Posted by: bgreenwell | July 27, 2014

What is Truth?

I got in a heated discussion once with another psychologist over who was the better analyst — Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud. In the middle of a sentence my mind suddenly stopped. It was a futile discussion leading nowhere based on two disparate points of view, imbued with our unique conditioning and personality styles. There was no point to be made. I laughed and ended the conversation.
I’ve thought of this encounter occasionally, while looking at opposing points of view and wondering how it can be that each person can be so convinced of the truth of what they believe even when it is the opposite of someone else’s belief, who is also very convinced. What then is true? Is it relative to personal experience? Is it only a projection? Are all opinions true or are none of them true?
Like everyone else I sit with a set of beliefs about life, death, experience, what is good and bad, right and wrong. But perhaps this is all it is — beliefs. Perhaps my beliefs have little to do with what is true. They are the accumulated data I have collected through my experiences, reading and what others have said that I agreed with. Isn’t this true for everyone?
My teacher, Adyashanti, sometimes says that nothing we think is true. None of it is Truth. Truth cannot be known by the mind. This does not mean that if we label a color black it would not always be called black, or if someone gave you the name Mary or Bill you won’t always answer to that name, or that you do not own the house (with the bank) that you have purchased. These are relative truths, called by the names we give them because we have agreed upon them. They are truths spun out of language and agreements within our illusionary identities. Even then they are not very reliable — the color black has a different word in other languages, someone else may lay claim to property we think we own, we may change our name to Willow or Buddy just on our personal will.
In school we are trained that certain facts are true and must be remembered to pass exams and go on in our learning. We tend to think that because we agree on relative truths and so-called facts (most of which have changed over the last 200 years) that there is such a thing as fundamental and philosophical truth. But theoretical and philosophical beliefs make very unreliable truths because most of our beliefs depend on where we grew up, who taught us, what we like to hear because it makes us feel like we know what we are doing or where we are going, or because the people we prefer to hang out with are complicit in the same beliefs.
In the non-dual world there are only a few “Truths”, the primarily One being that everything is One, or part of a whole, and the nature of this wholeness is consciousness (or that consciousness is the portal to realizing it but what is behind this has no name). It is understood that believing this alone has great limitation and the only way to really “know” what is “True” is to directly experience it. When this is reported it is usually because of a deep meditation experience, or a surprising and spontaneous awakening, when the mind seems to stop and awareness is shifted into a direct knowing called Oneness or Self-realization. This knowing does not feel like other truths — it feels essential, or primal, and it collapses a person’s interest in the spiritual search, upsets their conventional mindset and sometimes uproots their life.
All of the truths produced by thought might fall into 4 categories — agreed-upon Truths that are learned such as labels for things (i.e. names, grammatical rules, tools used in a specific way); working truths that are predictable like doing math, driving a car, or using a recipe; philosophical truths that are learned but unproven (i.e. beliefs in the afterlife, beliefs about how people ought to behave, points of view about politics or the environment); personal truths about ourselves and others (often not true at all.)
Perhaps all of these so-called truths are only the product of neurons firing randomly in the mind, linking together all we have heard and been forced to learn throughout our life. How is it possible to know the real essence of what is true about life and who we are if we are dependent on these four channels?
Spiritual practices, as opposed to spiritual beliefs, are aimed at breaking through all these patterns of belief and discovering something prior to thought, prior to belief, prior even to the housing of spirit in our bodies. Although they may not be successful, and in fact often are not, when a person is fortunate to break through the limitations of thinking and falls into the unknowing world of consciousness before there was a name, before a teaching, before philosophy or a personal belief about who they are, there is an opportunity to discover a Truth that brings peace and ends argument with life as it is. After this it is difficult to hold hard to any belief (although easy enough to use the working tools of mind) because the world of not-knowing offers the adventure of discovery, of seeing experience from many diverse perspectives, of moving in harmony with the moment instead of being propelled by the past. Drives fall away but the impulse to expression does not.
Anyone who honestly seeks Truth might do well to forego collecting all the horizontal data provided by life, and begin to plunge deeply down into the inner core of their own personal experience, letting all the extraneous accumulations fall away. The mind most likely will resist — all of us have worked hard to become what we think we are, to choose patterns that we believe support us, to have friends that are in line with what we believe — but why then do so many of us still feel emptiness, longing and a vague sense that we are missing a fundamental understanding of existence? Perhaps there is one Truth that can put all the other partial truths into a new perspective, and free a person to live in peace. But it cannot be learned, it can only be known.

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Responses

  1. ‘. . . why then do so many of us still feel emptiness, longing and a vague sense that we are missing a fundamental understanding of existence?’

    Perhaps we might say that the reason is that awareness (not the personal mind), ‘knows’ it is reflecting only partial representations of its potential totality? So instead of knowing itself as itself, it is projecting only images of itself – moods, mental states, thoughts, feelings etc.

    I don’t know if you would concur with that line of thinking? In any case, many thanks for this thoughtful article.

    Hariod.


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