Two apophthegms of Heraclitus give us the starting-point 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 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 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 sarva\,ni 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 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 Buddhists [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.] insisted that there were only so many ideas, vijñanani, 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 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-to-be; which again, when you come to think of it, seems to be no more than a translation of the Upanishadic tapo brahma, "Will-Energy 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 pratyaksham 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 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 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.