As per Vedic understanding, Sat (Truth) is defined as unchangeable and eternal which is the primary attribute of ultimate divine- Parabrahman or Paramatma. With such noble understanding, let’s look at its application in our lives.
Often Truth is confused with fact or right and untruth with myth or wrong. We all know the concept of a half- filled glass and how we can be equally correct in saying that the glass is both half full and half empty. A lot of times a conflict arises in our mind or with others in relation to my Truth vs your Truth. Certain religions of this world like to convince you that their concept of God is true and not the others. Several civilizations have been destroyed across the world due to this misguided view. So, we can argue that the Truth for one person may not necessarily be the truth for another. The reason for this is that we, as individuals, have our own mind with all its associated senses, memories and experiences that are likely to arrive at different conclusions.
Going forward, in this article, I shall define Truth as that which originates from our own heartfelt conclusion after considering all the information from our conditioning and our memory and experiences of mind and senses. To qualify this further, such Truth can often be felt as intuition, which is more of a primary conclusion that we arrive at, rather than an after- thought which may be contaminated with rationalization of that experience either due to fear, low confidence or callousness.
Let me cite an example. Imagine yourself travelling on a road for your morning meeting and time is precious. You see an accident in which a person needs help. Your immediate thought would often be to get down your vehicle and help the person. However, in a split second you are reminded of the meeting and rationalize that we will be late or that someone else will help the person and continue to travel without getting down the vehicle. In this situation, your initial response is your true self or the Truth whereas the latter rationalization is the untruth or not your natural self. If you acted on the initial response, then pat yourself on your back for doing the right thing. However, often we may brush aside the Truth and carry on the journey after we rationalize. If we perceive carefully, we often tend to experience regret or guilt for not having followed that initial response. Let us see certain ways in which our understanding of Truth and the consequences are important.
- Information from a third party presented as truth. Examples include newspapers, TV, cinema or hearsay from a person. In such scenarios, a newspaper, media or cinema may present facts to you through their own lens. Imagine a photo from your smart phone. You can have an original photo which is unadulterated or a few more where you applied colours or filters. Are you seeing the same true image anymore? As it has been altered, it is no longer a true image. Now consider an article written in a popular newspaper. The reporter may have used certain colours and filters before his account is presented to you that he or she wants you to believe to be the Truth. These are called biases. These include willful or subconscious acts of insertions and or omissions. Insertions are usually personal opinions either in the form of subtle use of language or ideas. For instance, the way certain attributes are added to the name of a person or a place and omissions could be of certain attributes in the story which were either overlooked deliberately as they are not aligned to the ideology of that particular reporter, editor or the newspaper outlet or omitted due to ignorance of the subject. Now, imagine if you are fed these biased views as truth then over a period of time you are conditioned to believing a larger concept around these views. Put at a more individual level if we are not exercising our Viveka- ability to differentiate or discriminate truth from untruth, we are at risk of moving far away from our true self or truth. Same may happen with gossips, rumours or even apparent benign views of friends and family.
Let us look at an example from cinema. Few years ago, I watched a hindi movie in which an alien, from outer space, comes down to earth and with his fresh pair of eyes challenges religious dogma in the society. The theme of this movie is to be understood as a debate between dogma and liberalism. Such themes ideally need a sincere and honest portrayal to make a societal commentary. However, if you watch carefully the director of this movie appears to have willfully chosen to strongly characterize the protagonist while the opponent, who in this case is a religious guru, is so weakly portrayed that he is completely defenseless. This manipulation of the debate was thought to be necessary by the movie makers as they had to ensure a one-sided victory by the protagonist of the film. The movie went out to become a big hit by which it should be understood that it was overwhelmingly accepted as truth by its viewers. However, I could not help but imagine the religious guru as the character played by Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator towards the end of which the king manipulates the fight by deliberately stabbing him to weaken him to ensure a matchless victory. However, Truth prevailed in that movie! Such blatant attempts to push organizational or individual agendas will continue as long as there are vulnerable and unquestioning viewers who are unprepared for the larger consequences.
- Truth suppressed by us and failing to defend our position.This tends to happen due to a fear of not being accepted or fear of embarrassment for being “wrong” as per public viewpoint. I remember going to a particular movie several years ago along with 9 others. After the movie ended my genuine heartfelt initial reaction to myself was “what an amazing movie”. However, the 8 others did not like the movie at all. As expected, I started wondering if I was wrong in my assessment of the movie while all others were unanimously right. Expectedly, I was asked my view. Now, imagine yourself in that situation and see what you would say? Would you stick your neck out to say what you felt or would you say “no comments”? Or would you say “I didn’t like it too”? Now go through this scenario for a further while.
A) If you said you liked the movie you may be ridiculed for liking the movie and bullied for saying so. However, you may be proud for having been true to yourself.
B) On the other hand, if you either didn’t want to comment or agreed with them then you have hidden the truth or cheated yourself by glossing over the truth with untruth. If this becomes a habit then we learn to live lives according to what is expected as a norm and yet again lose sight of our true self. There are ways to confidently defend your true self. We shall look at the ways to do so in a separate section.
- Truth suppressed by us and failing to defend others: This is more easily noticed as the person knowing the Truth may often be blamed for not defending a victim who has been wronged. This is often portrayed in movies and is easily observed in our routine life at home, at work or in public place. For instance, if you are part of the management and fail to defend an employee being sacked unfairly from his duty and you have been a silent spectator due to fear of being singled out for your views, then you have been untruthful. While this may not be even known to the employee, who was sacked, or not even known to anyone else besides you then the guilt you carry is a clear indicator of the truth. Here, we can easily understand that there are 2 components to the idea of truth. One, of knowing it and two, of acting on it. As the saying goes- manasa vacha karmana (with mind,word and action). The Truth, that is thought, should be conveyed and be acted upon. Failing to convey or act upon the Truth pricks our conscience.
Ways to improve our chances of leading a life led by Truth
So far, we looked at the pitfalls that we ought to recognize in search of the Truth and applying it. For a Truth that originates in our mind we need to fine tune our awareness of capturing in its nascent form. For this, we can learn mindfulness and meditation. In effect, we need to become more perceptive of our feelings and seed thoughts when we encounter in a situation. While we may not always get positive results in a materialistic sense, we are ensured contentment from a spiritual perspective. When the Truth emerges from outside our mind, then we have to apply certain principals to ascertain its validity.
- Viveka – How do you apply Viveka or ability to discriminate truth from untruth?An easy starting point is by asking questions why, how, when, who and so on. This is more important especially when there are inconsistencies in the account relayed to you. If there are obvious inconsistencies then politely discard the so-called truth and let it not be imprinted in your mind. If the inconsistencies are subtle or inconclusive then park it somewhere where you will revisit when you have new light of information.
- Do your own research. An easy example in this age of social media is the menace of forwarded messages. Let me suggest couple of useful tips before forwarding any messages. Please make sure that you have done research on internet atleast from 2 different sources to validate the information before forwarding it. You will be surprised by the number of fake messages that are willfully created and circulated. Another tip I would suggest is to promise yourself that you will mostly share your own thoughts or your own research in social media. Similarly, when research is done with no colours or filters, you will broaden your own mind to accept new knowledge from varied sources and humbly accept them without conditions when understood to be the Truth. The Rig Veda says “Aano bhadra krtavo yantu vishwatah” which means “let noble thoughts come to me from all directions”.
- How not to get sucked into hearsay “Truth”.
A) Let go of that perverse curiosity in others’ lives. Nowadays, people are very fond of finding out what’s happening in celebrities’ lives.
B) Avoid sensationalism: When speaking to others speak from heart, do not digress and let not emotions take over, as we could end up saying things which may be untrue as a result. When we hear others sensationalizing information, be aware of it and you will prevent yourself from being sucked into it.
- Be aware that there may be more truths to the story than one.
A) Mutual Appreciation: In such situations we should come to terms with it by learning to mutually appreciate our different viewpoints.
B) Learning the art of debating and defending our position. In the olden days, we had a wonderful climate of debating various philosophical and spiritual concepts through “Tarka”- logical reasoning. The debate of Adi Sankaracharya with Mandana Mishra is a well-known example of the fine art of debating and defending your truth.
- Be consistent with our ability to follow our heart. Meditation and mindfulness should be regularly practiced to achieve this.
By following the above we will be in a better position to not allow ourselves to be vulnerable to being “brainwashed” or herded away from our truth. We are less likely to live with guilt. Our self-esteem is likely to be boosted and there is less chance to suffer depression or anxiety. As following heart is a valid path for spirituality, we have an added bonus of becoming spiritually enlightened if we stick to this path in search of truth.
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