Truth-Speaking and Meditation Practice
A presentation given by the Warden of Shanti Sadan
There is a practice and a quality of mind that will help us on our path to discovery of our own true innermost Self, whose nature is bliss and fearlessness. The practice is to make it a principle and habit to always do our best to speak truthfully and clearly. This does not mean to express an opinion on every occasion, and even less that we should make judgments about others. It does mean that when we are called on to say something according to our situation and responsibilities, we do so as truthfully and straightforwardly as possible.
In recent times there have been influential voices suggesting that we need not or cannot be led by this principle of truthful-ness. Academic studies have argued that it is difficult to say exactly what is true or false regarding some social and historical questions. It has been said that those in positions of worldly power inevitably use their influence to present their own views and promote their interests. The implication is that there is no such thing as the simple truth.
Whether there could be an entirely accurate account of complex worldly events is a question that we need not try to solve here. But all this does not mean that we cannot try in our daily lives to express ourselves as clearly and faithfully as possible.
There is an old saying that at times of conflict the first casualty is truth, because of the confusion, and the extra incentives on each side to portray what is favourable to themselves. Still, we can always do our best to find, express and respect the facts, and not to distort them according to our interests and loyalties.
Amidst world events, we may feel that our personal efforts to be honest and sincere will be of little significance. In fact, what we do in this regard is vital. In the words attributed to Christ, apparently ordinary people who conduct themselves honestly, are the ‘salt of the earth’, the source of what well-being remains.
Before speaking, we may usefully ask ourselves: is it necessary for me to express an opinion about this? Is it my responsibility? Do I know the facts of the matter? If the answers to these questions are negative or not clear, reticence and an open mind may be the best course. When it is for us to say something, let us do so with care not to deliberately deceive or mislead anyone. Truth as we see it can always be offered sensitively, in a spirit of cooperation, and it is something that we share with others, not that we confront them with.
We may find that speaking the truth as we find it tends to distance us from some companions and social groups. But in the long run, everyone will be saved from fruitless associationships and disappointments. All our relations will be on a stronger basis, and real connections can flourish.
Most important is that if it becomes our habit to be honest with others, we will gradually find that we become more honest with ourselves. We will notice when our mind is tending to deceive itself and to deny its own shortcomings. We may be sometimes amused, and even shocked, to see how far the mind will pursue its own justification, in frank disregard of clear facts! Then we can make adjustments.
The main cost of being honest and straightforward is the care and attention it requires. In order to relate to those around us consciously, we need to restrain our more instinctive and emotive reactions. But the inner clarity and unburdening that follows, more than repays the price of that effort.
As we noticed before, it is sometimes argued that it is difficult or even impossible to say with certainty what is the truth. Philosophers point out that there is no way of proving intellectually that there is an exact match between how things are in the world, the way we experience them, and the statements we make about them. Further, it is said, human beings have an in-built tendency to see things according to their interests and perspective. And so, some have concluded, it is mistaken and naive to believe that we can be honest and truthful.
But if this is correct, then what matters is not the truth, but how much worldly power and influence we can accumulate and exert. And that course leads inevitably to fear and conflict, within and around us.
The non-dual teachings fully recognise the difficulties raised by the limitations of the mind. The suggested way forward is not to become lost in intellectual controversies that can never be conclusive. Take it, as a rational working hypothesis, that as mature human beings, we can, with due care, make meaningfully accurate statements about what we experience. This will bring stability and well-being to our mind and relationships. Then we can pursue our search and enquiry into the ultimate truth, the truth that abides untouched by the workings of the human mind.
The non-dual teachings draw our attention to something in our own experience which does not change. This turns out to be our very Self, the Self of all, which is not affected by any changes in the physical world, including the passing of the body. True Self-knowledge is the highest fulfilment: all philosophical riddles are solved, and the world experienced through the mind and senses is seen to be an interplay of phenomena and perceptions, not absolutely real.
The transcendent Reality cannot be contained in thought, although its existence may be inferred by carefully guided reasoning. It can be known directly as that which underlies and illumines all thought and experience. The path to this discovery involves heightening our inner awareness and sensitivity, and allowing our apparently individualised consciousness to be re-identified with universal consciousness and being.
Among the practices that bring about this transformation, is the principle of being consciously, rationally truthful in the way we just considered, with those around us, and ourselves. Let us not underestimate the significance of our efforts in this direction, and of any obscure sacrifices they seem to entail. Being honest may not bring about immediately visible change in the world. But the world with its challenges is ultimately a school of higher wisdom, and it is for us to change, and graduate.
All our meditations and related practices are based on the non-dual teaching that our true Self was never separated from the one Reality that underlies appearances. It is our ways of seeing and thinking that create the limitations. So let us now do a set of meditations, which we could take up regularly.
It is helpful to approach meditation consciously with the conviction that there is one reality, like the one ocean in all the waves, or the one consciousness underlying all thoughts, and that this perfection is waiting to be discovered at the heart of our own being. Pause for a moment, note the condition of your mind, and if necessary reflect on the unity underlying diversity, the ground of our experience.
We begin with a breathing practice.
Breathe consciously and a little more deeply than usual. Now rest your attention at the region of your heart. Be aware of a calm, quiet inner space here.
If words or pictures come into your mind, let them go for now. Even if they are thoughts or pictures of someone or something that you care about deeply, remember that there is something deeper behind the words and pictures in your mind. Come back to the conscious breathing, and rest your attention in the region of your heart. Do this for four minutes.
Next we are going to do a practice in making conscious use of the great power of our imagination.
Using your imagination to the full, visualise the Earth from space.
Do this in any way you find effective. You might start with the memory of a picture you have seen, or simply imagine how the Earth would look. You can vary the distance, as it were, to see a part or a whole of the globe. Allow the picture to change if you like, so long as the images in your mind’s eye are to do with the world seen from space.
Once your imagination is focused on the Earth from space, feel the scale of your own concerns from this perspective.
The mind is constantly presenting pictures. For now, consciously keep the imagination focused on images of the Earth from above, and feel the scale of your own concerns from this perspective. Do this for two minutes.
Next, keeping your thoughts on the view of Earth from space, see and feel that the life in your body, and the consciousness that illumines your mind, are connected and essentially not different from the life and consciousness in all the sentient beings on the Earth. [Two minutes.]
Now we meditate on a text from the pure non-dual teachings:
EVERY MIND IS LIT WITH ETERNAL CONSCIOUSNESS.
MY SELF IS THAT CONSCIOUSNESS,
INFINITE, SELF-ILLUMINED, EVER-ACHIEVED.
Repeat the text a few times inwardly to yourself. Then gather up the essential meaning and focus your attention on that. If the mind wanders, bring it back to the text and the meaning.
Don’t philosophise now, take the text as a direct statement of truth, from the source of your own being, about your ultimate Self, the Self of all.