Heraclitus (540 – 480 B.C.E.) was an Ancient Greek philosopher and a native of the city of Ephesus, which was then part of Persia. Born an aristocrat, a prince, Heraclitus renounced all political activities and ceded his title and properties to his brother. He then became a recluse, living in the mountains, “making his diet of grass and herbs.” It is interesting to note that, although Heraclitus was a contemporary of the Buddha—who was also a prince who renounced his role for spiritual pursuits—it doesn’t seem that Heraclitus had any contact with Eastern thought. Rather, he came to his views through his own reflection and mystical experience.
Heraclitus is famous for his book, On Nature, which was published around 500 B.C.E. On Nature is a philosophical treatise containing three discourses on 1) the universe, 2) politics and ethics, and 3) theology. Heraclitus had a significant influence on other thinkers of his own and later times. Hesiod, before him, had described the world of matter as arising from the primal Chaos, and had conjectured that this matter, of which the universe consisted, was then set in order in a designed manner by the all-pervading Thought or Intelligence of God. That Divine, all-pervading formative Intelligence, Heraclitus called “Logos,” a common Greek word used variously to mean “thought,” “reason,” or “idea.”
Below is Heraclitus’ message of mystical oneness, based on existing fragments from On Nature:
“[There is] one Intelligence, which is distinct from all things and yet pervades all things. That Intelligence is One; to know It is to know the Purpose, which guides all things and is in all things. Nature has no inherent power of intelligence; Intelligence is the Divine. Without It, the fairest universe is but a randomly scattered dust-heap. If we are to speak with intelligence, we must found our being on THAT which is common to all… For that Logos, which governs man, is born of the One, which is Divine. It [the Divine] governs the universe by Its will and is more than sufficient to everyone.”
Heraclitus further wrote that:
“One should not conjecture at random about the Supreme [Truth]. The eyes are better witnesses to the truth than the ears; but the eyes and ears are bad witnesses for men if their souls cannot understand. You could not in your travels find the source or destination of the soul, so deeply hidden is the Logos. [But] I searched for It [and found It] within myself. That hidden Unity is beyond what is visible. All men have this capacity of knowing themselves, [for] the soul has the Logos within it, which can be known when the soul is evolved. What is within us remains the same eternally; It is the same in life and death, waking and sleeping, youth and old age; for It has become this world, and the world must return to It.”
Quoted from History of Mysticism by Swami Abhayananda and On Nature by Heraclitus.
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