Monday, June 23, 2014

Truth? What is Truth?

"The Sun and the Moon on a Clear Desert Day"

I had a rather lengthy online conversation with someone yesterday who took exception to my use of the word "truth" in one of the articles I had posted.  "There is no such thing as truth," he claimed. "Truth is nothing more than perception - what an individual or a group claims and agrees upon as being real."

This young man's objections almost perfectly defined the postmodern position of our contemporary culture in which everything is seen as being "relative," and truth is a product of perception. 

I have been doing a lot of thinking about my conversation yesterday, asking myself that age-old question: "Truth? What is truth?" I actually think that many things people claim as true are indeed nothing more than agreed upon perceptions and interpretations of reality.  For example, some people believe it's true that men are superior to women, or that certain ethic, racial or socioeconomic groups are inferior to others, that one nation is superior to another, or that one religion has more truth than another. 

But I also believe that there are some universal "Truths" about the meaning of life that do apply to all beings over all times, and that this "Truth" exists apart from human perception or interpretation. 

I have long been interested in how parallel the teachings of the Buddha are to the teachings of Jesus. Even though they lived in two very different parts of the world separated in time by 500 years,  the core message of what they both taught is essentially the same if not extremely similar. In fact there is so much similarity that there has often been speculation that maybe Jesus had been influenced by Buddhist teaching -perhaps he had contact with traveling Buddhist monks.

The Buddha taught:

There are three things that cannot long be hidden-
the sun, the moon and the truth.

The enlightened Buddha had come to experience the "Truth" that all beings are interwoven, interconnected, inter-related. The idea of a separate isolated individual is a myth, and whatever you do to any other being you do to your "self;" and so we find meaning and peace in life by living with compassion. 

Five hundred years later,  Jesus would also point a "Way" to the "Truth"  in his teachings about the "Kingdom of God." He proclaimed the "Truth" that we are all "relationships"- everyone and everything is a web of relationship.  He announced the "Truth" that there are no superior or inferior human beings and that the way to a peace that surpasses understanding would be found in living a life of radical, "no-holds barred" compassion, respecting the dignity of every human being. 

I don't believe there is even a hint of evidence that Jesus was influenced by Buddhist teachings learned from visiting monks.  Instead, I think that both Jesus and The Buddha taught such an obvious parallel message because they both had uncovered a universal "Truth" about the fundamental meaning of life -  "It's all about relationships." We are relationships. When you break and rupture relationships you suffer, when you maintain, nourish and heal relationships you find a deeper peace. 

I believe that at some deep level every human being understands something about this universal "Truth," even though they may hide from the "Truth" by hardening their hearts or cover it over by narcissistic behavior - what is true about life is true. 

There are three things that cannot long be hidden,
the sun, the moon and the truth. 


  1. This post means a lot to me. I'm having this conversation over and over again. If truth were just a matter of perception – would it be the truth? Impossible. The funny thing though is that the same people – many times – in different conversations – on different subjects – keep defending the scientific method by all means. If the scientific method wants to erase any kind of 'negotiable truth', then why doesn't it apply to humanistic science as well? Is murder just bad because we agreed upon it as being bad? Is it just a matter of perception or is there more to it? This is the human ignorance at work – and it is ugly. To me, this is the hardest work – to look at this ugliness without hatred; to be able to transcend it without looking at it from 'above'. Not an easy task.
    The fundamental error of human perception is that they believe they are the center of the universe, and that they can have opinions and concepts. The truth is not a concept or an opinion. It was there before we invented the term, and it will be there long after …
    Thank you Paul for spreading sanity.

    1. Interestingly enough, the new scientists - quantum physicists etc., using scientific method are uncovering great mystery supporting many of the ageless universal truths. The old argument about science made by many who fall in the camp of the new atheism is becoming somewhat limp and tired.

      Thanks for your great comments here.