What is the Truth?

We can get information about Buddhism by reading or hearing about the ‘4 Noble Truths’ but to understand them in a way that leads to liberation requires deep and committed inquiry. This is implied in the alternative translation: “These Truths are the Truths of the Noble Ones.” We all know that Buddhist practice involves a hands-on approach. Academic study is important and we are grateful for it. However, to realise the Dharma we immerse ourselves in the teachings. Our body, speech and mind will need to be fully engaged if we are to wake up and live the Dharma in its fullness.

The word ‘truth’ has more than one meaning. The philosopher ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein’ believed he had understood something important about language: words derive their meanings from their use. They are used in different kinds of ‘language games’. "The concept [language-game] was intended “to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life, " (PI 23) which gives language its meaning.” - Wikipedia

In the language game we call ‘Secular Buddhism’ we find a renewed interest in ‘Truth’ - what does it mean? Truth-claims can be dangerous and misleading. Just think of the wars and atrocities committed in the service of various causes. True and worthy causes - so they say - that were meant to bring harmony and justice for all! We all have good intentions but we need to be careful to avoid being to dogmatic about what we believe - the gospel truth.

Many of us believe we have the right view of the teachings but it ain’t necessarily so! We can all behave like a ‘stick-in-the-mud’ through the force of habit. Fortunately, we have met with the Dharma that is required to put an end to our stupidity. We can take a fixed and intransigent position in our search for the truth - that we attach to without due reflection. We misunderstand the teachings if we think they express timeless truths that are not reflected in how we live.

There are secular, philosophical and religious usages of the word ‘truth’. The (notion) that truth - or truisms - are possessed by those who are ‘in the know’ is fairly commonplace. We posses knowledge and understanding but this is no guarantee that we see the truth. What we know and understand can be partially correct or completely mistaken.

Truth it is not a ‘thing’ of any kind? It is a word that is used in different ways according to time, place and circumstance. We talk about ideas/concepts being true or false but we can also refer to a true friend or someone having a (true-heart). We can be genuine and authentic or phony - like plastic people! As Buddhists, we seek to live an authentic life without pretense. A life that is free of delusion and confusion?

The 4 Truths are realised in the absence of greed, hatred and, delusion. We (lose) our primal ignorance and discover that what we had taken to be satisfying, permanent and, self-existent is not so! Emptiness is not a thing that we can acquire or possess.

The Truths that the Buddha tried to share with us are not just information. They are not realised through thinking about the nature of reality. This is a valid and necessary process but Truth - with a capital T - is not like this! It is not revealed through reflecting on topics we feel are important or appraising different points of view - choosing that which resonates with our preset conclusions. It is not a product of discursive activity - related to discourse or modes of discourse. This includes religious, philosophical or, scientific theories and conjectures.

Reasoning - if it is accurate - gives rise to an understanding of facts and fictions. For instance, it is an actual fact that the Earth is the 3rd planet from the sun. There is a difference between (Truth, actuality and, our personal reality). Much confusion arises as a consequence of not seeing and understanding the differences involved in these 3 areas of inquiry.

What the word ‘Truth’ (Satya) is used for in the Buddha’s teachings is something of greater depth than we may realise. The Noble Truths are a form of ‘uncommon’ wisdom or insight. We may have a simple and tacit understanding of the teachings or, we may investigate them through the three-fold training. If our inquiry takes place within the framework of the eight-fold path we may penetrate to the heart of these Truths and be freed from the ten-fetters when our practice and inquiry has run its course.

The realisation of the Noble Truths is a (direct) and immediate seeing of the ‘Dharma’. The Dharma is not just a topic - or a thesis - that is found in the Buddhist canon and elsewhere. We need to be ‘moved’ by the Buddha’s awakened intelligence to enter the stream of the Dharma. We feel our way to freedom!

“He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me” — for those who brood on this, hostility isn’t stilled. “He insulted me, hit me, beat me, robbed me” — for those who don’t brood on this, hostility is stilled. Hostilities aren’t stilled through hostility, regardless. Hostilities are stilled through non-hostility: this, an unending truth." - Dhammapada (Verses 3-5) Translator: Thanissaro Bhikkhu

In order to realise - make real - the truth that these verses from the ‘Dhammapada’ are pointing to involves a letting go. We need to acknowledge, forgive and, learn how to let go of that which gives rise to suffering. Realizing the truth which liberates involves action and non-action. We practice that which is beneficial and we cease to behave in ways that serve no useful purpose.

The preciousness of manifesting as a human being on this fragile planet is a beautiful opportunity to put loving kindness into practice for the benefit of all sentient beings. There is a process of human ‘being’ but no fixed and unchanging entity that can be called: my-self - life is not owned by anyone. As new ways of being in the world arise and cease we give expression to kindness, compassion and, wisdom.

Many of us have a sense of the sacredness of the Earth and we feel love and compassion for all the forms of life that we depend on for our survival and well being. In these times of human induced climate change and ecological destruction it seems appropriate that we see the Earth as a sacred place for our collective awakening.

The liberating Dharma is sacred and beautiful beyond our thoughts and imaginings. Freedom is our birth right - our ultimate potential. It is not a tenet or principle that is contained in and, accessed through any secular or religious ideology - of any shade. If somebody attempts to flush your holy book down the toilet, call a plumber! There is not a word of Truth contained in any Suttas/Sutras - they are merely fingers pointing at the moon.

Realising/living in the light of Truth does not have anything to do with getting something! It is not something we imbibe by comparing what we already believe with the pronouncements made in Buddhist teachings. It is not given to us as a gift from a transcendental being, a Buddha, a savior or, any one else. It is not ‘hidden’ from us on a higher plain waiting for our wits to grow stronger.

“And since for you, Bāhiya, in what is seen there will be only what is seen, in what is heard there will be only what is heard, in what is sensed there will be only what is sensed, in what is cognized there will be only what is cognized, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be with that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be with that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be in that; and since, Bāhiya, you will not be in that, therefore, Bāhiya, you will not be [here] or [hereafter] or in between the two—just this is the end of suffering.” - Bāhiyasuttaṃ

‘Moksha’ (freedom) is neither here nor hereafter, it is not immanent or transcendent, it has no location. It is not a practice - something that we do! When there is no grasping or clinging and everything is let go of there is a complete dissolution in emptiness. Something is then seen that comes as a complete surprise - no one ‘gets’ enlightened. We cease to expect from life that which it cannot give - (freedom). Freedom is something we cannot find anywhere. Therefore, why should we desire anything? We can appreciate and take care of the worlds we inhabit but we can’t prevent them from changing and becoming otherwise. Liberation - the 3rd Noble Truth - is a true (cessation) not a true (acquisition).

As the Theravadin devotional-chant goes: “The Dharma is apparent here and now, not a matter of time.” The Buddha extends an invitation: ‘come and (see) the Dharma.’ The Truth cannot be said it can only be lived - when we see it we are then embodiment’s of the living Truth that sets us free! Dharma teachers do not reveal or conceal the truth. They cannot give us the truth which liberates through what they think, say or, do! “The Buddhas only point the way.” - Dhammapada

Meditative joy, happiness and deep tranquility arise spontaneously and naturally when we are free from reactivity - peaceful, calm, wise and skillful. Seeing and ‘being’ are inseparable if we embody the teachings in our daily lives.

I remember doing a course in post-modernism and ‘deconstruction’ where the lectures and readings were all about the relativity of truth-claims. I asked the lecturer if what she had taught us was true? She answered by saying it was a question we could take away with us! We can never speak the liberating Truth because it cannot be captured in words and ideas. We cannot find something elsewhere that was never lost in the first place.

Awakening is not something we can produce out of our desire to be successful at what we (do). All that is needed is kindness and letting go - nothing can obstruct or hinder when we get out of the way.

One of the things that is interesting about the Buddha’s teachings is the distinction he makes between theory and liberating insight. Does a secular perspective allow
for this possibility or is this just another form of magical thinking? The Buddha was not a philosopher or an ideologue - he was a (seer) - a trans-personal explorer and mapmaker, our true friend and teacher.


What do you mean by sacred?
Is there a Pali word for this?

from online:
Regarded with great respect and reverence,
Regarded as to valuable to be interfered with.

I experience peace as a sacred happening - something truly beautiful and meaningful. Likewise, with love and kindness, forgiveness, meditative absorptions, liberating insight, true friendship, our relationships with our nearest and dearest, the generosity of the Buddha and his Sangha, pristine forests, the ocean - particularly at sunrise and sunset, the night sky, the reflection of the stars in a lake, moonlight on a stream or river, this blue jewel in space we call home - just about everything.

The Buddha, just before his Parinibbana, mentioned how the people of ‘Vajji’ respected their ‘tree shrines’ and how this was a practice that , if continued, may help them to live in harmony. The Buddha loved nature, he was born, awakened and, passed away under a tree. There is a reason we have a ‘Forest’ Sangha - thats where the early Sangha spent most of their time. Any place that we find is helpful to our practice, that promotes peace and tranquility, is a sacred place that should be cared for - if we take care of these places others may benefit from them as well. The living Earth needs our respect and help.

When we enjoy peace and we feel gratitude for the blessings in our lives (we) are a place where the sacred is manifest. We are all precious beings in need of unconditional love and care. The question should be: what is not sacred? What in the world is not in need of unconditional love and care? We don’t need Suttas/Sutras to understand that which is sacred in our lives. The written teachings can point us in the right direction but we have to walk - we have to live the truth which liberates.

The Suttas we need to read are not printed in a book or found online. Our hearts are the place where the (real) Dharma is found. Only this can heal and awaken? Ajahn Brahm teaches us to ‘acknowledge, forgive and, learn’. We have discovered how to be gentle with ourselves and others - we are in good company.

“Go forth for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, the good and the happiness of gods and men. Let no two of you go in the same direction. Teach the Dharma which is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle and beautiful at the end. Proclaim both the letter and the spirit of the holy life completely fulfilled and perfectly pure.” - the Buddha