia. In other words, Schopenhauer's philosophy was a rational basis for something very close to Buddhism.

Thus Wagner, following Schopenhauer and Kant, wrote that time and space are merely our way of perceiving things ... and in his Parsifal he shows what happens when someone receives a flash of enlightenment in which he sees, not the world as representation, but the world as will. In the shock and agitation that he is caused by Kundry's kiss, Parsifal sees beneath what Hindus call the veil of Maya; which was often mentioned by Schopenhauer as a metaphor for the illusions that hide from us the world-as-will:

open quotes The ancient wisdom of the Indians declares that it is Maya, the veil of deception, which covers the eyes of mortals, and causes them to see a world of which one cannot say either that it is or that it is not; for it is like a dream, like the sunshine on the sand which the traveller from a distance takes to be water, or like the piece of rope on the ground that he takes to be a snake. (These similes are repeatedly found in innumerable passages of the Vedas and Puranas.) ... The Vedas and Puranas know no better simile for the whole knowledge of the actual world, called by them the web of Maya, than the dream, and they use none more frequently... The Maya of the Indians, the work and fabric of which are the whole world of illusion, is paraphrased ¹ by amor... close quotes(The World as Will and Representation, tr. E.F.J.Payne)

The illusion or delusion of our way of perceiving things is lifted, momentarily, from Wagner's hero in his first encounter with amor and he perceives that there are in reality no individuals, no separation in space or time. All things interpenetrate.

open quotes He has a presentiment that, however much time and space separate him from other individuals and the innumerable miseries they suffer, indeed suffer through him; however much time and space present these as quite foreign to him, yet in themselves and apart from the representation and its forms, it is the one will-to-live appearing in them all which, failing to recognize itself here, turns its weapons against itself, and, by seeking increased well-being in one of its phenomena, imposes the greatest suffering on another. He dimly sees that he, the bad person, is precisely this whole will; that in consequence he is not only the tormentor but also the tormented, from whose suffering he is separated and kept free only by a delusive dream, whose form is space and time. But this dream vanishes and he sees that in reality he must pay for the pleasure with the pain, and that all suffering which he only knows as possible actually concerns him as the will-to-live, since possibility and actuality, near and remote in time and space, are different only for the knowledge of the individual, only by means of the principium individuationis, and not in themselves. It is this truth which mythically ... is expressed by the transmigration of souls ... close quotes(Ibid)

Now Parsifal knows that he is one with Amfortas, he feels the pain in his own heart, he experiences the temptation and wounding of Amfortas as if it were happening to him here and now, because here is also there, now is also then. This revelation is impossible to describe in words but, as Schopenhauer revealed in The World as Will and Representation, of all the arts, music alone can express the "world-as-will" because it belongs to the "world-as-will". Here we have central ideas of Wagner's Parsifal that are ignored by those who, like Lucy Beckett, deny the influence of Schopenhauer on this most Schopenhauerian of all dramas.

The Beautiful Kundry

open quotes ... the fabulously wild messenger of the Grail is to be one and the same person as the enchantress of the second act. Since this dawned on me, almost everything else about the subject has become clear to me. close quotes (Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, August 1860)

In his book Parzival und der Gral in der Dichtung des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit, Wolfgang Golther attempted to establish what Wagner had written in the lost sketch of early May 1857. He realised that there was a basis for such a reconstruction in Wagner's letters to Mathilde. This letter of August 1860 tells us something of particular importance, namely, that in Wagner's original (1857) conception, Kundry did not appear in the second act. In other words, originally, the maiden whose kiss provoked in Parsifal his first taste of enlightenment was not Kundry. In a stroke of genius, now Wagner made the nameless maiden into a transformed Kundry, so that she became not only the source of the compassion that would enable his final enlightenment (exactly parallel to what happened to the Buddha Shakyamuni in the last act of Die Sieger) but also the source of his first taste of enlightenment.

Waltraud Meier

Left: Waltraud Meier as Kundry, Bayreuth 1989.

Where did Wagner get this idea? In his autobiography Wagner relates that on that spring morning in 1857, when he conceived his Parsifal, he had not looked at Wolfram's poem Parzival for twelve years. It was only after he had told Mathilde about his ideas, indeed after the crisis which forced him to relocate to Venice, that she found a new edition of Parzival and sent it to him. This enabled Wagner to refresh his acquaintance with the medieval romance. He would have found, among other details that are easily missed on a first reading, that there were two Condries. One of them was the hideous messenger of the Grail, a heathen sorceress (originally from India) and the other was "Condrie la Belle", sister of Gawain, who was one of the women imprisoned in Clinschor's magic castle. It is highly probable that this gave Wagner the idea of making his Kundry a double character, who appears in the domain of the Grail as the messenger but in the magic castle as a "fearfully beautiful" maiden. This maiden was originally the nameless princess who attempted to seduce Josaphat in another medieval poem, a key source that Weston, Beckett and other commentators have completely ignored.

Kundry's Restlessness

open quotes This woman suffers unspeakable restlessness and excitement; the old esquire had noticed this on previous occasions, each time that she had shortly afterwards disappeared. close quotes (Richard Wagner to Mathilde Wesendonck, August 1860)

Once we realise that, in the 1857 conception of Parsifal, Kundry did not appear in the second act, then almost everything else about the subject becomes clear. In the original, therefore, Kundry appeared in the first act, when she suffered from unspeakable restlessness and excitement, and again in the third act, where as Gurnemanz remarks she is changed, peaceful, almost silent. What Wagner intended to show here, beyond any doubt, is the denial of the will. Amfortas' wound is a symbol of sickness in general, and his suffering (for which Kundry strives to find a cure) represents universal suffering. This is a central idea of Schopenhauer's philosophy: the world is characterised by suffering, the only cure for suffering is to end existence, but the only way to end existence (presupposing that there is such a thing as reincarnation, the wheel of samsara, the cycle of death and rebirth) is not death, as Amfortas wrongly believes, but through the denial of the will to live. Eventually Kundry finds her escape by denying the will to live, which only becomes possible for her after Parsifal has freed her (and himself) from the illusions of Klingsor's garden, i.e. the world as representation.

In this note on Wagner's letter to Mathilde of August 1860 I have tried to show how important aspects of the work, ones that must be taken into account in any interpretation, have been overlooked by some earlier commentators such as Weston, only partially understood by other commentators such as Golther, and ignored by more recent commentators, notably Gutman and Beckett. A rejection of their respective interpretations, which inform many current productions of Wagner's Parsifal, and attention to what Wagner wrote to his beloved Mathilde, might allow audiences to discover Parsifal anew.

Footnote 1: In the Oupnekhat, a version of the Upanishads translated by Anquetil Duperron from Persian into Latin. Schopenhauer fell in love with this book in the winter of 1813-14 and for the remainder of his life read a few lines from it every night. It was partly through his first reading of the Oupnekhat that he discovered that some of the ideas that he had described in his first philosophical treatise, The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, were similar to doctrines of Hinduism and Buddhism. In his later writings, Schopenhauer would illustrate his philosophical system with examples and parallels not only from classical philosophy and literature but also from such books of oriental scripture and pious legend as had become available in European languages. When he came under the influence of Schopenhauer, Wagner acquired and studied many of these books that the philosopher recommended, naturally including the Oupnekhat.The Upanishads are part of the ancient Indian scriptures called the vedas. Much of Vedic scripture, like the scriptures of other religions, consists of hymns and chants, rules and regulations; but the Upanishads belong to another part of the Vedas, their books of knowledge and wisdom. The older and canonical Upanishads are thirteen books that were written between 900 and 600 BCE. Since they are the concluding parts of each of the Vedas, these books are also known as Vedânta, or the end of the Vedas. Their primary concern is with the knowledge of the ultimate reality and of man's relationship with it.
--
Here is an interesting article about Schopenhauer and Buddhism. It does not, however, address the philosopher's understanding of Vedânta as mediated by the Oupnekhat, which is basically a translation of the Upanishads with a Buddhist gloss.

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