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Motto - There is no Religion Higher Than Truth
Comments on the Motto of
the Theosophical Society
by Mrs Radha Burnier, International President:
In a well known Upanishadic phrase, it is said that mind is dual in nature. One part of it is impure for it tends to live in illusion; another part, called the 'pure mind', seeks what is real and true. Because of the pressure exerted by the latter, man has ever been in quest of truth and has pursued it through the three avenues of philosophy, science and religion.
It cannot always be taken for granted that what is seen is reality. He who is observant and thoughtful soon discovers that what appears as fact to some is unreal to others. Even the process of ordinary perception contains many pitfalls and limitations. In Intelligence Came First, it is pointed out that there are several stages in consciousness between the perception of an object and the formulation of a concept concerning it. No one sees even an ordinary physical object as it actually is, for only certain of its aspects, colours and characteristics can be grasped by the senses. In the sense organ itself there is a process of selection and interpretation. Thus when the eye looks at something it selects only particular features before a message is conveyed to the related part of the brain, where further interpretation takes place before the perceiver acquires an impression of the object which he sees. No more than a notional approximation, therefore, can be obtained of any object. This simple fact makes it clear that no one can take for granted that he knows the truth even about physical things. Therefore, those who through the ages have earnestly sought Truth have realized its elusiveness.
The quest for truth is one aspect of man's nature, another is the escape into illusion. Illusion can take a number of forms. One of them is the illusion of matter. Men and women are born and die without knowing why they are born, where they are going, or what is the purpose of their little interlude upon a world that is a minute speck in the vast ocean of universes. To most people their fleeting life upon earth is the only reality, for they do not know anything else. This ignorance arises from the illusion that only what they see and know is real; that only through this physical frame in the brief years which are given to us, can reality be experienced. Every moment of pleasure is seized upon, and a highly consumerist, pleasure-oriented society is created. Gross materialism leads to cruelty, not only to fellow human beings, but to animals, for the lives of others are not important in the relentless struggle for life. The materialist worships success. In order to rise, others have to be trodden down, or he himself breaks down if he cannot obtain recognition, fame and position.
The hedonistic point of view is not new; it was held in Greece and in many other countries. But since the modern world can produce an unprecedented variety of enjoyments to titillate the senses, hedonism is more widespread than ever before. The counterpart of pleasure is frustration and fear— fear that within one's allotted span one may not make the best of life. And fear and frustration lead to violence as is evidenced all over the world today.
A second form of illusion takes its rise in belief. The materialist does not believe in what cannot be known through the senses. Nothing exists for him except what is within the field of his own experience. But there are others who are ready to imagine the existence of many things which they cannot see. Religion is often the product of man’s fears and hopes, a structure of illusion based on belief. When there is discontent with one's petty lot, when relationships are not satisfactory, when there is the fear of death and loneliness and the inability to push ahead in life, frustration is assuaged by hope of another world which will offer more lasting satisfaction. It is comforting to imagine that a superhuman power can save one from suffering and toil, and from the disappointments which are part of everyday life.
So man imagines a God or Gods answering to his particular needs, and clothes him in many kinds of apparel. As Voltaire said, God is created by man in his own image; the scriptures and mythologies of the different religions bear ample testimony to this. The struggle for life makes man tyrannical, and so his fancy has built up the image of a superhuman despot who can be called upon to remove obstacles and enemies from one's pathway. Since man is petty, his God is also petty; his favourites go to paradise and his enemies are sent to perdition according to his whims and fancies.
In the early literature of the Theosophical Society, reference is made to the evil that has arisen out of the imaginings and illusions of man which go by the name of religion.
The chief cause of nearly two-thirds of the evils that pursue humanity. . . is religion under whatever form and in whatsoever nation. It is the sacerdotal caste, the priesthood and the churches; it is in those illusions that man looks upon as sacred, that he has to search out the source of that multitude of evils which is the great curse of humanity and that almost overwhelms mankind. Ignorance created God and cunning took advantage of the opportunity. It is priestly imposture that rendered these gods so terrible to man; it is religion that makes of him the selfish bigot, the fanatic that hates all mankind out of his own sect without rendering him any better or more moral for it. It is belief in God and Gods that makes two-thirds of humanity the slaves of a handful of those who deceive them under the false pretence of saving them. Is not man ever ready to commit any kind of evil if told that his god or gods demand the crime? . . . For two thousand years India groaned under the weight of caste, Brahmins alone feeding on the fat of the land, and today the followers of Christ and those of Muhammad are cutting each other’s throats in the name of and for the greater glory of their respective myths. Remember the sum of human misery will never be diminished until the day when the better portion of humanity destroys in the name of Truth, morality and universal charity, the altars of their false gods.
(Mahatma Letters, p. 57)
These are strong words, but alas, they are still true. There is antagonism today between Hindus and Muslims, between Muslims and Jews, and conflicts of many other kinds are arising out of religious fanaticism. Millions of poor, ignorant people enslave themselves to the will of priests who take upon themselves the role of law-giving intermediaries and encourage crime in the name of religion. The system of outcastes, ‘holy’ wars, cruelty, social ostracism have all been part of so- called religion.
There is a third kind of illusion, produced by the intellect. In trying to understand the nature and the law of the vast complicated and subtle universe, theories of many kinds have been postulated. The theories become conflicting philosophical systems and schools of thought, breeding fanaticism and bigotry. Each one believes that his system is superior. Each is under the illusion that he knows the truth better than others.
The clash of opinions and ideologies,whether philosophical, political or religious, produces hatred, fanaticism and ill will and divides people. But if man were truly concerned with finding the truth, the entire world would be different. If religion encouraged men to seek the truth instead of telling them what to believe, the world would be a more peaceful place, for tolerance accompanies the desire to find out what is true.
Today, science makes clear that even our perception of physical objects does not correspond to things as they are. But existence does not consist of physical objects alone. Matter is only a play of forces which originates in the unknown, out of which arise the appearances which we think are reality. Man’s concepts cannot correspond exactly to things as they are because before he forms the concept he has already interpreted what he perceives according to his own prejudices and conditioning. Therefore, the wise man does not come to any conclusion about the truth of things. Like the scientist, he has, for the time being, a postulate with which he works. When a hypothesis is formed by the scientist, it is continually tested experimentally, and as new facts become known, new postulates are put forward. Hence there is continual progress in the field of science. What is true as regards science is also true in the area of the non-material, for the material and the non-material are part of one existence. ‘As above, so below.’ Only one who keeps a continually open mind can find the Truth.
When there is a scientific approach, there can be no intolerance because one knows that one’s concept of truth is likely to be limited, even erroneous, and one accords to other seekers for truth the tolerance which one expects them to give. If humanity were concerned with truth and were prepared to let go its illusions, there would be a peaceful world, where cooperation reigns because it is accepted that there are many paths to Truth. There are the paths of the scientist, the mystic, the artist, the sage — all leading to that central point which is Truth. Further, when it is recognized that error is possible and that knowledge has its limitations, there is no dependence upon authority. Authority arises when there is belief in a privileged class that is presumed to have access to truth which others do not possess. But however learned or wise a man may be, he cannot make another one see. Each person can see only what his eyes are capable of seeing. Not even the greatest mathematician or scientist can make those who have not learned elementary arithmetic understand the deeper laws of the universe. Every person has to prepare himself for further knowledge; there is no short cut. There are conditions at every level which must be fulfilled before the student is in a position to know.
We all know that at the level of the outer senses, certain conditions are necessary for accurate perception. The eyes must be healthy and free from distortion. Even the healthy eye must be trained to observe. The artist sees very much more in an object than the average person, because he has trained his eye to observe details — shades of colour and so forth. Similarly, at the mental level good health and training are necessary. A mind which is not cultivated, which has not learned to be sharp and alert, will fail to grasp subtle ideas or profound truths. Right education should be concerned with the preparation of the mind and of the faculties to receive knowledge. There should be training in clarity of thinking, in logic, in the grasping of details and of relationship, in seeing subtleties. Until the mind is able to function in this manner, it will be unable to grasp higher teachings. This holds good, too, in those fields of knowledge which exist beyond the mind. The profound experiences of life, of which many mystics and sages have given evidence, cannot be grasped by the mind. As declared by the Upanishad-s, Reality cannot be reached either by concepts or by words. To know that which is beyond the mind, rigorous conditions have to be fulfilled. Truth lies at many levels, physical, mental and beyond. It can be discovered only by one who is willing to make himself worthy. It cannot be obtained either by force or by persuasion. The true role of religion is to guide men and women to find out what those conditions are and help them to fulfil them.
The first and primary condition for one who would follow the religion of Truth is a profound and persistent interest in finding it. This implies not having prejudgements or a conviction that one knows already. Truth cannot be discovered by a mind which has fixations, prejudices or biases of any kind.
In the Bhagavadgitâ, as well as in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali it is said that abhyâsa is necessary in order to make spiritual progress. Abhyâsa, unfortunately, is often translated as practice. Practice is the repetition of a formula which a person has learned. But abhyâsa is in fact the constant exercise of the discriminatory power. This means that there must be a steady and earnest interest in finding out what the Truth is. There can be no point on the way up to the mountain top where the traveller can rest satisfied. The seeker must continually be engaged in investigating, in probing deeper. J. Krishnamurti speaks of learning as a quality of the truly religious mind. He says:
A religious mind is a young mind, which is a mind that is learning and therefore beyond time. Only such a mind is a religious mind, not the mind that goes to temples. That is not a religious mind. Not the mind that reads books and quotes everlastingly, moralizing. That is not a religious mind. The mind that says prayers, that repeats, is frightened at heart and blind with knowledge. Therefore it is not a religious mind. The religious mind is the mind that is learning and therefore a mind that is never in conflict at any time and therefore a young mind, an innocent mind.
Another condition for the successful search for Truth is undisturbed serenity. It is only on an unruffled mind that the truth of the invisible worlds can find its reflection. Many factors cause the mind to lose its serenity and keep it in a state of agitation. Fear is one of them. The frightened mind sees according to what exists within itself. The man who is afraid sees reflections of his own fear everywhere in the universe. Fear sees with suspicion; it mistakes every shadow for an enemy. The same is true of all passions which agitate the mind, whether they are jealousy or envy, love or hatred. Opinions, too, distort the ability of the mind to see facts as they are. It sees only in terms of nationality, religion, caste, social position and other classifications. By classification of human beings into Muslims, Hindus, Russians or Americans, the mind is led into conflict. Therefore, Mme Blavatsky repeatedly said that he who would know the Truth must remove every preconception from his mind and everything that he has learnt through his education, his parents, scriptures, environment; only then can he ‘learn a new alphabet on the lap of Mother Nature’.
So the mind must become pure and unruffled, free from opinions, biases and self-centred emotions, for only in this state can there be an awareness of Truth. Those who are earnestly in search of truth are already creating a better world, for the precondition for its attainment is purity and an awakening discrimination. Where there is such discrimination and selflessness, the environment begins to change, because it is selfishness which creates a chaotic and cruel world. So the search for Truth is by no means irrelevant to the establishment of a peaceful world. If humanity were to adopt for its motto Satyân nâsti paro dharmah, ‘There is no Religion Higher than Truth’, a just and beautiful world would be ensured for all.