In the quest for a meaningful and fulfilling life, we often find ourselves at a crossroads, grappling with questions that seem to defy easy answers. It’s in those moments of introspection, when the weight of existence bears down on us, that we yearn for something profound to guide us. We yearn for the truth that will set us free from the shackles of uncertainty and discontent.
But as we embark on this journey in pursuit of truth, we soon discover that truth, in its purest form, is an elusive quarry. It is not a fixed entity but rather a dynamic force, shaped and reshaped by the events and experiences that unfold around us. As the philosopher William James aptly puts it, “Truth happens to an idea. When events make it true, it becomes true. Its verity is in fact an event, a process.”
The initial spark of this pursuit often ignites during moments of solitude, when the mind roams freely and questions emerge unbidden. Is the way I spend my time truly fulfilling? Are my daily endeavors merely scratching the surface of life’s vast potential? Is there more to existence than what I have already experienced?
In response to these questions, we turn to the age-old adage, “The truth will set you free.” It’s a phrase deeply ingrained in our cultural psyche, an axiom that has guided generations in their quest for enlightenment. And so, armed with this belief, we set out in search of the liberating truth, much like a sailor navigating uncharted waters.
However, as we delve deeper into the annals of Western philosophy, we encounter a sobering reality—the impotence of truth. From the post-antiquity era onward, the thinkers and philosophers who dedicated their lives to unraveling the mysteries of truth often found themselves ensnared in a peculiar brand of melancholy. Philosopher Emil Cioran, for instance, candidly remarked, “Philosophy is no help at all, and offers absolutely no answers.”
It becomes evident that the pursuit of truth, when framed within the confines of traditional philosophy, may be asking the wrong questions or asking them in a manner that leads to existential despair. Perhaps, as Cioran suggests, what we truly seek is not a definitive truth but a transformative shift in our state of mind.
The desire for truth is, at its core, an acknowledgment of the inadequacy or disquietude of our current state of being. It’s an acknowledgment that we yearn for change—a change that begins within our own minds.
Objective truth, the kind that remains aloof from our subjective experience, often proves barren and ineffectual. The enduring tenets of objective truth typically beckon us towards subjective practices—the call to examine our lives, to know ourselves better, and to explore our inner landscapes.
So, when philosopher Alan Watts poses the question, “Is there some inside information, some real lowdown on life and existence that most do not know or will not tell?” We may find ourselves answering in the negative. While there may be experiences that offer profound insights, these experiences defy easy articulation. They reside within the realm of subjectivity, elusive to the intellect alone.
Intellectual pursuits, divorced from the enrichment of our lived experiences, ring hollow. It matters little whether objective truth exists, for such truths only hold relevance when they impel us to explore and transform our subjective realities.
And so, we set aside the pursuit of objective truth and pivot toward a new inquiry—’What works?’ This shift in focus marks the dawn of a new endeavor, one that seeks practical wisdom and actionable insights.
The challenge, however, lies in discerning what constitutes something that truly ‘works.’ It goes beyond mere intellectual understanding; it delves into the realm of experiential knowledge. Everything we encounter exerts an influence on our state of mind, whether overtly or subtly. To ascertain what truly works, we require a heightened awareness—an intricate rubric of sensations that allows us to discern how various experiences impact us.
In this pursuit, we embark on a journey akin to Vipassana meditation—an inward exploration that unravels the intricate tapestry of sensations within us. Vipassana is a disciplined practice that cultivates acute awareness of our internal landscape, enabling us to observe our sensations as they arise and subside.
Our default perceptual abilities often leave us in a state of sensory dimness. Emotions and bodily sensations intermingle, making it challenging to distinguish between them. Yet, by diligently practicing Vipassana, we gain clarity—a clear view of how these sensations shape our experiences.
However, Vipassana alone is not the panacea. It lays the foundation for heightened awareness, but life demands more than passive observation. As the philosopher Michel Foucault suggests, we must view our actions as Technologies of the Self—tools that allow us to shape our thoughts, conduct, and way of being. Every action we undertake, whether conscious or unconscious, contributes to our ongoing transformation.
To orient our lives toward what truly works, we can regard our actions as training regimens—practices that aim to enhance our sentience, vitality, generosity, and well-being. This perspective reframes life as a dual-layered endeavor, wherein we simultaneously take action in the world while observing how those actions reverberate within us.
In this fluid interplay of observation and action, we find the essence of what works—a continual process of refining our state of mind and shaping our existence. The specifics of what works may vary across cultures and epochs, but the underlying impetus remains consistent—an innate recognition of the inadequacy of our current state of mind and a yearning for change.
This conception of truth as both insight and practise echoes the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism:
- Life is suffering, or ‘incapable of satisfying.’
- The cause of suffering is attachment to craving and desire.
- The cessation of attachments and cravings ends suffering.
- To achieve this, follow the Eightfold Path—a comprehensive regimen of practises and values.
The first three truths can be likened to the pursuit of objective truth, a recognition of our existential discontent. But the fourth truth, the Eightfold Path, represents the path of living—a life regimen that works upon our unsatisfactory states of mind.
Truth alone, in its abstract form, remains inert. It is through the commitment to vitalizing practices that truth finds its potency. Much like an acorn that holds the potential for a magnificent oak tree, small insights of truth, when nurtured and cultivated over time, can lead to profound shifts in our state of mind. Truth does not grow without work, and the work itself begins with that initial spark of truth.
As I reflect on this journey, I am reminded of the words of Henry Thoreau: “I have nothing to learn, but something to practice.” Truth, I now realize, is not broken—it resides within us, waiting to be discovered and set into motion through diligent practice.
In this twofold path of truth and practice, we find the blueprint for a more profound and fulfilling existence. The pursuit of truth awakens our curiosity, while the commitment to practices shapes our lived experiences. Together, they lead us toward a state of being that is ever-evolving, enriched, and in harmony with the complex symphony of life.