I am reminded of the Bible quote in the English Standard version of the New Testament in Mathew 5:37 which says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” This quote seems to point to the relativism of truth and that the safest course of action is to answer a question with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ depending upon the degree of truth involved. There are no statements or questions that are completely true, because we do not understand what truth is. All statements in their entirety are, therefore, false, but may still hold a degree of what is true. The closest we can come to truth with our current perception is “right thought”. That is thought that moves in the direction of truth. To say that “anything more comes from evil”, is to say that further elaboration is misleading.
The Buddhists refine this concept into the Eightfold Path. They believe that this path, if followed, can lead to Enlightenment. The eight steps are ‘right view’, ‘right intention’, ‘right action’, ‘right speech’, ‘right livelihood’, ‘right effort’, ‘right mindfulness’, and ‘right concentration’. These steps are not linear; spiritual progress must involve all of them in equal parts. One must also understand the “Three Marks of Existence’ and the ‘Four Noble Truths’.
The Marks of Existence are ‘impermanence’, ‘not-self’ and ‘suffering’. These areas of contemplation encourage us to view the world differently and see it more clearly. The ‘Four Noble Truths’ relate to what Buddha said in his first sermon after he was enlightened. The first truth was that life is suffering (stressful). His words were translated as follows, “Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.”
The second truth is that suffering is caused by craving. The third truth is that suffering stops with the cessation of craving and the fourth truth describes the ‘Eightfold Path’, which frees us from suffering.
Relative truth presupposes that there is an absolute truth. We have encountered absolute truth, but we have not understood it. Absolute truth is one. It is whole and complete. To understand absolute truth is to understand everything! Anything short of that is to deal with relative truth. When asking a question or making a statement, it is important to discern the degree of truthfulness inherent in it. But how can we differentiate between truth and falsehood? How do we know if we are being misled?
I have talked in previous articles about the research and concepts presented by David R. Hawkins in his book Power vs. Force. In his book, Hawkins promotes the assumption that the truth of a statement can be accessed through the unconscious mind by the use of a technique called “Applied Kinesiology” or muscle testing. His theory is that the collective unconscious is the repository of all human knowledge and that the body responds to false statements by a sudden weakening and to truthful statements by strengthening.
Muscle testing select groups of muscles on the body, generally the arm muscles, gives a visible indication of the truth or falsehood of a statement. He maintains that this is a universal concept that can be carried out with the same results irrespective of belief systems, biases, or cultural influences. Although this technique is disputed among the scientific community, it nonetheless presents intriguing possibilities to the question, “How can we know for sure?”
Every day we find ourselves awash in questions that eventually lead to choices. Which direction to take? Which choice to make? What guides us and helps us to make the ‘right’ choice? A majority of people use religion as their compass. All religions have doctrine embedded that attempt to guide its adherents in life-affirming directions. Their ‘truths’ handed down over centuries provide a solid basis decision making. But they also provide much confusion over their different interpretations and questions of authenticity. Religious conflicts throughout history are witness to this confusion.
Divining the truth in our lives will continue to be an inexact science for most of us. It will remain a ‘best guess’ philosophy or we may decide to follow the doctrines of the church to shape our decisions. Whatever your choice, it will still remain only an approximation of absolute truth; for absolute truth is always ‘Yes’.