The Truth

by Betty Bland
National President

Originally printed in the Winter 2011 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Bland, Betty. "The Truth." Quest  99. 1 (Winter 2011): 6.

Betty BlandI am drawn to the simplicity and beauty of the motto of the Theosophical Society: There is no religion higher than Truth. What is truth? Does it change? Is it absolute? Is it relative? In our lives we often have to determine the truth of a situation. Are we seeing all sides clearly? In the midst of our own personal prejudices, propaganda from friend and foe, and our inherent need to be "right," it is most difficult to determine what is actually true. We might be able to string together certain facts, but do they reveal the truth?

     We use accumulated facts to develop our sense of purpose in life—our sense of what is really true and meaningful. But truth keeps moving and growing. Is a two-year-old wrong to think that its mother"s primary function in life is to see that all its needs are met? What about the same person at age seven, or ten, or fifteen? How about at ages twenty-one, thirty-one, or fifty-one? At some point a supposedly unchanging truth becomes totally erroneous.

     This may seem to be a simplistic example, but it points to an important principle. The set of ideas that we consider to be true creates our worldview, our sense of all existence and its purposes. Human beings seem to be the only creatures on earth that demand to find meaning in existence. A part of our makeup as a soul on its "obligatory pilgrimage," as the third fundamental proposition in the Secret Doctrine tells us, is to acquire individuality, and then to grow beyond that individuality, "first by natural impulse, and then by self-induced and self-devised efforts . . . through personal effort and merit throughout a long series of metempsychoses and reincarnations." The search for understanding, meaning, and truth is a part of our very nature. We cannot get away from it. We are endowed with a discerning consciousness that seeks to understand.

     Yet paradoxically, this very structure of consciousness tends to keep us from getting at the truth. Consciousness becomes set in its own patterns, developed through long ages of evolution and influenced by every experience of this lifetime. Once we start thinking along a certain track, we set grooves of thinking that reinforce themselves. We are not as free as we like to think, because our consciousness sees reflections of itself wherever it looks. Some have described  aspects of these grooves or patterns as our paradigms—the set of assumptions through which we filter all information.

     A good example of an outworn and blinding paradigm can be seen in the Swiss watchmaking industry. In the 1960s Swiss inventors were the first to develop the concept of a quartz timepiece, but it was not accepted there. The craftsmen viewed this innovation with disdain, considering it inferior to the long-respected skill of making watches with finely intermeshed gears and gems. Their paradigm didn"t allow for a totally different mechanism. And so the idea was perfected by the Japanese, who sold the first commercial quartz movement timepieces by Seiko. Soon thereafter American entrepreneurs developed and began marketing inexpensive quartz watches; particularly notable was the flood of cheap Timex watches on the market. Now there is little call for the fine skills of crafting small, gear-driven timepieces, and a whole industry has long since collapsed and had to reinvent itself.

     Another example is the extensive use of stenographers in the last century. What seemed to be a stable profession was quickly made obsolete, first by dictating machines and then by the rapid expansion of computer technology. Today even executives manage much of their own correspondence through e-mail, and recently even through the ever-improving voice recognition software that is now available. The realities of our world and culture are constantly in flux—particularly in this age of technological advances.

     Although we need to be able to develop flexible thinking, our thought patterns are so deeply ingrained that that they are present even at the cellular level. Writing in Theosophy in Australia (September 2009), Edi Bilimoria recently cited an amazing example from Paul Pearsall"s book The Heart"s Code. Shortly after receiving a heart transplant from a ten-year-old girl who had been murdered, the eight-year-old recipient began having recurring nightmares about the man who had murdered her donor. She was sure that she could identify the murderer. According to the documentation, "the time, the weapon, the place, the clothes he wore, what the little girl he killed had said to him...everything the little heart transplant recipient reported was completely accurate," and led to the killer"s arrest.

As Theosophists, we are not surprised to realize that memories are recorded even in the physical body. The idea that the emotional and mental fields are permeated by thought forms and habitual thinking is central to the Theosophical understanding of the human makeup. These memories and patterns of thought are ever with us, coloring all that we know of life. Our memories and repeated thoughts about them are the building blocks of our patterns of consciousness, our vrittis as they are called in Sanskrit. These patterns or vrittis are such an important inhibitor to seeing clearly that in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that the essential purpose of yoga is their cessation—and thus the stilling or clearing of the mind. To begin to rid ourselves of these restrictive patterns is to begin to open our consciousness to the perception of truth.

     H. P. Blavatsky outlined some of the steps required for this clearing in her text "The Golden Stairs." The steps include a clean life, an open mind, a pure heart, an eager intellect, and a readiness to give and receive advice and instruction. She referred to these qualities as some of the "golden stairs up the steps of which the learner may climb to the temple of divine wisdom."

Vincent de Paul, a French Catholic priest of the seventeenth century who was later canonized, was deeply concerned about the search for truth in the lives of his monastics and congregants. He urged them to practice discernment using a three-step method. The first requirement was to have an unrestricted readiness. This could be defined as an unprejudiced open mind, with a willingness to see beyond any personal agenda. Then with this clear mind, one is to carefully weigh the evidence and to seek counsel from sources one deems wise. I would add to that a large dash of common sense—the sense within us that can perceive the clear ring of truth.

What then might serve as a measuring stick by which to test the efficacy of common sense? The only way to reduce the blinding effects of our personal prejudices is to move away from our focus on self. This is the way to develop unrestricted readiness, a willingness to drop old patterns, an openness to unfolding truth. The test of the truth of an idea is to consider what kind of person it makes you. If it is a mature view aligned with truth, it will be one that diminishes your sense of self-importance.

Master Koot Hoomi spoke to this point in an 1884 letter addressing problems that were occurring in the Theosophical lodges in Europe:

You do not find certain recent letters and notes of mine—including the one to the treasurer of the London Lodge, "philosophical" and in my usual style. It could scarcely be helped: I wrote but on the business of the moment—as I am doing now—and had no time for philosophy. With the L. L. and most of the other Western Branches of the T. S. in a deplorable state, philosophy may be invoked to restrain one"s impatience, but the chief thing called for at present, is some practicable scheme for dealing with the situation. Some, most unjustly, try to make H[enry] S[teel] O[lcott] and H. P. B., solely responsible for the state of things. Those two are, say, far from perfect—in some respects, quite the opposite. But they have that in them (pardon the eternal repetition but it is being as constantly overlooked) which we have but too rarely found elsewhere — Unselfishness, and an eager readiness for self-sacrifice for the good of others; what a "multitude of sins" does not this cover! It is but a truism, yet I say it, that in adversity alone can we discover the real man. It is a true manhood when one boldly accepts one"s share of the collective Karma of the group one works with, and does not permit oneself to be embittered, and to see others in blacker colours than reality, or to throw all blame upon some one "black sheep," a victim, specially selected. Such a true man as that we will ever protect and, despite his shortcomings, assist to develop the good he has in him. Such an one is sublimely unselfish; he sinks his personality in his cause, and takes no heed of discomforts or personal obloquy unjustly fastened upon him (The Mahatma Letters, chronological edition, no. 131).

 Now here is something that we can learn from the spotty history of our beginnings: to move forward for the purposes of our founders and their teachers, we must look first to ourselves—each one of us. Are we approaching all aspects of Theosophical work with "unselfishness, and an eager readiness for self-sacrifice for the good of others"? Do we avoid bitterness and fault-finding as we work onward for the higher cause? Are we more concerned about the good of the whole than about being right? Can we ignore unjust criticisms and backbiting and return gentleness and compassion? If each one of us can measure up to this high standard given in The Mahatma Letters, then we will be protected in spite of our shortcomings. And we will always be assisted in developing the good in ourselves and in our beloved Society. If we can carry this truth with us in all that we do for the Society, it will live as a flaming beacon for all humanity well into the future!

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