“Common Sense, An Interview with Peter Kingsley.” Parabola, 11/1/2016 https://parabola.org/2016/11/01/common-sense-an-interview-with-peter-kingsley/
Below is imho, a priceless interview by C.S. Soong of Peter Kingsley, author of "Reality." For optimal clarity, you may choose to both read AND listen (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZFdOt78lXM) to this interview:
“We – you and I and pretty much everyone – live under a kind of spell. We are spinning around in a daze, deaf & blind to what’s really going on, to what can liberate us and truly fulfill us and make us effective participants in life. Sure, we’ve got our plans for accumulating this, and attaining that, and changing him or her, but that’s all part of our self-deception, our misunderstanding of what’s essential. So often we try to convince ourselves we are living a full, contented life, but there is always pulling at our heart. Ambition and restlessness are just its shadows, and it will go on tearing at our hearts, until we start to acknowledge what is missing.
I discovered that Parmenides & Empedocles, these two Greeks whom I knew nothing about, were on the main line. They were right at this nerve that lies at the very beginnings of Western culture as we know it. And it was the people after them, in the century or two after Parmenides & Empedocles, who realized how important they were. But then gradually, the renown, fame & reputation of Parmenides & Empedocles was eclipsed by the reputation of the people who came after, and really in a way, to my mind, weren’t doing something quite as important or fundamental at all.
Interviewer: ‘So let’s take Parmenides, the founder of logic, as you say in this book, considered the father of rationality, rational discursive thinking. What did you find about that legend of him and whether it was accurate?
Well, there are many, many problems. I guess I’d always been, since I was very young, looking for something authentic, feeling there has to be something authentic, even offered to us, even in our own Western civilization, which has dismissed so much with its materialistic, rationalistic attitude, especially in today’s post-modern deconstructionist era, as passe & finished. I knew there must be something hidden at the beginning of this culture, because it didn’t make sense to me the way things have been going. And with Parmenides it was really a matter of stage-by-stage looking, looking. Now here we have a guy, supposedly according to all the histories of philosophy & history textbooks, who is a rationalist – not only a rationalist, but the founder, the father of Western rationalism, the originator of logic – but to begin with, he wrote a poem. And that’s a bit weird, because how many logicians nowadays would write a poem? It doesn’t really add up. And then, when I started looking at this poem itself, and getting enough knowledge of ancient Greek to be able to really work my way around it, I realized first of all that he isn’t the bad poet that he’s sometimes, in fact really all the time made out to be nowadays, and the incredibly skillful uses that Parmenides made out of poetry, which had effects that eventually I was able to track down and say, ‘Yes, these effects tie him in with religious traditions, spiritual traditions, mystical traditions, incantatory magical traditions. That they’d been put aside and totally ignored because people just want to look at him as a philosopher.’ If you look at a philosopher for philosophy, you’re not going to see anything else. That was the beginning. Then the other very, very important thing which wouldn’t leave me alone was the very beginning of this poem describing the origins of so-called logic. Parmenides describes how he was given all the knowledge that he presents in the rest of his poem, as the result of a journey into another world. Specifically, he describes (this ‘world’) in all the language & terminology of his times, as the journey into the world of the dead, which is where we go when we die, and also, for the Greeks, this world of the dead – Hades, and even beyond Hades – this is where traditionally, the physical world came out of. So he’s been taken to a point which nobody basically, except for a couple of heroes: Hercules, Orpheus, Odysseus, is allowed to get to while alive. So that already puts Parmenides in a very, very special place. He’s an initiate.*** But this world gives him the secret of what is beyond life as we know it. And of course immediately, that opens up the whole area of what is the purpose of life, and how does it exist, what does it mean in relation to death, which we tend to ignore and push aside as much as we can.
[*** “A spiritual journey is a calling. It is something initiated from somewhere beyond the ego, from a depth within the psyche that the ego has no access to on its own.” Adyashanti, “The Essence of Spirituality”
In today's language, an 'experiencer' eg NDE: Bruce Greyson. “After. A Doctor Explores What Near-Death Experiences Reveal about Life and Beyond.” St. Martin’s, 2021.]
Interviewer: ‘And when you talk about things like the purpose of life & meaning of death - this seems so far away from the conventional understanding of what ‘logic’ is, what it constitutes.’
Not at all. This is one of the strange, strange paradoxes for us in the West. We can go back century after century and look at the history of philosophy to see why. It’s a really strange story, but for us, logic has come to mean a justification basically of the rationalistic worldview that we live in. This already goes back to Aristotle. Logic is used to confirm certain perceptions essentially. It’s based on certain rational rules which have been invented to justify and substantiate the way that we see things. Now if you look at say Buddhist logic in the East, which I came to know after discovering the same principles in Parmenides’ logic, you see that their logic plays a very different role. It’s actually a tool which is designed to undermine our ordinary perceptions & our ordinary values. First of all, it’s designed to not only make us question, but to make us see that this physical world doesn’t quite add up. And this is something Parmenides, and also his successor Zeno, talked about very, very beautifully. They basically say, ‘Let’s take this world on its own terms, but when you take it really seriously, and look at it truthfully, honestly & carefully, it doesn’t make sense.’
“Reality is rife with paradox. Only the mind can’t figure it out.” Stephan Bodian PhD
Interviewer: ‘In what way would he characterize the human condition - the way we tend to live our lives?’
This is something Parmenides & Empedocles go to quite a bit of trouble, right at the beginning of their respective poems, both of them, to describe the human condition specifically. And here I have a few lines from Parmenides, where he describes humans, all humans, as ‘knowing nothing. The helplessness in their chests is what steers their wandering minds, as they’re carried along in a daze, deaf & blind at the same time. Indistinguishable, undistinguishing crowds.’ It’s not a very flattering way to describe people. And it’s funny also to see how century after century of scholarship has tried to deflect this criticism away from being a criticism of humans in general, because that would include even academics & scholars, God forbid, and put it somewhere else. But this is Parmenides’ way, and also Empedocles’ way of saying, ‘Look, life as it is lived is aimless. And however much you think you’re achieving, it’s insubstantial, it’s just like leaves in the wind. It’s going to blow away and before you know it, it’s gone, and so are you.’
Interviewer: ‘And this knowing nothing reminds me quite a bit of Socrates and the dialogues he had with people, and of course you write about it in your book “Reality” – this idea that he would keep asking questions and eventually the person, who was holding & trying to justify a certain opinion, would realize that that opinion might not have any justification, and Socrates would maybe leave them, and they might be confused and a little bit dismayed. Is Socrates part of this lineage of “you think you know, but you really don’t know”? ’
Very, very much, and … somehow through many hundreds & thousands of years, we really have forgotten, we’ve lost the sense of what Parmenides, Socrates & these people were actually doing. We get into very, very difficult water here, because we in the West, especially with democracy, we all assume that we have the right to our own opinions. And of course, on one level that is absolutely, 100, 150% justified & necessary. That’s how a democratic society works. But what’s actually been forgotten is that Socrates for example, and Parmenides wasn’t just coming in with more opinions, he was coming from a depth of awareness inside himself which he had earned, which he had discovered. And I have to emphasize there were very, very specific ways & practices in Greece in that time for coming to that state of consciousness and become stabilized in it. And the point about that state of consciousness is it’s not actually a state of believing. It’s a state of knowing. And that’s very, very difficult, because if you come into a democratic setup, whether it’s ancient Athens or modern San Francisco, the question is going to be, ‘Well, why do you say you know something that I don’t? Why do you have something to contribute that’s any better than my opinions?’ And this is a very, very delicate area, very, very delicate and very wonderful to look at, because Socrates really wasn’t putting out new opinions, new beliefs. He was aiming at, and he succeeded, in undermining peoples’ beliefs about themselves – the superficial beliefs. And of course he got into great deal of trouble – so much that he was put to death.
“We are human beings, endowed with an incredible dignity; but there’s nothing more undignified than forgetting our greatness and clutching at straws.” Peter Kingsley, “In the Dark Places of Wisdom”
Interviewer: ‘Let’s talk about thinking and rational thought. There’s something that both Parmenides & Empedocles were trying to convey about its deficiencies, what it doesn’t accomplish for us, how it’s perhaps counterproductive to getting to real meaning. You point out how thoughts lead to division & separation. You write that “our minds are like a dog’s bladder.” Could you elaborate?’
This is again a huge, huge area because we live here in a world of thinking, not just of opinions, but all the time with our selves where we think & think about everything, and everything is done on the basis of thinking. And what Parmenides said was, you can’t understand thinking unless you get beyond thinking. I mean this is actually impossible. You can’t understand thinking by thinking about it. And I think that a lot of modern philosophers get caught in this trap of thinking about thinking about thinking. And it just doesn’t work. And this is why when Parmenides describes, at the beginning of his poem, being carried to another world, which is the origins of this world as we know it, which lies behind this whole visible universe, he’s also talking about getting behind the structures of perception that actually maintain this world and keep it intact. And so this is the path of initiation, that you have to get behind thinking, you have to get past this world that we exist in, in order to understand it. It doesn’t mean leaving anything behind. It doesn’t mean that you have to leave thoughts behind after that. You have to come back and do the best you can in this world of thinking and in this physical world. But actually, to be able to experience another state of consciousness which, I have to say from my experience, is quite objective. It’s not a matter of, ‘Well different mystics, or different people in different traditions say that.’ There is something that exists. And I know many people would like to disagree with that. But it’s just something very, very simple. And once you experience that simplicity, then you can come back and do the best you can in this world of complexity, and continual thought & division. And I can just say one thing which for me is very, very beautiful about the teaching of Parmenides & Empedocles in particular, and I really have to emphasize that Parmenides as well as making this journey into another world & coming back with a very, very strange formulation – the earliest formulation of what logic actually is – he also was presenting extraordinary scientific discoveries in his palm, which hadn’t been talked about or mentioned or even known about by the people when he was writing. So the point I’m making is that for Parmenides & Empedocles nothing is excluded. Thinking always tends to exclude things. When we think, we have an opinion, and that automatically excludes someone else’s opinion. And this is why it’s very difficult trying to convey what someone like Parmenides was talking about. Because there is always room for the opposite. The opposite is always included, and this why it’s so beautiful how in the first half of his poem, Parmenides will say, “This logically is the way things are. This is the reality.” But then in the second half of his poem, he will actually go on and say, “Well that’s the truth, now I’m going to deceive you, and I’m going to talk about this world of illusion.” He doesn’t leave it out.
“The ability to appreciate paradox and doubt is a sign of spiritual maturity.” Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj
Interviewer: ‘There is quite a bit of discussion, particularly in the section on Empedocles in this book about the consciousness, the awareness that you were talking about. What’s there asking us or inviting us to do in the way of sensing things, of being aware of perceptions? What are they inviting us to do on a concrete level in terms of where we focus, & how we focus our consciousness?’
Well to begin with, there’s the quality of silence, of inner silence. And they (Parmenides & Empedocles) both made, as it were, a condition for coming to these practices the need in an individual to be aware that something’s missing in their lives. And if we just come to this in the same spirit that we think we can accumulate some other experience, it’s not going to work. There has to be some sense of a lack in one’s life. There has to be somehow a sense of just a little place somewhere inside us for something that’s missing, something that doesn’t quite add up, something’s that not right, maybe a sadness. And Empedocles states it very beautifully where he describes how there’s actually a place we need to come aside to inside ourselves – it can be inside or outside – which is different, which is a place apart, which is somehow outside of this perpetual round of acquisitive existence. Because if we just come to this with the same acquisitive mentality, we can get all the different black belts in martial arts and in meditation techniques, but it’s not going to be going into the right place inside us as human beings. So this element of silence was very, very important. Somehow it’s important for there to be a pause, so we can actually hear that something’s missing. It’s like if you are silent, you can actually hear the silent voice of something inside us, asking for something else. And we usually smother that call. What is so beautiful about the practices themselves, and I really feel I need to emphasize that this is something quite unknown.
We in the West are now in a situation, thanks to the opening-up of the world in so many ways, I have to say not in new ways, because the world has always been open, there’s always been a tremendous amount of travel, 2,000, 3,000 years ago, people were already traveling from Tibet & central Asia down to Greece and the other way around. I have to emphasize that there have always been these connections. Certainly the Western world, the Mediterranean, was not closed off from the rest of world, as people try to say before Alexander the Great and so on. This is all untrue. There were always the paths, and people did travel, remarkably fast as well.
But what has happened now in the West is that somehow there’s a very, very deep mindset which has become very, very concrete. It’s there underneath everyday thoughts, everyday ideas, our politics so much, and that is this notion of Western civilization as something materialistic, something rational, and so what has happened for the last 200 years in particular, is when people get a spiritual craving, when they feel something is missing in their ordinary, everyday life, they look to Hinduism, Buddhism, and then to more esoteric traditions, theosophy, and recently to the wonderful Native American traditions, South American traditions, and really, if you like, the nerve of my own work, the core of it, is that there is a sacred tradition at the roots of our own Western world. And that it’s really fundamental for us now, at a collective level, to get back to that sacred core of the Western world – behind all the misunderstandings, behind all the rationalizing, the materializing, to get back to the sacred core. Because otherwise, there really isn’t much of a future for this Western civilization. We have to somehow get back to the beginning. And so, the reason why I’m prefacing what I’m going to say in this way is here we have at the roots of Western civilization a so-called philosophy, the very birth of Western science, not just a series, but a whole system of meditation techniques. If you like you can call them yogic techniques, because they include breathing practices, and so on. And this is really quite extraordinary, that the founder of Western logic, the father of many, many aspects of science even, and with Empedocles cosmology and so on, was giving meditation techniques, yogic practices as a prerequisite for understanding teachings that would come later. And there is now remarkable archeological evidence which cannot be denied, that has been very, very strangely silenced for the last fifty years, demonstrating Parmenides, the father of logic, was in fact a priest of Apollo, and he was involved in very, very specific ecstatic practices to do with dreams, dream-interpretation, so-called incubation rituals. And these are the real foundations, these are the background of Western logic, not what we like to believe.
But these practices, to get on to the techniques themselves, what do they offer if you want to come to them? Again, they offer everything, because nothing is excluded. On the one hand they offer techniques for going into this other state of consciousness, this other world that Parmenides described, this world of tremendous stillness, of physical stillness if you like, of meditation, certainly of mental stillness. But they didn’t just ignore the world of the senses. As I said earlier on, they also gave the most remarkable techniques, especially Empedocles, for really becoming aware through our senses, and for realizing for the first time – and it’s quite a shock when you start to do this – but normally, we are not aware. We go through the day, we drive our cars, we make breakfast, we talk with people, go out to dinner, watch television. But when you start to do these practices, you actually start to realize that that is not being aware. We don’t know how to see or listen. And this is something we believe we do, but it’s like we are sensed, we don’t sense. We don’t really sense to see, it happens to us. There’s a whole level of waking up, which brings the world together and gives it a much, much deeper meaning through these practices.
Interviewer: ‘What is reality and how does it relate to my internal state, my sense of being independent and separate from other things? How would you begin to answer this? How to Parmenides & Empedocles begin to answer that question?’
Well we’re not separate. This is the problem. We start from the apparent sense of separateness, which really we Westerners have; Native American people don’t have that. We are not separate. And this eventually brings with it a rather beautiful realization. One can start off doing practices, by if you like, meditating. And I have to say these meditation techniques are very specific – remember, they’re being given by the founder of logic. These are not airy-fairy other-worldly techniques. These are very, very specific. You can begin by saying, ‘I am meditating,’ but then after a while you start to realize that you are being meditated, because everything is one, and everything is connected. So it’s very difficult for me in a way to start off as it were from this assumption that we are separate, because it doesn’t really work. It’s part of the illusion we were talking about earlier.
Interviewer: ‘Are there similarities between the Tao and what Parmenides & Empedocles are trying to tell us about?’
Very, very much. And one of the principles I find so beautifully similar in Parmenides and in Taoism, is the more we try to get something for ourselves, the less we end up with. It’s this very, very strange paradox that by trying to accumulate things for ourselves, we diminish ourselves. And by somehow becoming nothing, and of course there are many misconceptions that can come up around that idea or reality of becoming nothing, then everything is given because you do become a part of everything, which is what we are in our essential natures anyway. So yes, and there is the flow. This is something that I again find so beautiful, there is this constant sense in Taoism and in Parmenides’ & Empedocles’ teaching of something natural, something organic. We tend to think of spiritual practice as often somehow unnatural, needing sacrifices, asceticism, abstention, giving up this & that, but again they say there’s nothing to give up. It’s a matter of including. But it’s a matter also of including our deeper needs, our deeper longings, our deeper urges, and not leaving those out, which can so easily happen.
Interviewer: ‘I’m going to read something from the book, Reality: ‘There is nothing left to grasp or learn. All we need has already been given and lies quietly within us. And there will be no separation, no loss, unless you are careless enough to let it go.’ So the nub of the idea is that everything we think we want or think we need or are attaching to is already internal?
Is already internal, and we really don’t have to struggle for it or fight for it because there’s something so clear and definite inside ourselves, that we don’t need to struggle for it outwardly. Just to give one very, very brief final example maybe, that I find so interesting, these people – Parmenides in particular, and many others from around his time and before & after in the Mediterranean two & a half thousand years ago, they were law-givers. And it’s very, very strange that for them, laws were actually given from this other world. And this is something really inconceivable to us now, because we think that if someone was to come along now and say that they were given some laws in a dream, you’d say, ‘Yeh, and what leg are you trying to pull? What are you trying to get away with?’ But these laws that were brought from this other state of consciousness, they were selfless. They weren’t concerned with what my party can get, with what I can acquire. And it’s wonderful because again, at the democratic level, with the thinking process which is absolutely beautiful & fine, you can work out laws. But there’s this other level, where laws can come through, which I have to emphasize were laws for a whole society, laws for cities, and also laws for the individual – laws that we have to live by."
“Rationality is simply mysticism misunderstood.” Peter Kingsley, 'Reality'