The other night I had dinner with a young friend. She is someone whom I would describe as a sincere spiritual seeker.
She isn’t familiar with the traditional teachings of Advaita/Vedanta. She asked me a lot of questions about my life and journey, and I began to speak about the importance of a teaching which uses a methodology, versus satsang teachers who may or may not have recognized the truth, but who do not have methodology to use when they teach.
When I tried to explain to her that the value of Advaita/Vedanta is that it has a very clear teaching methodology—a way of pointing to the truth of one’s being that works for the student—right away and much to my surprise I found myself engaged in an argument. What I was saying sounded to her like the dogmatic teachings of the Catholic Church, the religion in which she was raised. She took my words to mean, ‘My way is the only way to the truth, and everything else is false.’
When I tried to point out that wasn’t exactly what I was intending to say, I next found myself confronted with the words, “What makes you think your truth is more valid than anyone else’s truth?”
Initially I found this statement so puzzling that I didn’t quite know how to respond.
Then she told me some things that constituted ‘her truth,’ her ways of viewing the world and her experiences, and I realized that we were not using the word ‘truth’ in the same way.
Spiritual seekers now days often combine various practices like meditation and chanting with psychology work (all well and good in my opinion). As an outcome of this combination of pursuits, a particular type of language has developed, which includes certain catch words and phrases that are commonly used and understood.
One of these phrases is ‘speaking one’s truth.’ One is encouraged to speak ‘one’s truth,’ and in general each person’s truth is quite different from that of another. And that’s okay, and even encouraged. Here everyone is entitled to his or her own truth, each person’s truth is held to be entirely valid for that person.
‘One’s truth’ generally means one’s view in the moment. Speaking one’s truth may be a way of accessing and expressing deeply held psychological wounds previously buried in the unconscious mind, and again that is all well and good. Validating another person’s truth is a compassionate action, as that person may not have been validated by his or her parents when a child, and as a result a wound was produced and held in the child’s unconscious mind to be processed at a later time. So all of this work is important within a certain sphere of the order that governs the entire manifestation of duality.
However as opposed to the realm of psychology, in Vedanta there actually only one meaning for the word truth. There may be many relative truths, but there is only one truth that is absolutely true. And I can see that for a person who is accustomed to honoring all truths as equally valid such a statement would sound fundamental.
However the nice thing about Vedantic truth is that it is universal. It is inclusive. No one is left out. The recognition of this ‘truth,’ takes place as an actual direct and immediate recognition of something about the individual, which is exactly the same for each and every person. It isn’t a belief, it isn’t a conviction, it isn’t a truth that changes as one’s psychological work progresses, it isn’t subject to later negation or revision. It’s just the truth, plain and simple, and everyone who recognizes this truth, recognizes the exact same thing.
An analogy might be if I’m looking at a lamp in the middle the table and you are looking at a lamp in the middle of the table, you and I are looking at the same ‘thing.’
As with any analogy, this one isn’t perfect because we may be seeing the same lamp from different angles—leaving aside the argument that there isn’t really a lamp there at all, only molecules, atoms, etc.—but for now, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say it’s just a lamp, and you and I are seeing the same lamp.
It’s the same with the recognition of the truth, as Vedanta uses the word ‘truth.’ There are not two of them. There are not even different angles of recognition. In this instance there is only one truth, everyone recognizes the exact same truth, fundamental as that statement might sound to some.
After going round and round with my friend for a while, her speaking ‘her truth’ and defending the ‘truths’ of others, and my trying to explain the word ‘truth’ from the Vedantic standpoint, I gave up.
Something my teacher often pointed out was well and truly brought home to me in that moment. Vedanta is a means of self-knowledge which uses words differently from the way words are commonly used.
When Vedanta is taught in an English speaking country it is taught primarily in that language. However the original language of the teaching is Sanskrit. And there are words in the Sanskrit language which are specific to the teaching, and for which there really is no English equivalent—words like satyam, which can be translated as ‘true’ or ‘the truth,’ and jnanam, which can be translated as ‘knowledge.’
But the words truth and knowledge when used in Vedanta do not mean what they mean in English. All of our English words are used to describe something in duality. Words used in Vedanta are pointing to something nondual, something not available for our usual means of perception, yet entirely present to be recognized.
When I attempted to explain this to my friend, suggesting that were having an apples and oranges type of discussion, she then told me that she knew the word ‘satyam,’ and even ‘satchitananda’—a word I hadn’t introduced.
At that point I just kept quiet, because what could I do? I had a feeling that in her mind the word ‘satyam,’ might not mean what it means in Vedanta, that again it might mean ‘truth,’ as in everyone has their own and each is equally valid; and I certainly didn’t want to touch the word satchitananda. Who knows where that might have led?
As I had grown weary of attempting to define and defend apples versus oranges, I introduced the topic of Neem Karoli Baba and His love about which we had no difference of opinion at all.