TRUTH OR THE SEMBLANCE OF TRUTH?
by N. Sri Ram
OCCULTISM of the real sort is not an exotic thing, dressed in motley, as some people imagine it to be. It has been from the most ancient times a Science concerned with facts or truth. Fancy is one thing, and facts are something other. But this particular Science is also concerned with life and consciousness, and it is only when one’s life is based on truth, that it assumes the aspect of wisdom. Wisdom cannot be separated from life; when it finds its way into life, life begins to show a new quality, lustre and beauty, different from what ordinarily obtains
Truth admits of no compromise, although one’s behaviour may. Convention and expediency also vary according to circumstances. We may be standing together within a limited space, I then accommodate myself to your needs or ways, and you do the same with regard to mine. That is right and necessary. Such compromise has its place in life; but one cannot take liberties with one’s understanding or qualify a truth without making it untrue. One cannot mix logic with ideas that are illegal, to suit oneself.
The world “Truth” has such an extraordinary meaning that we might not even guess its nature. In order to discover that meaning one has to apply the most rigorous standards to one’s life and thinking. Without doing so it is impossible to come to such truth as has to be realized in oneself, as distinguished from facts external to oneself that any one can observe. There are the concrete things around us which with the faculties we normally use we can observe. We can understand their nature and properties at least superficially, but truth means very much more than such understanding but it is not to be confused with any vision that one might project out of preconceived ideas or his personal predilections. It is easy to fall under some pleasing illusion and imagine it is truth.
What causes illusion, fundamentally, is the seeking of the pleasurable, the gratifying, at whatever level. We like to accept something mentally or physically because it gives pleasure, it is convenient to do so, or it is a comforting thought; it suits the curve of our mental spine, so to say. Realizing the truth is not the same as getting hold of an idea and clinging to it with fervour. The mind is easily bribed with pleasure. We often give pleasure to some person in order to make him do what we want him to do. That is a practice which obtains everywhere. The mind will willingly consort with the giver of pleasure. Therefore, one has to be strict with oneself in the matter of living the truth - and that is a necessary basis for Occultism.
I might say incidentally that in no country in the world has the importance of living the truth been so much stressed as in India, where satyam (truth) and ritam (rectitude) have been proclaimed as unalterable. “Truth alone conquers” is the ancient maxim adopted by the Indian Government. It is widely accepted verbally, but one might ask, How far is it honoured in practice? That is for every one concerned to find out in relation to himself. One can apply some practical tests to one’s own conduct to see how far truth is being lived by himself.
Most of us do not realize that there is an important distinction to be made between truth and the semblance of truth. In so many matters what is actually true is one thing, but we act as though conduct which sports the colours of truth will do equally well. The distinction between them is pointed out by Plato in one of his Dialogues.
We should not make this distinction purely metaphysical, as philosophers have done in India when they speak of Sat and Asat - that which is the true, the existent, and that which is not true, an illusion or myth. All that is on some high plane, but we should bring the distinction down to the plane of practical living and thought, without which the metaphysical terms become just counters with which to juggle and amuse ourselves.
In diplomacy it is the semblance of truth which is all the time practised to a nicety, and all those concerned know this to be a fact. The successful diplomat has to be gracious in his manner, otherwise he will not be able to gain his purpose. He must smile and smile and smile, even though his purpose may be villainous. The ability to ingratiate oneself and please is regarded as a requisite for success in that profession. Generally the courtiers round kings and princes had perfect manners, but often displayed them to exaggeration, either to make their way all the better, or because we all tend to exaggerate anything we think is good in ourselves. But at the same time the courtiers as a class were intriguers and liars, with some exceptions. Charming manners may not always betoken good intentions or a beautiful mind and heart.
The business man, too, has to be smooth-tongued and affable in order to bring off his contracts. There may be some business men who, having risen to the top, can afford to be brutally blunt. Also there must be some who are straight in spite of all temptation, but generally speaking, the tendency would be to act in such a way as to make the customer do what the business man wants him to do, to be nice in ways he will appreciate. Very large sums are given as allowances to big business executives to entertain prospective customers and please them.
In the province of law it is not uncommon for an advocate who is intent on winning his case to argue in such a way as to “make the worse appear the better reason”. That is constantly being done. The judge has to be sharp as well as knowledgeable not to be taken in by such clever argumentation.
Generally speaking, the pursuit of success, in so far as it depends on others, demands the trimming of one’s sails. When kings are in power, one is a royalist; when the monarchy falls, he may become a republican; but if it is restored he might try to wangle himself again into the royalist camp. This sort of thing has been practised by some very famous people. They have been able to come out on the top of every wave of change, though others around them were overwhelmed and had to succumb.
Living a life of truth does not consist merely in speaking the truth. To pretend to be what one is not is as corrupting as untruth in speech. There must be in one’s heart a genuine love of truth. One can be wholly true only if he values truth and gives it importance in his life and thought, or he must be so full of love that he cannot entertain the least wish to deceive. When one lives a life of truth, he will begin to love the very feeling of being true and one’s whole nature assumes a shape that is in harmony with the true nature of things. Mere knowledge will not create that harmony. Love of knowledge is not the same as love of truth, without which there is no possibility of wisdom.
This is an age of advertisement for diverse purposes. The attempt in advertisement is always to build up a glamourous image. The word “image” is much in currency at present, because people are concerned not with truth, but only with success and the image which is presented. There is the attempt to create an image of oneself or someone else, whether as president, leader, religious teacher, candidate or something else. An image is created also of one’s wares, which will tempt people to buy them. All expert advertisers try to build up in the mind of readers of newspapers and magazines or through TV and posters an image which will make people fall for the things that are advertised. But the image is only a phantom, an appearance, and unless it reflects what actually is, the attraction created is a false attraction.
If humanity, or any section thereof, is to be advanced to any real extent, it can be done only by an actual change, by forces which bring about improvement in the minds of people, their tastes, outlook, values and behaviour, and not by the creation of pleasing illusions and the attribution of imaginary virtues to men or things, either for profit or for tyrannous or vainglorious ends. Creating impressions which do not correspond to the truth leaves things as they are and gives rise to action on the part of oneself and others that positively prevents any real change for the better. Any glorification of someone, which does not spring out of real feeling for him and appreciation of his qualities is only a conjuring trick, and produces mass hypnotism, as has been the case in Russia, Germany and other places. The bubble, however colourful it may seem for a time, must eventually burst, and then there is disillusion and a heavy reaction to what has gone before.
Speaking of love or affection, would the world be better for the reality of love in one’s heart, or for the simulation of love which can take many a deceptive form? One can create an impression of friendship, as is being done by the ostentatious political hug, but that is just part of the diplomatic game. It is the feeling or spirit of love within oneself that counts in a person and helps others. I do not know how good it is to “pretend a virtue, if you have it not”. One may be easily satisfied with the pretence and not care about the reality. If the substitute works well, why bother to find the genuine article?
The word “God” is a common substitute for God the Reality. God is Something about which we know nothing, but can form such notions as we will; and there are all kinds of ideas about God, though society, State and religion do not always permit one to have ideas of his own in actual practice. There have been times when people have been persecuted for entertaining ideas, differing from those of the community, about God, the nature of the universe or any other matter however unconnected with their conduct and life. They were considered heretics and burnt on mere suspicion. A heretic was one who not merely did not conform outwardly to established ways or who openly professed an idea contrary to what was ordained; but even to seem to be thinking certain thoughts was considered sinful and subversive.
One cannot say that a symbol is without value. There may be no other way of objectively referring to the reality. But a symbol does not become that reality. It can have its value, provided we understand that it is only an indicator or a substitute for the real thing. It becomes a fetish when it is worshipped in the place of the reality. From one point of view a symbol is a shadow and the light is behind the man who is looking. In Plato’s allegory of the cave the light is behind the men who are looking at the dense shadows on the wall which they are facing. The shadow has the value of indicating the presence of light and giving an outline of the object that obstructs, but one must look in the proper direction for the light itself.
Is it important to live the kind of life which the word “spiritual” implies, or to be known as someone who has achieved success in that unknown field, to be wearing that label, encircled with an artificial halo? To be thought of as spiritual is one thing, and to be actually spiritual without giving any thought to it at all is something entirely different. A man who is self-consciously spiritual cannot be spiritual in reality. Should one renounce whatever is to be renounced easily, without making a fuss about it, or be known as a persons who has renounced?
In this country, India, we have plenty of examples of ostentatious renouncers. They adorn the banks of the Ganges, and are also to be found elsewhere. But a man who has truly renounced certain things will have no pleasure in drawing any attention to that fact. When a person talks about renunciation, it may be that he has renounced a few things, like taking coffee in the morning, but he has definitely not renounced the primary thing, which is his self. The whole tendency of the human mind at present is to materialize and degrade everything which is true or real, bring it down to the level of a bargain counter or the marketplace. We are so apt to use the word “spiritual” with a material mind and in a materialistic spirit.
When we speak of the vagaries of “the mind,” and not of anyone in particular, we can be quite impersonal. We think of the mind as one of the elements of existence, with a certain nature. It is subject to illusions but it is possible for it to find the truth and free itself. We need not identify it with somebody in particular and direct criticism, inwardly or outwardly, towards him. One can criticize oneself as much as others. But criticism directed even towards oneself need not be faultfinding, it can be a simple understanding of what is not right, of what is mistaken or false in one’s thinking and behaviour. It is just like judging a picture: Is it beautiful, or not beautiful? That kind of criticism is of value, but not faultfinding, blaming someone or oneself - all of which, because it is vain and fruitless, becomes sheer self-deception.
I referred to the judging of a picture, but here too there has to be a distinction between the real and the unreal. The picture can be really beautiful, or it may have only a so-called beauty. Beauty of the highest order arises out of a deep realization, out of life itself or from some unknown source within it. Then it has the stamp of truth, but there can also be “beauty” which is synthetic, which is only an appearance, a mere presentation.
To come still closer to the heart of this matter: When we use the word “love” in relation to another, do we really love him or her, or do we just think we love that other person? There is a great distinction between thinking we love, and actually loving. Merely to rehearse the idea of love and enjoy the pleasure it brings does not amount to love, it is merely an exercise. But we are so apt to delude ourselves into thinking that we love the whole of humanity, even when we do not love the individuals who compose it. We have to make a clear distinction between what is actual or true, and what is merely conjured up by the mind. This requires a very sharp intelligence and constant awareness of the difference between the real and the imaginary.
Is it important for some great cause to have a huge estate, an empire, and all the paraphernalia which go along with it, or to have in the people who are devoted to that cause the right kind of feeling and understanding? The spirit which is needed can never be paraded, put on permanent display or advertised in any manner. One cannot make money out of it.
Such distinctions can range over the whole field of life, over all our activities and thought. It is only when the mind is alert enough to perceive these distinctions, to separate the light from the darkness, that it can come to the truth of things.
It is the great assertion of the spiritual Teachers that we can know the absolute truth, and not merely argue for it. establish it by reasoning, guess at it or postulate it. We can know it, as we know ourselves. There may be various hypotheses which help to explain; they are valuable, if plausible and illuminating; they may even be necessary to bridge the gaps in our observation and thinking. Where we fail to see, the bridge or the supposition enables us to connect those facts which are perceived. Since we do not see the connection in Nature between one particular event and another, but see that a connection must exist, such supposition is a temporary substitute for a truth one is unable to perceive at present.
I began this article with the word “Occultism”. Occultism is a far more exacting endeavour than we might realize. It is not just telling fair tales and believing them - that is the Occultism of children. There has to be, especially in a Society which is interested in what is called the occult, an orientation which will advance it to absolute truth in all things, without being satisfied with appearances. We have to be very careful at every step to see that we proceed on the way of truth, which is also the way of real love, and not be satisfied with fancies either with regard to ourselves or the nature of things, because these are comforting and pleasant.
The Theosophist 1968
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