Heraclitus and the Will of Fire (Naruto)

By Derrick Jean-Baptiste

With the recent release of the Boruto anime, we at Entertainment Stew have had Naruto on the brain.

Let's be honest; we only watch this show to see our 'ships' live out on screen

Let's be honest; we only watch this show to see our 'ships' live out on screen

For those unaware, Naruto is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Masashi Kishimoto starting in 2001. In the time since then, it has exploded in popularity becoming one of the most famous Japanese animated exports since Dragon Ball Z. Long story short - it’s a pretty culturally important show.

With that in mind, I have been thinking about a concept that is very near and dear to the mythos of the “Narutoverse” - The Will of Fire.  More specifically, I’ve been finding the correlations between Naruto’s Will of Fire and the philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus' theory of fire and flux.

heraclitus

Before we can even get into this theory of fire, we must first set things straight in regards to Heraclitus. Heraclitus is a rather difficult philosopher to read. According to Diogenes, Heraclitus deliberately made his philosophical work obscure so that none but the already competent would be able to understand it.

Despite all of this issues we will try and cover only the relevant portions of Heraclitus’ philosophy.

On top of that, we currently possess only fragments of Heraclitus’s work. This, combined with the introspective nature of Heraclitus’ philosophical work, makes the task of reconstructing his arguments difficult.

One of the main principles of Heraclitus' philosophy and a cornerstone of his theory is the idea that all things are in the process of flux. Nothing is permanent but everything is constantly becoming something else or going out of existence.

Because all things are constantly becoming something else or going out of existence, there can be no knowledge of them.

A Naruto styled representation of the flux.

A Naruto styled representation of the flux.

There is more to Heraclitean philosophy than the idea that all things are in flux, and Heraclitus, upon turning inward and probing his true self, finds the idea of the Logos. Logos is the principle according to which all things change. Its presence in a human being allows them to recognize the Logos in the flux.

To Heraclitus, Logos is common to all human beings because Logos is reason. Given this information, when it is said that “all things happen according to this Logos,” it is meant that all things in flux follow the organization of Logos. The same Logos common to all human beings gives order to the cosmos;  because humans have Logos we are able to recognize that order.

From this point, it must be noted that Heraclitus identifies the Logos with fire meaning Logos is not simply a function of the mind, but one of the four elements.

The standard view of Heraclitus' theory is that fire is the ultimate reality; all things are just manifestations of fire and because of this, fire plays a central role. For Heraclitus, the entire cosmos  is an "ever-living fire.” Fire is his first principle; all things are exchanged for fire and fire for all things.

sasuke fire

Fire creates and is the aforementioned flux, the generation, and destruction of all things. According to Heraclitus, however, the cosmic flux consists of a balance of opposites. The inevitable conflict between opposites is actually the constitution of the cosmos; without this "give and take" between opposite parties there would be nothing.

Since all things are regulated by Logos (fire), and since all things are Logos (fire), there is no ultimate opposition in the cosmos. Although there appears to be cosmic “war” and “strife,” in actuality, an all-pervasive harmony and unity predominates.

Before going into  how Heraclitus’ theories apply to Naruto, it’s important to first understand what aspects of this expansive story we’ll be focusing on.

Naruto utilizes aspects of Heraclitus’ theory in the confines of its story. To understand the extent to which we will read this theory into Naruto one must first understand the story that the components weaves itself around.

The story of Naruto revolves around a young orphan boy named Naruto Uzumaki. Alone, ostracized, and hated in his village of Konoha because of the nine-tailed fox demon sealed within him, Naruto longs for recognition. Despite being one of the least talented ninjas in Konoha, he aims to become the Hokage, the village’s leader.  

What he lacks in natural ability, he makes up for in tremendous drive and an incredible capacity to care for his friends. These traits are what motivate him to never give up when he is constantly being put down and what drives him to retrieve his best friend when he leaves Konoha to seek power from one of the village’s greatest enemies.

It’s an incredibly large piece of media, and the story branches out much more from here, but this is just a very brief synopsis to get the gist of the story.

So in the Narutoverse, the Will of Fire is a recurring element throughout the series.

A physical representation of the Will of Fire in the  Naruto  series. 

A physical representation of the Will of Fire in the Naruto series. 

Asura Otsutsuki himself

Asura Otsutsuki himself

Within the manga and anime, the Will of Fire is presented as one of the ideal teachings of life. It is an ideal rooting from the character Asura Otsutsuki's belief that love is the key to peace. That love alone will lead us to peace.

It would eventually become the life philosophy which Hashirama, the founder of Konoha, adopted. The Will of Fire has since been passed on to many ninjas from Konoha as a part of their spiritual heritage.

It states that the entire village is like a large family and every Konoha ninja with the Will of Fire loves, believes, cherishes, and fights to protect the village, as previous generations had done before them. In Konoha, there is a sculpture of a flame in the cemetery representing this will.

According to Sarutobi, the third Hokage, this is what gives Konoha ninja the strength to continue fighting against all odds, building willpower and strength of character. It is also symbolic of the hopes and dreams of the previous generation being passed to the next.

An expression of the Will of Fire in one generation.

An expression of the Will of Fire in one generation.

This is perhaps one of the most significant features of the Will of Fire. In regards to the main characters of Naruto, the Will of Fire is the generation and destruction of all things. The Will of Fire leads to the death of many heroes of the leaf village but it also leads to the rise of the next generation of heroes. Much like Heraclitus’s fire, everything is in the process of flux. Nothing is permanent, but everything is constantly becoming something else. While the Will of Fire may mean something to different people in different timelines, they are all the same thing just expressed differently.

An expression from the next generation.

An expression from the next generation.

Finally, another important component of Heraclitus’s theory is the balance of opposites. This idea is easily transferable to the Narutoverse, with the Curse of Hatred.

The Curse of Hatred can be considered a counterpart to the Will of Fire. Whereas the Will of Fire encourages a selfless approach to life, sacrificing oneself for the betterment of the many, specifically one's village, the Curse of Hatred typically sees individuals displaying self-interested tendencies, sacrificing the many for the betterment of the few.

In the Naruto story, the battle between the Will of Fire and the Curse of Hatred has led to bloodshed on both sides and has plunged the known world into war a number of times. Yet if we’re following the ideas of Heraclitus, this is all necessary. The conflict between the two opposite ideologies is actually the anatomy of the cosmos. Without this give and take, without this constant flux between the opposite parties, at least according to Heraclitus, there would be nothing.

(All Photos in this article are attributed to creative commons.)