Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ancient wisdom to rival modern physics

Heraclitus, who in the 5th century BCE professed need for men to live together in social harmony, wasn’t particularly popular, and complained that most people fail to use or even understand reason. Wisdom, he taught, is “to know the intelligence by which all things are steered through all things.” In his view, a harmony of opposites, in their tension with each other, makes strife the dominant creative force. The fundamental uniform fact in nature is constant change; sensible things are in constant flux and nothing truly IS in this world because everything is in a state of becoming something else. A thing simultaneously both is and isn’t; harmony and unity consist in diversity and multiplicity. All is united as a universal principle connects all natural events (all is interrelated). An underlying connection between opposites (good and evil, hot and cold, huge and tiny, even smart and stupid) he expressed as, “The road up is the road down.” Similarly, a single substance may be perceived in varied ways: seawater can be both harmful (drowned in or drunk by men) and beneficial (for carrying commercial shipping, and for fish); “Sea water is at once very pure and very foul: it is drinkable and healthful for fishes, but undrinkable and deadly for men.” Also, change (as in direction) is always balanced by a corresponding opposite change, although this might not be immediately perceptible. “The death of fire is the birth of air, and the death of air is the birth of water.” (or, “Fire lives in the death of earth, air in the death of fire, water in the death of air, and earth in the death of water.”). “Cool things become warm, the warm grows cool; what is wet dries, the parched becomes moist.”
Understanding of the relation of opposites can help one to deal with the chaotic and divergent nature of the world, he asserted; between all things there are hidden connections, and things apparently “tending apart” are actually “being brought together.” Time flow is the essence of reality, and fire (energy, “the most complete embodiment of the process of Becoming”), the uniter of all - its resultant light is a nexus between things. The world order is an “ever-living fire, kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures.” All things are an interchange for fire, and fire for all things, just like wares for gold and gold for wares.” Manifestations of fire include fuel, flame, smoke and upper atmospheric ether (pure fire), which “turns to” ocean, as rain, much as part of the ocean turns into earth (in equal amounts or aspects). Thus a dynamic equilibrium maintains an orderly balance. Unity despite change he illustrated by analogy: “Upon those who step into the same river, other, ever different, waters flow.”
Going where modern physics never has, Heraclitus asserted, “It is pleasure to souls to become moist” (meaning, it is supposed, sexually indulged, intoxicated and pampered… while for the body, to be dry is much safer) and “It is hard to fight with one’s heart’s desire, for it will pay with soul for what it craves” (“It is hard to fight against impulsive desire; whatever it wants it will buy at the cost of the soul.”)
The fragment of his writings numbered 123, of only 139 known, astutely asserts, “Nature [physics] loves to hide.” Fragment 112 asserts, “Wisdom consists in speaking and acting the truth, giving heed to the nature of things.” And 110, “It is no good for men to get all they wish to get.”

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