Buddha and Parmenides on the deathless

8 Aug '21 • Filed under mystical • Tagged:

One of my favourite quotes from the Buddha comes from the Udana—the “Inspired Utterances” of the Buddha. It stuck in my head due to it’s power and directness:

There is that sphere of being where there is no earth, no water, no fire, nor wind; no experience of infinity…; here there is neither this world nor another world, neither moon nor sun; this sphere of being I call neither a coming nor a going nor a staying still, neither a dying nor a reappearance; it has no basis, no evolution, and no support: it is the end of dukkha. (ud. 8.1)

Many years later I’d become interested in the Western mystery tradition. Parmenides is not considered a part of that tradition by most academics, yet here is a part of his proem, which strikes a remarkably similar tone to the Buddha:

There is only one tale of a path left to tell: that is. And along this way there are many, many signs that as well as being birthless it’s also deathless and whole and of a single kind and unmoving—and neither is it incomplete.

It never was and never will be because it is now, all together, one, holding to itself… So it is that creation has been extinguished, and of destruction there is not a word to be heard.

If they weren’t similar enough, Parmenides also references a sphere later in this verse: “this means it is perfectly complete–just like the bulk of a sphere neatly rounded off from each direction, equally matched from the middle on every side.”

They are both describing something mysterious: the nature of reality, or “that is.”

The Buddha and Parmenides are not often mentioned in the same sentence. The former is accepted as a contemplative and mystic, whereas the latter is seen as someone who lead us away from mysticism and upwards towards reason.

We all know the Buddha taught meditation and stillness. But as Peter Kingsley reveals in Reality, Parmenides was also surrounded on all sides by mysticism and the practice of stillness (heyschia).

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