All We Know About Lysis (from Diogenes Laertius’ Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers)


[In 323 BC] the Greek philosopher Lysis, who belonged to no particular school of thought but that which was most politically expedient, found himself in Zariaspa [modern Balkh], thanks in large part to the conquests of Alexander the Great. While he was staying in the city he encountered an Indian gymnosophist, perhaps an ascetic Brahminical monk or maybe even a fledgling Buddhist, and said to the man in Attic Greek that “If you can speak one word of my language to me, I will convert to your philosophy.” The monk was in the middle of a busy thoroughfare bowing and beating on a drum to a crude idol he had set up there for that purpose; when he heard the words of Lysis he looked up and said, in perfect Attic Greek, “Language is nothing, thought is everything, but you are a poor man indeed, for you have neither words nor thoughts.” And that same day Lysis shaved his head and his beard, donned the red robe, found a pillar in an empty city of ruins that was nearby, and there on its capital began his meditations in search of Enlightenment.

It was some time later [on April 18th, 316 BC] that an eclipse cast its shadow over the city of Zariaspa and the surrounding country. The people were amazed and terrified, and Lysis, having gazed deeply into the glare of light glowing around the edge of the black disk in the sky, suddenly found, upon glancing away, that he could no longer see anything at all. He rejoiced at this, saying to himself he would be less distracted by the world of illusions, and how wonderful it would be to lose the rest of his senses, that he might be allowed to contemplate the universe in peace, untroubled by the gnawing cold from the north, the sound of laughing women, the taste of warm bread dipped in olive oil.

And he followed through with this pursuit, asked a soldier to pull out his tongue, burned off his nose, and pressed his ears to the anvils of the loudest blacksmiths, thus rendering himself almost totally senseless. He never learned how to eradicate his sense of touch, and could thus be seen sitting in a shaft of sunlight in the marketplace near where he had first met the Greek-speaking monk, his eyes shut, his pursed lips smiling pleasantly. He died of natural causes [in 310]. A crystal was found in the ash of his cremated body, but this disappeared sometime after the invasion of the Tocharians.

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