”Perhaps the simplest way of describing the situation would be to say that, two and a half thousand years ago in the West, we were given a gift — and in our childishness we threw away the instructions for how to use it…what we haven’t been told is that a spiritual tradition lies at the very roots of western civilization.
Parmenides wrote a poem.
The first part describes his journey to the goddess who has no name. The second describes what she taught him about reality. Then the last part starts with the goddess saying, Now I’m going to deceive you; and she goes on to describe, in detail, the world we believe we live in..
In describing his journey Parmenides is referring to something very specific. If we want to understand him we need to see what. It’s all tied up with that clumsy word: incubation. The formal side to incubation was simple enough. Usually you’d lie down in a special place where you wouldn’t be disturbed. Sometimes it was a room inside a house or temple; often it was a cave or other place considered a point of entry to the underworld.
For these were people who were able to enter another world, make contact with the divine, receive knowledge directly from the gods.
Often you find the mention of a state that’s like being awake but different from being awake, that’s like sleep but not sleep: that’s neither sleep nor waking. It’s not the waking state, it’s not an ordinary dream and it’s not dreamless sleep. It’s something else, something in between. . . A Iatromantis was someone who was a master of this state of awareness.
The way so many of the stories and practices associated with the Iatromantis in Greece have their exact parallels among shamans, and the way they keep occurring in the traditions of Indian yoga as well: this is more than a coincidence. What would soon be covered over and rationalized in Greece was preserved and developed in India. What in the West had been an aspect of mystery, of initiation, became classified and formalized in the East. And there the state glimpsed or experienced by Greeks — the state that could be called a dream but isn’t an ordinary dream, that’s like being awake but isn’t being awake, that’s like being asleep but isn’t — had its own names. Sometimes it was simply referred to as the ‘fourth’, turīya. It became better known by the title of samādhi. Nothing would be easier than to think these traditions never took root in the West, or to believe that even if they did they were never of any importance for the history of western culture. But that’s not the case.
The word for ‘pipe’ that Parmenides keeps using is syrinx. It had a very particular spread of meanings. Syrinx was the name either for a musical instrument or for the part of an instrument that makes a piping, whistling sound — the sound called syrigmos. But there’s one aspect of these words that you have to bear in mind: for Greeks this sound of piping and whistling was also the sound of the hissing made by snakes. It would be so simple to dismiss as totally insignificant the fact that this piping, whistling, hissing noise is the only sound Parmenides associates with his journey to another world — except for one small matter. Ancient Greek accounts of incubation repeatedly mention certain signs that mark the point of entry into another world: into another state of awareness that’s neither waking nor sleep. One of the signs is that you become aware of a rapid spinning movement. Another is that you hear the powerful vibration produced by a piping, whistling, hissing sound. In India exactly the same signs are described as the prelude to entering samādhi, the state beyond sleep and waking. And they’re directly related to the process known as the awakening of kundalinī — of the ‘serpent power’ that’s the basic energy in all creation but that’s almost completely asleep in human beings. When it starts waking up it makes a hissing sound.
Plato had to commit patricide, get Parmenides out of the way. And the murder was so complete that now we don’t even know it ever happened, or what was killed. The only way we can suspect what happened is when we feel something missing inside. For what Parmenides represented: no one can ever get that out of the way. It will always find its way back. We can do without it for a while, but only for a while.
Nowadays there’s hardly anyone who doubts that (Plato) was Parmenides’ rightful successor: that he took his teaching a stage further, improved it. He succeeded so well that no one really suspects any more how vast the chasm is separating Plato’s idea of philosophy from Parmenides’ — or suspects just how much has been left behind.
Parmenides’ own teaching had been torn away from the background and context that had given it its meaning and life. What originally had been intended to involve every fibre of one’s being was converted into a dry logic that’s only good for complicating and torturing our minds. . . This all served its purpose — the way things always do. And there’s no right, or wrong. People just do what’s needed at the time. You could say that Plato and Aristotle, in particular, simply did their job: they made it possible for us to develop our intelligence in certain directions, to explore aspects of ourselves that we hadn’t known before. But then the time comes to be moving on.
There were a few who understood the real significance of Parmenides’ teaching and kept it alive, for a while, at Velia. Then they allowed it to go underground while aspects of it were transmitted through to Egypt and into the Islamic world.
People who love the divine go around with holes in their hearts, and inside the hole is the universe.
If we can bear to face our longing instead of finding endless ways to keep satisfying it and trying to escape it, it begins show us a glimpse of what lies behind the scenes. It opens up devastating perspective where everything is turned on its head: where fulfilment becomes a limitation, accomplishment turns into a trap. And it does this with an intensity that scrambles thoughts and forces us straight into the present.
Some of the greatest philosophers in the ancient world took it without any hesitation as meaning that [Parmenides] identified thinking with existence; and this identification even came to be viewed as a kind of trademark for his teaching. Most modern scholars,as well, are only too happy to interpret and translate it in exactly the same way: ‘For thinking and being are one and the same.’ The difficulties surrounding this translation on every side are overwhelming. Not the least of them is the fact that, later on in his poem, Parmenides plainly denies thinking and being are the same.
[The Goddess] has already explained that whatever exists for thinking — the object of all our thoughts and perceptions — is being. But now we are being told something else: that the initial cause of thought, what gave rise to it in the first place, is also being.
In other words we are being shown that the object of our thinking or perceiving, the end-point and result of the process, its final focus, is identical to its point of origin. The beginning and the end are the same.”
To be continued…………
All artwork byOdilon Redon
Some short Excerpts from a longer compilation of extracts from ‘‘In the Dark Places of Wisdom” and ”Reality”, both books by Peter Kingsley.