Both philosophers based their views on impermanence. Heraclitus was the dude who said, “A person can’t step in the same river twice.” He believed that all things are in constant flux. The Buddha said that all compounded things are impermanent. Some Buddhists believe that impermanence is so perpetual that all things are created and destroyed with each moment. 

 

By Johnathon Lee

Buddha and Heraclitus walk into a bar.“Ouch, who put that bar there?” 

Anyway, they both lived around the same time. Heraclitus hailed from India, the Buddha was from Ionia. Wait, scratch that, reverse it. 

Both philosophers based their views on impermanence. Heraclitus was the dude who said, “A person can’t step in the same river twice.” He believed that all things are in constant flux. The Buddha said that all compounded things are impermanent. Some Buddhists believe that impermanence is so perpetual that all things are created and destroyed with each moment. 

I don’t take it that far. Actually, I think things are made of moments. “A moment” isn’t a set length, it’s the completion of a sense experience. Combine these sense experiences together, toss in some memory, and bam, you’ve got the subjective universe.

Anyway, Buddha built an ethical framework around his insight; Heraclitus didn’t. Buddha was kind, compassionate, and lived among others. Heraclitus was kind of a hermit and a bit of a dick. 

Why the difference?

Buddha believed in karma, rebirth, and nibbana. Heraclitus didn’t have an ethical system, so he didn’t have a reason to play nice. Just kidding, he totally did. He believed that desire dampened one’s “fire,” the noble part of us. Unlike Buddha, Heraclitus believed that rebirth went on forever. 

Maybe their ontological views were different. Buddha believed that there’s no essence or soul. Instead, there are the twelve links of dependent arising. For Heraclitus, we were a mixture of fire and water. Fire was the “noble” part of us, and souls could be dry or wet. He thought that most people were pretty wet. 

Heraclitus also had a theory of opposites, similar to Yin and Yang.

He believed that all things were the tension of dichotomies. “All things come into being by conflict of opposites, and the sum of things flows like a stream.”I have no way of knowing if that’s true. I’m a furless monkey, what do I know of the “sum of things?” Even though I might pretend to. I guess the sum of things is everything all at once. An immediate totality. Wholeness. So, wholeness flows. That’s quite beautiful, and very Daoist.

Alright, sidetrack: let’s touch base with Laozi.

Laozi wrote the Daodejing, and he lived around the same time as Buddha and Heraclitus, but he was from China. Laozi interpreted reality as the Dao, or the Way. It’s often compared to water. Daoism also focused on qi, an energy that permeates the universe, similar to Heraclitus’ fire. Laozi also focused on impermanence and non-attachment.

Heraclitus and Buddha were both nobles who gave up their nobility; Laozi was a government official who noped out of society.Heraclitus stands out as the sad one of the group. He’s sometimes called the weeping philosopher. So, maybe non-attachment isn’t a cure for depression. It could be that some of us are just miserable. I certainly hope that that’s the case. Then I could stop spending so much energy on the Happiness Project.

I guess the sum of things is everything all at once. An immediate totality. Wholeness. So, wholeness flows. That’s quite beautiful, and very Daoist. ~Johnathon Lee Click To Tweet

Anywho, the main takeaway is that desire causes suffering because all things are impermanent. The treatment for that is non-attachment via contemplative ethical practices.I say keep on desiring and just accept that suffering is part of it. Maybe get choosy with your desires, suffering only for what’s worth suffering for.

“Is this worth my suffering?” If no, then let it go. “How?” By remembering that it’s impermanent and composed of moments or elements. Give it a try. I’m gonna go ahead and keep on blindly desiring though.

Stay tuned next time for Buddha and Plato.

 

Photo: Pixabay

 

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