Musings on Truth and Love

The other day I heard Andrew Keen talking about his book The Cult of the Amateur: How the Internet is killing our culture. His idea is that by democratizing the internet, the distinction between uninformed voices, or amateurs, and experts, or professionals, is blurred. With the ascendancy of "free" information on the Internet, true professionals are gradually being marginalized and unable to make a living at providing expert knowledge or authoritative interpretations of the world around us. According to Keen, this is a loss for everyone who seeks to make an informed decision about anything, from politics to religion.

His definition of "amateur" was rather wide: It means anyone who cannot make a living through his area of expertise. As such, I qualify, to my shame. I pontificate here on the internet, and yet I am unable to establish myself as a genuine authority in devotional service, as a "religious professional" as I like to put it. I may be a particularly learned amateur, but an amateur nevertheless.

I am not going to argue the definition, despite the distaste I have for this way our capitalistic world has of attributing value or worth; it is something we are forced to accept as a reality. Nevertheless, it may be said, at least where knowledge is concerned, that a commitment to truth combined with indifference to worldly success or failure are the true signs of the professional.

Prabhupada often criticized the Vedanta Societies founded by Vivekananda for being little more than a talking shop, a place for "armchair" philosophers. This is a disease that infects everyone, but most of all intellectuals--namely to see ideas as something that exist on their own without implications for moral action. In fact, every idea carries within it an imperative to act in a certain way. If one acts counter to the imperatives that one espouses, then one is called a hypocrite.

There are two ways that can happen: One is that one intellectually arrives at a conclusion and does not act upon it. The other is that, for whatever reason, one espouses a conclusion that one does not believe in. A rational person will perhaps recognize that something is true, but due to moral weakness is incapable of following through. This may lead to losing faith in reason itself and then turn into the moral cynicism of the latter type of hypocrisy.

In fact, the entire spiritual endeavor can be seen as an exercise in truth. This is nicely expressed in the following verse from the Bhagavatam, from the prayers of the gods to Krishna while he is in Devaki's womb. Because this verse is free of any direct sectarian language, it has a popularity in Hinduism that goes well beyond Vaishnavism.

satya-vrataṁ satya-paraṁ tri-satyaṁ
satyasya yoniṁ nihitaṁ ca satye
satyasya satyaṁ ṛta-satya-netraṁ
satyātmakaṁ tvāṁ śaraṇaṁ prapannāḥ
We take shelter of you,
whose essence is truth:
You, who are true to your vow,
who value the truth above all,
who are truth in past, present and future;
You who are the womb of truth,
who are hidden in all truth,
who are the truth of truth;
You who are the eye of the truth
of the cosmic law. (10.2.26)
Satya-vrata –Krishna is one who keeps his promises. The devatas are saying this because they recognize that Krishna is keeping his promise to Brahma and Bhumi in coming to save the world from the wicked and to reestablish dharma. But it also shows how keeping promises is an important value.

Therefore, the ancients told us that truth has a power. etena saccena suvatthi hotu “By this truth, may there be happiness! By this truth, may there be peace! By this truth, may there be well-being.” (Ratana-sutta 2.1) Or this verse from the Devahuti-stava in Padma Purana, quoted in HBV 4.358:

bhaktir yathā harau me’sti
tadvan niṣṭhā gurau yadi
mamāsti tena satyena
svaṁ darśayatu me hariḥ
If my commitment to my guru is as strong as my devotion for Lord Hari, then may this truth cause Lord Hari to reveal himself to me.
What I like about this verse is the belief in the power of truth on the one hand, and the conviction that the statement is true on the other. What I liked about it also was that it is Devahuti, a woman, who says this. This is, according to the Puranas, a particularly female power. It is the power of the weak. It's the kind of power that the pativratā-śiromaṇi has:
The wife of a Brahmin suffering from leprosy proved to be the most chaste of all women by serving a prostitute in order to please her husband. She thus stopped the movement of the sun, brought her dead husband back to life and satisfied the three principal gods--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. (CC 3.20)
A belief in the power of truth is what was behind Gandhi's satyāgraha ("holding fast to the truth"). His approach to non-violent action was also often said to be particularly feminine in nature. The Gandhian idea, sometimes expressed in the West by the phrase "speaking truth to power," played a significant role in the protests against segregation, the Vietnam war and is now making something of a comeback with this horrendous mess in Iraq. Satyam eva jayate: Only truth will be victorious. Iraq is a case of liars leading the liars into the ditch.

Satya-param. Krishna is “devoted to the truth,” one who values the truth above everything. Generally speaking, in life we are engaged in a long compromise with the truth. Indeed, not to do so is a rare thing.

I am reminded of this in relation to a comment recently made by Tripurari Maharaj and posted on the Sampradaya Sun. He is no doubt stating the obvious when he says "Krishna consciousness is bigger than Iskcon." One could be a lot blunter than that: The same dynamic of protecting child abusers, not following supposed standards, etc., go to show that the institutional dynamic Saraswati Thakur warned against is alive and well. Loyalty to an organization, a group that represents extended ego identification, can trump truth, ethics, morality and just about anything else.

Nothing is more compromising of truth than sexuality. This is why, in the Bhagavata, Kapila tells Devahuti that satyam is the first quality to go when one is unchaste, purity being the second. The two are no doubt related. I wrote to someone recently:
It would have been better to express my appreciation for your level-headed attitude to social circumstances in the West and the need for Gaudiya Vaishnavism to rationalize its way of dealing with these matters, even if the sannyasa-hierarchical model is kept in place. X in theory accepts this model and preaches it, but in practice abuses it. I am against the hypocrisy involved, just as I am against the hypocrisy of rehabilitating Y because he was "so dear to Prabhupada." In either case, I am not in principle opposed so much to the behavior involved as to the "don't ask, don"t tell" policy that puts the public teaching and private practice at odds. What makes it worse is that the hypocrisy ultimately undermines the teaching itself--it makes one return to fundamental questions about not just sādhana, but about the sādhya, and the relationship between the two.
Kant said, "By a lie a person throws away and, as it were, annihilates his dignity as a person." And if one is not true to oneself, how can he possibly be true to anyone else, no matter how fancy his philosophy?

Tri-satyam. Commentators explain the "three" here in different ways. In our tradition, it usually interpreted as “before, during and after creation.” “He who was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.” This is the idea of truth as something immutable. It is the Vedantic tradition of identifying truth with being itself. Untruth is somehow a violation of being. Sad eva saumya idam agra āsīt: "Verily, Saumya, there was being even before all this creation came into being." nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ: "There is no becoming without being, and no being without becoming."

There is an interesting lecture available on-line by Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, on The Crisis of Truth Telling in Our Society. His main point can be summarized in the Thomian idea that the world is fundamentally true. He states this as follows:
Let us begin at the beginning, creation. For St Thomas Aquinas, the doctrine of creation does not tell us about what happened long ago, before the Big Bang. It is our belief that everything now receives its existence from God and this is why we can understand it. It is God's world and we are at home in it as God's creatures. It is not an alien and incomprehensible place. The central intuition of Aquinas was that, in the words of Cornelius Ernst, the world "effortlessly shows itself for what it is, flowers into the light." [8] Of course sometimes we make mistakes and misunderstand. We may tell lies and wear masks. But the truth is prior to error and deceit. As fish were made to swim in water, human beings were made to thrive in the truth.

It would be easy to dismiss Thomas as just naïve. He never looked down a microscope and was astonished at what he saw. But that would not be fair. He spent his life arguing with people who believed that the world was not as it seemed. The Dominican Order was born in the clash between Christianity and the Cathars who thought that the material world was created by an evil principle. But for Thomas our openness to truth is grounded in faith. Everything is the fruit of God's word, and so is ultimately intelligible. We are attuned to the world, because the one who made the world made us and made us so that we might understand.

This is utterly different from the vision of Descartes, where the mind is 'the ghost in the machine', struggling to get in contact with reality. For the Enlightenment the big challenge was how we can be sure of anything. How can we get from our minds to the world? How can we know that reality is not entirely different from what we think we see? Can we even be sure that it really exists? So we start with doubt and mistrust.
Who, on reading this passage, would not be reminded of the eternal debate between the Vaishnava and Shankaraite schools?

So from Truth we have our existence, in Truth we subsist, and in the end, we shall be absorbed in Truth. So why take shelter in falsehood rather than truth?

Satyasya yonim. Krishna is the "womb of truth." The point here is that there are other things that are true. Those who say the world is false are usually talking about a perspective that is false. But I want to take it one step further.

The other day someone was saying that all love but love of God is false. The entire purpose of this essay is, despite its meandering character, to equate truth and love. God is not just being, but being, consciousness and love. Without love there is no joy; to love God is to be joyful. Even loving God in separation is joyful.

Nihitaṁ ca satye. Krishna is hidden inside the truth. The word nihitam is found in the famous verse:

tarko'pratiṣṭhaḥ śrutayo vibhinnā
nāsau munir yasya matir na bhinnā
dharmasya tattvam nihitaṁ guhāyām
mahajano yena gataḥ sa panthaḥ.

This is found in the Upanishads as well: ātmāsya jantor nihito guhāyām, etc. The implication is not that the truth is hidden, but that we should look in the direction of truth to find God. As Fr. Radcliffe stated above, the empirical search for truth, which starts with doubt and never really believes we can pass beyond doubt, might lead us to accept trivialities as a substitute for the real truth of being, of living, and thus deny us what is really true.

But the truths of meaning, the truths of intuition, the truths of love, the truths that we encounter in the midst of this Maya, these truths that we know are a shadow of the greater truth that is God, are signposts that lead us to Him. That is to say, since Krishna is the womb of truth, we can understand that he is hidden wherever truth can be found, and to some extent is revealed to us in all these partial truths.

What the revelation of God's form as Radha and Krishna tells us, over and over again, is that Krishna is found in love. Not just the platonic love that seems so sattvic and peaceful, but in erotic love as well. The objections are thick and plentiful, but this is how I interpret the words kāmo'smi bharatarṣabha. We deny the overpowering effects of love as the work of Maya, when Krishna says he is Kama and in that form is overwhelming the three worlds, līlāyitena bhuvanāni jayaty ajasram. The trouble is, we don't look for Him hidden in this truth, and so we are blinded and misled. We disrespect this power and are swamped by it. The truth is sacred and must be treated as such.

Satyasya satyaṁ. Krishna is the truth of truth. This is related to Krishna's being the womb of truth, in the sense that what is true in truth comes from Him.

As Gandhi said, life a series of experiments with truth. Sometimes we think that we are doing the experimenting when it is we who are being experimented with. I once said that I was conducting an experiment with love and I was told that I was wrong, Love was experimenting with me. That means: Love tests us, just as Truth tests us. The path of Truth has to be the path of Love. What is humanity without love? And like truth, love insists on action. We may resist, but like Truth, Love is a persistent caller.

We generally speak of faith in relation to Truth, but how much more necessary is faith in relation to love! Christ said, "If you cannot love your neighbor whom you can see, how will you love God whom you cannot see?" The point is that God comes to us as Truth, Insight and Love, and challenges us to respond. He says, "This is the way."

ṛta-satya-netraṁ: This last characteristic (satyātmakam is the generic predicate that encompasses all the others) is sometimes cut in two. Rta is treated as a vocative, "O Truth! You are the eye (netram) of truth." The word netra is treated in its etymological root (from ) sense as "leader", i.e., "You lead us to truth." This is nice in a prayer. It could similarly mean, "You are our eyes to see truth." The word ṛta, which is also a word for truth, has a Vedic meaning that is less often used in the Puranas, which is "the cosmic law." In a way, ṛta becomes dharma as in the Dharma-kaya of the Buddha. As such, the compound word could be interpreted as "the eye by which we see the truth of the cosmic law." This is recognizably the meaning of the Gayatri Mantra.

Certain aspects of the cosmic law are, of course, inevitable and obvious. The passage of time and death being the clearest example. But in some ways, the cosmic law is a layered onion whereby the relative truths must be folded away in order to find the pure sac-cid-ānanda that lies at its core. All Gāyatri mantras say "Illuminate my intelligence so that I can recognize the truth." asato mā sad gamaya: "Lead me not into darkness, but into light." And following up takes strength: nāyam ātmā bala-hīnena labhyaḥ.

From the beginning of this blog I have admitted that I am saying one thing and not following it completely. In fact I am torn between a world of convention and a world of complete dedication to Radha and Krishna's lotus feet. I feel something like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was caught chanting “gopi gopi” by his students and insulted by them. Sannyāsa was the leap of faith that would make him recognizable as a religious professional and legitimized his authority.


Jagadananda Das said…
Interesting reading from Foucault about Parrhesia, which seems quite relevant to this subject.

It is about the Greek concept of "truth telling."

"When you accept the parrhesiastic game in which your own life is exposed, you are taking up a specific relationship to yourself: you risk death to tell the truth instead of reposing in the security of a life where the truth goes unspoken. Of course, the threat of death comes from the Other, and thereby requires a relationship to himself: he prefers himself as a truth-teller rather than as a living being who is false to himself."
Anonymous said…
"The wife of a Brahmin suffering from leprosy proved to be the most chaste of all women by serving a prostitute in order to please her husband. She thus stopped the movement of the sun, brought her dead husband back to life and satisfied the three principal gods--Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. (CC 3.20)"

How do we know that her example, like similar others in Indian folklore were not cases of women who really didn't care that much whether their husbands slept with other women or not because they themselves had their own game going on the side?

Why is it a sign of "chastity" to one's husband to facilitate his extra-marital desires? Maybe the wife herself was a "freak" and open to threesomes? hee hee hee. But seriously, we don't the lifestories of these people, we only know the short anecdotes given in shastra and folklore. What is bothersome is the implications for the future generations of Indian women - facilitate your husbands desires at any cost and you will achieve godlike powers and be glorified by society for centuries. COME ON!
Anonymous said…
An example from the three-fold footstool of truth; the path of upanishadic knowledge, yogic technique and bhakti (aṛivu, aḍakkam and anbu).

Tirumantiram by Tirumūlar (verses 2928 - 2934)

2928: Siva Draws Jiva Unto Himself
On the Peaked Mountain is a Summit High,
Beyond the Summit blows a Gusty Wind;
There blossomed a Flower that its fragrance spread
Within that Flower, a Bee its Nectar imbibed,
There the Lord unto Himself Jiva draws.

2929: Arouse Kundalini to Reach Cranium
Lute and Flute, their melody intermingling,
Siva marched ahead in Cranium within;
Even before the Bargain was struck,
The Land was up there for Him to possess.

2930: Reaching the Moon Sphere-A Mystic Secret
The trade with the One in Ambrosia
None know about,
But those who the Secret Cavern entered;
They know not,
When the Moon rises
No more darkness will be;
Some did reach there and remained ever,
They truly, are the holy beings devout.

2931: Dawn of Jnana in Sahasrathala
The Day dawned, a golden hue it took,
On the banks high, the Mastwood shed its golden pollen;
Thus it is where the Holy Lord abides;
That Sphere the Damsel reached and remained.

2932: Properly Guided Jiva Reaches the Finite State
The tribes of Indriyas to Jiva belong
Each at his gate with swords fight;
If constant guided, Jiva takes the True Way to Frontier;
From that born none ever return;
From that very plane shall he transcend,
The Five-States-Beyond.

2933: Body No More Counts When Jiva-Siva Union is Effected
When in the Garden,
The Fruit of Mango, ripened, dropped,
What matters if Jackals outside howl?
When the Primal One was by Kundalini Fire reached,
The fleshly body that led to it,
Forever left.

2934: Dawn of Jnana Eternal Day-Light
"Dawn is it"-thus shrilled the Birds,
"Dawn is it"-thus, the flower-like Damsel
Separation fearing, bewailed;
With Her in eternal union the Lord joyed;
And for Jiva no more the dawn
No more the separation.

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