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object:3.6.01 - Heraclitus
book class:Essays In Philosophy And Yoga
author class:Sri Aurobindo
class:chapter



Heraclitus

Heraclitus

T

HE PHILOSOPHY and thought of the Greeks is perhaps
the most intellectually stimulating, the most fruitful of
clarities the world has yet had. Indian philosophy was intuitive in its beginnings, stimulative rather to the deeper vision of
things, - nothing more exalted and profound, more revelatory
of the depths and the heights, more powerful to open unending vistas has ever been conceived than the divine and inspired
Word, the mantra of Veda and Vedanta. When that philosophy
became intellectual, precise, founded on the human reason, it
became also rigidly logical, enamoured of fixity and system,
desirous of a sort of geometry of thought. The ancient Greek
mind had instead a kind of fluid precision, a flexibly inquiring
logic; acuteness and the wide-open eye of the intellect were its
leading characteristics and by this power in it it determined
the whole character and field of subsequent European thinking.
Nor is any Greek thinker more directly stimulating than the
aphoristic philosopher Heraclitus; and yet he keeps and adds
to this more modern intellectual stimulativeness something of
the antique psychic and intuitive vision and word of the older
Mystics. The trend to rationalism is there, but not yet that fluid
clarity of the reasoning mind which was the creation of the
Sophists.
Professor R. D. Ranade has recently published a small treatise on the philosophy of Heraclitus. From the paging of the
treatise it seems to be an excerpt, but from what there is nothing
to tell. It is perhaps too much to hope that it is from a series of
essays on philosophers or a history of philosophy by this perfect
writer and scholar. At any rate such a work from such a hand
would be a priceless gain. For Professor Ranade possesses in a
superlative degree the rare gift of easy and yet adequate exposition; but he has more than this, for he can give a fascinating

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interest to subjects like philology and philosophy which to the
ordinary reader seem harsh, dry, difficult and repellent. He joins
to a luminous clarity, lucidity and charm of expression an equal
luminousness and just clarity of presentation and that perfect
manner in both native to the Greek and French language and
mind, but rare in the English tongue. In these seventeen pages he
has presented the thought of the old enigmatic Ephesian with a
clearness and sufficiency which leaves us charmed, enlightened
and satisfied.
On one or two difficult points I am inclined to differ with
the conclusions he adopts. He rejects positively Pfleiderer's view
of Heraclitus as a mystic, which is certainly exaggerated and, as
stated, a misconception; but it seems to me that there is behind
that misconception a certain truth. Heraclitus' abuse of the mysteries of his time is not very conclusive in this respect; for what he
reviles is those aspects of obscure magic, physical ecstasy, sensual
excitement which the Mysteries had put on in some at least of
their final developments as the process of degeneration increased
which made a century later even the Eleusinian a butt for the
dangerous mockeries of Alcibiades and his companions. His
complaint is that the secret rites which the populace held in ignorant and superstitious reverence "unholily mysticise what are
held among men as mysteries." He rebels against the darkness of
the Dionysian ecstasy in the approach to the secrets of Nature;
but there is a luminous Apollonian as well as an obscure and
sometimes dangerous Dionysian mysticism, a Dakshina as well
as a Vama Marga of the mystic Tantra. And though no partaker
in or supporter of any kind of rites or mummery, Heraclitus still
strikes one as at least an intellectual child of the Mystics and
of mysticism, although perhaps a rebel son in the house of his
mother. He has something of the mystic style, something of the
intuitive Apollonian inlook into the secrets of existence.
Certainly, as Mr. Ranade says, mere aphorism is not mysticism; aphorism and epigram are often enough, perhaps usually
a condensed or a pregnant effort of the intellect. But Heraclitus'
style, as Mr. Ranade himself describes it, is not only aphoristic
and epigrammatic but cryptic, and this cryptic character is not

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merely the self-willed obscurity of an intellectual thinker affecting an excessive condensation of his thought or a too closelypacked burden of suggestiveness. It is enigmatic in the style of
the mystics, enigmatic in the manner of their thought which
sought to express the riddle of existence in the very language of
the riddle. What for instance is the "ever-living Fire" in which
he finds the primary and imperishable substance of the universe
and identifies it in succession with Zeus and with eternity? or
what should we understand by "the thunderbolt which steers
all things"? To interpret this fire as merely a material force of
heat and flame or simply a metaphor for being which is eternal
becoming is, it seems to me, to miss the character of Heraclitus' utterances. It includes both these ideas and everything
that connects them. But then we get back at once to the Vedic
language and turn of thought; we are reminded of the Vedic
Fire which is hymned as the upbuilder of the worlds, the secret
Immortal in men and things, the periphery of the gods, Agni who
"becomes" all around the other immortals, himself becomes and
contains all the gods; we are reminded of the Vedic thunderbolt,
that electric Fire, of the Sun who is the true Light, the Eye, the
wonderful weapon of the divine pathfinders Mitra and Varuna.
It is the same cryptic form of language, the same brief and abundant method of thought even; though the conceptions are not
identical, there is a clear kinship.
The mystical language has always this disadvantage that
it readily becomes obscure, meaningless or even misleading
to those who have not the secret and to posterity a riddle.
Mr. Ranade tells us that it is impossible to make out what
Heraclitus meant when he said, "The gods are mortals, men
immortals." But is it quite impossible if we do not cut off
this thinker from the earlier thought of the mystics? The Vedic
Rishi also invokes the Dawn, "O goddess and human"; the
gods in the Veda are constantly addressed as "men", the same
words are traditionally applied to indicate men and immortals.
The immanence of the immortal principle in man, the descent
of the gods into the workings of mortality was almost the
fundamental idea of the mystics. Heraclitus, likewise, seems to

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recognise the inextricable unity of the eternal and the transitory,
that which is for ever and yet seems to exist only in this strife
and change which is a continual dying. The gods manifest
themselves as things that continually change and perish; man
is in principle an eternal being. Heraclitus does not really deal
in barren antitheses; his method is a statement of antinomies
and an adumbrating of their reconciliation in the very terms
of opposition. Thus when he says that the name of the bow
(bios) is life (bos), but its work is death, obviously he intends no mere barren play upon words; he speaks of that
principle of war, father of all and king of all, which makes
cosmic existence an apparent process of life, but an actual
process of death. The Upanishads seized hold of the same truth
when they declared life to be the dominion of King Death,
described it as the opposite of immortality and even related
that all life and existence here were first created by Death for
his food.
Unless we bear in mind this pregnant and symbolic character
of Heraclitus' language we are likely to sterilise his thought
by giving it a too literal sense. Heraclitus praises the "dry
soul" as the wisest and best, but, he says, it is a pleasure and
satisfaction to souls to become moist. This inclination of the
soul to its natural delight in a sort of wine-drenched laxity
must be discouraged; for Dionysus the wine-god and Hades,
the Lord of Death, the Lord of the dark underworld, are one
and the same deity. Professor Ranade takes this eulogy of
the dry soul as praise of the dry light of reason; he finds in
it a proof that Heraclitus was a rationalist and not a mystic: yet strangely enough he takes the parallel and opposite
expressions about the moist soul and Dionysus in a quite
different and material sense, as an ethical disapprobation of
wine-drinking. Surely, it cannot be so; Heraclitus cannot mean
by the dry soul the reason of a sober man and by a moist
soul the non-reason or bewildered reason of the drunkard;
nor when he says that Hades and Dionysus are the same,
is he simply discouraging the drinking of wine as fatal to
the health! Evidently he employs here, as always, a figurative

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and symbolic language because he has to convey a deeper
thought for which he finds ordinary language too poor and
superficial.
Heraclitus is using the old language of the Mysteries, though
in his own new way and for his own individual purpose, when
he speaks of Hades and Dionysus and the everliving Fire or of
the Furies, the succourers of Justice who will find out the Sun if
he oversteps his measure. We miss his sense, if we see in these
names of the gods only the poorer superficial meanings of the
popular mythological religion. When Heraclitus speaks of the
dry or the moist soul, it is of the soul and not the intellect that
he is thinking, psuche and not nous. Psuche corresponds roughly
to the cetas or citta of Indian psychology, nous to buddhi; the
dry soul of the Greek thinker to the purified heart-consciousness,
suddha citta, of the Indian psychologists, which in their experience was the first basis for a purified intellect, visuddha buddhi.
The moist soul is that which allows itself to be perturbed by the
impure wine of sense ecstasy, emotional excitement, an obscure
impulse and inspiration whose source is from a dark underworld. Dionysus is the god of this wine-born ecstasy, the god
of the Bacchic mysteries, - of the "walkers in the night, mages,
bacchanals, mystics": therefore Heraclitus says that Dionysus
and Hades are one. In an opposite sense the ecstatic devotee of
the Bhakti path in India reproaches the exclusive seeker by the
way of thought-discernment with his "dry knowledge", using
Heraclitus' epithet, but with a pejorative and not a laudatory
significance.
To ignore the influence of the mystic thought and its methods of self-expression on the intellectual thinking of the Greeks
from Pythagoras to Plato is to falsify the historical procession
of the human mind. It was enveloped at first in the symbolic, intuitive, esoteric style and discipline of the Mystics, - Vedic and
Vedantic seers, Orphic secret teachers, Egyptian priests. From
that veil it emerged along the path of a metaphysical philosophy
still related to the Mystics by the source of its fundamental ideas,
its first aphoristic and cryptic style, its attempt to seize directly
upon truth by intellectual vision rather than arrive at it by careful

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ratiocination, but nevertheless intellectual in its method and aim.
This is the first period of the Darshanas in India, in Greece of
the early intellectual thinkers. Afterwards came the full tide of
philosophic rationalism, Buddha or the Buddhists and the logical
philosophers in India, in Greece the Sophists and Socrates with
all their splendid progeny; with them the intellectual method
did not indeed begin, but came to its own and grew to its fullness. Heraclitus belongs to the transition, not to the noontide
of the reason; he is even its most characteristic representative.
Hence his cryptic style, hence his brief and burdened thought
and the difficulty we feel when we try to clarify and entirely
rationalise his significances. The ignoring of the Mystics, our
pristine fathers, purve pitarah., is the great defect of the modern
account of our thought-evolution.

Heraclitus - 2

W

HAT PRECISELY is the key-note of Heraclitus' thinking, where has he found his starting-point, or what are
the grand lines of his philosophy? For if his thought is
not developed in the severe systematic method of later thinkers,
if it does not come down to us in large streams of subtle reasoning and opulent imagery like Plato's but in detached aphoristic
sentences aimed like arrows at truth, still they are not really
scattered philosophical reflections. There is an inter-relation, an
inter-dependence; they all start logically from his fundamental view of existence itself and go back to it for their constant
justification.
As in Indian, so in Greek philosophy the first question for
thought was the problem of the One and the Many. We see
everywhere a multiplicity of things and beings; is it real or only
phenomenal or practical, maya, vyavahara? Has individual man,
for instance, - the question which concerns us most nearly, -
an essential and immortal existence of his own or is he simply
a phenomenal and transient result in the evolution or play of
some one original principle, Matter, Mind, Spirit, which is the
only real reality of existence? Does unity exist at all and, if so,
is it a unity of sum or of primordial principle, a result or an
origin, a oneness of totality or a oneness of nature or a oneness
of essence, - the various standpoints of Pluralism, of Sankhya,
of Vedanta? Or if both the One and the Many are real, what
are the relations between these two eternal principles of being,
or are they reconciled in an Absolute beyond them? These are
no barren questions of logic, no battle of cloudy metaphysical
abstractions, as the practical and sensational man would have
us contemptuously believe; for on our answer to them depends
our conception of God, of existence, of the world and of human
life and destiny.

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Heraclitus, differing in this, as Mr. Ranade reminds us, from
Anaximander who like our Mayavadins denied true reality to
the Many and from Empedocles who thought the All to be
alternately one and many, believed unity and multiplicity to be
both of them real and coexistent. Existence is then eternally one
and eternally many, - even as Ramanuja and Madhwa have
concluded, though in a very different spirit and from a quite
different standpoint. Heraclitus' view arose from his strong concrete intuition of things, his acute sense of universal realities;
for in our experience of the cosmos we do find always and
inseparably this eternal coexistence and cannot really escape
from it. Everywhere our gaze on the Many reveals to us an
eternal oneness, no matter what we fix on as the principle of
that oneness; yet is that unity inoperative except by the multiplicity of its powers and forms, nor do we anywhere see it void
of or apart from its own multiplicity. One Matter, but many
atoms, plasms, bodies; one Energy, but many forces; one Mind
or at least Mind-stuff, but many mental beings; one Spirit, but
many souls. Perhaps periodically this multiplicity goes back,
is dissolved into, is swallowed up by the One from which it
was originally evolved; but still the fact that it has evolved
and got involved again, compels us to suppose a possibility
and even a necessity of its renewed evolution: it is not then
really destroyed. The Adwaitin by his Yoga goes back to the
One, feels himself merged, believes that he has got rid of the
Many, proved perhaps their unreality; but it is the achievement of an individual, of one of the Many, and the Many go
on existing in spite of it. The achievement proves only that
there is a plane of consciousness on which the soul can realise and not merely perceive by the intellect the oneness of
the Spirit, and it proves nothing else. Therefore, on this truth
of eternal oneness and eternal multiplicity Heraclitus fixes and
anchors himself; from his firm acceptance of it, not reasoning
it away but accepting all its consequences, flows all the rest of
his philosophy.
Still, one question remains to be resolved before we can
move a step farther. Since there is an eternal One, what is that?

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Is it Force, Mind, Matter, Soul? or, since Matter has many principles, is it some one principle of Matter which has evolved all
the rest or which by some power of its own activity has changed
into all that we see? The old Greek thinkers conceived of cosmic
Substance as possessed of four elements, omitting or not having
arrived at the fifth, Ether, in which Indian analysis found the
first and original principle. In seeking the nature of the original
substance they fixed then on one or other of these four as the
primordial Nature, one finding it in Air, another in Water, while
Heraclitus, as we have seen, describes or symbolises the source
and reality of all things as an everliving Fire. "No man or god"
he says "has created the universe, but ever there was and is and
will be the everliving Fire."
In the Veda, in the early language of the Mystics generally,
the names of the elements or primary principles of Substance
were used with a clearly symbolic significance. The symbol of
water is thus used constantly in the Rig Veda. It is said that
in the beginning was the inconscient Ocean out of which the
One was born by the vastness of His energy; but it is clear from
the language of the hymn that no physical ocean is meant, but
rather the unformed chaos of inconscient being in which the
Divine, the Godhead lay concealed in a darkness enveloped by
greater darkness. The seven active principles of existence are
similarly spoken of as rivers or waters; we hear of the seven
rivers, the great water, the four superior rivers, in a context
which shows their symbolic significance. We see this image fixed
in the Puranic mythus of Vishnu sleeping on the serpent Infinite
in the milky ocean. But even as early as the Rig Veda, ether is
the highest symbol of the Infinite, the apeiron of the Greeks;
water is that of the same Infinite in its aspect as the original
substance; fire is the creative power, the active energy of the
Infinite; air, the life-principle, is spoken of as that which brings
down fire out of the ethereal heavens into the earth. Yet these
were not merely symbols. The Vedic Mystics held, it is clear,
a close connection and effective parallelism to exist between
psychical and physical activities, between the action of Light,
for instance, and the phenomena of mental illumination; fire

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was to them at once the luminous divine energy, the Seer-Will
of the universal Godhead active and creative of all things, and
the physical principle creative of the substantial forms of the
universe, burning secretly in all life.
It is doubtful how far the earlier Greek philosophic thinkers
preserved any of these complex conceptions in their generalisations about the original principle. But Heraclitus has clearly
an idea of something more than a physical substance or energy
in his concept of the everliving Fire. Fire is to him the physical
aspect, as it were, of a great burning creative, formative and
destructive force, the sum of all whose processes is a constant
and unceasing change. The idea of the One which is eternally
becoming Many and the Many which is eternally becoming One
and of that One therefore not so much as stable substance or
essence as active Force, a sort of substantial Will-to-become, is
the foundation of Heraclitus' philosophy.
Nietzsche, whom Mr. Ranade rightly affiliates to Heraclitus,
Nietzsche, the most vivid, concrete and suggestive of modern
thinkers, as is Heraclitus among the early Greeks, founded his
whole philosophical thought on this conception of existence as
a vast Will-to-become and of the world as a play of Force; divine
Power was to him the creative Word, the beginning of all things
and that to which life aspires. But he affirms Becoming only and
excludes Being from his view of things; hence his philosophy
is in the end unsatisfactory, insufficient, lop-sided; it stimulates,
but solves nothing. Heraclitus does not exclude Being from the
data of the problem of existence, although he will not make
any opposition or gulf between that and Becoming. By his conception of existence as at once one and many, he is bound to
accept these two aspects of his everliving Fire as simultaneously
true, true in each other; Being is an eternal becoming and yet
the Becoming resolves itself into eternal being. All is in flux, for
all is change of becoming; we cannot step into the same waters
twice, for it is other and yet other waters that are flowing on.
And yet, with his keen eye on the truth of things, preoccupied
though he was with this aspect of existence, he could not help
seeing another truth behind it. The waters into which we step,

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are and are not the same; our own existence is an eternity and
an inconstant transience; we are and we are not. Heraclitus does
not solve the contradiction; he states it and in his own way tries
to give some account of its process.
That process he sees as a constant change and a changing
back, an exchange and an interchange in a constant whole, -
managed for the rest by a clash of forces, by a creative and
determinative strife, "war which is the father and king of all
things." Between Fire as the Being and Fire in the Becoming existence describes a downward and upward movement - pravr.tti
and nivr.tti - which has been called the "back-returning road"
upon which all travels. These are the master ideas of the thought
of Heraclitus.

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T

WO APOPHTHEGMS of Heraclitus give us the startingpoint of his whole thinking. They are his saying that it
is wisdom to admit that all things are one and his other
saying "One out of all and all out of One." How are we to
understand these two pregnant utterances? Must we read them
into each other and conclude that for Heraclitus the One only
exists as resultant of the many even as the many only exist as
a becoming of the One? Mr. Ranade seems to think so; he tells
us that this philosophy denies Being and affirms only Becoming,
- like Nietzsche, like the Buddhists. But surely this is to read
a little too much into Heraclitus' theory of perpetual change,
to take it too much by itself. If that was his whole belief, it is
difficult to see why he should seek for an original and eternal
principle, the everliving Fire which creates all by its perpetual
changing, governs all by its fiery force of the "thunderbolt",
resolves all back into itself by a cyclic conflagration, difficult
to account for his theory of the upward and downward way,
difficult to concede what Mr. Ranade contends, that Heraclitus
did hold the theory of a cosmic conflagration or to imagine what
could be the result of such a cosmic catastrophe. To reduce all
becoming into Nothing? Surely not; Heraclitus' thought is at
the very antipodes from speculative Nihilism. Into another kind
of becoming? Obviously not, since by an absolute conflagration
existing things can only be reduced into their eternal principle
of being, into Agni, back into the immortal Fire. Something
that is eternal, that is itself eternity, something that is for ever
one, - for the cosmos is eternally one and many and does not
by becoming cease to be one, - something that is God (Zeus),
something that can be imaged as Fire which, if an ever-active
force, is yet a substance or at least a substantial force and not
merely an abstract Will-to-become, - something out of which

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all cosmic becoming arises and into which it returns, what is this
but eternal Being?
Heraclitus was greatly preoccupied with his idea of eternal
becoming, for him the one right account of the cosmos, but his
cosmos has still an eternal basis, a unique original principle.
That distinguishes his thought radically from Nietzsche's or the
Buddhists'. The later Greeks derived from him the idea of the
perpetual stream of things, "All things are in flux." The idea
of the universe as constant motion and unceasing change was
always before him, and yet behind and in it all he saw too
a constant principle of determination and even a mysterious
principle of identity. Every day, he says, it is a new sun that
rises; yes, but if the sun is always new, exists only by change
from moment to moment, like all things in Nature, still it is the
same everliving Fire that rises with each Dawn in the shape of
the sun. We can never step again into the same stream, for ever
other and other waters are flowing; and yet, says Heraclitus, "we
do and we do not enter into the same waters, we are and we
are not." The sense is clear; there is an identity in things, in all
existences, sarvabhutani, as well as a constant changing; there
is a Being as well as a Becoming and by that we have an eternal
and real existence as well as a temporary and apparent, are not
merely a constant mutation but a constant identical existence.
Zeus exists, a sempiternal active Fire and eternal Word, a One
by which all things are unified, all laws and results perpetually
determined, all measures unalterably maintained. Day and Night
are one, Death and Life are one, Youth and Age are one, Good
and Evil are one, because that is One and all these are only its
various shapes and appearances.
Heraclitus would not have accepted a purely psychological
principle of Self as the origin of things, but in essence he is
not very far from the Vedantic position. The Buddhists of the
Nihilistic school used in their own way the image of the stream
and the image of the fire. They saw, as Heraclitus saw, that
nothing in the world is for two moments the same even in the
most insistent continuity of forms. The flame maintains itself
unchanged in appearance, but every moment it is another and

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not the same fire; the stream is sustained in its flow by ever
new waters. From this they drew the conclusion that there is no
essence of things, nothing self-existent; the apparent becoming is
all that we can call existence, behind it there is eternal Nothing,
the absolute Void, or perhaps an original Non-Being. Heraclitus
saw, on the contrary, that if the form of the flame only exists by
a constant change, a constant exchange rather of the substance
of the wick into the substance of the fiery tongue, yet there
must be a principle of their existence common to them which
thus converts itself from one form into another; - even if the
substance of the flame is always changing, the principle of Fire is
always the same and produces always the same results of energy,
maintains always the same measures.
The Upanishad too describes the cosmos as a universal motion and becoming; it is all this that is mobile in the mobility,
jagatyam jagat, - the very word for universe, jagat, having the
radical sense of motion, so that the whole universe, the macrocosm, is one vast principle of motion and therefore of change
and instability, while each thing in the universe is in itself a microcosm of the same motion and instability. Existences are "all
becomings"; the Self-existent Atman, Swayambhu, has become
all becomings, atma eva abhut sarvan.i bhutani. The relation
between God and World is summed up in the phrase, "It is He
that has moved out everywhere, sa paryagat"; He is the Lord,
the Seer and Thinker, who becoming everywhere - Heraclitus'
Logos, his Zeus, his One out of which come all things - "has
fixed all things rightly according to their nature from years sempiternal", - Heraclitus' "All things are fixed and determined."
Substitute his Fire for the Vedantic Atman and there is nothing
in the expressions of the Upanishad which the Greek thinker
would not have accepted as another figure of his own thought.
And do not the Upanishads use among other images this very
symbol of the Fire? "As one Fire has entered into the world and
taken shapes according to the various forms in the world," so
the one Being has become all these names and forms and yet
remains the One. Heraclitus tells us precisely the same thing;
God is all contraries, "He takes various shapes just as fire, when

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it is mingled with spices, is named according to the savour of
each." Each one names Him according to his pleasure, says the
Greek seer, and He accepts all names and yet accepts none, not
even the highest name of Zeus. "He consents and yet at the
same time does not consent to be called by the name of Zeus."
So too said Indian Dirghatamas of old in his long hymn of the
divine Mysteries in the Rig Veda, "One existent the sages call
by many names." Though He assumes all these forms, says the
Upanishad, He has no form that the vision can seize, He whose
name is a mighty splendour. We see again how close are the
thoughts of the Greek and very often even his expressions and
images to the sense and style of the Vedic and Vedantic sages.
We must put each of Heraclitus' apophthegms into its right
place if we would understand his thought. "It is wise to admit
that all things are one," - not merely, be it noted, that they came
from oneness and will go back to oneness, but that they are one,
now and always, - all is, was and ever will be the everliving Fire.
All seems to our experience to be many, an eternal becoming of
manifold existences; where is there in it any principle of eternal
identity? True, says Heraclitus, so it seems; but wisdom looks
beyond and does see the identity of all things; Night and Day,
Life and Death, the good and the evil, all are one, the eternal,
the identical; those who see only a difference in objects, do not
know the truth of the objects they observe. "Hesiod did not
know day and night; for it is the One," - esti gar hen, asti
hi ekam. Now, an eternal and identical which all things are, is
precisely what we mean by Being; it is precisely what is denied by
those who see only Becoming. The Nihilistic Buddhists1 insisted
that there were only so many ideas, vijnanani, and impermanent
forms which were but the combination of parts and elements:
no oneness, no identity anywhere; get beyond ideas and forms,
you get to self-extinction, to the Void, to Nothing. Yet one must
posit a principle of unity somewhere, if not at the base or in
the secret being of things, yet in their action. The Buddhists had
1
Buddha himself remained silent on this question; his goal of Nirvana was a negation
of phenomenal existence, but not necessarily a denial of any kind of existence.

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to posit their universal principle of Karma which, when you
think of it, comes after all to a universal energy as the cause
of the world, a creator and preserver of unchanging measures.
Nietzsche denied Being, but had to speak of a universal Will-tobe; which again, when you come to think of it, seems to be no
more than a translation of the Upanishadic tapo brahma, "WillEnergy is Brahman." The later Sankhya denied the unity of
conscious existences, but asserted the unity of Nature, Prakriti,
which is again at once the original principle and substance of
things and the creative energy, the phusis of the Greeks. It is
indeed wise to agree that all things are one; for vision drives at
that, the soul and the heart reach out to that, thought comes
circling round to it in the very act of denial.
Heraclitus saw what all must see who look at the world
with any attention, that there is something in all this motion
and change and differentiation which insists on stability, which
goes back to sameness, which assures unity, which triumphs into
eternity. It has always the same measures; it is, was and ever will
be. We are the same in spite of all our differences; we start
from the same origin, proceed by the same universal laws, live,
differ and strive in the bosom of an eternal oneness, are seeking
always for that which binds all beings together and makes all
things one. Each sees it in his own way, lays stress on this or that
aspect of it, loses sight of or diminishes other aspects, gives it
therefore a different name - even as Heraclitus, attracted by its
aspect of creative and destructive Force, gave it the name of Fire.
But when he generalises, he puts it widely enough; it is the One
that is All, it is the All that is One, - Zeus, eternity, the Fire. He
could have said with the Upanishad, "All this is the Brahman",
sarvam khalu idam brahma, though he could not have gone on
and said, "This Self is the Brahman", but would have declared
rather of Agni what a Vedantic formula says of Vayu, tvam
pratyaks.am brahmasi, "Thou art manifest Brahman."
But we may admit the One in different ways. The Adwaitins
affirmed the One, the Being, but put away "all things" as Maya,
or they recognised the immanence of the Being in these becomings which are yet not-Self, not That. Vaishnava philosophy saw

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existence as eternally one in the Being, God, eternally many by
His nature or conscious-energy in the souls whom He becomes
or who exist in her. In Greece also Anaximander denied the
multiple reality of the Becoming. Empedocles affirmed that the
All is eternally one and many; all is one which becomes many
and then again goes back to oneness. But Heraclitus will not so
cut the knot of the riddle. "No," he says in effect, "I hold to my
idea of the eternal oneness of all things; never do they cease to
be one. It is all my everliving Fire that takes various shapes and
names, changes itself into all that is and yet remains itself, not at
all by any illusion or mere appearance of becoming, but with a
severe and positive reality." All things then are in their reality and
substance and law and reason of their being the One; the One in
its shapes, values, changings becomes really all things. It changes
and is yet immutable: for it does not increase or diminish, nor
does it lose for a moment its eternal nature and identity which is
that of the everliving Fire. Many values which reduce themselves
to the same standard and judge of all values; many forces which
go back to the same unalterable energy; many becomings which
both represent and amount to one identical Being.
Here Heraclitus brings in his formula of "One out of all
and all out of One", which is his account of the process of the
cosmos just as his formula "All things are one" is his account of
the eternal truth of the cosmos. One, he says, in the process of the
cosmos is always becoming all things from moment to moment,
hence the eternal flux of things; but all things also are eternally
going back to their principle of oneness; hence the unity of the
cosmos, the sameness behind the flux of becoming, the stability
of measures, the conservation of energy in all changes. This he
explains farther by his theory of change as in its character a
constant exchange. But is there then no end to this simultaneous
upward and downward motion of things? As the downward has
so far prevailed as to create the cosmos, will not the upward too
prevail so as to dissolve it back into the everliving Fire? Here we
come to the question whether Heraclitus did or did not hold the
theory of a periodic conflagration or pralaya. "Fire will come on
all things and judge and convict them." If he held it, then we have

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again another striking coincidence of Heraclitus' thought with
our familiar Indian notions, the periodic pralaya, the Puranic
conflagration of the world by the appearance of the twelve suns,
the Vedantic theory of the eternal cycles of manifestation and
withdrawal from manifestation. In fact, both the lines of thought
are essentially the same and had to arrive inevitably at the same
conclusions.

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H

ERACLITUS' account of the cosmos is an evolution and
involution out of his one eternal principle of Fire, - at
once the one substance and the one force, - which he
expresses in his figurative language as the upward and downward road. "The road up and down" he says "is one and the
same." Out of Fire, the radiant and energetic principle, air,
water and earth proceed, - that is the procession of energy
on its downward road; there is equally in the very tension of
this process a force of potential return which would lead things
backward to their source in the reverse order. In the balance
of these two upward and downward forces resides the whole
cosmic action; everything is a poise of contrary energies. The
movement of life is like the back-returning of the bow, to which
he compares it, an energy of traction and tension restraining
an energy of release, every force of action compensated by a
corresponding force of reaction. By the resistance of one to the
other all the harmonies of existence are created.
We have the same idea of an evolution of successive conditions of energy out of a primal substance-force in the Indian
theory of Sankhya. There indeed the system proposed is more
complete and satisfying. It starts with the original or root energy,
mula prakr.ti, which as the first substance, pradhana, evolves by
development and change into five successive principles. Ether,
not fire, is the first principle, ignored by the Greeks, but rediscovered by modern Science;1 there follow air, fire, the igneous,
radiant and electric energy, water, earth, the fluid and solid. The
Sankhya, like Anaximenes, puts Air first of the four principles
admitted by the Greeks, though it does not like him make it
the original substance, and it thus differs from the order of
1

Now again rejected, though that does not seem to be indubitable or final.

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Heraclitus. But it gives to the principle of fire the function of
creating all forms, - as Agni in the Veda is the great builder of
the worlds, - and here at least it meets his thought; for it is as
the energetic principle behind all formation and mutation that
Heraclitus must have chosen Fire as his symbol and material
representative of the One. We may remember in this connection
how far modern Science has gone to justify these old thinkers
by the importance it gives to electricity and radio-active forces
- Heraclitus' fire and thunderbolt, the Indian triple Agni - in
the formation of atoms and in the transmutation of energy.
But the Greeks failed to go forward to that final discrimination which India attributed to Kapila, the supreme analytical
thinker, - the discrimination between Prakriti and her cosmic
principles, her twenty-four tattwas forming the subjective and
objective aspects of Nature, and between Prakriti and Purusha,
Conscious-Soul and Nature-Energy. Therefore while in the
Sankhya ether, fire and the rest are only principles of the objective evolution of Prakriti, evolutionary aspects of the original
phusis, the early Greeks could not get back beyond these aspects
of Nature to the idea of a pure energy, nor could they at all
account for her subjective side. The Fire of Heraclitus has to do
duty at once for the original substance of all Matter and for God
and Eternity. This preoccupation with Nature-Energy and the
failure to fathom its relations with Soul has persisted in modern
scientific thought, and we find there too the same attempt to
identify some primary principle of Nature, ether or electricity,
with the original Force.
However that may be, the theory of the creation of the
world by some kind of evolutionary change out of the original substance or energy, by parin.ama, is common to the early
Greek and the Indian systems, however they may differ about
the nature of the original phusis. The distinction of Heraclitus
among the early Greek sages is his conception of the upward
and downward road, one and the same in the descent and the
return. It corresponds to the Indian idea of nivr.tti and pravr.tti,
the double movement of the Soul and Nature, - pravr.tti, the
moving out and forward, nivr.tti, the moving back and in. The

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Indian thinkers were preoccupied with this double principle so
far as it touches the action of the individual soul entering into
the procession of Nature and drawing back from it; but still they
saw a similar, a periodic movement forward and back of Nature itself which leads to an ever-repeated cycle of creation and
dissolution; they held the idea of a periodic pralaya. Heraclitus'
theory would seem to demand a similar conclusion. Otherwise
we must suppose that the downward tendency, once in action,
has always the upper hand over the upward or that cosmos is
eternally proceeding out of the original substance and eternally
returning to it, but never actually returns. The Many are then
eternal not only in power of manifestation, but in actual fact of
manifestation.
It is possible that Heraclitus may so have thought, but it
is not the logical conclusion of his theory; it contradicts the
evident suggestion of his metaphor about the road which implies a starting-point and a point of return; and we have too
the distinct statement of the Stoics that he believed in the theory
of conflagration, - an assertion which they are hardly likely
to have made if this were not generally accepted as his teaching. The modern arguments against enumerated by Mr. Ranade
are founded upon misconceptions. Heraclitus' affirmation is not
simply that the One is always Many, the Many always One, but
in his own words, "out of all the One and out of One all." Plato's
phrasing of the thought, "the reality is both many and one and in
its division it is always being brought together," states the same
idea in different language. It means a constant current and backcurrent of change, the upward and downward road, and we may
suppose that as the One by downward change becomes completely the All in the descending process, yet remains eternally
the one everliving Fire, so the All by upward change may resort
completely to the One and yet essentially exist, since it can again
return into various being by the repetition of the downward
movement. All difficulty disappears if we remember that what
is implied is a process of evolution and involution, - so too the
Indian word for creation, sr.s.t.i, means a release or bringing forth
of what is held in, latent, - and that the conflagration destroys

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existing forms, but not the principle of multiplicity. There will
be then no inconsistency at all in Heraclitus' theory of a periodic
conflagration; it is rather, that being the highest expression of
change, the complete logic of his system.

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I

F IT is the law of Change that determines the evolution
and involution of the one downward and upward road, the
same law prevails all along the path, through all its steps
and returns, in all the million transactions of the wayside. There
is everywhere the law of exchange and interchange, amoibe.
The unity and the multiplicity have at every moment this active
relation to each other. The One is constantly exchanging itself
for the many; that gold has been given, you have instead these
commodities, but in fact they are only so much value of the
gold. The many are constantly exchanging themselves for the
One; these commodities are given, disappear, are destroyed, we
say, but in their place there is the gold, the original substanceenergy to the value of the commodities. You see the sun and
you think it is the same sun always, but really it is a new
sun that rises each day; for it is the Fire's constant giving of
itself in exchange for the elemental commodities that compose
the sun which preserves its form, its energy, its movement, all
its measures. Science shows us that this is true of all things,
of the human body, for instance; it is always the same, but it
preserves its apparent identity only by a constant change. There
is a constant destruction, yet there is no destruction. Energy
distributes itself, but never really dissipates itself; change and
unalterable conservation of energy in the change are the law,
not destruction. If this world of multiplicity is destroyed in the
end by Fire, yet there is no end and it is not destroyed, but only
exchanged for the Fire. Moreover, there is exchange between
all these becomings which are only so many active values of
the Being, commodities that are a fixed value and measure of
the universal gold. Fire takes of its substance from one form and
gives to another, changes one apparent value of its substance into
another apparent value, but the substance-energy remains the

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same and the new value is the equivalent of the old, - as when
it turns fuel into smoke and cinders and ashes. Modern Science
with a more accurate knowledge of what actually happens in
this change, yet confirms Heraclitus' conclusion. It is the law of
the conservation of energy.
Practically, the active secret of life is there; all life physical or
mental or merely dynamic maintains itself by constant change
and interchange. Still, Heraclitus' account is so far not altogether
satisfactory. The measure, the value of the energy exchanged remains unaltered even when the form is altered, but why should
also the cosmic commodities we have for the universal gold be
fixed and in a way unchanging? What is the explanation, how
comes about this eternity of principles and elements and kinds
of combination and this persistence and recurrence of the same
forms which we observe in the cosmos? Why in this constant
cosmic flux should everything after all remain the same? Why
should the sun, though always new, be yet for all practical purposes the same sun? Why should the stream be, as Heraclitus
himself admits, the same stream although it is ever other and
other waters that are flowing? It was in this connection that
Plato brought in his eternal, ideal plane of fixed ideas, by which
he seems to have meant at once an originating real-idea and
an original ideal schema for all things. An idealistic philosophy
of the Indian type might say that this force, the Shakti which
you call Fire, is a consciousness which preserves by its energy
its original scheme of ideas and corresponding forms of things.
But Heraclitus gives us another account, not quite satisfactory,
yet profound and full of suggestive truth; it is contained in his
striking phrases about war and justice and tension and the Furies
pursuing the transgressor of measures. He is the first thinker to
see the world entirely in the terms of Power.
What is the nature of this exchange? It is strife, eris, it is
war, polemos! What is the rule and result of the war? It is justice.
How acts that justice? By a just tension and compensation of
forces which produce the harmony of things and therefore, we
presume, their stability. "War is the father of all and the king of
all"; "All things becoming according to strife"; "To know that

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strife is justice"; these are his master apophthegms in this matter.
At first we do not see why exchange should be strife; it would
seem rather to be commerce. Strife there is, but why should
there not also be peaceful and willing interchange? Heraclitus
will have none of it; no peace! he would agree with the modern
Teuton that commerce itself is a department of War. It is true
there is a commerce, gold for commodities, commodities for
gold, but the commerce itself and all its circumstances are governed by a forceful, more, a violent compulsion of the universal
Fire. That is what he means by the Furies pursuing the sun;
"for fear of Him" says the Upanishad "the wind blows . . . and
death runs." And between all beings there is a constant trial of
strength; by that warfare they come into being, by that their
measures are maintained. We see that he is right; he has caught
the initial aspect of cosmic Nature. Everything here is a clash of
forces and by that clash and struggle and clinging and wrestling
things not only come into being, but are maintained in being.
Karma? Laws? But different laws meet and compete and by
their tension the balance of the world is maintained. Karma? It
is the forcible justice of an eternal compelling Power and it is
the Furies pursuing us if we transgress our measures.
War, contends Heraclitus, is not mere injustice, chaotic violence; it is justice, although a violent justice, the only kind
possible. Again, from that point of view, we see that he is right.
By the energy expended and its value shall the fruits be determined, and where two forces meet, expenditure of energy
means a trial of strength. Shall not then the rewards be to the
strong according to his strength and to the weak according to his
weakness? So it is at least in the world, the primal law, although
subject to the help of the weak by the strong which need not
after all be an injustice or a violation of measures, in spite of
Nietzsche and Heraclitus. And is there not after all sometimes
a tremendous strength behind weakness, the very strength of
the pressure on the oppressed which brings its terrible reaction,
the back return of the bow, Zeus, the eternal Fire, observing his
measures?
Not only between being and being, force and force is there

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war, but within each there is an eternal opposition, a tension
of contraries, and it is this tension which creates the balance
necessary to harmony. Harmony then there is, for cosmos itself
is in its result a harmony; but it is so because in its process
it is war, tension, opposition, a balance of eternal contraries.
Real peace there cannot be, unless by peace you mean a stable
tension, a balance of power between hostile forces, a sort of
mutual neutralisation of excesses. Peace cannot create, cannot
maintain anything, and Homer's prayer that war might perish
from among Gods and men is a monstrous absurdity, for that
would mean the end of the world. A periodic end there may
be, not by peace or reconciliation, but by conflagration, by an
attack of Fire, to pur epelthon, a fiery judgment and conviction.
Force created the world, Force is the world, Force by its violence
maintains the world, Force shall end the world, - and eternally
re-create it.

Heraclitus - 6

H

ERACLITUS is the first and the most consistent teacher
of the law of relativity; it is the logical result of his
primary philosophical concepts. Since all is one in its
being and many in its becoming, it follows that everything must
be one in its essence. Night and day, life and death, good and
evil can only be different aspects of the same absolute reality.
Life and death are in fact one, and we may say from different
points of view that all death is only a process and change of
life or that all life is only an activity of death. Really both are
one energy whose activity presents to us a duality of aspects.
From one point of view we are not, for our existence is only a
constant mutation of energy; from another we are, because the
being in us is always the same and sustains our secret identity.
So too, we can only speak of a thing as good or evil, just or
unjust, beautiful or ugly from a purely relative point of view,
because we adopt a particular standpoint or have in view some
practical end or temporarily valid relation. He gives the example
of "the sea, water purest and impurest", their fine element to
the fish, abominable and undrinkable to man. And does not this
apply to all things? - they are the same always in reality and
assume their qualities and properties because of our standingpoint in the universe of becoming, the nature of our seeing and
the texture of our minds. All things circle back to the eternal
unity and in their beginning and end are the same; it is only in
the arc of becoming that they vary in themselves and from each
other, and there they have no absoluteness to each other. Night
and day are the same; it is only the nature of our vision and
our standing-point on the earth and our relations of earth and
sun that create the difference. What is day to us, is to others
night.
Because of this insistence on the relativity of good and evil,

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Heraclitus is thought to have enunciated some kind of supermoralism; but it is well to see carefully to what this supermoralism of Heraclitus really amounts. Heraclitus does not deny the
existence of an absolute; but for him the absolute is to be found
in the One, in the Divine, - not the gods, but the one supreme
Divinity, the Fire. It has been objected that he attributes relativity
to God, because he says that the first principle is willing and yet
not willing to be called by the name of Zeus. But surely this
is to misunderstand him altogether. The name Zeus expresses
only the relative human idea of the Godhead; therefore while
God accepts the name, He is not bound or limited by it. All our
concepts of Him are partial and relative; "He is named according
to the pleasure of each." This is nothing more nor less than the
truth proclaimed by the Vedas, "One existent the sages call by
many names." Brahman is willing to be called Vishnu, and yet
he is not willing, because he is also Brahma and Maheshwara
and all the gods and the world and all principles and all that is,
and yet not any of these things, neti neti. As men approach him,
so he accepts them. But the One to Heraclitus as to the Vedantin
is absolute.
This is quite clear from all his sayings; day and night, good
and evil are one, because they are the One in their essence and in
the One the distinctions we make between them disappear. There
is a Word, a Reason in all things, a Logos, and that Reason is
one; only men by the relativeness of their mentality turn it each
into his personal thought and way of looking at things and live
according to this variable relativity. It follows that there is an
absolute, a divine way of looking at things. "To God all things
are good and just, but men hold some things to be good, others
unjust." There is then an absolute good, an absolute beauty, an
absolute justice of which all things are the relative expression.
There is a divine order in the world; each thing fulfils its nature
according to its place in the order and in its place and symmetry
in the one Reason of things is good, just and beautiful precisely
because it fulfils that Reason according to the eternal measures.
To take an example, the world war may be regarded as an evil
by some, a sheer horror of carnage, to others because of the new

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possibilities it opens to mankind, it may seem a good. It is at
once good and evil. But that is the relative view; in its entirety,
in its fulfilment in each and all of its circumstances of a divine
purpose, a divine justice, a divine force executing itself in the
large reason of things, it is from the absolute point of view good
and just - to God, not to man.
Does it follow that the relative view-point has no validity
at all? Not for a moment. On the contrary, it must be the expression, proper to each mentality according to the necessity
of its nature and standpoint, of the divine Law. Heraclitus says
that plainly; "Fed are all human laws by one, the divine." That
sentence ought to be quite sufficient to protect Heraclitus against
the charge of antinomianism. True, no human law is the absolute expression of the divine justice, but it draws its validity, its
sanction from that and is valid for its purpose, in its place, in its
proper time, has its relative necessity. Even though men's notions
of good and justice vary in the mutations of the becoming, yet
human good and justice persist in the stream of things, preserve
a measure. Heraclitus admits relative standards, but as a thinker
he is obliged to go beyond them. All is at once one and many,
an absolute and a relative, and all the relations of the many are
relativities, yet are fed by, go back to, persist by that in them
which is absolute.

Heraclitus - 7

T

HE IDEAS of Heraclitus on which I have so far laid stress,
are general, philosophical, metaphysical; they glance
at those first truths of existence, devanam prathama
vratani,1 for which philosophy first seeks because they are the
key to all other truths. But what is their practical effect on
human life and aspiration? For that is in the end the real value
of philosophy for man, to give him light on the nature of his
being, the principles of his psychology, his relations with the
world and with God, the fixed lines or the great possibilities of
his destiny. It is the weakness of most European philosophy -
not the ancient - that it lives too much in the clouds and seeks
after pure metaphysical truth too exclusively for its own sake;
therefore it has been a little barren because much too indirect in
its bearing on life. It is the great distinction of Nietzsche among
later European thinkers to have brought back something of the
old dynamism and practical force into philosophy, although
in the stress of this tendency he may have neglected unduly
the dialectical and metaphysical side of philosophical thinking.
No doubt, in seeking Truth we must seek it for its own sake
first and not start with any preconceived practical aim and
prepossession which would distort our disinterested view of
things; but when Truth has been found, its bearing on life
becomes of capital importance and is the solid justification of
the labour spent in our research. Indian philosophy has always
understood its double function; it has sought the Truth not
only as an intellectual pleasure or the natural dharma of the
reason, but in order to know how man may live by the Truth
or strive after it; hence its intimate influence on the religion, the
social ideas, the daily life of the people, its immense dynamic
1

The first laws of working of the Gods.

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power on the mind and actions of Indian humanity. The Greek
thinkers, Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato, the Stoics and Epicureans,
had also this practical aim and dynamic force, but it acted
only on the cultured few. That was because Greek philosophy,
losing its ancient affiliation to the Mystics, separated itself from
the popular religion; but as ordinarily Philosophy alone can
give light to Religion and save it from crudeness, ignorance
and superstition, so Religion alone can give, except for a few,
spiritual passion and effective power to Philosophy and save
it from becoming unsubstantial, abstract and sterile. It is a
misfortune for both when the divine sisters part company.
But when we seek among Heraclitus' sayings for the human
application of his great fundamental thoughts, we are disappointed. He gives us little direct guidance and on the whole
leaves us to draw our own profit from the packed opulence of
his first ideas. What may be called his aristocratic view of life,
we might regard possibly as a moral result of his philosophical
conception of Power as the nature of the original principle. He
tells us that the many are bad, the few good and that one is to
him equal to thousands, if he be the best. Power of knowledge,
power of character, - character, he says, is man's divine force,
- power and excellence generally are the things that prevail
in human life and are supremely valuable, and these things in
their high and pure degree are rare among men, they are the
difficult attainment of the few. From that, true enough so far
as it goes, we might deduce a social and political philosophy.
But the democrat might well answer that if there is an eminent
and concentrated virtue, knowledge and force in the one or the
few, so too there is a diffused virtue, knowledge and force in
the many which acting collectively may outweigh and exceed
isolated or rare excellences. If the king, the sage, the best are
Vishnu himself, as old Indian thought also affirmed, to a degree
to which the ordinary man, prakr.to janah., cannot pretend, so
also are "the five", the group, the people. The Divine is samas.t.i
as well as vyas.t.i, manifested in the collectivity as well as in the
individual, and the justice on which Heraclitus insists demands
that both should have their effect and their value; they depend

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indeed and draw on each other for the effectuation of their
excellences.
Other sayings of Heraclitus are interesting enough, as when
he affirms the divine element in human laws, - and that is also a
profound and fruitful sentence. His views on the popular religion
are interesting, but move on the surface and do not carry us very
far even on the surface. He rejects with a violent contempt the
current degradation of the old mystic formulas and turns from
them to the true mysteries, those of Nature and of our being, that
Nature which, as he says, loves to be hidden, is full of mysteries,
ever occult. It is a sign that the lore of the early Mystics had been
lost, the spiritual sense had departed out of their symbols, even
as in Vedic India; but there took place in Greece no new and
powerful movement which could, as in India, replace them by
new symbols, new and more philosophic restatements of their
hidden truths, new disciplines, schools of Yoga. Attempts, such
as that of Pythagoras, were made; but Greece at large followed
the turn given by Heraclitus, developed the cult of the reason
and left the remnants of the old occult religion to become a
solemn superstition and a conventional pomp.
Doubly interesting is his condemnation of animal sacrifice;
it is, he says, a vain attempt at purification by defilement of
oneself with blood, as if we were to cleanse mud-stained feet
with mud. Here we see the same trend of revolt against an
ancient and universal religious practice as that which destroyed
in India the sacrificial system of the Vedic religion, - although
Buddha's great impulse of compassion was absent from the
mind of Heraclitus: pity could never have become a powerful
motive among the old Mediterranean races. But the language
of Heraclitus shows us that the ancient system of sacrifice in
Greece and in India was not a mere barbaric propitiation of
savage deities, as modern inquiry has falsely concluded; it had
a psychological significance, purification of the soul as well as
propitiation of higher and helpful powers, and was therefore in
all probability mystic and symbolical; for purification was, as
we know, one of the master ideas of the ancient Mysteries. In
India of the Gita, in the development of Judaism by the prophets

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and by Jesus, while the old physical symbols were discouraged
and especially the blood-rite, the psychological idea of sacrifice
was saved, emphasised and equipped with subtler symbols, such
as the Christian Eucharist and the offerings of the devout in the
Shaiva or Vaishnava temples. But Greece with its rational bent
and its insufficient religious sense was unable to save its religion;
it tended towards that sharp division between philosophy and
science on one side and religion on the other which has been
so peculiar a characteristic of the European mind. Here too
Heraclitus was, as in so many other directions, a forerunner, an
indicator of the natural bent of occidental thought.
Equally striking is his condemnation of idol-worship, one
of the earliest in human history, - "he who prays to an image
is chattering to a stone wall." The intolerant violence of this
protestant rationalism and positivism makes Heraclitus again
a precursor of a whole movement of the human mind. It is
not indeed a religious protest such as that of Mahomed against
the naturalistic, Pagan and idolatrous polytheism of the Arabs
or of the Protestants against the aesthetic and emotional saintworship of the Catholic Church, its Mariolatry and use of images
and elaborate ritual; its motive is philosophic, rational, psychological. Heraclitus was not indeed a pure rationalist. He believes
in the Gods, but as psychological presences, cosmic powers, and
he is too impatient of the grossness of the physical image, its hold
on the senses, its obscuration of the psychological significance
of the godheads to see that it is not to the stone, but to the
divine person figured in the stone that the prayer is offered.
It is noticeable that in his conception of the gods he is kin to
the old Vedic seers, though not at all a religious mystic in his
temperament. The Vedic religion seems to have excluded physical images and it was the protestant movements of Jainism and
Buddhism which either introduced or at least popularised and
made general the worship of images in India. Here too Heraclitus
prepares the way for the destruction of the old religion, the reign
of pure philosophy and reason and the void which was filled up
by Christianity; for man cannot live by reason alone. When
it was too late, some attempt was made to re-spiritualise the

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old religion, and there was the remarkable effort of Julian and
Libanius to set up a regenerated Paganism against triumphant
Christianity; but the attempt was too unsubstantial, too purely
philosophic, empty of the dynamic power of the religious spirit.
Europe had killed its old creeds beyond revival and had to turn
for its religion to Asia.
Thus, for the general life of man Heraclitus has nothing to
give us beyond his hint of an aristocratic principle in society
and politics, - and we may note that this aristocratic bent was
very strong in almost all the subsequent Greek philosophers.
In religion his influence tended to the destruction of the old
creed without effectively putting anything more profound in
its place; though not himself a pure rationalist, he prepared
the way for philosophic rationalism. But even without religion philosophy by itself can give us at least some light on
the spiritual destiny of man, some hope of the infinite, some
ideal perfection after which we can strive. Plato who was influenced by Heraclitus, tried to do this for us; his thought
sought after God, tried to seize the ideal, had its hope of a
perfect human society. We know how the Neo-platonists developed his ideas under the influence of the East and how they
affected Christianity. The Stoics, still more directly the intellectual descendants of Heraclitus, arrived at very remarkable
and fruitful ideas of human possibility and a powerful psychological discipline, - as we should say in India, a Yoga, - by
which they hoped to realise their ideal. But what has Heraclitus
himself to give us? Nothing directly; we have to gather for ourselves whatever we can from his first principles and his cryptic
sentences.
Heraclitus was regarded in ancient times as a pessimistic
thinker and we have one or two sayings of his from which we
can, if we like, deduce the old vain gospel of the vanity of things.
Time, he says, is playing draughts like a child, amusing itself with
counters, building castles on the sea-shore only to throw them
down again. If that is the last word, then all human effort and
aspiration are vain. But on what primary philosophical conception does this discouraging sentence depend? Everything turns

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249

on that; for in itself this is no more than an assertion of a selfevident fact, the mutability of things and the recurrent transiency
of forms. But if the principles which express themselves in forms
are eternal or if there is a Spirit in things which finds its account
in the mutations and evolutions of Time and if that Spirit dwells
in the human being as the immortal and infinite power of his
soul, then no conclusion of the vanity of the world or the vanity
of human existence arises. If indeed the original and eternal
principle of Fire is a purely physical substance or force, then,
truly, since all the great play and effort of consciousness in us
must sink and dissolve into that, there can be no permanent
spiritual value in our being, much less in our works. But we
have seen that Heraclitus' Fire cannot be a purely physical or
inconscient principle. Does he then mean that all our existence
is merely a continual changeable Becoming, a play or Lila with
no purpose in it except the playing and no end except the conviction of the vanity of all cosmic activity by its relapse into the
indistinguishable unity of the original principle or substance?
For even if that principle, the One to which the many return, be
not merely physical or not really physical at all, but spiritual,
we may still, like the Mayavadins, affirm the vanity of the world
and of our human existence, precisely because the one is not
eternal and the other has no eventual aim except its own selfabolition after the conviction of the vanity and unreality of all its
temporal interests and purposes. Is the conviction of the world
by the one absolute Fire such a conviction of the vanity of all
the temporal and relative values of the Many?
That is one sense in which we can understand the thought
of Heraclitus. His idea of all things as born of war and existing by strife might, if it stood by itself, lead us to adopt,
even if he himself did not clearly arrive at, that conclusion. For
if all is a continual struggle of forces, its best aspect only a
violent justice and the highest harmony only a tension of opposites without any hope of a divine reconciliation, its end a
conviction and destruction by eternal Fire, all our ideal hopes
and aspirations are out of place; they have no foundation in
the truth of things. But there is another side to the thought

250

Heraclitus

of Heraclitus. He says indeed that all things come into being
"according to strife", by the clash of forces, are governed by
the determining justice of war. He says farther that all is utterly
determined, fated. But what then determines? The justice of a
clash of forces is not fate; forces in conflict determine indeed,
but from moment to moment, according to a constantly changing balance always modifiable by the arising of new forces.
If there is predetermination, an inevitable fate in things, then
there must be some power behind the conflict which determines
them, fixes their measures. What is that power? Heraclitus tells
us; all indeed comes into being according to strife, but also
all things come into being according to Reason, kat' erin but
also kata ton logon. What is this Logos? It is not an inconscient reason in things, for his Fire is not merely an inconscient
force, it is Zeus and eternity. Fire, Zeus is Force, but it is also
an Intelligence; let us say then that it is an intelligent Force
which is the origin and master of things. Nor can this Logos
be identical in its nature with the human reason; for that is
an individual and therefore relative and partial judgment and
intelligence which can only seize on relative truth, not on the
true truth of things, but the Logos is one and universal, an
absolute reason therefore combining and managing all the relativities of the many. Was not then Philo justified in deducing
from this idea of an intelligent Force originating and governing
the world, Zeus and Fire, his interpretation of the Logos as "the
divine dynamic, the energy and the self-revelation of God"?
Heraclitus might not so have phrased it, might not have seen
all that his thought contained, but it does contain this sense
when his different sayings are fathomed and put together in
their consequences.
We get very near the Indian conception of Brahman, the
cause, origin and substance of all things, an absolute Existence
whose nature is consciousness (Chit) manifesting itself as Force
(Tapas, Shakti) and moving in the world of his own being as
the Seer and Thinker, kavir mans., an immanent KnowledgeWill in all, vijnanamaya purus.a, who is the Lord or Godhead,
s, svara, deva, and has ordained all things according to their

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251

nature from years sempiternal, - Heraclitus' "measures" which
the Sun is forced to observe, his "things are utterly determined."
This Knowledge-Will is the Logos. The Stoics spoke of it as
a seed Logos, spermatikos, reproduced in conscious beings as
a number of seed Logoi; and this at once reminds us of the
Vedantic prajna purus.a, the supreme Intelligence who is the
Lord and dwells in the sleep-state holding all things in a seed of
dense consciousness which works out through the perceptions
of the subtle Purusha, the mental Being. Vijnana is indeed a
consciousness which sees things, not as the human reason sees
them in parts and pieces, in separated and aggregated relations,
but in the original reason of their existence and law of their
existence, their primal and total truth; therefore it is the seed
Logos, the originative and determinant conscious force working
as supreme Intelligence and Will. The Vedic seers called it the
Truth-consciousness and believed that men also could become
truth-conscious, enter into the divine Reason and Will and by
the Truth become immortals, anthropoi athanatoi.
Does the thought of Heraclitus admit of any such hope as the
Vedic seers held and hymned with so triumphant a confidence?
or does it even give ground for any aspiration to some kind
of a divine supermanhood such as his disciples the Stoics so
sternly laboured for or as that of which Nietzsche, the modern
Heraclitus, drew a too crude and violent figure? His saying that
man is kindled and extinguished as light disappears into night,
is commonplace and discouraging enough. But this may after
all be only true of the apparent man. Is it possible for man
in his becoming to raise his present fixed measures? to elevate
his mental, relative, individual reason into direct communion
with or direct participation in the divine and absolute reason?
to inspire and raise the values of his human force to the higher
values of the divine force? to become aware like the gods of
an absolute good and an absolute beauty? to lift this mortal
to the nature of immortality? Against his melancholy image of
human transiency we have that remarkable and cryptic sentence, "the gods are mortals, men immortals", which, taken
literally, might mean that the gods are powers that perish and

252

Heraclitus

replace each other and the soul of man alone is immortal, but
must at least mean that there is in man behind his outward
transiency an immortal spirit. We have too his saying, "thou
canst not find the limits of the soul", and we have the profoundest of all Heraclitus' utterances, "the kingdom is of the
child." If man is in his real being an infinite and immortal
spirit, there is surely no reason why he should not awaken
to his immortality, arise towards the consciousness of the universal, one and absolute, live in a higher self-realisation. "I
have sought for myself" says Heraclitus; and what was it that
he found?
But there is one great gap and defect whether in his knowledge of things or his knowledge of the self of man. We see in
how many directions the deep divining eye of Heraclitus anticipated the largest and profoundest generalisations of Science and
Philosophy and how even his more superficial thoughts indicate
later powerful tendencies of the occidental mind, how too some
of his ideas influenced such profound and fruitful thinkers as
Plato, the Stoics, the Neo-platonists. But in his defect also he
is a forerunner; it illustrates the great deficiency of later European thought, such of it at least as has not been profoundly
influenced by Asiatic religions or Asiatic mysticism. I have tried
to show how often his thought touches and is almost identical
with the Vedic and Vedantic. But his knowledge of the truth
of things stopped with the vision of the universal reason and
the universal force; he seems to have summed up the principle
of things in these two first terms, the aspect of consciousness,
the aspect of power, a supreme intelligence and a supreme energy. The eye of Indian thought saw a third aspect of the Self
and of Brahman; besides the universal consciousness active in
divine knowledge, besides the universal force active in divine
will, it saw the universal delight active in divine love and joy.
European thought, following the line of Heraclitus' thinking,
has fixed itself on reason and on force and made them the
principles towards whose perfection our being has to aspire.
Force is the first aspect of the world, war, the clash of energies;
the second aspect, reason, emerges out of the appearance of

Heraclitus - 7

253

force in which it is at first hidden and reveals itself as a certain
justice, a certain harmony, a certain determining intelligence and
reason in things; the third aspect is a deeper secret behind these
two, universal delight, love, beauty which taking up the other
two can establish something higher than justice, better than
harmony, truer than reason, - unity and bliss, the ecstasy of
our fulfilled existence. Of this last secret power Western thought
has only seen two lower aspects, pleasure and aesthetic beauty;
it has missed the spiritual beauty and the spiritual delight. For
that reason Europe has never been able to develop a powerful
religion of its own; it has been obliged to turn to Asia. Science
takes possession of the measures and utilities of Force; rational
philosophy pursues reason to its last subtleties; but inspired
philosophy and religion can seize hold of the highest secret,
uttamam rahasyam.
Heraclitus might have seen it if he had carried his vision
a little farther. Force by itself can only produce a balance of
forces, the strife that is justice; in that strife there takes place
a constant exchange and, once this need of exchange is seen,
there arises the possibility of modifying and replacing war by
reason as the determinant principle of the exchange. This is
the second effort of man, of which Heraclitus did not clearly
see the possibility. From exchange we can rise to the highest
possible idea of interchange, a mutual dependency of self-giving
as the hidden secret of life; from that can grow the power of
Love replacing strife and exceeding the cold balance of reason. There is the gate of the divine ecstasy. Heraclitus could
not see it, and yet his one saying about the kingdom of the
child touches, almost reaches the heart of the secret. For this
kingdom is evidently spiritual, it is the crown, the mastery
to which the perfected man arrives; and the perfect man is a
divine child! He is the soul which awakens to the divine play,
accepts it without fear or reserve, gives itself up in a spiritual
purity to the Divine, allows the careful and troubled force of
man to be freed from care and grief and become the joyous
play of the divine Will, his relative and stumbling reason to
be replaced by that divine knowledge which to the Greek, the

254

Heraclitus

rational man, is foolishness, and the laborious pleasure-seeking
of the bound mentality to lose itself in the spontaneity of the
divine Ananda; "for of such is the kingdom of heaven." The
Paramhansa, the liberated man, is in his soul balavat, even as if
a child.


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