Everything is Flux and all is One: The Philosophies of Heraclitus and Parmenides

Around the same time that Buddha was travelling through India and devising his philosophy of the “middle way” and Lao Tzu was theorizing about the Tao, the early Greek philosophers Heraclitus and Parmenides were unpacking philosophies which shared many similarities with these eastern ideas.

What is Heraclitus’ Theory?

While other Greek philosophers of this time were seeking to uncover scientific explanations for the physical nature of the cosmos, Heraclitus saw the whole universe as being governed by divine logos; a type of religious reason or argument. The logos is much like the Buddhist idea of dharma and the Taoist idea of the tao. It is the cosmic flow of the universe; the cosmic force by which all the physical elements of the universe are held together in a state of balance.

Heraclitus theorized that unity in the universe could be achieved by balancing opposites. He famously stated, “The road up and the road down are one and the same.” He argued that tension was also generated between opposites, much like the forces of attraction between magnets of opposite charges. He concluded that the universe must always be in a state of flux.

To illustrate his theory, Heraclitus uses the image of river, “You can never step into the same river twice.” This was a radically different view of the world from his contemporaries; a school of philosophers referred to as the Milesians, who defined all things by their essentially unchanging nature. This was a view of the universe which was static and reductive. Like his Eastern counterparts, Heraclitus saw the universe as a dynamic whole whose vital energy was produced by the interplay of opposites.

Everything must exist and fundamental change is impossible

Heraclitus’ ideas were taken up by another Greek philosopher, Parmenides. Also influenced by Pythagoras’s process of deduction, Parmenides employed the following steps in his reasoning: From the premise that something exists, it is impossible for that something not to exist, as that would be a contradiction. From this it follows that a state of not existing is impossible and so everything must always have existed in some form. This permanent form cannot change because something that is permanent cannot turn into something else without ceasing to be permanent. Therefore, fundamental change is impossible. From this, Parmenides concluded that everything that is real must be eternal, unchanging and have an indivisible unity – “all is one”.

Eastern traditions have been inclusive of both these views in seeing the external world as conceived within the vital energy which exists between opposites. This is the realm of Shakti and is just as relevant and real to the human experience as the realm of Shiva. This is where we begin to integrate these opposites; where it is possible to experience a state of absolute consciousness or oneness. This is the experience of the internal. We are constantly involved in this process of integration and disintegration as we move to develop our consciousness. We cannot deny either of these aspects of our being as they compose the vital synergy that makes up the human experience and our process of evolution.

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