What is ‘Truth’? How do you define it? Is it something out-there to be found, or something artificial we use to navigate this existence? What use is it?
(~5 Minute Read)
We all have our own ideas about Truth, whether we recognise them or not. In fact, given that the pursuit of Truth is/was the very first motive of philosophy, I’d say it’s the best example of philosophising everybody does without giving it much thought, and yet equally so is our relationship with it the single most defining feature of our world-views.
Whether your believe truth to be something we are able to fully grasp, or inherently beyond our tiny ape-descendant brains, decides what you consider to be worth your precious time to pursue; whether you believe truth to be external and in-the-world, or real only to the collective consciousness of humans, determines which you think should come first: humans or nature; whether you believe the truth is some eternal guiding force, or merely something useful to operate by, dictates whether you aspire to bettering your world or just working with what you’ve got.
I have spent my whole life looking for Truth— looking for something tangible and static to hold onto, in order to “place myself”. Initially, the more I delved into this quest – into Philosophy – the more I learned that there can be no objective, static truth. Time and again it was reinforced that every attempt by humans to lay claim to an absolute truth is always underpinned by subjectivity; that every single claim we make is made from a perspective of inherent uncertainty and change.
It has only been in later years with my more developed understanding of Eastern philosophy, particularly Zen, and also the Western ‘continental’ philosophy of the 20th Century (the stuff focused on our relationship with ‘Being’), that I began to see there must be, and in fact is, some objective Truth.
So what do 20th Century European intellectuals have in common with ancient Eastern mystics? Recognition of the unequivocal truth of our present experience— of our sensory relationship with this world. This moment is everything, it is all we have and can know for sure. All else is borne from it, and all else is derived and empowered by it. The phenomenologists (Heidegger, Husserl, Merleau-Ponty et al.) knew it, and the Taoists, Hindus, and Buddhists knew it (from Lao-Tzu to Shiva to Buddha himself). Our words, thoughts and ideas all come from it too; they are secondary to it. They are all shaped and informed by images and impressions taken from it, in union with our emotions that fluctuate with it.
So there is only one absolute Truth. It is not God, or power, or consciousness— it is Now. The present reality, the space out there beyond our thoughts, is the one absolute, the universally unifying certainty. All other Truths turn to ash before it, all our man-made ideals and claims at control, all dissolve in the vastness of its ocean. This is not poetry, or spiritual proselytising, it is the only irreversible fact— all other truths require acknowledgement for their existence, this “Now” does not.
The human truths, the structures that call on other artificial structures to define them – money, 1+1=2, the grass is green, I love you – all of these are washed away with the last human that carries them. They must all, like all things, draw their power from the Now, must ‘have some Truth to them’, but they are all fleeting abstractions of the relentless, unceasing, and indefinable reality.
If I tell you what a Kyusu is, that it’s a small Japanese teapot with a protruding horizontal handle, the idea that enters your mind is only a fleeting shadow of the true complexity of the thing. Moreover, the word and idea will never be able to encompass or express the true depth of value and meaning, the emotional connection I have to that object as a part of cherished memories and daily routine. The real issue is that we forget this relationship, this subordination of the mind to the present reality— to Truth. We all too easily get lost in the world of ideas created by our minds. This is where anxiety comes from, from the clash between the world in our heads and the simplicity of the world out-there.
This idea may not be too agonising to grapple, but what we really struggle with is how recognition of it is of any real use, particularly in comparison with the power of Human Truths to bring us joy. The present moment (or awareness of it) doesn’t put food on the table, or a smile on the lips of those we love, or tether reins on an entire empire; ideas do, money does, hard word and respect do.
And yet, what use are any of those things if you’re not ever really fully ‘present’ to appreciate them? When was the last time you thought ‘oh yeah, I’m finally here, where I’ve worked my whole life to get to, right where the entirety of this unfathomable universe led me to be’? This is the ‘samsara’ of Buddhism, that we are stuck in a cycle of ‘birth and death’, wherein we are trapped by the ever-receding horizons of our desires where we look constantly to achieve our wishes, only to have infinite more fill their place.
This is why this ‘Now’ is the ultimate truth to me: because only when you fully grasp it, do you come close to any real sense of ‘choice’ in your life. All the actions I take otherwise, generally feel like I’m ‘running through the motions’ and hopping from desire to need to aspiration, without ever recognising their completion. But I can’t enlighten you with a million words, let alone a single blog post. So let those thoughts dance in your mind a little, and tell me:
What is ‘Truth’, really?