by: Gn. Dionysius Draco Invictus
Often imitated, but never duplicated, Herakleitos remains one of the most influential ancient Greek philosophers to walk the Earth. Quotes such as "panta rhei" (everything flows) gained immortal fame, and he is often cited by other philosophers, and religious leaders. However, I think he is often misinterpreted, and misunderstood.
The system (if one) that he presents to us is in fact much more complex than it is a baseless change of everything. If you think about the consequences of this quote, they are far-reaching. Assumed that everything changes, this must mean that what we would call "the All" equals "Change". Therefore, if there is a form of Nothingness, Nothingness must be absolute and unchanging - which is also one of the definitions of true void. Immediately we see the obvious similarity between Herakleitos' basic teaching, and both Buddhism and modern science, that both learn us that everything is relative. The relativity of everything is also a consequence of the statements summed up above, and is, I daresay, a rather waterproof system.
Then, Herakleitos goes further to examine the causes of this everchanging flux. What brings everything into being, he says, is conflict and opposition ("ho polemos pater pantoon"). No light without dark, no war without peace. This is again a point of similarity with Buddhism, which learns us that what causes attachment to this world, is the illusion of believing that these oppositions are seperate things, rather than necessary and logical products (and causes) of one another. However, instead if trying to eliminate these oppositions by attaining enlightment, Herakleitos thrives on them. He shows an evident satisfaction in the essential chaos, and attributes this chaos to a cosmic fire, powered by the logos. While I believe this metaphysical aspect to be somewhat irrelevant, Luciano De Crescenzo, an Italian writer, notes, in his fictive dialogue with Herakleitos, that a cosmic fire is not far off from the concept of the big bang. Of course, we are interpreting Herakleitos here, and in doing so, we're on a slippery path.
Even in ancient times, Herakleitos was called "ho skoteinos" (the dark one), because of the difficulty he posed for a linear interpretation. Whereas philosophers such as Aristoteles or Kant are clarifications, definitions and explanations on their own, our friend from Ephese is different; all that he offers us are his words, that find their root in everyday, concrete things, but end up in a large-scale metaphysical examination of reality. A difficulty for some people was also "on what side" Herakleitos was. He never expresses a moral sentiment in his philosophical quotes, and is therefore often labeled as immoral, connecting him to Nietzsche, who claims that he himself feels quite some sympathy for Herakleitos.
Stories, however, show us a different side of the at first sight misantropic, relativating and all-encompassing philosopher. In Ephese, he was a very respected personality in the local council, and legend has it that he was once even banished for being too honest. So, in spite of his dark philosophy, he was most definitely a man of strong moral convictions, reminding me of modern protest singers, who are often branded as evil, but are actually the gadflies and evil consciences of society.
In closing, Herakleitos and his everflowing stream remain a source of inspiration, and an interesting topic of comparison in the modern world. Differing from new ages gurus who use cheap paradoxes to stupify their followers, Herakleitos invites us to think on our own, and would probably even be pleased to meet opposition to his theories, which would even even be the perfect demonstration of his philosophy. As you can see, there is no escape possible.