When we think of truth, there are so many directions to pursue. There is absolute truth, there are facts, and then there is information artificially made true by a majority.
But there is also a truth that is neither the absolute truth nor the factual truth, and of course, not up to majority vote. I am referring to the naked and painful truths that we cover with a fig leaf identity.
These truths don't reach to an absolute, they aren't limited by facts, and they certainly are not ever popular, yet their consequences are larger than the sum of our urges to fight them. It is this kind of truth most people profess to seek, though approaching it is exceedingly difficult.
In this regard, what if truth is, by definition, that which we are necessarily fighting against? In other words, what if truth is perforce what we don't want to hear in any given moment, regardless of whether it's actually right or wrong, because we are battling against it inside ourselves. And why the battle? Because it represents the next step in our self expansion.
The idea of self expansion implies that nothing of our making, including our thoughts and beliefs, can be forever or finally true. This concept is often hard to admit because it is human nature to identify with past ideas of self and reject any evidence that might show the failings of those ideas. Even when that concept is easy to accept, it remains a practice difficult to implement. To avoid mental conflict or difficulties, we might intellectually acknowledge human limitations, but then maintain a little cubicle of truth that we feel secure and confident in labeling final, or at least final enough for the moment.
Every field, not just religion and spirituality, has just such sacred cow truths. It is human nature to want those truth-cows to be on our side of the fence, letting them graze in our pastures, perhaps for all to see. As a result, few people will willingly side with a higher or more general truth when it comes to the possibility that the sacred cows grazing in our fields, some of which we might have had a hand in bringing into this world and nurturing, are soon to be slaughtered. And even fewer people are willing to acknowledge the superior view to be had by sitting comfortably on the fence, ever ready to embrace more expansive truths.
Inasmuch as there are no final truths, we are incapable of articulating complete truths. But ironically, it is precisely the passion for this truth that guides all sincere investigation. When we discover a truth, excitement and enthusiasm flare. Perhaps we feel we have illuminated some previously dark corner of the world. It seems to be human nature to automatically treat that truth as a complete one, maybe even the complete one we've all been waiting for, but in doing so we cut short our investigation and distort the partial truth we discovered, often in a partisan manner. This creates an identity, which becomes the very source of blindness and error.
Where there is no fear of truth, one will most likely never claim to find a final or complete truth. But if, out of self-deception, we do not acknowledge our instinctive fear and distrust of truth - a natural counterpart to a sense of individuation, because truth inherently obliterates ontological divisions - then we are likely to claim more honors for the truths we've gathered than they deserve. So another irony is that if we don't recognize that we fear the truth in some way, it is usually because we have guarded ourselves against both the fear and the truth itself. Put another way, it's a good sign when we acknowledge our fear of truth.
Truth is a poison to our delusions. When those delusions die, that which we identify with dies as well. A part of who we think we are dies. The make-believe worlds people create are actually antidotes to truth. A genuine devotion to truth begins with doubting every truth ever believed or entertained. Embodying this ideal not only takes courage, it requires a large investment of time.
How many millions of ideas, that every one of us believes, can neither be demonstrated nor denied in earnest? Even if 95 percent of those things are 95 percent accurate, that still leaves us with nearly a 10 percent margin of error that is exceedingly difficult to pinpoint because it is scattered in a field of well-placed beliefs. Moreover, we are necessarily at error in believing something that is true when we are not aware of the true reasons for which we believe.
More general truths are similarly poisonous to lesser truths. We may arrive at a grand truth by bringing together several smaller truths, only to find all the smaller ones devoured by the larger one. This often occurs in science, but it can also take place on the ground in society. For example, the rights of the one or the few are generally upheld, but usually not at the expense of the needs of the many, whose very rights stem from needs recognized in and by individuals.
While truth may obliterate the very stools we stood upon to see farther, speaking our truth may result in others who can't wait to knock the legs from under us. So many human beings have been killed for speaking truths that challenged other human beings to identify with larger circles of truth than they were willing to embrace.
Hence, a third irony can be found, in that truth-seekers must voice their discoveries as part of the process of seeking truth. Without the colloquium of our peers, we are left with lesser yardsticks by which to measure truth. And without courage and passion for truth, without allowing ourselves to be possessed by it, though broken bones or bullets may come, we waste the potential for spiritual freedom that might attain greater solutions in life. Our truth is to believe that those killed because of their truth would similarly agree, even if they knew death was the consequence.
In discussion, an honest truth, which is willing to challenge the whole gamut of possibilities, is the strongest argument. This is because truth, then, not winning, is the point and the process. A truth must dissolve an entire circle of thought and identity before it can draw a larger one. That kind of truth clarifies because it is wielded by disinterested honesty.
Indeed, to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is ultimately a play in dishonesty. No one is large enough to contain such a truth when we consider that truth has an infinite number of perspectives and must always be allowed to grow in real time. The truth, in this regard, is more prone to silent consideration than constant affirmation.
At the same time, the idea that truth is utterly silent may be one of the more dangerous notions to come out of the East, when it is misapplied. Words may not be able to express absolute truth, but even saying so requires words - words that yet reveal something about how we feel about words and our human limitations. If "those who are wise are silent," then it would have to be a fool who first made the statement, and times like these brook no foolishness. When war is killing tens of thousands and the basic rights of millions are being trampled upon by fascism, speaking truth to power reaches toward an absolute affirmation of our universal identity.
And silence is consent. Silence implies compliance. Silence is one of those antidotes to truth, and it more often than not hides stupidity behind the veneer of wisdom.
Truth well spoken may be timelier than it is timeless, but every moment is a time for us to expose the naked truth behind the fig leaves of narrowing identities. In fact, it may be time to scrap the whole idea of absolute truth as just another ruse human beings use to escape responsibility. Emile Zola exemplifies his duty to speak in "J'Accuse!" What bold courage it took for him to dig up the truth that he knew would explode on France like a land mine if left buried.
Truth is usually simple, not self-contradictory, but the difficulty in inwardly arriving at truth independently forces so many to borrow and quote truths that sound good without reflecting enough to discover if the words make any sense or agree with experience. Then, we start telling the same tired stories and raising the same points in discussions that are unrelated to the truth we are battling to internalize.
So much of spirituality and religion these days amounts to being easily convinced of truths simply by giving words otherworldly packaging. If a book is shelved in the spirituality section of a bookstore, it is often easier to glorify it as a receptacle of truth. Somehow, philosophers like Voltaire, Marx, and Bertrand Russell have less to say about truth than theological and mystical writers because they largely dispense with the mystification. Likely, the opposite is true. Further, we glorify people like Adi Sankara or Rumi, because doing so is in vogue, though we hardly bother to read their words with a critical eye.
What makes something true? How does one know truth? Is truth self-evident or ultra evident, and hence missed by almost everyone? Perhaps we can know truth because it is challenging, or blasphemous, or even hilarious. How do we know truth better by saying it always prevails? Perhaps truth changes with the times?
Maybe truth is whatever people want to cover up at any given time, like the nakedness of Adam and Eve? How can we even know that absolute truth is beyond the reach of the mind? If truth is beyond the mind, does it not mean it does not exist to the mind? In this case, the mind can't even say that it is beyond the mind, as that would mean it is not entirely beyond the reach of the mind. How can we come closer to truth by simply defining it in a certain way? Perhaps we know the truth because it makes us happy? Perhaps truth is in precision? If so, how can art or improvisation then partake of truth? Can numbers be put to the truth?
William James wrote: "The ultimate test of what a truth means is the conduct it dictates or inspires." Truth in the form of ideas is good, but instead of leaving this as a definition of truth, truth is further found where we can equate it with good, with good reason. We are left looking for truth in behavior. The proof of our really wanting truth is manifested in our pursuit of truth.
Between smaller and larger truths is a space, like the zero between negative and positive. Zero is huge. It is probably the largest number of all because it partakes, being the opposite, of infinity. Zero is the ace in a deck of cards. It starts the deck off, but trumps the king. Between one and two there is only one, but between zero and one, lies an infinite wasteland - a long stretch of desert that no one wants to walk.
Human beings have repeatedly asked if there is life on the other side. Who will walk through endless zeros when the few that seemed to have made it across admit that they died along the way?