Only Change is Eternal

Osho on Heraclitus

Heraclitus of Ephesus was an Ancient Greekpre-SocraticIonian philosopher and a native of the city of Ephesus, which was the part of Persian Empire. He is appreciated for wordplay and oracular expressions, as well as paradoxical elements in his philosophy, earned him the epithet “The Obscure” from antiquity. But Osho never supported this title, he always supported Heraclitus as a man of same caliber as BUDDHA.

 Osho explains the quote of Heraclitus and says Life is such a flux, nothing remains the same, everything moves. Heraclitus has said that you cannot step twice in the same river — how can you plan? By the time you are stepping the second time, much water has flowed, it is not the same river. Planning is possible if the past repeats itself. But the past never repeats itself, repetition never happens — even if you see something repeating itself it is just because you cannot see the whole.

Osho also says These are the religions which have made human beings live without any blossomings and without any fragrance; otherwise each individual has the capacity to be a Socrates, to be a Pythagoras, to be a Heraclitus, to be a Gautam Buddha, to be a Chuang Tzu. Each individual has potential, but the potential is not getting enough nourishment. It remains potential… and the man dies, but the potential never becomes actuality. My whole effort and approach is to give each individual opportunities to develop his potential, whatsoever it is. Nobody should try to divert his life — nobody has the right to do it. And then we can have a world which is truly a garden of human beings. Right now we are living in hell.

Osho say….

I have been in love with Heraclitus for many lives. In fact, Heraclitus is the only Greek I have ever been in love with — except, of course, Mukta, Seema and Neeta.

Heraclitus is really beautiful. Had he been born in India, or in the East, he would have been known as a buddha. But in Greek history, Greek philosophy, he was a stranger, an outsider.

He is known in Greece not as an enlightened person but as Heraclitus the Obscure, Heraclitus the Dark, Heraclitus the Riddling. And the father of Greek philosophy and of Western thought, Aristotle, thought that he was no philosopher at all. Aristotle said, “At the most he is a poet,” but that too was difficult for him to concede. So later on he said in other works, “There must be some defect in Heraclitus’ character, something wrong biologically; that’s why he talks in such obscure ways, and talks in paradoxes.” Aristotle thought that he was a little eccentric, a little mad — and Aristotle dominates the whole West. If Heraclitus had been accepted, the whole history of the West would have been totally different. But he was not understood at all. He became more and more separate from the main current of Western thinking and the Western mind.

Heraclitus was like Gautam Buddha or Lao Tzu or Basho. The Greek soil was absolutely not good for him. He would have been a great tree in the East: millions would have profited, millions would have found the way through him. But for Greeks he was just outlandish, eccentric, something foreign, alien; he didn’t belong to them. That’s why his name has remained just on the side, in a dark corner; by and by he has been forgotten. At the moment when Heraclitus was born, precisely at that moment, humanity reached a peak, a moment of transformation. It happens with humanity just as with an individual…Every twenty-five centuries there comes a peak — and if you can use that moment, you can easily become enlightened. It will not be so easy in other times because at that peak the river itself is flowing in that direction; everything is fluid, nothing is fixed. Twenty-five centuries ago there were born in India, Gautam Buddha, Mahavira the Jaina; in China, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu; in Iran, Zarathustra; and in Greece, Heraclitus. They are the peaks. Never before were such peaks attained, or if they were attained they are not part of history, because history starts with Jesus. You don’t know what happened these twenty-five centuries ago. Again the moment is coming, we are again in a fluid state: the old is meaningless, the past doesn’t have any significance for you, the future is uncertain — the gap is here.

And again humanity will achieve a peak, the same peak as there was in Heraclitus’ time. And if you are a little aware, you can use this moment — you can simply drop out of the wheel of life. When things are liquid, transformation is easy. When things are fixed, then transformation is difficult. You are fortunate that you are born in an age when things are again in a state of liquidity. Nothing is certain, all old codes and commandments have become useless. New patterns have not settled in. They will settle soon; man cannot remain forever unsettled, because when you are unsettled there is insecurity. Things will settle again, this moment will not last forever; it is only for a few years. If you can use it, you can reach a peak which will be very, very difficult to reach in other times. If you miss it, the moment is missed for twenty-five centuries again.

Remember this: life moves in a cycle, everything moves in a cycle. The child is born, then comes the age of youth, then old age, then death. It moves just as seasons move: summer comes, then rains follow, then comes winter, and it goes on in a circle. The same happens in the dimension of consciousness: every twenty-five centuries the circle is complete and before the new circle starts there is a gap you can escape through; the door is open for a few years.

Heraclitus is a really rare flowering, one of the most highly penetrating souls, one of those souls who become like Everest, the highest peak of the Himalayas. Try to understand him. It is difficult; that’s why he is called Heraclitus the Obscure.

He is not obscure. To understand him is difficult; to understand him you will need a different type of being — that is the problem. So it is easy to categorize him as obscure and then forget him. There are two types of people. If you want to understand Aristotle you don’t need any change in your being, you simply need some information. A school can provide some information about logic, philosophy; you can collect some intellectual understanding and you can understand Aristotle. You need not change to understand him, you need only a few more additions to your knowledge. The being remains the same, you remain the same. You need not have a different plane of consciousness; that is not the requirement. Aristotle is clear. If you want to understand him, a little effort is enough; anybody of average mind and intelligence will understand him. But to understand Heraclitus is going to be rough terrain, difficult, because whatsoever you collect as knowledge will not be of much help; just a very, very cultivated head won’t be of any help. You will need a different quality of being — and that is difficult — you will need a transformation. Hence, he is called obscure.

He is NOT obscure! You are below the level of being where he can be understood. When you reach that level of being, suddenly all darkness around him disappears. He is one of the most luminous beings; he is not obscure, he is not dark — it is you who are blind. Remember this always, because if you say he is dark you are throwing the responsibility on him, you are trying to escape from a transformation that is possible through encountering him. Don’t say that he is dark. Say, “We are blind,” or, “Our eyes are closed.” The sun is there: you can stand in front of the sun with closed eyes and you can say the sun is dark. And sometimes it also happens that you can stand with open eyes before the sun, but the light is so much that your eyes temporarily go blind. The light is too much to bear, it is unbearable; suddenly, darkness. Eyes are open, the sun is there, but the sun is too much for your eyes so you feel darkness. And that is the case — Heraclitus is not dark. Either you are blind, or your eyes are closed, or there is also the third possibility: when you look at Heraclitus, he is such a luminous being that your eyes simply lose the capacity to see. He is unbearable, the light is too much for you. You are not accustomed to such light so you will need to make a few arrangements before you can understand Heraclitus. And when he is talking he looks as if he is riddling, he looks as if he is enjoying riddles, because he talks in paradoxes…

Heraclitus is called “that Riddler.” He is not, he is true to life. Whatsoever it is, he simply reports it. He has no doctrine about life, he is not a system-maker — he is simply a mirror. Whatsoever life is, he represents it. Your face changes, the mirror represents it; you are loving, the mirror represents it; next moment you become hateful, the mirror represents it. The mirror is not riddling, it is true. Aristotle is not like a mirror, he is like a dead photograph. It doesn’t change, it doesn’t move with life.

That’s why Aristotle says there is some defect in this man Heraclitus, some defect in his very character. For Aristotle mind should be clear, systematic, rational; logic should be the goal of life and you should not mix the opposites. But who is mixing them? Heraclitus is not mixing them. They are there, mixed. Heraclitus is not responsible for them. And how can you separate them if they are mixed in life itself? Yes, in your books you can try, but your books will be false. A logical statement is basically going to be false because it cannot be a life statement. And a life statement is going to be illogical because life exists through contradictions.

Look at life: everywhere there is contradiction. But nothing is wrong in contradiction, it is just because it is unbearable for your logical mind. If you attain to a mystic insight it becomes beautiful. Really, beauty cannot exist without it. If you cannot hate the same person you love there will be no tension in your love. It will be a dead thing. There will be no polarity; everything will go stale…In the morning you love, by the afternoon you are filled with hate. You have moved to the valley, you have moved to the initial position where you were before you fell into love — now you are again individuals. To be individual is also beautiful because it is a freedom. To be in the valley is also beautiful, because it is a relaxation. To be in the dark valley is soothing, it helps you to regain balance. Then you are ready again to go to the peak; by the evening you are again in love. This is a process of coming apart, then coming together — and again and again. When you fall in love again after a hateful moment it is a new honeymoon. If there is no change, life is static. If you cannot move to the opposite everything will go stale and it will become boring…

Through the opposite, through the tension of the opposite, everything lives — and becomes deeper. Go away so that you can come near; move to the opposite so that you can come closer again…

What is the message of Heraclitus, the deepest message? Understand so you can follow. He does not believe in things, he believes in processes — process is God to him. And if you watch closely, you will see that THINGS don’t exist in the world; everything is a process.

In fact to use the word “is,” is existentially wrong, because everything is becoming. Nothing is in a state of isness, nothing! You say, “This is a tree.” By the time you say it, it has grown; your statement is already false. The tree is never static, so how can you use the word, is? It is always becoming, becoming something else.

Everything is growing, moving, in a process. Life is movement. It is like a river — always moving. Says Heraclitus, “You cannot step in the same river twice,” because by the time you come to step into it the second time, it has moved. It is a flow. Can you meet the same person twice? Impossible! You were here yesterday morning also — but am I the same? Are you the same? Both rivers have changed. You may be here again tomorrow, but you will not find me; somebody else will be here.

Life is changing. “Only change is eternal,” says Heraclitus — only change never changes, everything else changes…

Now physicists agree with Heraclitus, not with Aristotle, remember. Whenever any science reaches nearer to reality, it has to agree with Lao Tzu and Heraclitus. Now physicists say everything is in movement. Eddington has said that the only word which is false is rest. Nothing is at rest, nothing can be; it is a false word, it doesn’t correspond to any reality. “Is” is just in the language. In life, in existence, there is no “is”; everything is becoming. Heraclitus himself, when he says about the river — and the symbol of the river is very, very deep with him — that you cannot step in the same river twice, he also says that even if you do, you are the same and you are not the same. Just on the surface you look the same. Not only has the river changed, you have also changed…

This is the deepest message of Heraclitus: everything flows and changes; everything moves, nothing is static. And the moment you cling, you miss reality. Your clinging becomes the problem, because reality changes and you cling…

Everything lives through change — and change means changing to the polarity. You move from one pole to another; that’s how you again and again become alive and fresh. In the day you work hard, and in the night you relax and go into sleep. Again in the morning you are alive and fresh to work. Have you ever observed the polarity? Work is against relaxation. If you work hard you become tense, tired, exhausted, but then you fall into the deep valley of rest, a deep relaxation. The surface is far away, you move to the center. You are no more the identity you are on the surface, no more the name, the ego; nothing from the surface is carried. You simply forget who you are, and in the morning you are fresh. This forgetfulness is good, it makes you fresh. Just try for three weeks not to sleep — you will go mad, because you have forgotten to move to the opposite…

Life moves through one opposite to another. And Heraclitus says this is the secret, the hidden harmony; this is the hidden harmony. He is very poetic, he has to be. He cannot be philosophic because philosophy means reason. Poetry can be contradictory; poetry can say things which philosophers will be ashamed to say — poetry is truer to life. And philosophers just go around and around: they never hit the point in the center, they beat around and around the bush. Poetry simply hits directly.

If you want any parallels to Heraclitus in the East, then you will find them in Zen masters, Zen poets, particularly in the poetry known as haiku. One of the great masters of haiku is Basho. Basho and Heraclitus are absolutely close, in a deep embrace; they are almost one. Basho has not written anything in a philosophical way; he has written in small haikus, just three-line, seventeen-syllable haikus, just small pieces.

Heraclitus has also written fragments; he has not written a system like Hegel, Kant; he is not a systematizer — just oracular maxims. Each fragment is complete in itself, just like a diamond; each cut to its perfection in itself, no need to be related to another. He has spoken in an oracular way. The whole method of the oracular maxim has disappeared from the West. Only Nietzsche wrote in the same way again: his book, Thus Spake Zarathustra consists of oracular maxims — but since Heraclitus, only Nietzsche. In the East, everybody who has been enlightened has written in that way. That is the way of the Upanishads, the Vedas, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Basho: just maxims. They are so small that you have to penetrate them, and just by trying to understand them you will change and your intellect cannot cope with them. Says Basho in a small haiku:

Old pond

frog jump in water


Finished! He has said everything. Pictorial: you can see an ancient pond, a frog sitting on the bank, and… the jump of the frog. You can see the splash, and the sound of water. And, says Basho, everything has been said. This is all life is: An ancient pond… a jump of the frog, the sound of water — and silence. This is what you are; this is what everything is — and silence.

The same way Heraclitus talks in his river fragment. First he uses the sounds of a river — AUTOISI POTAMOISI; before he says something he uses the sounds of the river, and then he gives the maxim: You cannot step twice in the same river.

He is a poet, but no ordinary poet — a poet Hindus have always called a RISHI. There are two types of poets. One who is still dreaming and creating poetry out of his dreams — a Byron, a Shelley, a Keats. Then there is another type of poet, a rishi, who is no longer dreaming — he looks at the reality, and out of the reality poetry is born. Heraclitus is a rishi, a poet who is no longer dreaming, who has encountered existence. He is the first existentialist in the West.


This is an excerpt from the transcript of a public discourse by Osho in Buddha Hall, Shree Rajneesh Ashram, Pune. 

Discourse Series: The Hidden Harmony
Chapter #1
Chapter title: The Hidden Harmony
21 December 1974 am in Buddha Hall


Osho has spoken on Mystics like Dadu, Farid, Gurdjieff, J. Krishnamurti, Kabir, Nanak, Meher Baba, Patanjali, Swami Ram Teerth, Rumi, Sahajo, Sai Baba, Saraha, Socrates, Tilopa, Zarathustra, Heraclitus, Pythagoras and many more in His discourses. Some of these can be referred to in the following books/discourses:

  1. Sermons in Stones
  2. Come Come Yet Again Come
  3. The Hidden Splendor
  4. Beyond Enlightenment
  5. The New Dawn
  6. The Sword and The Lotus
  7. The Fish in the Sea is Not Thirsty
  8. Socrates Poisoned Again After 25 Centuries
  9. Yoga: The Alpha and the Omega, Vol 1
  10. The Path of Love
  11. The Book of Wisdom
  12. The Tantra Vision, Vol 1, 2
  13. Tantra: The Supreme Understanding
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