Towards an understanding of Truth.
I regret these thoughts are still confused, and this article not well organised. I hope to clarify at a later date. I welcome comments.
For many years I have read and discussed ideas found frequently in Hindu, Buddhist, and other sources. Two years ago in Tonga then in Shantivanam Ashram, Tamil Nadu, (the 'Bede Griffiths' Ashram) I was able to think through some essentially western or universal ideas, such as my understanding and acceptance of a 'God'. Then a few weeks ago I was asked to do a lecture on Sikhism and in my investigations (which she honoured as 'fieldwork') Eleanor Nesbitt (an expert on Sikhism and Hinduism) gave me a lot of her time answering questions such as "How does a Sikh concept of 'Truth' differ from a Gandhian?". The lecture was to be at the Gandhi Summer School (see my report) which I had not attended before. This year's theme was World Religions. We had some excellent speakers (far more able than I) particularly for the lectures on Islam and on Buddhism. It was attended by some people of exceptional brilliance one of whom subjected the speakers to some tough questioning which I found very illuminating. I also asked what seemed to me some hard questions, particularly of Arya Bhardwaj about the idea that all is illusion, and the idea of how one's ego obstructs Truth.
During the week I twice felt I made great leaps forward in my understanding of these topics with which I have struggled for so many years.
I wrote the following essay. I regret that though it is edited a little, it is still rather incoherent.
"I have had an 'opening' - a spiritual discovery - that seems very significant to me. It arises from questions I asked Arya Bhardwaj (the yoga master) yesterday and from John Rowley's talk on Buddhism today. John had some intense questioning on re-incarnation and on karma.
The four concepts between which I now feel I see a connection are : 1. that all is illusion; 2. the unity of all creation; 3. getting beyond the ego; 4. karma.
Karma. This was my most significant 'opening'. (Or so it seems at present.) That when prophets, gurus, wise spiritual leaders, talk of karma, of good deeds resulting later in benefits, bad deeds in suffering, often long after the do-er has died, they are addressing us, a collective, our tribe (Jews?), or the human race. Because of our egos, our self absorbtion (due to essential biological drives) each of us perceives these exhortations and warnings as applying to our individual selves. (Afterthought - maybe the reason Jews have held together so remarkably is that they perceived God's words as applying to them as a tribe, rather than solely as individuals.)
This delusion is convenient for ethical and temporal leaders. It serves as a carrot and stick, like the Christians' heaven and hell, to persuade simple folk to adopt ethical standards for their own and their leaders' best interests.
The Mystical Experience (ME).
Few of us are fortunate enough to experience a true, full ME, but throughout the ages many people of all faiths and none, have done so. Often they choose not to tell others. Quakers have a less intense form of ME each time they experience what they call a "gathered" meeting. I believe that spiritual leaders have heard of MEs and witnessed their effects, even if they have not experienced them, and this has strongly influenced their teachings. Some of these effects are: to diminish the ego, to lead and encourage the doing of good deeds, and to give a powerful conviction of unity with all creation.
Why do good deeds?
Something - maybe a God, maybe chance - has caused or resulted in the miracle of evolution. We have evolved biologically, socially, morally and spiritually. As far as we know we are the most advanced form. Can we assert that this should give us a sense of responsibility, of obligation to the continued development of these qualities? Each of us has no option but to be a participant, a channel by which life (including its social and moral aspects) moves from generation to evolving generation. We have self awareness and freedom of choice; we are privileged to be able to discern right from wrong. We choose to facilitate biological, social and moral evolution or oppose it, serving God or standing in God's way. Whether we chose this privilege (as in the Adam and Eve story) or whether it just happened, we can do no other than accept that evolution is good. If we do not then we say we would rather be lower than amoeba. Hence I consider it impossible validly to deny our responsibility and obligation to work for the further development of our biological, social, moral and spiritual evolution, in short, to do good deeds. To oppose evolution is analagous to killing one's mother, or one's offspring, or to deliberately crippling or perverting them.
Only a person who has advanced to a stage where they are aware of their relative insignificance will understand that the gurus refer to the collective, our species, not to each individual. And each of us is indeed very insignificant. Compared with the enormity of space - each of us is only one of about 4,000,000,000 inhabitants occupying a small proportion of this tiny planet near a minor star, the Sun, in a distant galaxy, etc etc. Or in time - our whole seemingly long life is a mere spark in the time humans have existed, itself a tiny fraction of the time life has existed on this planet, itself only a part of this relatively recent planet's life, again etc etc….
Once one grasps this - our relative insignificance but our responsibility as a link on a bridge, a cobble in the road of evolution, one does indeed realise one's ego tends to be inflated to an extend that starts to seem ridiculous.
Is it all Illusion?
Another Eastern concept with which I have a problem is that all is illusion. (I believe the idea has also been postulated by western philosophers.) I cannot accept that I may be real but the table at which I sit is an illusion. But I can now accept that my opinion or belief that it exists is ridiculous or ludicrous. If an ant or an amoeba got onto a soapbox to announce that in his considered opinion, I do indeed exist, my reaction would be that I cared nothing for his opinion, and found his postulating ludicrous. The ant's illusion is not that I do or do not exist but that his opinion is of any consequence.
(I now, later, think this is not a good argument, but at the time it seemed helpful. Now I tend to translate the mystics' assertion that all creation is one unity as a reference to the fact that all of us are made of the same atomic building blocks, and that we all emanated from the same Big Bang. (As I understand it, Frank Parkinson says that the moment befor ethe Big Bang, when there was no creation, nothing physical, no energy, no time, there can only have been one entity, that which w call God. Hence all creation including each of us is made of God. But I find this unhelpful. There is toomuch to be done to consider something so remote. Of course it is relevant to me but equally so to everyone else, so its effectiv relevance to me is zero. But as I write this I realise I am saying it only matters insofar as it affectes me persoanlly and differently from its effect on other people. But this shows that I am ego-centric. which I had hoped I had disproved!)
Just to complete the edited copy of my original essay…
If I were to accept that we are all of one unity, me, ants, mountains, the moon, because we are all made of the same stuff that origiinated as a unity, (God), I feel like responding, "So what?". Just as two siblings are separate people so I am separate from this table. I have had peak experiences where I have for a while felt that all around me was very close, as if I had merged into my surroundings, but it seemed more like an actor being all one with his stage set as part of his performance. A similar metaphor - when in the audience of a really gripping play I am so absorbed as to become unaware of my immediate surroundings. I am carried away by the play. But I soon revert to 'reality', to recognising my separateness.
I have long realise that this word has several meaning but that people using it do not realise which meaning is appropriate. There is truth as a simple absence of lies. This includes peoples' conviction that their religious beliefs are the only correct ones, all others are dangerous myths. But one also recalls 'true' as applying to exactness of fit - a true course. When I read religious or rather spiritual definitions of 'truth' I often felt unable to understand. For instance this was recently given to me: " Truth is the unity behind the illusion of diversity". Whereas Hindus describe it philosophically as non-duality, Sikhs convey it in the form of mystical poetry. One must avoid the delusion of ego (it makes us prey to anger, lust, desire, covetness and pride). In practice truth is people's lives of integrity, compassion, and service to others." This last phrase resonates with me. It seems to reflect the definition of true as in 'a true course'. It also reminds me of Pirsig's concept of Quality as the basis of ethics.
I suppose I am still caught up in my ego. I admit I am unwilling to let go. There are some (selfish?) things I still wish to do, such as sailing. I want very much to serve what I understand of God but I am not willing utterly to surrender. I only hope that while not working as I should for God's creation nevertheless I hope I am not impeding it. But as one living in western society, maybe I am. I must think on this more.
This is my dharma - that I strive to do right within the roles in which I find myself. This would perhaps be a soft option if my roles were only those of retiree, grandfather, green campaigner, etc. But it is also of Seeker.
Stephen Petter, 6th August, 2003.
"Friends and loves we have none
No home nor blessed abode
But the hope, the burning hope
And the road, the open road.
None of us is content
With quiet and peace of mind,
For we go seeking cities
That we may never find."
"Highest is truth,
But higher still is truthful living."
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