Ahimsa’s Pact with Satya
Who could ever suppose, let alone believe, that humans have the capacity to know everything about this expanding cosmos. Who would not view this assertion as preposterous in the face of the geographical complexities of everyday events and the enormity of other galaxies? The truths of reality, personal as well as cultural, are too vast and complicated. However ignored by modern times, the ancient tradition of philosophia perennis yet upholds a universal principle—vincit omnia veritas—truth conquers all things.
From that perspective, to which Classical yoga belongs, the very nature of your soul is to penetrate to the essences of all reality, seen and unseen. In the face of amnesia and ignorance, we are born with an unrestricted desire to know the truth of things, to embrace reality. Children’s behavior renders indisputable evidence that it’s unquenchable. What healthy child needs encouragement to engage life? More than nutrition for bodily existence, the human spirit thrives upon its just deserts: satya. We hunger for genuine knowledge. The pursuit of various interests, projects, particular hobbies, a chosen career, illustrate continuously that irrepressible desire to grasp and seek the meaning of life. Whether we pronounce it in Eastern or Western terms, the joy of being alive flows from our rendezvous with truth. How confusing and listless existence would be without satya, without veritas.
Yet the truth that dwells in the core of all things none but the few do contemplate.
Anselm of Canterbury
When we think about it, our practical achievements in life are built upon the truths that inspire them. We dream of sharing a life. One day opportunity knocks and we answer. What could be more fascinating, especially at the personal level, than the truth of knowing someone you love? How precious to experience the excitement and enjoyment of watching your children mature, sharing events with them, sympathizing with their struggles and play, embracing all the mix of activities that draw you into knowing them. Yet we also know the truth of living on a planet with many serious conflicts and disturbing knowledge.
Given our indisputable reliance upon truth and its consequences, it appears puzzling, at first glance, that Classical Yoga’s manual, the Sutras, states truth the second disposition to assist in one’s journey to self-discovery. With our irrepressible propensity to know how things work and communicate our knowledge, not choosing truth as primary seems impertinent, if not unnatural. So why is ahimsa—the attitude of non-harming—given precedence?
Some time ago, a renowned French scientist, Jacques Monod, proudly announced that the world was basically a chance filled universe. Simply put, there was neither rhyme nor reason for its existence. Everything—from Malibu and monkeys to mushrooms and moonbeams—was aggregations of random molecules. Nature is terribly overrated because her wares possess no consistent natures. Plant your garden, and what comes up is wholly by chance. The presence of intelligent life on these terms is an aberrant incident, an accidental evolution.
When the scientist was pressed on how he reached his staggering conclusion about life, he blithefully replied that he excluded in his examination of reality any evidence for order, stability, coherence, and purpose. How liberal of him.
By dismissing those inconvenient clues that, in other words, would resist his predetermined thesis that life endures as essentially chaotic configurations, he betrays truth for his personal agenda. To get us to agree with him, just avoid any facts in evidence that preclude a sense of recurring order. Quick to reply to our professor is Aldous Huxley: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
Thinking about these professional assertions, clues emerge why ahimsa rises first in dispositions toward reality. Most people, including scientists, would prefer to guide their lives with truth rather than deliberately delude themselves, no matter how comforting the latter. If for no other reason, factual truth tends to be safer and more profitable in the long run. Just ask mortgage investors.
In this context of remaining in touch with reality, the wanting of the truth implies, first and foremost, a primary non-interference regard for things as they truly existence, warts et al. That may seem obvious but it’s importance can not be emphasized enough. It’s so easy to abuse the truth to my advantage. To step into a scene of life and immediately select what facts to line up to fit my predetermination may obtain results but truth is not one of them. Rather, what the truth seeker intends to respect is the scene, the situation, and the story with its full report. Commentary comes later. To achieve this kind of demeanor toward the reality requires a receptive attitude, so to speak, that must accompany the entire pursuit of knowledge. It is more fundamental than memorizing rules of engagement. Otherwise truth is warped amidst subjective fancies.
In our doing and acting everything depends on this, that we comprehend objects clearly and treat them according to their nature.
Truth, the vibrant fruit of knowing, flourishes when the learner allows reality to be itself. For me to know you, I must let you be. How could it be otherwise? Risky but only if I lack confidence in myself. To insist that you dance to my drummer may please me no end but the truth of you stays obscured. For then whom am I actually loving?
The only, the indispensable, the irrefutable, way to know the nature of truth is to pursue being as it exists, as a lover would stand before his beloved. Being neutral misses the point. To discern truth means to express the exclusive demeanor of the respectful inquirer. One initiates, keeping all due respect, a courtesy call upon reality. Unless the seeker sustains this tacit sense of fairness as he learns, the opportunity for the fullness of truth diminishes. Thus, we would remain in our chaotic world endorsed by Dr. Monod.
Are you strong enough to let things reveal themselves? A neighbor, instead of beholding the requirements of one of nature’s marvels, once cut off the bottom of a cocoon in order to expedite the caterpillar’s shedding its cover. A deformed buttterfly emerged unable to open its crippled wings.
Ahimsa emphasizes that facts are respected as they are. Could you possibly understand anything, let alone a person for whom you profess affection, on the pre-condition that they first meet your terms? You may not necessarily approve of what you detect traveling down the byways of cities, but the truth of the matter is that even slum dogs can become millionaires.
A receptive bonding invites the learner. Ahimsa implicates Satya in avoiding the tempting penchant for enforcing subjective agendas contrary to the facts. To demure to reality keeps your love for truth unspoiled.
If this premise is too high then life remains mediocre and manipulative. How to achieve such a humane standard? First, cultivate perception without pretensions. When you step out of your home on a wintry day, the weather does not await your approval. When you arrive at your employment, the blustering work situation, without your presence, is already in play. Like it or not, neither the climate nor the office environment are there with your permission. Who says any factors must suit your expectations before you acknowledge their significance? Recognition of truth does not demand condoning but only decifering the facts. What you do with this unpretentious view of life is another issue.
When you ponder the truth of a person, for example, you recognize something uniquely real---an embodied spirit. Fostering friendship, you embark on an investigation of a complex being whose revelation ever increases. Only careful attention, however, with an abiding receptivity enables discovery. What cautions you from trying to manipulate personal truth, using it for your own utilitarian devices? What pauses one from slyly speaking and acting toward others from hidden agendas? What else but ahimsa wedded with fairness to the pursuance and communication of truth.
A wise person is one who savours all things as they are.
Bernard of Clairvaux
How long before we learn that deliberate ignorance can be costly as well as bruising. Yet some resist any arduous way that proves knowledge liberates. Instead, we isolate ahimsa from satya. We exploit learning without the regard due to things and people. We foster calculative abuses in politics, relationships, even religions. A measure of the ingenious ways one can subvert truth and offend others in the process is portrayed by a recent investigator for banking irregularities, William K. Black, who published, “The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One.” Unless the practice of truth shares the journey’s leadership with its companion, ahimsa, freedom remains an elusive dream.
When one practices truth from a disposition of love, unexpected, even amazing, things can occur. Some years ago, when Swami Rama was walking along the shore with his master, a Station Manager approached them and implored swami to give him a practice to do.
His master replied: “From this day on, don’t lie. Practice this rule faithfully for the next three months.
Our aspirant went away determined not to lie nor do anything unlawful.
Shortly thereafter, a railroad Supervisor came to investigate the rumors of thievery at the Station. Our new truth teller answered candidly that he and the staff were involved in accepting bribes. Everyone was rounded up to jail. You can imagine the reaction among his co-workers when word got out that he had exposed them.
Well, they decided to set things straight by colluding a story that Mr. informer was the sole ringleader. Our aspiring truth discloser was indicted and while he was waiting in jail, the others were released. Abandoned by wife and family, who withdrew all his finances, he became a persona non grata and the laughingstock to his friends and associates.
A month later his case came before the court. As he stood in the docket, he must have pondered, “This is what I get for telling the truth.”
The judge inquired about his situation. Undeterred, he calmly explained to the magistrate the whole story, was willing to accept whatever the court decided, and asserted that he most interested in what the next two months of following the truth would bring.
Something about his story intrigued the judge enough to call a recess.
He interrogated the accused and recognized the mentioned Sage as his own Gurudeva. Now the real story came out and the others were indicted and our accused received a brief sentence.
On day ninety, a telegram arrived for our penniless, but truthful vagabond. The government was awarding him one million rupees for some land that belonged to his family in another Province.
Once his wife heard the astounding news, she insisted that her divorce from him was an unfortunate misunderstanding. He smiled knowingly, gave her and the children his compensation. Departing for the mountains, never to be seen from again, he was heard muttering that after speaking only the truth for three months, what would happen if he didn’t lie for the rest of his life.
Perhaps what Swamiji’s master was trying to insinuate is that something much greater awaits when one determines to be a lover of truth by piercing the compelling temptations to short circuit life.
I wonder what would happen if more people spoke the truth for ninety days?