by Michael Maciel
A scientist once said, “The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it’s stranger than we can imagine,” meaning that the human mind is not capable of a direct perception of reality. Even the most enlightened people in their highest experience of oneness can only be confronted by it, not comprehend it in its fullness.
Unfortunately, many people define “truth” as anything that validates their beliefs. This, however, is a bastardization of the word.
Scientists, on the other hand, if they are faithful to the scientific method, always seek to disprove their hypotheses and don’t stop until they’re either successful or unsuccessful. Even then, it’s only a step towards truth and can be subject to revision when further data is available.
Philosophers approach truth in the same way. They work within conceptual frameworks that prove to be the most comprehensive, but they’re always willing to revise their conclusions when those frameworks prove to be inadequate. But as with scientists, their willingness to transcend their conclusions is inversely proportional to their investment in them.
In the political sphere, truth is only as good as the data that support it, but that’s based on an unbiased assessment of those data and their interpretation, which then drives policy. The primary metric for ascertaining truth in this domain is whether the speaker is lying, which can also be incentivized by investment.
But then we have to ask, are they lying deliberately, or do they truly believe what they’re saying? And if so, is it a lie? This is where open dialog is of greatest importance, because ideologically driven people usually have at least some dedication to truth and can thus be open to debate, whereas those who essentially have no ideology but instead use ideas solely as tools for manipulation have no such dedication except to power. That’s another domain entirely. It has nothing to do with honest policymaking, only control.
What can be said, will be said.
The final arbiter of truth is the act of praying for truth. We ask for it to be revealed to us from the Universal Intelligence we call “God.” But this truth does not come in the form of an “answer.” Truth, as truth, is indefinite and unspecified from our human perspective. It is, you might say, free of content. You could call it the potential for truth, the depth of which is infinite. But this doesn’t mean that truth as we understand it doesn’t exist. It only means that its full range—its totality—is inaccessible.
Knowing this is the essence of humility.
Praying for truth allows the energy of it to descend upon us and, in so doing, cleanses our doors of perception and lets us see more of what is. It doesn’t give us the answer, but it does greatly widen our horizons. As Saint Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
By itself, truth cleanses us so that we can peer a little more deeply into the heart of reality. It’s as though reality, then, sees more deeply into us, and we become better known by it, to the extent that we are capable of opening up to it.
Neither does praying for truth do anything at all, necessarily, for our understanding. That’s on us. We can pray for that, too, but it requires work on our part before what’s true can be integrated into our worldview and thus our activities. Praying for understanding greatly enhances our capacity for it, but capacity has to be implemented before it becomes useful in a meaningful way.
Chemists might know what a particular atom is, but unless they understand its valence, they won’t know what to do with it. An encounter with our shadow is a powerful event, but without integration, it’s meaningless. Integration is a form of understanding. And unless we understand our worldview in the context of culture and history, we don’t really understand it at all, and it devolves into an ideology.
And this leads us to courage, without which transcendence is impossible, because letting go of our conclusions can be frightening. No one likes uncertainty and will sacrifice almost anything to preserve their current understanding of reality. This is why the 9th Century Zen master, Lin Chi, said, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” It’s far less risky to hang onto our preconceptions than it is to let go of them. And yet, unless we do, our apprehension of the truth not only stops in its tracks but immediately starts to degrade. As Jeremiah said, “Our God is a living God.” The truth does not live in answers—it lives in the present moment.