A25FEE16-6C79-4BA4-9BE5-1D805694D0B5‘The School of Athens’ – by Raphael, 1509 (fresco at the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City) – Wikimedia

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There is nothing,
and there will never be anything,
outside of being
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~ Parmenides (trans. Francis Lucille)

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The Oxford Dictionary wrote this very concise description of Parmenides: “Greek philosopher. Born in Elea in south-western Italy, he founded the Eleatic school of philosophers. In his work ‘On Nature’, written in hexameter verse, he maintained that the apparent motion and changing forms of the universe are in fact manifestations of an unchanging and indivisible reality.” This statement is a quintessential definition of non-duality, and a summary of Parmenides’ work expressed as far as the early fifth century BC, in the cradle of western civilisation. The depth of understanding and vision required to make such statement has puzzled and influenced many a philosopher since, and has aroused the interest of countless spiritual seekers. This spiritual message is worth a good attention here.

Parmenides is the author of one single work, a poem of which only fragments have remained over the years. It survived because the around 800 verse original poem was abundantly quoted by his pairs, and could be re-formed in a shorter version, as known today, of 160 verses. His poem, today translated as ‘On Nature’, ‘On Reality’, or simply ‘Fragments’, is comprised of three parts of which the second and most important has survived in its almost entirety. The ‘Prologue’ is the narration of the divine conditions of his revelation, the ‘Way of Truth’ describes that which is real in our experience, and the ‘Way of Opinion’ that which is not real. I’m using here, in this presentation, the 1920’s translation by John Burnet called ‘Fragments of Parmenides’. Later in this page will be presented a modern translation by Francis Lucille of the ‘Way of Truth’ only, which brings clarity and eloquence to Parmenides’ poem.

The poem was certainly the vehicle for an important and significant message, since Parmenides has clothed it in divine and celestial apparels, where “maidens showed the way”, and when “the daughters of the Sun, hasting to convey me into the light, threw back their veils from off their faces and left the abode of Night.” The poet was led “on the renowned way of the goddess” where an obviously important teaching is about to be delivered. “The goddess greeted me kindly, and took my right hand in hers, and spake to me these words:”

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It is no ill chance, but right and justice
that has sent thee forth to travel on this way.
Far, indeed, does it lie from the beaten track of men!
Meet it is that thou shouldst learn all things,
as well the unshaken heart of well-rounded truth
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The warning could not be clearer. We are about to be taught “the unshaken heart of well-rounded truth”. The message comes in dumbfounding simplicity, for it can be put in one sentence that works a long way in all spiritual understanding or realisation. Through the meanders of translation, Parmenides’ statement can be singled out in the way showed in this Rupert Spira’s concise paraphrase:

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That which is, never ceases to be. That which is not, never comes into being.”

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In other words, there is a reality which we cannot see or experience as an object and is deemed nonexistent, but is in fact the only real thing there is — a thing that can never not be. And there is another everyday, obvious reality which we all see in the forms of the objects of our world, but whose apparent existence can never truly be — things that cannot ever be. This truth is really one of the foundations of non-dual understanding, something though that, in Parmenides’ words, “shall never be proved. […] Do thou restrain thy thought from this way of inquiry.” This truth is not meant for conceptual thinking but for living realisation. It is a description of our reality here and now as we read these words. It is the description of ‘that which is’, a reality whose nature is “uncreated and indestructible; for it is complete, immovable, and without end”, […] “unthinkable and nameless”, and can never “come into being” for, as the poet explains wisely: “If it came into being, it is not.” We read further:

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Within being there remain no differences because it is completely identical to itself.
There is not, here, something more that comes to break continuity
Neither, there, something less: but everything is filled with being.
Thus it is all continuous: being adjoined to being
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~ (Francis Lucille’s translation)

Remaining itself, existing within itself, supported by itself,
Thus, immutable, it remains in the same place because the powerful necessity,
Hemming it in from all sides, keeps it firmly unified
.”
~ (Francis Lucille’s translation)

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As for the apparent things experienced in the apparent world around us, Parmenides writes about them in this poetical manner:

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And there is not, and never shall be, anything besides what is,
since fate has chained it so as to be whole and immovable.
Wherefore all these things are but names
which mortals have given, believing them to be true —
coming into being and passing away,
being and not being, change of place
and alteration of bright colour
.”

 

‘Parmenides’ – Wikimedia

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Here ends Parmenides’ description of ‘that which is’ (The Way of Truth). The poem now endeavours to describe reality’s appearances — ‘that which is not’ (The Way of Opinion) — in the forms of “light and night”, “things” and their “names”, and “the heavens that surround us” […] “How the earth, and the sun, and the moon, and the sky that is common to all, and the Milky Way, and the outermost Olympos, and the burning might of the stars arose”. Not to forget the “gods”, the “boys”, the “girls”, and “the divinity that directs the course of all things […] driving the female to the embrace of the male, and the male to that of the female”. After which Parmenides ends his description in this faintly ironic way:

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Thus, according to men’s opinions, did things come into being,
and thus they are now. In time they will grow up and pass away.
To each of these things men have assigned a fixed name
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Parmenides’ description of reality has of course devastating implications. His proposition of an essence that is One, indivisible, unborn, unbecoming, without end, implies the absence of time and space, of movement, the abolition of the separation between subject and object, and between object and object. Yet, without any living understanding to experientially support these truths, these words were — and still are — highly challenging to contemporary and later philosophers. Parmenides was judged as somebody who preferred reason to sensory evidence while it is obvious, when one has taken the path to non-dual understanding, that the contrary is truer. It is ‘sensory’ evidence, or rather Parmenides’ felt understanding, that led to his being able to assert such statement of truth. Reason is rather on the side of the ones who, relying on their usual sensory perceptions, deduce from them a reality to the world that in fact belongs to the original essence that Parmenides was advocating in his writings.

Parmenides is traditionally known as the founder of western rationalism, and was able to intuit at the time that the Earth was a sphere. That emphasis led the West to ignore the real nature of his message, as was done for another of his pairs, Empedocles. Peter Kingsley affirmed: “As for the ‘logic’ that he introduced to the western world, this was not some dry intellectual exercise. It was nothing less than a gift from the gods which when understood right, and applied in our daily life, has the mysterious power of taking us back to the gods. […] The truth about the real nature of their work has been neglected, distorted, ignored — transformed into just another of those empty illusions that they themselves tried to set us free from.”

Parmenides has exposed a completely new representation of reality, that set many subsequent philosophers and searchers on challenging tracks. This reality can be described in just a few words, and was also mentioned by many other religious or spiritual traditions. Its essence can be found in the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ of Hinduism, where it is said in almost identical terms:

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There is no existence for that which is unreal; there is no non-existence for that which is real.”
~ Bhagavad Gita (II.16)

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The same truth can also be seen on India’s national motto that adorns the base of the Lion Capital of Ashoka, and is inscribed on all Indian currency and official documents. This one simple phrase and mantra excerpted from the Mundaka Upanishad, whose meaning is in essence identical to the one found in Parmenides’ famous poem, is the following:

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The true prevails, not the untrue.”
~ Mundaka Upanishad (Hymn III.1.6)

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So it seems that in this embrace of truth, both India’s ancient sages of the perennial understanding and one of the most renowned Western philosophers were joined by a common understanding. From then on, it seems that the duty of the West was to understand the world, or the many, through the tools of thought and logic. The endeavour of the East was conversely to comprehend the One, or the Self, through the instruments of meditation and devotion. Let’s hope that Parmenides’ insight will soon find its completion through the realisation of our lived understanding of the One, both in its unchanging essence and its passing dance of forms.

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‘Parmenides’ of Raphael – Wikimedia

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ON REALITY 
by Parmenides (Way of Truth)
~ translated by Francis Lucille
StillnessSpeaks [CC BY-SA 4.0]

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Now then, I will instruct you; hear what I say:
Two paths are open to investigation.
The first says: being is and non­being is not.
It is the path of certainty, because it follows the truth.
The other says: being is not, therefore non­being is.
This misdirected path, I tell you, cannot lead to a sound conviction
For, if this statement were true, it would not be possible for you to conceive of non­being, nor to name it.

Speaking and thinking necessarily arise from being, because being is.
And non­being is not. I invite you to reflect deeply on this point,
And to move away, in your search, from that other path
As from the one traveled by those ignorant mortals
Who are the men of two minds: the uncertainty which resides in their hearts
Misleads their wavering reason. They are swept along,
Deaf and blind, benighted, the masses without discernment
Who pretend that being and non­being are simultaneously identical
And different, they for whom, for any statement, the opposite is equally true.
No power will ever bring non­being into existence.
So direct your thinking away from this path of exploration.
May habit, so often resumed, not force you to return to it,
With eyes blinded, ears filled with noise
And mouth with words, and may your intelligence alone resolve this contentious issue.

Only one path remains for us to pursue:
Being is. And countless signs prove
That being is free from birth and death
Because it is complete, immutable and eternal.
It never was, it never will be, because it is completely whole in the now,
One, endless. What beginning, indeed, should we attribute to it?
Whence would it evolve? Whither?
I will not allow you to say or to think that it comes from nothingness,
Nor that being is not. What exigency would have brought it forth
Later or earlier, from non­-being?
Thus, it can only be, absolutely, or not at all.
Our firm innermost conviction will never admit
That something can spring forth from nothingness.
In this way the goddess of Justice, forbidding birth and death,
Preserves without respite the existence of being. Whereas the question was to resolve
Whether being is or is not. We must therefore decide to abandon as false
The second hypothesis, the path which can neither be thought nor formulated,
And to hold to the first, which is the path of the truth.
How could what is, one day cease to be? How could it have, one day, come to be?
What is born, is not, neither what is to be born.
Thus dies birth and thus dies death.
Within being there remain no differences because it is completely identical to itself.
There is not, here, something more that comes to break continuity
Neither, there, something less: but everything is filled with being.
Thus it is all continuous: being adjoined to being.
On the other hand, maintained motionless by powerful links,
It is without beginning and without end, since birth and death
Have been rejected as contrary to our intuition of truth.
Remaining itself, existing within itself, supported by itself,
Thus, immutable, it remains in the same place because the powerful necessity,
Hemming it in from all sides, keeps it firmly unified.
That is why it is not permitted that being be unfinished,
Because there is nothing missing in it; unfinished, it would be missing everything!
Thought is identical to being, and so it is for the object to which thought refers;
Thus there is nothing, and there will never be anything, outside of being
Which Destiny compels to an eternal bliss. Thus,
To be born and to die, to be or not to be,
To change place or appearance,
All of these events are but names superimposed by man’s ignorance.
Being the ultimate, it is everywhere complete.
Just as an harmoniously round sphere
Departs equally at all points from its center.
Nothing can be added to it here nor taken away from it there.
What is not, cannot interrupt it’s homogeneous existence.
What is, cannot possess it more or less. Out of all reach,
Everywhere identical to itself, beyond all limits, it is.

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Parmenides’ excerpts translated by John Burnet (1863-1928)
Parmenides’ ‘Way of Truth’ translated by Francis Lucille

Paintings by Raphael (1483-1520)

Accompanying text by Alain Joly

~~~

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Bibliography:
– ‘Fragments of Parmenides’ – by Parmenides (Trans. John Burnet) – CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
– ‘On the Order of Nature’ – by Parmenides – (Aurea Vidya)
– ‘The Perfume of Silence’ – by Francis Lucille – (Truespeech Productions)
– ‘You Are the Happiness You Seek’ – by Rupert Spira – (Sahaja Publications)

Websites:
Parmenides (Wikipedia) 
Fragments of Parmenides (Wikisource)
John Burnet (Wikipedia) 
Peter Kingsley
Stillness Speaks 
Rupert Spira 
Francis Lucille
Raphael (Wikipedia) 

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