Tag Archives: knowledge

speaking the truth

you are reading an article about truth right now.

at this moment, your eyes are working sufficiently to be able to read this article, which is written in lower case, and involves a quote by nietzsche. in the alternative, you are listening to an audio program that is translating these words into voice, or someone is reading this to you.

you have taken a breath in the last five minutes.

you are riding a live dolphin right now.

four statements. i am 99.999% certain that the first two are correct and that the second one is not. three, we could say, are true, and one is a lie.

certain. correct. true. lie. words that seem so easy to use until you start thinking about them. “honesty” is another one. i remember years ago i went to a series of training sessions for therapists who were conducting therapy groups, and one of the guidelines was that we should tell the truth. very soon it became obvious to me that that was easier than done. here are some of the challenges:

  • in order for to tell the truth, we need to know it
  • “knowledge is but a small drop in the vast ocean of truth” – quoted by one of my revered philosophy professors, norman swartz, in reference to newton’s famous saying
  • is truth fixed or variable?

there are many more questions, but let’s start with these three.

how about the last one – is truth fixed or variable? notice how the statements at the beginning of this post all have reference to a certain moment. if something is not tied to coordinates either in space or time, can we know anything for certain about it? (and let’s leave aside the question whether truth is about “knowing for certain” – something that philosophers love to argue about).

now of course i am interested in how the concept of truth relates to human interaction. so here’s a somewhat scary thought: when we say “i love you”, we really want this to be the truth, and when we hear it, we want that even more to be the case. now try “i love you now”. not quite the same, is it? often we skimp on “truth” in favour of hope, beauty, comfort and other noble sentiments. is that a good thing? should we stick with truth no matter what? would it be a good idea to practice being more precise? because the truth in a romantic relationship is closer to “if i don’t get bored with you, and don’t fall in love with someone else, and we don’t have too many fights, and raising children and paying mortgages doesn’t wear us down, i hope i’ll love you for a long time.” i don’t know if truth is conditional, but it certainly seems that the things we say to be the truth are. kabbalah scholar michael laitman, appears to be thinking along these lines when he says that what we call truth is directly related to desires.
nietzsche’s words that “all things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth” are interesting in this connection as well.

let’s move on to another idea, the one about the ocean of knowledge. the first three statements above imply that a bit. the moment you read the first word of the first statement of this entry, you and the world around you are faced with an immense amount of truth. which one will you focus on? which one do you want to or can you pay attention to? which one will you be completely oblivious to or will insist to exclude?

this is something that gets in our way a lot when it comes to interpersonal communication. the myers briggs instructions for making pumpkin soup are an amusing example of that. the “intuitive” personality approaches making pumpkin soup as an interesting creative project; for the “sensory” personality it is a technical challenge (“chop mushroom and onions. caliper will be helpful here. 3/16th inch thickness recommended.”) making pumpkin soup, even though it may result in the same product, is experienced from two totally different points of view: the intuitive type lives in a world of possibilities, so that in thinking and talking about truth, she will select from the “ocean of truth” those aspects that she sees as belonging to that world; the sensory type lives in the realm of measurement and tangibles, so in describing the truth, her language will spring from that realm.

“in order to speak the truth, we need to know it.” and in order to know it, we need to be able to recognize it. this recognition is very difficult when we have the blind spots that we just discussed, blind spots that are caused by numerous conditions. personality type is one of them but it gets even simpler: a car mechanic, for example, has a totally different take on the truth about my car than i do; i would not be able to tell the difference between truth and fiction when it comes to carburetors. and going back to the group i mentioned earlier, there are some things that i knew i didn’t know about myself, some of which i know now. the “honest truth” was elusive. the consequence of that is a judiciary use of “i don’t know” (without using it as an excuse or escape) or “this is what i know right now.” this, of course, reopens the can of worms i touched on before: truth is one thing, knowing about the truth another, and then talking about it yet another. saying “i don’t know” isn’t always popular (it definitely often isn’t perceived as popular), and saying “this is what i know now” can often be taken as weasely.

okay – so now what? the truth is, it’s late at night, i’m tired, and i’d like to know what you think so far …

december buddhist carnival – the not so fluffy edition

hello there. been looking forward to this edition of the buddhist carnival for quite a while because the last one was a bit on the stunted side, what with being busy with NaNoWriMo. so this month’s edition has a bit more meat on it; in fact, your teeth will get quite a nice workout. i’m calling this one the not-so-fluffy-edition for reasons that will become easily evident.

the poem!
we always start this with a poem. first zafu frog. thank you for contributing the poem this month, pithy and true:

there is a rule that man’s a fool,
he wants it hot when it’s cool.
he wants it cool when it’s hot.
always wanting what it’s not.

“i don’t know”
zen moments talks about not knowing. having been confronted, uncomfortably, with the question of “and what do you do?”, he finally found an answer:

it came to me in the shower, while absent-mindedly washing my hair, when i wasn’t trying to solve anything.

in anyone’s life, there are going to be times when everything seems to be going well, and when you have a sense of purpose, when you are clear about where you’re going in life.

but in the same life, there are also bound to be times when it’s not clear, times when you do not know. for some people these might be brief interludes. for others they might last longer, until things change.

but it’s impossible to have that kind of uninterrupted certainty for a whole lifetime.

so in anyone’s life, there are going to be times of not-knowing. and that has to be ok.

this reminds me once again of the best thing i took from seeing the dalai lama this year: his utter confidence in shrugging his shoulders, grinning, and saying, “i don’t know.”

ignoring vs. responding
at sword mountain, a blog that talks about zen and aikido, a question from a student regarding irritating questions.

the answer is non-trivial. to investigate this, you should consider this question from two points of view, your own and the questioner’s.

– from your own, ask: if i ignore a thought, where does it go?
– from another’s, ask: is ignoring a question not itself an answer?

once an something becomes part of your consciousness, you have no choice but to respond. so, how does one properly respond? zen looks for precisely the same thing that aikido does:

a clear, spontaneous, and appropriate response to your circumstances that restores harmony.

fake buddha quotes
bodhipaksa here does a noble deed – he throws light on a fake buddha quote:

“when words are both true and kind, they can change our world.”

like many fake buddha quotes, this one has a nice sentiment. the buddha often talked about the virtue of words being true and kind, but the language of “changing the world” is not something the buddha is recorded as using.

this deserves some thinking. the buddha talks about change as a condition, not as something that we engineer. at the non-phenomenal core rests changelessness; realizing that is what buddhists hope for, not changing the world. in the process of that realization, we notice that phenomena (words, weather, people, etc.) change. the bodhisattva – the person who has realized or fully comprehended changelessness – remains in the world of phenomena and works to do the right thing but she or he is not specifically intent on “changing the world”. one moment at a time, she or he feeds a homeless man, waters a sapling, pets a cat. she just does it. a changed (different?  better? more realized?) world is a side effect.

the connection with the title of my blog does not escape me, especially since i just wrote about it in my previous post.  definitely something to think about.  thanks for the inspiration, bodhipaksa!

fake buddha teachers
over in finland, at the possible way we have another blogger talking abot fake.  a bit of a rant, aptly titled  true zen (TM) – order your DVD right away!

sometimes some are thinking that buddhist practitioner should keep his/her mouth shut and close his/her eyes when others are doing terrible things against buddhism and other people. man, that is so lame… being a buddhist doesn’t mean that you have to close your eyes and cry in the corner

buddhism and the vikings
let’s stay in northern europe for a moment longer. zen dirt zen dust has a guest blogger who talks about the parallels between buddhism and asatru, a (revived) old norse religion

i am an asatruar. asatru, literally translates from old norse as “true to the gods”, is the modern revival of the old norse spiritual belief system.

i share with buddhists the notion that my actions have an immediate and lasting effect on myself, and by extension this world, and positive actions create a positive world. even though, to me, these actions may have implications in the next world, my primary concern is that beneficial actions benefit those close to me now, and detrimental actions are harmful to this world and to those i hold dear. much like buddhist philosophy, as i understand it, i am emphatically concerned with my impact on the world as it is now, and i strive to perform just and honorable actions for the sake of the world around me

no earth-shattering insights, just hard work and no expectations
the good people at the tricycle blog discuss the memoirs of former tibetan buddhist monk stephen schettini novice: why i became a buddhist monk, why i quit and what i learned. schettini is now the director of thequietmind.org and says

i don’t promise perfect peace, earth-shattering insight or transcendental breakthroughs. on the contrary, i ask my students to work hard, and especially to beware their own expectations. we’re all twenty-first century grownups and as much as we want to believe in easy solutions and magical formulas we know perfectly well that a down-to-earth approach will pay off more than all the mantras, visualizations and promises of enlightenment on the world wide web.

gentle, peaceful buddhists – an illusion?
the following is anything but a heartwarming story: it’s about a mob of buddhists attacking a christian church in sri lanka. at the american buddhist, there is an insightful comment on it. the writer was working at a military hospital in sri lanka and met a young soldier who wanted to become a suicide bomber and kill tamils.

this soldier was ordained as a monk when he was five years old and spent his time until the age of 18 in various temples in kandy, ampitiya and colombo. he told me that since he entered the robes most of the nights he was sexually molested by older monks. some nights he was raped by five or six monks. he disrobed and joined the military as an escape route. the traumatized soldier focused his anger not towards his abusers but towards the tamils. after hearing this firsthand account whenever i see monks go in to violent protests i suspect the elements of sexual trauma.

while this is sad and alarming, it serves as a reminder that just calling yourself buddhist doesn’t do a thing. buddhist, hindu, baptist, atheist – we’re all capable of committing atrocities. “we” – that includes me. if i don’t keep my awareness sharpened and my heart soft, i, too, can fall into the trap of violence – subtle or otherwise.

losing more illusions
how does one reinvigorate one’s practice after losing the illusions that brought one to practice in the first place? hard core zen has something to say about that. it’s a different kind of illusion than the one alluded to above – it’s the one that many of us first had when we started tinkering with meditation and buddhism. the neat (and sometimes infuriating) thing about buddhism is that it helps lose all illusions – the ones we don’t like but also the ones that decorate our lives with cute stickers and fluffy rainbows.

working with people who are homeless
another story about someone who decided to stare reality straight in the eye, about a lot of things. this woman’s experience with buddhist communities have been mixed.

she would have continued living at the zen center, but she began to run into problems there.

when the zen center asked her to train a group of beginning monks to assist with the homeless meditation program, drakka pushed back. “how do you train people to be alright with homelessness?” she refused.

fortunately, that didn’t deter her. this is a great article on how jana drakka keeps working with people who are homeless, regardless of the obstacles.

15 women bloggers
finally, here’s a list of 15 great women buddhist bloggers.

that’s it for this month. hope you found a little tidbit that can accompany you on your path. good day buddha, good day dharma, good day sangha.

image by @No4

free-form writing frenzy #5: truth. epistemology.

elizabeth’s writing prompt #5

my quirks and errors are part of my truth.

truth. such a harsh mistress. in order to know my truth, i have to know myself. like anyone else, i have i don’t know how many bones, i don’t know how many muscles, i don’t know how many kilometres of gut, hair and blood vessels. and those are the things that are more or less knowable – do i know them? no.

the truth, when we talk about it, is supposed to be about the stuff inside. inside the soul, heart, mind, psyche, brain, whatever container your current state of science tells you. nobody has ever made an inventory of it the way they have for the gross physicality of us.

so i ask you, how am i supposed to know my truth?

my quirks and errors are part of my truth as i know it this moment. how’s that for a sentence.

but what do i know of myself this moment? that i am slightly tipsy from the bordeaux i just had? that i want to go to bed? that i enjoy doing this writing frenzy?

if we talk about truth, we need to talk about knowledge. says i. i know others disagree, this is all epistemology stuff, stuff i’m supposed to have at the tip of my fingertongue but i don’t. anyway, i say, this moment, with my knowledge and awareness at 11:22 at night, that without knowledge, truth doesn’t get through to me.