By Suma Varughese
The path of truth is wrenchingly hard, and often sends you freewheeling out of the clutches of conventional society into the great unknown. but only in its company will you find courage, strength, joy, and the ultimate truth.
Shortly after I had a spiritual awakening, I decided to embark on the process of self-transformation. I like to believe that I was guided from within on how to achieve this task. And one of the clearest insights I received was the importance of adhering to the path of truth. Indeed, the image that flashed in my mind was to hold on to truth like a lifeline as I walked through the universal fog of maya. As long as I held on to it, I was safe. But woe betide me if I let go, for maya would then ensnare me in her clutches, and who knows how and when I would ever emerge out of it?
Healing through sharing the truth with self and with others
This graphic image has served me well all through these years, especially as I saw many people topple off the path and disappear into limbo. One got entangled in a dispute with her family and for close to three years went off the spiritual map as she skydived into a miasma of self-pity and victimhood. Another refused to take responsibility for the issues that compelled him to resign from his job, and spent several years unable to reconcile to his lost status. Before I go further, however, let me define truth. Truth, according to me, is the reality of things. This would mean outward reality as well as inward reality. The reality of who you are moment to moment, the reality of life, of human nature, of your relationships. Such reality is not easy to perceive, and therefore the pursuit of truth has been both a path and a goal for me.
The truth within
Once, however, you perceived this reality to the extent that you did, you were obliged to practice it. For instance, one of my first acts on the path was to really see myself as I was. I was aghast. So absent-minded, so unaware, so forgetful, so unfocussed, disorganised and so on. I was then hot on the heels of greatness, and it was a dispiriting discovery to make that I probably would not even qualify for the task of a peon in a government office.
Honesty and truthfulness became ways of testing my own courage and resilience
Uncomfortable as it was, I had to grapple with it, and what was more, announce it to the world. I was clearly given to understand that unless I acknowledged it both to myself and others, I would not be able to begin the task of healing. Following truth means the willingness to dismantle the false layers of identity with which we clothe ourselves, and reveal ourselves for who we are, warts and all.The more I did it, the less difficult it was for me to accept this reality of myself, and the more I accepted myself, the more I healed. I will not disguise the fact that it was a long and very hard journey for I was also burdened with low self-esteem. This caused me to beat up on myself rather than move forward, and that too was something I had to dissolve through acknowledgements within and without. Later on, I discovered that the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step programme (one of the most genuinely revolutionary self-help programmes in the world), echoes this process too. Step 4 says: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 5: “Admitted to God, ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
Mahatma Gandhi, too, in the most celebrated truth journal ever written – his autobiography, aptly called, My Experiments with Truth, has no hesitation in recounting his weaknesses and misdemeanours, from lusting after his young wife while massaging his dying father’s legs, to stealing some gold to finance his undercover meat-eating. He says in the preface to his autobiography, “As long as I have not realised this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it. That relative truth must, meanwhile, be my beacon, my shield and buckler. Though this path is strait and narrow as the razor’s edge, for me it has been the quickest and easiest… The path has saved me from coming to grief, and I have gone forward according to my light.”
“Truth nourishes my mind, my intellect, my heart, and my spirit
The truth without
Penetrating and revealing our inner reality enables us to penetrate and recognise the external reality of life too. The more we understand ourselves, the more we understand others, for it is the same mind and same human nature that exists in us all. And through our persistent examination of our life, our conduct, motivation, actions, successes and failures, we begin to penetrate the truths of life too. We understand the futility of trying to control life or others and the delight of letting go. We discover the key role of motivation in governing the consequences of our action. Truths reveal themselves to us and as we adapt ourselves to the revelation, we are led to a fresh truth. “I do not ask to see the distant scene One step enough for me,” sang Cardinal Newman in the immortal song, Lead Kindly Light. Truth, another synonym for light, also leads us on step by step until we reach the golden shore.
With truth as our celestial guide, everything falls into place. We no longer thrash about in confusion about how to act or what to say. Truth and truth alone is the way. Telling lies, no matter how small, is abhorrent. Dinaz Dastur, a Mumbai-based healer and seeker, says that she finds it impossible to utter falsehoods such as telling callers that her husband is not at home when he actually is. I, too, find such falsehoods unnecessary and often drill those around me to adhere to these rules. Not too many oblige but a year ago I was pleasantly surprised to get a call from a young woman who had worked with Life Positive in the capacity of a marketing person, several years ago. She thanked me for having taken her to task for her casual fibs, and told me that it inspired her to always speak the truth. That one practice, she said, had changed her life completely. “I am no longer afraid because I have nothing to fear,” she said.
When confronting moral dilemmas, the path of truth tells us what to do. Harvinder Kaur, principal of RBK International Academy, Mumbai, considers herself to have been an experimenter of truth from her childhood. She recalls, “Honesty and truthfulness became ways of testing my own courage and resilience. I remember when I was sitting for my tenth class board exam, while running very high fever, there was mass cheating going on around me; the invigilator was wondering why I didn’t take advantage. I just didn’t want to. I could have gained by it, but didn’t – it just didn’t seem to be worth it. I also never bore any grudges against those who did, it didn’t matter to me.”
On the path
For anyone on the path, truth is inseparable from life. Says writer and marine engineer, Akber Ayub, “Truth nourishes my mind, my intellect, my heart and my spirit. For me it’s like water on a parched throat. Every cell in my body has been hankering for Truth ever since I consciously set foot on this path. It’s what you seek so that you can live and breathe… so that your life is not disintegrated by sham and pretext… but, suffused with the goodness of truth, is integrated as a whole.” Writer and teacher Arun Ganapathy has a daunting definition of truth, “Walking in truth means to be consistent with your thoughts and feelings, what you said and promised. Somebody offers you chocolate and you say you don’t eat them. But three months after that, you do pop a chocolate or sweet in. The statement you made earlier is false. A truer statement would have been, ‘I generally don’t eat them.’” At the same time, the path of truth cannot be a rigid conformity to facts at any cost. If a woman ran in to escape a rapist, it would be a crime to betray her to the rapist by telling him the truth about her presence in your house. Or if your wife asks you how she looks before going to a party, it is desirable to tell her she looks great, even if she looks just like she always does. Of course, if she is dressed inappropriately, then it would be your duty to break it to her as gently as you can, so that she can change her outfit. Or if your child were to read out his first composition to you, it is brutal to tell him it is no good. Truth has to be a resilient, flexible instrument, always in the service of the good. One parameter to evaluate when one should tell the truth and when not, is to see if there is any trace of the self in your falsehood. If any of your lies are to benefit yourself, you can be sure it is wrong. And even the lies told to benefit others must be scrupulously evaluated to ensure that they contain no trace of self – a need to patronise, a need to feel good about yourself and so on. Hypnotherapist and counsellor Anita Anand echoes this when she says, “If someone asked me about something and I know deep down that the truthful reply would hurt them, I would give a discreet answer. I would not lie but I would not necessarily tell the truth.”
The path of simplicity
The more allegiance we have to truth, the easier life becomes. Falsehoods create complications. The way of truth leads to greater and greater simplicity. We let down our hair, so to speak, and relax into our lives. We let go of the false accent, the need to impress through branded clothes, or through a fancy lifestyle. We are interested in getting to the truth of things including the psychological and emotional needs that drive us to project false selves and thereby dismantle them. This is not always easy but the task is begun once we face ourselves.
The actor, Madhoo, remembered for her role in the film, Roja, says with astonishing candour, “Today, I no longer act, but I cannot accept myself as a nobody. Therefore, I do things to make me feel more special than my neighbours, by moving with the A-list crowd, and calling up people, not because I like them, but because of their social importance. I recently went for the funeral of someone I didn’t even know, simply because the person was ‘important’. I recognise my weakness but feel frustrated because I cannot drop it. The day I am content to be nobody, just an ordinary person, is the day I will become fully established in truth.”
As we continue with our journey of truth, we often find ourselves confronting the hidden layers within, the secrets that we have squirrelled away from the world, and even from our own consciousness. These too need to be faced and dealt with, painful though they may be. The pain, however, is a healthy one for once the truth is told, we are free in a most profound way. As long as we have secrets from the world, we can never be fully at peace, or free of fear. The extent that we withhold from the world, is the extent of the world’s power over us. It robs us of intimacy and condemns us to loneliness.
Writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book, Women Who Run With the Wolves, “The keeping of secrets cuts a woman off from those who would give her love, succour and protection. It causes her to carry the burden of grief and fear all by herself.” She adds, “Where there is a shaming secret, there is always a dead zone in the woman’s psyche, a place that does not feel or respond properly to her own continuing life events or to the emotional life events of others.”
Such secrets can have a deeply debilitating effect on those around us as well, and they too will need to heal by baring the truth.
Says Anita Anand, a writer and hynotherapist based in Faridabad, “My first encounter with the ‘truth’ or lack of it was when my father – during his professional life – undertook assignments that were not allowed by his employers. He was caught and asked to resign. It was a very painful time for me and the family. I was about 13 and could not understand why my father did this or that he and my mother covered it up. After this, things kind of went downhill for my father, my parents and us as children. My two older sisters were already out of the home, but I was still in high school.
“I dealt with it by – slowly – talking about it to people who were close to me and this was my healing. I also forgave my parents for this some time ago. This was my further healing. I have shared this with my husband and son who is now 20 years old. By discussing it with my sisters, we have healed together.”
It is not surprising that truth goes hand-in-hand with courage. Unless we have courage, we will never be able to live by the promptings of truth. For truth often requires us to plough a lonely furrow. We are often obliged to ‘walk alone’ as Tagore recommended in his evocative song, Akla chalo re. Truth forces us to penetrate beyond the strictures and habits of conventional living and take a stand.
Says Harvinder Kaur, “In my pursuit of truth, I concluded and believed that I didn’t want to tread the beaten track and get married after my education and a job perhaps. I stood my ground and hell broke loose. I decided I wanted to lead a life where I could explore my inner self. It meant leaving the safety and comfort of a protective home. Hearts broke. I was the rebel and black sheep who didn’t care for family values and traditions and was selfishly following a path that didn’t exist. It made me totally alone. I had no examples I could emulate, no people who could really support me in this. I only had the guilt of hurting my family who wanted my safety and well-being. I did, however, have a crystal clear clarity in my mind that what I was doing was right, and however painful, it should not be abandoned to toe the line. I took the road less travelled and have never looked back.” Anuradha Vashisht, a writer and activist, is an ardent supporter of natural hygiene and knows the full cost that convictions can exact. She says, “There have been any number of times in life where I had to choose between easy options and extreme personal discomfort. Even as a child, I somehow chose the difficult path.”
On a couple of occasions Anuradha was close to death but refused to give up her faith in natural hygiene and resort to conventional medical treatment. For days she lay close to a coma, subsisting on coconut water alone. She came out of it with her faith in natural hygiene reaffirmed. In my own case too, truth has put me through a trial by fire. I was editing Society magazine, India’s original lifestyle magazine, when the globalisation and liberalisation phenomenon burst upon us. It didn’t take me long to discern that this route was going to bring us in direct conflict with the environment. I was distraught. I asked from the depths of my heart to see the whole truth of how this conflict would be resolved. After months of anguished search I came across someone who showed me that the spiritual movement would help us to transcend this clash. It was then that I decided that my value system was not in consonance with the work I was doing and decided to leave the magazine.
Perhaps that was the moment I matured as a seeker. I broke away from the conventional path of society, and took a flying plunge into the unknown. I landed in the fledgeling office of Life Positive and have never looked back since.
While we must remain true to our convictions if we want to progress on the path, it is also a fact that the truth itself keeps shifting and changing. A truth we discern when fresh on the path, shifts and expands when we walk further on, and we recognise the earlier truth to have been, in fact, only a half-truth, like seeing only half of the moon. For instance, when we are fresh on the path, the first thing we want to do is grab everyone by their shirt collar and share our truth with them. It takes a seasoned voyager to discern that everyone has their time to get it, and until then, there is little point in pushing them into spirituality. Or we get an awakening from one religion or spiritual system and believe that only that religion or system is right and the others wrong. It is only as you expand in wisdom that you are capable of discerning that all paths lead to the same goal. Says Anuradha Vashisht, “What is the truth for us today may not be so after a year. What we believed with total conviction in youth may change as we approach the dusk of our lives. Each individual ‘perceives’ truth through his/her mind, it is his/her ‘personal’ truth. Thus the truth of ‘this world’ is always relative.” Harvinder rightly says, “Even terrorists operate out of conviction to what they think is truth.” Emerson called foolish consistency “the hobgoblin of little minds”. The true seeker cannot really guarantee that he will think the same way or do the same things a year from now for his vision may have expanded and grown. For the seeker after truth and who walks in truth, life is a dynamic, changing phenomenon, somewhat like a kaleidoscope, which keeps changing the pattern each time it is shaken. But the one thing that we can say, and that can be a gauge of our progress, is that each truth should be more expansive and inclusive than the last. If our truths get narrower and more rigid with time, as the perspectives of most fanatics reveal, you can be sure you are going in the wrong direction.
The price of life
The more we walk into truth, the more we leave behind the received wisdom of society, so much so that we are sometimes called upon to pay the ultimate price of loss of life as we challenge and disturb social norms. Progress and evolution has always been charted by the champions of truth, and it has happened almost inevitably that while they were first excoriated by a hidebound society, their truths later became the path on which the rest of the world then marched. The list of martyrs who paid for societal progress with their lives is long: Jesus Christ, Galileo, Mahatma Gandhi and Socrates, to name just a few.
Clearly truth is a hard taskmaster. A staunch disciple must give up allegiance to everything else if one is to be true to it. What makes those who walk this path stick with it? Indeed, there is no way out for these voyagers. As the saying goes, one does not choose to enter the path. One is chosen. And once in, there is no going back. It is understood to be the only quest that matters, before which the mundane tasks of life pall. To go back on it is akin to turning back on one’s own soul. The thought is unthinkable. Besides, the advantages of walking the path of truth is all-inclusive. Says Arun Ganapathy, “You can be fearless, and not really people dependent for your living. You can lead a life ‘without care’ and most of all, be in harmony with everything around you.” Says Harvinder Kaur, “Truth’s real value for me has been in developing personal emotional strength and in giving me a clean, malice-free heart.” Says Anuradha, “If we live a life of truth, it makes one a very strong person mentally, more tolerant, and with a refined sense of fairness. We develop an infinite faith in God, achieve immense inner peace, and, above all, evolve spiritually.” Indeed, pursuing the path of relative truth is the only way we can ever reach the path of Absolute Truth. Paul Brunton, the wellknown author of the classic book, A Search in Secret India, defines Truth thus: “Truth is that which is beyond all contradiction and free from all doubt; which is indeed beyond the very possibility of both contradiction and doubt; beyond the changes and alternation of time and vicissitude; for ever one and the same, unalterable and unfaltering; universal and therefore independent of all human ideation.” J Krishnamurti called wholeness or consciousness the Truth. Shri Satya Sai Baba refers to the spiritual essence of Truth as “recognising the unchanging, essential nature of Divinity in oneself and all creation”. Arun Wakhlu, founder of Pragati Learning Systems, Pune, refers to the national motto and the profound quote, Satyameve Jayate (truth alone prevails) and concludes, “We are actually saying that God alone wins, Light always prevails. In the end it is Life, Wholeness, Love, God, and Truth that emerge victorious.” It is not that the Truth is unknown to the world. The Vedic sages discerned it 5000 years ago and described it in the most concrete terms in the Upanishads. And all realised sages in all wisdom traditions have retold this very truth innumerbale times. The ultimate truth of Existence, they told us, is that this mundane material world is shot through and through with divinity; for the Creator is intimately part of the creation, weaving all of this magnificent diversity into one unified whole. It is a staggering magnificent Truth, so radical that it defies belief. The Creator living in us? Isn’t that blasphemy? And how can I possibly be connected with the laptop I am typing this on, or the glass of water by my side? The thing with this truth is its size. It is the most inclusive and deepest of all truths. Its validity does not lie before the naked eye. It requires us to dig deep, really deep, into our minds, hearts, to cleanse ourselves through a voyage of truth and then if we are lucky, we get to see a bit of it. This is a truth that cannot be believed. It can only be experienced. And this very experience is the purpose of the human journey. Even death is surely a small price to pay for understanding and broadcasting this sublime, integrative truth, especially as we also discover that nothing is really lost save the perishable body, since the soul lives on and will reincarnate in yet another body. So walk the path and let the scales fall from your eyes as you penetrate, bit by bit, the amazing illusions of maya that we all took for the truth. What a journey, what a game!
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