The writer of the following quoted text, Peter Kingsley, is notable for rediscovering and spreading the practices, lineage, and beauty of the ancient Greek spiritual tradition that counts among its great teachers both Parmenides and Empedocles.

In this quote there is much to be thankful for, including: the need for dedication and focus in our efforts; the immense role that our longing (thumos in Greek) plays in accomplishing anything at all; the important step we must take beyond the intelligible appearances, which uncovers the reality beyond existence, and which gives us our first inkling of the indescribable source of all appearing — of showing up; and the forms of what appears as repetition of appearances; finally finding the simplicity at the heart of reality, the stillness and timelessness of the real.

Kingsley calls out the challenge we face from our own distractedness, so craftily weaponized by those that seek to undermine us — molding us, wielding us, for the accomplishment of their own ends. He directs our attention to the negating effect of our ideas and beliefs — those conceptual constraints that have been placed upon us, or that we have placed upon ourselves — because these ideas and beliefs fight against the truth that we can discover, not allowing us to fully appreciate what truly is. And most importantly for this work, he highlights the role that inner spontaneous sound — the “syrigmos” — plays in reaching this ultimate truth, tying it directly to the similar Indian signs that appear as the prelude to entering samâdhi (meditative absorption). Kingsley also points to “probably the most famous magical text of all from the ancient Greek world (which) is written on a large papyrus, stored away now in a vast old Paris library, in which the syrigmos plays an essential role in attaining immortality.” A point made in other traditions as well.

I have deep respect and appreciation for Peter Kingsley, who is, and has been, the unrelenting conduit and advocate for these words and the ancient roots they once again disclose to us.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།

For us a song and a road are very different things. But in the language of ancient Greek epic poetry the word for ‘road’ and the word for ‘song’, oimos and oimê, are almost identical. They’re linked, have the same origin.

Originally the poet’s song was quite simply a journey into another world: a world where the past and future are as accessible and real as the present. And his journey was his song. Those were the times when the poet was a magician, a shaman.

Parmenides’ incantatory technique certainly has its links with the mythology of Orpheus — and with the shamanic origins of Orphic tradition in the far northern and eastern corners of Greece. But it also points back to what for a long time historians have realized are the roots of Greek epic poetry itself: its roots in the language of shamans.

The words shamans use as they enter the state of ecstasy evoke the things they speak about. The poems they sing don’t only describe their journeys; they’re what makes the journeys happen.

And shamans have always used repetition as a matter of course to invoke a consciousness quite different from our ordinary awareness: a consciousness where something else starts to take over. The repetition is what draws them into another world, away from all the things we know.

In a sense, those who notice Parmenides’ practice of repeating words and then dismiss it as awkward or naive have missed the point entirely. But in another sense they’re perfectly right in what they say.

In the modern world repetition and naivety go hand-in-hand. Sophistication is the highest virtue–the search for endless variety, for ways to keep scattering our longing in entertainments and distractions, in different things to do and say. Even the attempts we make to improve ourselves, become wiser or more interesting or successful, are just methods of running from the hollowness we all feel inside.

So we get everything upside down and back to front, mistaking sophistication for maturity and hardly noticing that there’s nothing more repetitious than the desire for variety.

It needs a tremendous focus, an immense intensity, to break through the wall of appearances that surround us and that we think of as reality. Most people painted their wall in different colors and then imagine they’re free.

But what’s extraordinary is that the crucial thing we need for breaking free is already inside us: our longing. And the voice of our longing is repetition, insistently calling out to what’s beyond anything we’re familiar with or even understand.

To begin with, it can seem such a challenge not to be distracted and pulled to the right or the left — just to keep to a line of utter simplicity that’s able to draw us into another world. Every appearance seems marshaled against us, and all we have to hold onto is the insistent repetition of our own longing. But then something very subtle happens.

As you start being drawn behind appearance you begin to touch the bare bones of existence, to discover another reality behind the scenes. And you can never take anything at face value any more.

You start to see the underlying principles behind events, the basic patterns that keep repeating themselves time after time; and repetition begins to show itself in everything. Instead of appearances being an obstacle, they help you on your journey. And everything starts speaking with the voice of your own longing.

That’s why the repetition and Parmenides’ account of his journey soon spreads to all the details he describes. At first it’s just a matter of the way he’s carried and continuously carried ‘as far as longing can reach.’ But then he starts explaining how object after object that he encounters on his journey is ‘held fast;’ and in whatever moves he keeps seeing the same pattern of spinning in a circle. The chariot wheels spin on the axle, the doors spin on their axles as they open into the underworld.

Everything becomes simpler and simpler — less unique, an echo of something else — until gradually you see where all this repetition of detail is leading. Each single thing that exists is being reduced to a small part of the pattern created by the interplay of night and day, of light and darkness. For those are the fundamental opposites that, as Parmenides will explain later on, repeat themselves endlessly in different combinations to produce the universe we think we live in.

The way he reduces appearances to the basic opposites of light and dark, night and day, has often been noticed. But this reduction isn’t some philosophical theory. It’s the result of traveling behind appearances to what for ancient Greek poets are the roots of existence: into the darkness where all the light comes from, where everything merges with its opposite.

And it’s all very practical — very real. This is what happens when instead of trying to run away from repetition you find the courage to face it, go through it. Then you arrive at something that’s beyond any sort of repetition because it’s completely still and timeless.

There are some things that matter more than we realize, but we can find a thousand reasons for dismissing them.

Usually we’re so full of ideas and opinions, of fears and expectations, that we can hardly hear anything beyond the noise of our own thoughts; and so we miss the most important things. Or even worse, we just dismiss them as insignificant. It’s not for nothing that people weren’t allowed even to listen to Pythagoras’ teachings until they had practiced being silent for years.

There is one simple detail in Parmenides’ account of his journey to the underworld that’s so easy to miss. During the whole of his journey there’s no mention at all of any noise–apart from one single sound. That’s the sound the chariot makes as the daughters of the Sun draw him along: ‘the sound of a pipe.’

And this is where we’re brought face-to-face with one of the most obvious examples of repetition. For after Parmenides mentions the sound of the pipe he uses the same word again to explain how the huge doors spin open, rotating in hollow tubes or ‘pipes.’

This use of the word is extraordinary. It’s the only time in the whole Greek language that it’s ever applied to doors or parts of doors, and scholars have pointed out that Parmenides must have chosen it for a particular reason: not simply to describe what the doors look like but also to give a sense of the sound they make. On his journey everything that moves has to do with the sound or the appearance of pipes. The doors with their axles imitate the axle on the chariot, the spinning of the doors copies the spinning of the chariot’s wheels, and there’s just a suggestion — nothing more — that the sound of the chariot is echoed by the sound of the opening doors.

That’s the way repetition works. It blurs differences, blends one thing into another. It can only be explained up to a certain point because in fact it has to do with another kind of awareness. And so you’re faced with an apparent choice. Either you stand back, and walk away, or you allow yourself to be taken.

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 marked 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 samâdhi, the state beyond sleep and waking. And they’re directly related to the process known as the awakening of kundalinî — 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.

The parallels between standard Indian accounts of the process and Parmenides’ account of his journey are obvious enough; specialists in Indian traditions have written about them and discussed them. But what hasn’t been noticed is that the particular sounds mentioned by Parmenides also happens to be the sound made by a hissing snake.

Probably the most famous magical text of all from the ancient Greek world is written on a large papyrus, stored away now in a vast old Paris library. It’s part of a strange story that really hasn’t been told and possibly never will be.

As well as giving examples for how to use the magical repetition of words to go into a state of trance, it has a section sometimes referred to as the recipe for immortality. The recipe is strictly esoteric, only for transmission from a spiritual ‘father’ to his adopted ‘son.’ It’s a recipe for going through an inner process of death — for being brought almost to the point of physical extinction, far from ‘any human being or living thing’ — so that initiate can be born into a world beyond space and time. And it involves making a cosmic journey while in another state of consciousness to the real origin of all human life: the sun.

Repeatedly the initiate is told by the ‘father’ magician that on the different stages of his journey he has to keep producing a piping, whistling, hissing sound — the sound of a syrinx. There’s a whole number of reasons why this was so important. First, magicians used to make that particular hissing sound as part of an exercise in breath control to help them enter an altered state of awareness. And second, the sound of a syrinx was a call for silence. This is something that makes sense even on a very obvious level when you consider how hissing or whistling at people is still a way of silencing them. To ancient mystics and magicians the journey into a greater reality was a journey made through silence, in silence and into silence. The noise of a syrinx is the ultimate password. It’s the sound of silence.

But the recipe for immortality is also categorical about one detail. Before an initiate can be accepted in the realm of the gods he first has to convince them he belongs there. The way he’s told to do this is to say the words ‘I too am a star, wandering around together with you, shining out of the depths.’ And this is when he has to keep making the sound of a syrinx.

It’s not hard to see why. Greek mystical texts explain that this hissing or piping sound, this sound of silence, is the sound of creation. It’s the noise made by the stars, by the planets as they coil and spin in their orbits. Sometimes, depending on how loud or quiet it is, you can hear it in the whistling or roaring of the wind. There are also traditions that say this is what’s meant by the famous harmony of the spheres: this sound Pythagoras once heard in a state of ecstasy, in total stillness.

And it’s no ordinary sound. An Anatolian oracle of Apollo, delivered in the form of a poem from one of his temples that was built just above a cave leading down to the underworld, states the matter very clearly.

It explains how after a person comes into contact with the source of the sound then ‘there’s no tearing one’s heart away, because it allows no separation’.¹

And this is true.

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།


¹ Taken from: “In The Dark Places of Wisdom,” by Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, 1999, pages 122–131. For further discussion of these matters, see: “Reality,” written via Peter Kingsley, The Golden Sufi Center, 2003

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