Heraclitus and the Secret Doctrine
By John Taylor; 2008 July 24
I have been reworking a reading of a talk of the Master that I want to put onto YouTube. It is the proofs of deity laid out in Some Answered Questions, the second talk in the book. I started this back in January but gave up in frustration because this computer hanged incessantly. A RAM upgrade has solved most of these problems. I have been relearning the video-editing programs on this iMac, delaying what I thought would be a quick and easy project. Every time I think it is finished, a new problem crops up and I end up at square one. Writing is a thousand times easier than video editing, at least for me. At one point I even posted my YouTube Proofs of Deity video. However when I tested it the sound was screwy and I had to start again. I hope to have it available on Youtube and the Badi' Blog, soon.
Today, let us look at how this proof of deity presented in this table talk of the Master fits into the history of ideas. Unless indicated otherwise, the quotations from Heraclitus in this essay are drawn from the Wikipedia article "Heraclitus."
Though most of his writing is lost, Heraclitus clearly was the first to work out some of the concepts that `Abdu'l-Baha in this early talk in Some Answered Questions makes into a proof of deity. Heraclitus is a surprisingly important thinker; he should be better known than he is. He had several ideas that were later confirmed as of central importance to divine philosophy.
For example, the Gospel of John borrowed the Heraclitean idea that Logos, rather than earth, water, fire or air, is the real basis of reality. When Abdu'l-Baha defines religion as "the teachings of the Lord God," He is using an aspect of Heraclitus's "logo-centric" worldview. Logos in Greek has no fewer than six meanings, word, plan, formula, reckoning, formula and proportion. All six are strained to the limit, but they do describe fittingly how the Manifestation of God mediates reality and vivifies the sum of human capacity. As Heraclitus puts it,
"One man is ten thousand to me if he be the best." (DK 49)
As well, the Qu'ran uses the same "wealth curse" that Heraclitus is reported to have used on his townsfolk -- he desired wealth upon the Ephesians as a punishment for their wicked ways. The Qu'ran often describes wealth as a divine sanction because it so effectively distracts from what matters in life, the love of God. And of course Jesus also upheld this idea when He said that it is easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Heraclitus was also the first known thinker to use the word "kosmos" for world order. It was not the elder
The most salient contribution of Heraclitus was the realization that the universe is in such quick, vibrating interplay that it is impossible to touch the same object twice. No matter how solid it may seem, every thing is in a chaotic motion that he termed flux. Every split second objects fade out of existence, are renewed and dissolve again. Solidity is being tearing down and rebuilding again in equilibrium.
"We must know that war (polemos) is common to all and strife is justice, and that all things come into being through strife necessarily."
This opposition Heraclitus called eris, strife, and justice, dike, was its temporary stability. Logos is the only dependable ground of existence, and only when it is dynamic, living, moving.
Heraclitus got this insight when he saw a bard playing a melody on a stringed instrument known as a lyre. The lyre is a stringed bow, like the kind of military bow that pushes an arrow into flight. Indeed, the Sythian bow had its horns pointing forward until it was strung, in which case its horns then pointed backwards. The music of the lyre took advantage of the same sort of deforming tension, what we might now call potential energy, between the opposing ends of a flexed rod. Although its strings vibrate wildly and chaotically, its sound is sweet to the ear. Listening to its sound he must have thought, "That is just like a life crisis. One half of you wants to go one way and the other half strains to go the other." Indeed, Heraclitus is said to have educated himself by asking questions of himself in solitude. What he actually wrote was,
"There is a harmony in the bending back (palintropos) as in the case of the bow and the lyre."
"Dike eris," for Heraclitus meant that "strife is justice." This is identical to the Arabic word for justice, Adl, meaning a balance or fulcrum point. The fairest universe, Heraclitus said, is but a pile of rubbish piled up by chance. This foreshadows modern discoveries about randomness, quantum mechanics and chaos theory. Palintropos or bending back could be called "unity in adversity," which is close to the unity in diversity that is a major theme in the Writings of Baha'u'llah. Heraclitus saw that whatever actually happens in the world is an effect of Palintropos, the vibrating tension between being and non-being, the play of strife and harmony, the random and the planned, between contingency and Logos.
"All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things (ta hola, "the whole") flows like a stream."
Fate, then, would be what happens when you get caught up in the opposing tension or Polemikos.
"Justice turns the scale, bringing to some learning through suffering." (Aeschylus)
The suffering of a Job, Jesus or the Bab opens new realms of human discovery by involving the Logos, the divine plan or law in human sensibilities in a more direct, intimate way. Baha'u'llah confirms this,
"Know verily that the essence of justice and the source thereof are both embodied in the ordinances prescribed by Him Who is the Manifestation of the Self of God amongst men, if ye be of them that recognize this truth. He doth verily incarnate the highest, the infallible standard of justice unto all creation. (Gleanings, #88, p. 175)
Heraclitus wrote that "all things come to pass in accordance with this word" and, "the word is common," and "(it is) the account which governs the universe (ta hola, the whole)." Justice is balance or harmony coming out of struggling opposition. Heraclitus understood justice as an imperative to "follow the common." Nor can there be harmony without wisdom, which he called an appreciation of how "all things" work,
"Wisdom is one thing. It is to understand the mind by which all things are steered through all things." (Heraclitus, DK 41)
In another translation, wisdom is "to know the thought by which all things are steered through all things." The wise, then, is one who enquires into all things, and takes what she learns into consideration. A wise person is the opposite, then, of a fanatic or fundamentalist.
"It is wise, listening not to me but to reason, to agree that all men who love wisdom must inquire into very many things." (Heraclitus, DK 35)
Of course it would be impossible to enquire in depth into all things; a certain economy and efficiency is required. As a result, we finite mortals cannot be wise in any absolute sense, since, "Only Zeus is wise." This concept of wisdom is woven into Baha'u'llah's Tablet, "Words of Wisdom," whose title can be literally translated as the "Principles of All-Things." Of course this is basic to the Judaic tradition too, as witnessed by this verse from the Book of Proverbs,
"And all such things as are hid, and not foreseen, I have learned: for wisdom, which is the worker of all things, taught me." (Prov 7:21, Douay-Rheims)
This includes another idea important for Heraclitus; nature is hidden, its essence is concealed and our job is to uncover the unseen. Since Heraclitus's hometown of Ephesis is in
Unfortunately, Heraclitus is an also-ran in the history of philosophy. Good ideas, but no idea how to sell them. In fact, as an elitist he did not even want to sell them. An early Rousseau, he held the crowd in contempt and tried to escape into nature. Nor did he consider royalty as part of the elite. When the Persian king Darius called Heraclitus to his court for a discussion he is reported as answering that he had a horror of splendor.
Later on, the agnostic Protagoras knew what to do with the same idea, hide it. It is a law of human psychology that anything labeled "secret" gains an irresistible cachet. Protagoras made the compresence of opposites the basis of his relativism. Plato in the Theaetetus called this Protagoras's "secret doctrine," or the doctrine of opposites; from this Plato built a theory of perception based upon contrasting opposition. For example, the fact that the wind seems cold proves the existence of warmth, of heat, and of the wind itself. The eye sees dark, and that lack proves that there is light.
As far as I know, this remained strictly a theory of perception until `Abdu'l-Baha made the "secret doctrine" into a proof of deity. Unfortunately, I have not enquired into "all things" yet, and it is possible I have overlooked another antecedent.