These days, it seems everyone has a hotline to ‘the truth’, while at the same time it seems to be ever more difficult to determine which truth we should believe. But is truth something we should have to believe in anyway? Shouldn’t truth be so clear as to be undeniable and not a matter of belief at all?
Watch the video for more thoughts on this.
What is truth?
All the religions and spiritual traditions around the world claim to have insights concerning the truth. In some cases, a charismatic teacher has come into the community and turned old ideas upside down: it is the firm conviction in the righteousness of this new truth that fuels the charisma. This kind of person is a prophetic personality. He – and it usually a male figure – becomes a magnet for followers and a so-called ‘cult’ develops. After a few years of persecution, the cult may gain traction, be accepted by the state that happens to be in charge at the time and becomes an official religion. The original teacher’s inspiration is invariably distorted along the route. Many generations later, scholars may reveal the questionable concepts embedded in the religion. For example, cultural developments may mean people no longer accept the religion’s attitudes towards women or homosexuals. Or perhaps a lack of financial or sexual integrity of the religion’s leaders may be exposed. Despite this, many of the faithful still continue following, ignoring the flaws in the so-called ‘truths’ they have accepted. But this is not to say that the inspired teacher was not telling ‘the truth’ in the first place.
Finding the truth within
The greatest teachers are those who insist each one of us should search inwardly for truth. They acknowledge that ‘truth’ for one person may involve moral codes and strictures that are not appropriate for others. They would also say that some ‘truths’ become outmoded and need to be reappraised. For the most part, I do believe they would agree we should not expect to find the truth in musty old manuscripts or ancient scriptures.
The founder of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) was an intensely mystical seeker called George Fox (1624–1691). From a young age he travelled around, asking questions of church ministers, hoping to hear some profound words of wisdom. He was constantly disappointed. Eventually, when sitting quietly one day – ‘contemplating’ is the word he would have used – he heard an inner voice telling him to listen to the wisdom of God within his own heart:
I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition.”
While George Fox was certainly charismatic, he had no desire to found a sect. He shared his understanding and proclaimed it outdoors, saying that church buildings and rituals were unnecessary and that both men and women could declare wisdom that arrived for them personally, during what he called ‘silent worship’.
His followers originally described themselves as ‘Children of the Light’, or ‘Friends of the Truth’. Then they became the Society of Friends. Fox’s inspiration was to encourage people to listen to their own heart’s wisdom and share it, but not impose it on others.
This spiritual movement was not named after its founder – an indication of Fox’s integrity – but, by the time of his death, around 60,000 people (over 1%) in England and Wales were practicing Quakers, particularly women. Because they were banned from university, politics and other social organisations – they were even persecuted under law for a period during the 1800s – some became wealthy entrepreneurs. People such as John Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree were philanthropists, and several British banks were also founded by Quaker families. Despite their immense influence in an expanding and prosperous Britain, George Fox’s gravestone is simple and plain, in keeping with Quaker ideals.
Nowadays, the Quaker movement maintains a simple approach to spiritual activities, focussing for the most part on their well-established habit of sitting in silence. Today, we would call this practice meditation! Several important charitable enterprises have been founded after insights gained in a Sunday morning Quaker gathering – Amnesty International and Oxfam are good examples, though there are many others. For myself, I have had some very profound experiences while sitting in silent worship with Quakers.
What do you find when you search within?
Personally, I don’t call myself a ‘Christian’ although I am very happy, given the opportunity, to sit with Quakers, who (for the most part) would use the ‘Christian’ identifier. However, what I recognise in Fox’s experience is a universal spiritual illumination. Because Fox grew up in a Christian society, he could only use a label that he was familiar with to describe his insights. When he heard a guiding voice within, I’m quite certain he would have heard words that fitted his previous understanding. For him, Jesus was the only teacher who was likely to bring wisdom to the listening heart. Had he been from an Indian background, the voice would undoubtedly have presented itself as Lord Krishna.
This was a ‘true’ experience – Fox was meeting the ‘truth’ within him, and it gave itself a name. Some people use the expression ‘Christ consciousness’ to describe a state of being where we feel at one with the simplicity of truth within, although this experience is by no means unique to Christians. This simplicity is often accompanied by an awareness of expanded light throughout the mind and body. You enter an arena in which you feel held and protected, innocent and wise at the same time – you become a ‘child of the light’.
What’s in a name?
When you encounter the light within – the ‘truth’ – then your own history, or the history of your ancestors, will have an influence on the name you might use to describe this experience. A born-again Christian will probably call the light ‘the Holy Spirit’. Anyone brought up in an Abrahamic religion – Jewish, Christian or Muslim – might want to describe the light as an ‘angel’. Often, the light will present you with an angelic name. It might even describe itself as ‘God’. Eileen Caddy, one of the founders of the Findhorn Community in Scotland, heard a voice while meditating in Glastonbury in the late 1950s. The voice said, Be still and know that I am God. I’m sure Eileen knew these words are found in the biblical Psalms, (46:10), but this does not mean her experience was not true. She heard the words directly. Her familiarity with the Psalms would have allowed the ‘truth’ to speak to her in this particular way. Eileen would have been comfortable and not at all surprised to receive a spiritual message delivered using biblical words.
Of course, we all know that some people hear voices telling them to do bad things, as well good! The hearing of voices can be a sign of a malfunctioning ego, rather than a mystical insight. So what’s the difference? According to many accounts I have read, someone who needs treatment for a mental disorder is usually anxious, hyperactive and extremely agitated. Profound spiritual insights are invariably accompanied by an aura of calm – although someone who has just had a powerful vision will often seem over-enthusiastic and can be somewhat pushy, wanting to share the ‘good news’! After all, the word ‘enthusiasm’ literally means to be filled with God.
When you take up regular meditation, you will gain powerful insights. You won’t necessarily hear voices, but you may very well find ‘ideas’ arising quickly, like messages in your mind, as though coming from ‘somewhere else’. You will see the ‘truth’ concerning your personal life. You may also observe that other people seem to be out of integrity with their own ‘truth’ but, for the most part, it’s not your job to point this out! What you can do, however, is encourage others to meditate and listen to the truth that is waiting inside them to be recognised.
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