I believe that scientists and other intellectuals are, at this point in
history, at a major juncture. We are in the midst of what I call a
renegotiation of our whole picture of life and the universe, something
that happens once every few centuries. - Michael Cremo
What is Truth and the Path?
Some significant time ago I found myself talking to a
Jewish doctor at an afternoon summer party. Both he and I were
second-rank guests, being invited because of our women partners. Of
course he was an intelligent and educated man, and soon we started talking
about philosophy, discussing epistemology, the challenge to determine what is true.
At some point I said, "Doctor, let me ask you a
question. Metaphorically, if the truth walked up to you and shook your
hand, how would you recognize it?" He thought for a while, and, although
he was not a Christian, he said, "The truth will set us free." I was
stunned and unprepared to adequately deal with this answer, and then we
got interrupted and that was the end of that.
A couple of millennia ago, another man who was no fool
in the ordinary sense, sarcastically asked when confronted with a
claim of the truth, "What is truth?" Pilate not only didn't know,
but in the face of more practical matters—power and control—he
certainly didn't think it mattered very much.
Freedom from What?
So, the truth will set you free. Sounds wonderful! I
haven't found anybody that seriously argues against this age old adage.
BUT, what they DON'T do is believe it. What has been established is that
when people are adequately conditioned to not have freedom, they lose the
ability to appreciate it, are numb to it and even afraid of it. Much of the time they
can no longer even imagine what it is like. Is this the underlying syndrome
and status of the earthly human race?
The larger issue is what does it mean in a more specific or
tangible sense? Free FOR what? Free FROM what? There are many things we do
NOT want to be freed from, such as life, desire, fulfillment, etc., the
good things and aspects. To have any real import or significance, to be
good news for us, it must mean to be free of the undesirable or bad
things and aspects of life and reality. This thought is immediately met
with a dark cloud of skepticism.
Of course it is! And why not? After thousands of years
of philosophers and theologians ostensibly doing their best to find it,
see it, retrieve it, understand it, etc., we are still not free and the
immediate future does not look good for it. Have all these learned sages looked in the
wrong place? Have they not looked high enough? Long enough or hard
enough? Or, have they not recognized it when they did cast their eyes on it?
Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest
of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be!
- Miguel de Cervantes (29 Sep 1547-1616), author
of what is the most widely published, disseminated
and read novel in all of earthly history, Don Quixote
The Path to the Truth
The above title is an ancient phrase describing an ancient analogy,
but it is as apt today as it has always been. No two people start on their
course from exactly the same point, nor do they ever take exactly the same
steps, but we all begin life in the same territory. However, it is the
position of this site that the word "path" may be misleading.
Path or pathway generally implies a well worn, easily discernable
course to follow, but that is NOT the case spiritually. Rather, a better
characterization is that we all have to fight and chop our way out of a jungle
tangle while concentrating on seeing the "road not taken" or the path not
well worn. Or to use the sentiment of the J person, find the narrow way that few find.
Given that there is ONE true construct and billions of false ones, how do we
deal with this? How do we make sure that our feet are on the one true
pathway? Is it in plain sight, only we don't see it or recognize it? Note that Jesus said to SEEK the truth; he didn't say to RECEIVE it.
Causes of Conviction of Knowledge and Belief
What is probably very important to understand are the three
basic approaches within which we can be or are moved to conviction:
1. Pressure: Pressure to be convinced or convicted is
aimed at and applied to one's psychological makeup and emotional state, and
comes in a variety of different psychological and emotional flavors.
Although it can be incredibly subtle, it
relies heavily upon direct influence of our feelings rather than information
and logic for our intellect to do that, and it is defended on the basis that
it "transcends" the merely intellectual. Is it not usually an attempt or ploy
to bypass one's personal sovereignty and transfer power and influence to the
presenter? Some types or styles of pressure are:
Appeal to fear
Appeal to authority
Appeal to partial identity
Appeal to the mystical
Appeal to prejudice
Appeal to ignorance
Appeal to unhealthy ego
Appeal to feelings and emotions
2. Reasoning: Reasoning relies upon humane values, information
and logic, and appeals primarily to the intellect; it lets the individual's
intellect sort things out and have the impact on their own feelings. Reasoning
strives to be intellectually responsible and make things come into focus by
being clear and concrete, not nebulous or unclear.
3. Demonstration: Of course, demonstration is on
another level in that it applies to and comes through our senses
and/or direct experience and not just the words of another person. Is it not
the final arbiter of what is true?
Note that the sound "Scientific Method" is to try to
eliminate the first (pressure) entirely, and to focus on the latter two,
reasoning and demonstration.
The Two Territories
We all face two territories, one inside of ourselves and
one outside. In finding the way, do we first look outward or do we
first look inward? Do you know anyone, any psychologist or philosopher,
that thinks newborn infants lie around and contemplate either the truth
about themselves OR external reality? Rather, we understand they are
like sponges, soaking up experiences, and initially reacting with raw
animal responses and emotion whether that be contented reception or vociferous objection.
Let's face it, choosing to seek the truth comes much
later in life, IF AT ALL, and for only just a few after being exposed to
their own personal environmental religious programming. Most become TOTALLY absorbed in the
mundane aspects of the life struggle to maximize Eros, the fulfillment
and enhancement of life's needs and desires, and to minimize Thanatos,
the lessening or loss of the enhancement and sustenance of life, WHILE they
continues to wear the mantle of that which they have been indoctrinated. Truth
to them seems too relative, too ethereal and elusive, or too irrelevant, and they are
overwhelmingly conditioned and encouraged to accept some already
packaged version of it.
For those of us who DO choose to seek the truth at some point in
life, probably the first issue we face is choosing whether we are on our
own, or whether there is an agency we can trust to lead us. And then,
will that agency be other people we interact with on earth, or some more
reliable agency that is outside of our world?
Being mindful of the seven spiritual stages of granting spiritual
authority that we CAN go through, we don't really have much volitional
involvement in going through the first four. At first, we are totally
dependent and must trust our caregivers, parents or surrogates.
And then that authority we invested in parents begins to be diluted and
transferred to teachers and pastors or priests. And so on. It is only
when faced with stages five, six and especially seven that we are confronted
with using our power of choice. The last stage, of internalizing authority,
is a daunting one that seems to be too extreme for the vast majority of people.
What is being said above is that we don't get to choose whether we
start our journey by looking on the inside or the outside. Life first
puts our feet on the territory that is outside.
Does our hard won pathway to the truth go through the inside?
The pathway to the truth DOES involve taking the inward journey, and
for three vital reasons:
1) With brutal honesty we need to assay the realities
regarding the extent of our ego problems and weaknesses, to find out how bad it
really is. This requires a great deal of courage, and this is a point on the
course that causes many to falter and cease the journey.
2) In contrast and in humility, we also need to
see realistically how good it is, to affirm our intentions, virtues and
3) What is of equal importance and takes even MORE courage, in
the face of tradition and especially the experience of life, is to take a
candid, honest internal look at and see
clearly what we really, intrinsically want and need, what it will take to "fill the
cup", regardless of what anyone else, including God, may think. As the
philosopher Schopenhauer said, "A human may very well do what he wants, but
cannot will what he wants", we can deny what we want but we cannot change
what we intrinsically want.
Since the ancient admonition is to know thyself, this is nothing more
than getting to know oneself, and is a demonstration that
we have the courage to finish the journey. If one can't stand to get to
know oneself, there is little point and really no hope of struggling on
toward the finish.
In contemplating the journey to the truth, here are some of
the other issues that must be plumbed:
Is the pathway a mystical one whereby we set aside our
rational faculties, empty ourselves of not only the influences of other
people but of ALL of the influence and information that comes to us from
the external world of experience,
and expect ourselves to be infused with the truth? Is this even possible
and can anyone actually do this? OR, is this the exact opposite of what
the creator of our rationality, logic and reasons desires and expects?
Is it ever legitimate for the authority leading us to
inject us with the truth, or pressure us, or overwhelm us with
experience? OR, does this agency with rare exception simply lead us into
learning situations where we can exercise our volition to choose and
Narrow gate to the
Even the J-person said, "Because
narrow the gate and constricted the way leading unto Life, and those
finding it are few." Sounds like BAD news, doesn't it? But maybe it
isn't! May we see the first part is really GOOD news, and the second
part is just a sad commentary? And again, "Strive to enter by the narrow
door." Obviously, we can ignore all the normal or wide entrances in our
search or approach because they fail to even offer freedom and success. And why
not? A narrow path is a good thing in that it is well defined, which
precludes wasting time and effort in drifting or wandering around.
Without palavering around any more, this author sees
that the path is bounded on one side to include only those concepts that
promise to satisfy what we need and what we want, and on the other side
bounded by being intellectually responsible and never abdicating honesty, rationality,
logic and reason. May your journey bring us close together!