Expanding Horizons of Truth

By E. A. Holmes

"There is no Religion higher than Truth." Most of us would subscribe to this notion. But, what is Truth? Truth, you may say, is a self-evident thing, something we can determine empirically, that is, from our observations and experiments, just as, for example, a spirit-level will give a true base line, and a plumb line the true vertical. In practice it is not so simple. One is reminded of the assertion of Boss Pig in Animal Farm by George Orwell, that "all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others"!

In his book, Expanding Horizons, James A. Long speaks of Truth as a growing thing, and states:

Our greatest hope lies in the fact that Truth does exist. Through the millennia it has come down to us like a river whose source is in the Unknown. At times its current flows strong and clear over the surface of the earth, enriching human hearts. At other times, not finding a channel of receptive minds, it disappears and moves quietly underground, and the soil it once made fertile lies fallow. But always the river flows.

Some years ago a panel of three speakers -- a Christian lay preacher, a medical scientist, and a theosophist -- were asked to give their viewpoints and to answer questions at a meeting of university undergraduates. My most prominent impression of that meeting was the skepticism of the students as to whether there actually was such a thing as truth. One cannot blame them: during the last hundred years or so one after another scientific "certainty" has been thrown aside. The so-called indivisible atom was "split" by Rutherford and Soddy in 1902; Einstein played havoc with Newton's Laws; Euclidian geometry went awry when the "great circle" took the place of the straight line as being the shortest distance between two points. Other upsets have been multifold, and the upshot is that a scientific truth is now defined as something which can be disproved, but which, as yet, has not been disproved!

In the 1930s British author and playwright J. B. Priestley had a full-page article in a Liverpool newspaper on the subject of Theosophy. It was a remarkable exposition, showing that Priestley had looked widely at the theosophical ideas. But at the end of the article he said, in effect: "I am not a Theosophist; I find the Theosophical ideas too plausible." Here was a system which, according to the article, appeared to explain the inexplicable, yet the writer said he rejected it. Were the explanations too glib? Were they too "cut and dried"? Evidently there was something suspect about them, and I think we can guess what was at the back of Priestley's mind. "The spirit bloweth where it listeth." Spirit is the origin of truth, and therefore truth itself will not be caught in any net. If you crystallize it, codify it into a system, you kill it. If you try to encapsulate it, it will escape into vistas of expanding horizons, and leave you with the empty capsule. This alas is what seems to have happened with popular religion.

Perhaps this is what Priestley had in mind. It would appear he had culled his theosophy from some matter-of-fact source. It was certainly a two-dimensional theosophy -- just flat statement, a once-for-all assertion of "gospel truth." Priestley was perhaps right to reject it, but he was wrong to be put off by it. He could have, and should have, investigated the ideas in more depth, because his series of "time" plays -- Time and the Conways, I Have Been Here Before, and the like -- show that he was not satisfied with orthodox ideas. Further search would surely have shown him a broader perspective.
Truth, with a capital T, must be coeval with the Almighty and we may never reach that Ultimate on this physical earth. But there must be such things as truths. If we stand by the edge of the sea, the horizon is some three miles away. From the deck or the mast of a ship it is farther away, but still a finite measurable distance. These are facts, truths.

So the truths we ascertain are relative -- relative to ultimate Truth, but also relative to something else. They are relative to us. Knowledge, said Plato, is reminiscence of the soul, a recalling of things interiorly known. Truth, like Divinity, already exists deep in our being. We cannot express the whole of it because we are imperfect, and such truths as we can express are limited by what we are. They are an exact measure of each of us at our own stage of development. As we evolve, as we expand our minds and hearts, so will we recognizemore and more of Truth. "Live the life, and you will know the doctrine," we are told. It is easy to see how important it is never to tell an untruth; to express or even harbor an untruth lessens our very being.
In her magazine The Theosophist, July 1881, H. P. Blavatsky declared:

For one man to demand from another that he shall believe like himself, whether in a question of religion or science is supremely unjust and despotic. Besides, it is absurd. For it amounts to exacting that the brains of the convert, his organs of perception, his whole organization, in short, be reconstructed precisely on the model of that of his teacher, and, that he shall have the same temperament and mental faculties as the other has. -- 2:10, p. 218

She adds: "Mental slavery is the worst of all slaveries."

There is another side to the coin, and one has to concede that just as there are expanding horizons of truth, so can there be expanding horizons of error. How can we be sure that, in seeking for the one, we do not fall for the other? I believe we should not try too hard to attain enlightenment. If we are to become selfless agents for good in the world -- which is the real goal of an enlightened man -- we should be more concerned with the welfare of others than with our own progress. Enlightenment will grow in us only as we ourselves grow, and we can safely leave that process to the higher law. Life is the real teacher, and its lessons come along with our karma in the form of day-to-day duties and problems. Nature opens her doors inward only when the candidate does not know he is passing through them.

(From Sunrise magazine, Apr/May 86. Copyright © 1986 by Theosophical University Press)

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