What is truth in religion?
TRUTH . The concept of religious truth expresses various aspects of human experience: reality that is permanent, immeasurable, unconcealed, effective, powerful; personal character that is sincere, good, genuine, valuable; and knowledge that is certain, accurate, pure, clear, and convincing. Truth emerges out of the basic human experience of valuation (both as assessment and appreciation) as a necessity for human survival and well-being. Human life is characterized by the need to distinguish between what is real and unreal, powerful and powerless, genuine and deceptive, pure and contaminated, clear and confused, as well as relative degrees of one extreme or the other. In an attempt to understand the character and variation of the existential engagement with truth in different religious traditions, we can recognize three aspects of truth: (1) the character of accurate knowing, (2) the nature of the reality known, and (3) the formation of value as the power to actualize this reality in authentic living. As a general concept, religious truth can be defined as the knowledge and expression of what-is for the purpose of achieving the greatest well-being possible (i.e., salvation, absolute freedom, or total harmony).
Inherent in religious truth is the recognition that a person who knows, manifests, or orients his or her life to ultimate reality is achieving ultimate transformation—for example, being saved or attaining complete liberation. In knowing the truth a person becomes authentic because he or she places his or her self-consciousness in a comprehensive context of what-is. The object of religious knowing is not simply information about another thing or person; it is recognition of the deepest reality or resource for fulfillment of life. Such an object, called God, the Dharma, the Dao, tathatā ("thusness"), or nirvāṇa, is not a conventional object in a subject-object relationship, but the original source, the nature, or quality of all conventional objects as they really are. This understanding of truth cannot be limited to a conception of truth as a relationship between words or between ideas and things (though words, ideas, and mental images may evoke the quality of truth whereby self-consciousness responds appropriately to what-is). Religious truth entails the continuing development of a valid relationship between self-consciousness and one's most extended and most profound environment (reality).
When people express religious truth, they are aware of different levels, kinds, or functions of truth. At the extremes are absolute and relative truth, or transcendent and conventional truth. The former expresses the deepest reality, the sacred, God, or "what-is"; the latter indicates accurate information about life the importance of which is limited to specific situations and short-term goals. The assumption of all religious truth is that personal estimations of what-is or decisions of momentary value must be affirmed only insofar as they are an aspect of the transcendent or absolute truth. Such absolute truth transcends and incorporates the concerns defined by information dependent on time-space conditions; it establishes an overarching value in relation to which the information has significance and meaning. This value is not external to the reality experienced, as an idea about something or a momentary feeling would be. Rather, it is experienced as a total orienting impetus providing coherence for the ideas and feelings that prompt a person to act in a certain way. Thus, truth is the valuation achieved by self-consciousness as it becomes a particular organizing center of self-awareness, meaning, feeling, and action—an individual participating in, and responding to, reality.
To respond appropriately or accurately to what-is can be understood as a release of ultimate power enabling a person to avoid self-deception and dissipating entanglement with unimportant activities and destructive forces. Religious truth is a transforming orientation leading to superlative well-being, known in traditional religious terms as the conversion from sin to salvation, illusion to insight, bondage to freedom, and chaos to order. It expresses not only what is apparent or of relative worth but also what-is at the deepest level. From the standpoint of sin, bondage, or chaos, this ultimate reality is experienced as what ought to be. By affirming the highest truth, a person declares a strategy for both knowing the ultimate reality and actualizing it in his or her daily experience, because such truth is of highest value for achieving superlative well-being. It expresses a comprehensive purpose as part of a person's perception of reality.
In world religions, truth is advocated as a corrective to three general sorts of deception: (1) intentional deception between people, or lying; (2) error due to lack of information; and (3) an inclination toward self-deception. These are interrelated because, in the last analysis, the expression of truth between people and the correction of ignorance find their capacity in the awareness developed through a continuing effort to avoid self-deception about "the way things really are." People often lie to each other in the sense that they deceive themselves about their own deepest resource; they lack information about ultimate values and reality because they are too easily satisfied by short-term pleasures.
At the same time, there is a wide range of solutions to self-deception in the different world religions. This is due to the fact that there are different orientations having different structures of valuation for determining which way of being authentic is really the best and which is derivative or secondary. Since truth is a solution to a process of self-deception, the correcting process that communicates and actualizes what-is at the deepest level, and thus what ought to be, is a comprehensive transformation of one's life-orientation. To examine different expressions of truth in world religions, we must not only look at different ideas about truth as a conceptual formulation but describe the processes in which the truth as description or information about reality is also a reevaluation of what is significant in life. We will look at five different approaches or ways of knowing the truth so that it might actualize the deepest well-being possible, sometimes specified as the good, heaven, salvation, liberation, or total harmony. These approaches to truth are (1) intimate experience of spiritual presence(s), (2) symbolic duplication of sacred reality through myth and ritual, (3) cultivation of appropriate relationships, (4) awakening transcendent consciousness, and (5) cognition of necessary and eternal realities. Then we will consider some of the problems of formulating and reformulating the deepest truth in relation to other, general claims to truth in changing historical and social contexts.
One way of knowing the ultimate truth is the awareness of what-is through the extraordinary experience of spiritual presence(s). These are most often unseen but powerful, controlling forces in life. This type of truth does not appeal for its validity to universal ideas or the coherence and meaning of culturally accepted symbols, even though the social-mythic system communicates the reality of these powerful presences in symbolic and mythic language. For this type of truth the adequacy and meaning of reality is encountered by direct personal acquaintance with usually unseen spiritual presences as they provide healing, regenerative resources, wholeness, and joy. The validity of this truth depends on the intimate and direct experience of such a presence. I shall describe two kinds of intimate knowledge of sacred presence. The first is found in many archaic cultures in North and South America, Africa, Siberia, and the South Pacific islands; it is expressed in the ecstatic experiences of diviners and shamans. The second is found in the ecstatic devotion to, and often prophetic utterance for, God in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the theistic forms of Hinduism.
An essential element of this religious knowledge is the rupture of conventional, everyday experience, a personal, heightened sensitivity to the usually hidden, but ultimately real, presence of power(s). While the wisdom of the shaman is often described as "supernatural," it is probably better to regard this—from the standpoint of the advocates—as a deeper or clearer knowledge of the natural forces that make all life possible. For example, the kilumba or nganga (one who possesses a healing vision) among the Bantu-speaking Luba in Africa is a man who is "seized" by a spirit or disembodied ancestor in order to reveal why some person or a society has inappropriately interfered with the powers of life and therefore has manifested disease, social disharmony, or natural catastrophe. Or, among the Huichol of north-central Mexico, the shaman (mara'akáme ) is a person who is more deeply aware of the hidden forces contending with each other; he has transcended the apparent conditions of conventional existence and becomes the medium or mouthpiece of these forces in life. The unusual character of his knowledge is described as coming from the spirits (divine powers), who know and determine everyday happenings.
The shamanic communication requires crossing over from the biosphere to a hidden (spiritual) plane and then returning to the mundane world. The mundane sphere is a state of separation, pollution, and mortality, as evidenced by illness and social conflict. The hidden, but more powerful (spirit) realm is also one of contending forces who (which) can be benevolent or beneficent toward the members of the biosphere. The shaman needs to have the capacity and skill to maintain a balance between the contending forces; he engages the spirit forces as they "possess" him while deftly remaining balanced between two worlds. According to the Tucano of the Amazon forests, the soul of the shaman (payé ) is said to be luminous, penetrating the darkness, and generative of life and health—like the sun. His skill and purity of soul allow him to ascend to the sky or descend into the netherworld, described as "death" or "dismemberment," and then return to the everyday world.
When the shaman becomes "possessed" by a spirit, his ecstatic experience is interpreted by the audience within a cosmology that affirms hidden vital forces, and his "seizure" is seen as a sign that they will soon hear the voices or sounds of these spirits that will aid them in dealing with vital problems. The truth of the shaman's utterances, then, is part of a total orientation to life in which the members of the community respond emotionally, socially, and physically to the perceived forces affecting them day in and day out. Shamanic utterances are distinguished in these societies from psychotic experiences among the people by their predictive force and concrete results in solving problems. At the same time, when the utterances of a recognized shaman are not effective by empirical examination, some extenuating circumstance, such as impurity or inadequate following of a prescription, can be given to account for the failure.
The second kind of religious truth that requires an intimate knowledge of a sacred presence is the overwhelming experience of a devotee to God. This, too, requires a sense of a usually hidden force that directs one's life as well as all existence. Direct personal experiences of God in Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism are described as awesome, uncanny; they can provoke fear and terror. At the same time, they can provide deep comfort, evoke a sense of wonder and joy of life, and transform one's self-consciousness from a feeling of weakness, corruption, and worthlessness to strength, purity of heart, and profound value. In the theistic traditions of all cultures are found examples of pious devotees whose personal experiences of God are described as spontaneous eruptions of a divine force that, on the one hand, compels them to lead a new kind of existence and, on the other, provides a serene strength to meet life's traumas of personal loss, illness, and death. The devotee who lives his or her life in the presence of divine love and judgment feels reconnected with the source of life, so that even when mundane life is seen as full of evil and impotency, there is confidence in the divine power's ability to overcome the apparent meaninglessness and self-destructiveness.
The validity of the truth known from personal experience depends directly on an evaluation of one's self-consciousness within the context of a transcendent presence of the powers of life or the Holy One. The awareness is perceived as an overwhelming disclosure that transcends other norms of validity, such as empirical verification or rational analysis. Such divine disclosure provides a direction for living and a principle for knowledge not available in other norms of validity. The response to this disclosure is faith or trust in the final control of a powerful, loving, and caring divine presence. In the last analysis, such a divine presence remains a mystery, one that cannot be controlled by personal wants or verified by the mundane experience of health or prosperity. The response of faith is one of service in (and servitude to) the divine will. The truth known in such response is validated by the devotee in the experience of being known by the Holy One.
Symbolic expressions of truth in the form of divine words, sacred myths, and sacramental rites and initiations are found throughout the world. They reflect the power of symbolic gestures and language to construct a realm of meaning. While often combined with the experience of powerful forces and the sense of social obligation and order, the communicative power of religious symbolic forms is found in their capacity to express several levels of meaning simultaneously, so that such activities as dancing, eating together, body marking, telling stories, and the use of special words or sounds can have more than a single signification. Verbal language, especially, has the mental-emotional force to construct multiple levels of meaning whereby self-consciousness attends to, and structures, experienced reality. The formation of ideas woven together by syntax (i.e., language) identifies and orders (often overlapping) conceptual units of consciousness into meaningful awareness. Thinking or imagining is more than a presentation of external sensations to the mind; the formation of ideas is a projection of self-consciousness toward, and into, the sensations of the experienced world. To speak about the world creates a relationship of symbolic meaning between self-consciousness and the world. The use of language demands a choice whereby a person separates one "thing" from another, classifies similar appearances into concepts, and makes evaluations between more or less significant features of one's experience.
The power of language to construct a symbolic realm of meaning relates self-consciousness to the world by creating a "center" in the individual and, at the same time, placing the individual in a universe "as it is"—that is, as it appears directly to self-consciousness. Thus, symbols that express truth are those consistent with the deepest (often presumed) valuation inherent in one's experience. Religious symbols are those mental-emotional lenses that provide images of oneself (a psychology) and the universe (a cosmology); they teach human beings not only what to see, but how to see. As scholars of mythology have pointed out, religious myths are those symbolic expressions that are recognized as true simply by being expressed.
A religious symbol, such as a divine name, sacred myth, ritual action, or visual image of a deity, is seen by religious advocates as the manifestation of a pure, original, mysterious, and powerful reality in a particular concrete form. The symbolic bodily gesture, sound, or physical image is a paradigm of reality—divine reality. Myths and rituals are repetitions of original life-creating actions by the gods, primal ancestors, and cultural heroes and, therefore, must be carefully preserved and meticulously duplicated. They disclose the divine resource that makes any life at all possible. It is the sacred that is eternal, genuine, whole, and pure—the opposite of the profane, corrupt, and fragmented mundane human experience—yet, paradoxically, it is expressed in and through the mundane form, where it usually remains hidden. The religious power of the symbols derives precisely from the fact that they claim to repeat the primal action of creation, the divine rescue of the world from devouring demons, or to describe the joys of paradise in the eternal realm. In providing the paradigmatic truth regarding reality, myth and ritual also provide a model for successful human living. The appeal to divine action is a basic principle of justification for social relations, morality, and, in many cases, all human activities.
Sacred words (divine names, sacred actions and laws, blessings, curses) and sounds (mantra s, chants) are perceived by religious devotees to have a special capacity to release power. According to the perspective of Mīmāṃsā, a school of Hindu philosophical thought, the sacredness of mantra s (sacred sounds, phrases, or verses) derives from the eternity of the word. The use of the mantra in prayer, meditation, or worship reveals the deity or divine energy because the sound is intrinsically related to the divine energy; it is an eternal causal principle. The sound (śabda ) of words is not arbitrary; it represents an eternal principle or force that is manifested in many forms of changing existence. The mantra s, thus, express the essence of divine powers in their very repetition; the sacred utterance in the hymns of the Ṛgveda is a direct testimony to the primal energies of the universe. This view is basic for several subsequent Hindu theistic schools that appealed to the validity of verbal testimony on the basis of the intrinsic power of sound (speech) to express the eternal principles so long as the revealer, the source of knowledge, is adequate.
In Zoroastrianism, a sacred utterance, the Ashem Vohu, is used in most devotions to concentrate a person's mind on asha ("truth"). Asha is the name of an abstract principle of truth or righteousness in the cosmos, but also the name of a divinity often invoked in the Gāthās, one of the Amesha Spentas ("bounteous immortals"). As one of the immanent powers who maintain the universe, Asha is also symbolically identified with fire, a focus of much Zoroastrian ritual. In this religious tradition, truth is symbolically expressed in a divine name, a concrete ritual image, and evoked through a sacred prayer. In Islam, "truth," as identical to reality (al-ḥaqq ), is an attribute of God, the creator of the world and maintainer of righteousness. Al-ḥaqq is that which is steadfast and permanent; it is genuine and authentic. God, as the reality, is the source of truth for humanity, especially as found in the sacred recitation (Qurʾān) given to Mu-ḥammad.
The validity for truth in religious symbolic expression, then, is found in the recognition that its source is eternal, of the realm of the sacred. The activity of God, of bounteous spiritual beings, or of primal ancestors is the real and significant activity. The duplication of the sacred realm in symbolic gestures, physical objects, names, stories, and sounds provides the paradigm for meaning, regeneration in life cycles, and the norm for righteousness. True human knowledge and behavior imitates that of the gods or God. In religious initiations, sacrifices, and sacraments, people release eternal power that purifies as it discloses the foundation for human well-being. The deepest problems in life arise from forgetting one's sacred source, neglecting to repeat the sacred action symbolically, or rejecting the sacred word (such as the Jewish Torah, Jesus Christ as the divine word made flesh, or the Muslim Qurʾān) as the basis for all well-being. When the effects expected from following the sacred rituals and words are not attained, the devotee usually recognizes some failure in perfectly duplicating the sacred paradigm. When there are conflicting myths competing for the loyalty of believers, the sacred reality of one myth is often judged to be demonic power by those holding another myth (an exclusive position), or it is seen as a lesser but related aspect of the true sacred reality according to advocates of another myth (an inclusive position).
Another approach to truth that expresses self-consciousness of what-is is through practical moral wisdom characterized by honesty, trustworthiness, and sincerity. Here the emphasis is on moral action that is consistent with personal integrity. This approach holds that a person cannot truly know the nature of reality without demonstrating what it means to "be" in everyday activities. The means for attaining wisdom combines intuition with observation and learning drawn from ancient tradition. We will discuss first the expression of this truth from Chinese and Indian sources, which appeal to a natural cosmic order (law), and then briefly note several theistic expressions whose ultimate source is divine but that emphasize the moral character of truth.
In the classical Chinese expression of truth there is no sharp distinction between the knowledge of what-is and a person's moral action. Authentic awareness of reality is expressed more in daily practice than formulated in arguments about the nature of the good. The law of life is known not through a personal experience of a divine presence, duplication of a sacred word, or rational reflection; rather it is known through living out a sensitivity to the inherent cosmic harmony within the self and the world. Moral wisdom is found typified in the ancient Sage Kings by the phrase "sageliness within and kingliness without." The goal is to develop a moral attitude that is tested in social relationships, one that is based on the general notion that there is an intrinsic order in all things that must be actualized in concrete relationships with nature and society.
Truth in both verbal expression and behavior is defined as chang ("constant"). A statement or behavior is "constant" when it promotes appropriate relationships within an organic order. Thus, truth is not an idea or abstraction but a human expression that shapes practical behavior. It has a practical function in communication that attempts to promote good behavior. In the Confucian classic Zhong yong (Doctrine of the Mean) the insight into the way (dao ) of life focuses on "sincerity" (zheng ). Sincerity is the demonstration that one perceives the reality of all life; it is a manifestation of the ultimate coherence between self-consciousness and the objective world. The capacity to cultivate such sincerity or integrity is inherent in human beings, but its actualization is not inevitable, so the potential must be fulfilled by constant personal effort.
In classical Hinduism, also, there is the recognition that truth about what-is is most profoundly expressed in everyday activity. From the beginning of the common era, when the Brahmanic tradition that grew out of Vedic rituals was synthesized with a concern for social order, down to the present a prominent notion has been that of dharma ("law, reality, truth"). The cosmic order that pervaded all things is expressed also in appropriate social relationships. The dharma, what people should do, is the correct arrangement of everything in life. Knowledge of oneself is found in following one's dharma, one's way of being in relation to the organic whole. Everything and everybody has a place in the universe. The moral duties of farmer and ruler, husband and wife, or child and parent were defined by their appropriateness to each person's station. To act contrary to one's obligations and responsibilities destroys one's own character and creates chaos in society and nature.
According to the Brahmanic text Manusmṛti (The laws of Manu) the sources for knowing one's dharma were first the Veda, then the tradition, then the virtuous conduct of the religious leaders and holy men, and, finally, self-satisfaction. Most of the society did not study the Vedas, so they learned appropriate conduct from the tradition as expressed in popular stories, festivals, and social rules as they were reinforced by interaction with others. The truth of one's existence was defined by participation in the fabric of society, and the cultivation of personal character was found in the virtues of sincerity, self-restraint, and honesty.
In the theistic traditions of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and Islam there has also been a deep sense of expressing truth through moral behavior. Truth is expressed in the qualities of veracity, integrity, and trustworthiness. In Zoroastrianism, truth (asha ) is the order that governs human conduct. Those who are honest, keep their oaths and covenants, and are loyal to Ahura Mazdā are the righteous ones (ashavan ), those who uphold asha. They look for the final victory over the wicked (drugvant ), those who follow falsehood. In Judaism, truth (ʿemeth ) is expressed in righteousness, justice, and peace. In such actions Jews worship "the God of truth." God keeps his word, and those who speak the truth come near him. Thus, those who avoid deceit and hypocrisy in all their dealings practice the truth. In Islam, the word ṣadaqa means integrity, honesty, and trustworthiness. It is the quality of expression when one tells the truth; it requires that a person be honest with himself or herself and with others, as well as recognize the actual situation with which one is dealing. To express the truth is to follow the will of God, since he is the source of everything. A statement that corresponds to reality is an action that is trustworthy.
A fourth religious way that truth is viewed as the accurate self-consciousness of what-is focuses on the quality of consciousness. Rather than centering the nature of truth on the intimate experience of a spiritual presence, on the symbolic structuring of a sacred realm of meaning, or on cultivating appropriate relationships within a cosmic network, the power by which one can attain comprehensive well-being is the liberating insight that purifies inner dispositions, attitudes, and the thinking-feeling processes—all aspects of consciousness.
The truth of oneself and the world is perhaps partially expressed in symbolic imagery, ideas, and behavior, but the key condition for attaining true (or transcendent) knowledge, say the practitioners of this way, is the avoidance of attachment to these conventional habits of knowing. Here the concern to transform the manner or mode of knowing from a self-limiting, fabricating, and distorting process to a freeing, direct-intuitive insight is crucial because it is assumed that there is an intrinsic and reciprocal relation between the knowing process and the reality known. It is also assumed that there are different qualities of knowing, each of which leads to one or another kind of "becoming real." For anything to exist, it has to come into existence, or "become something," within the context of some manner of perception, process of knowing, and mode of consciousness. The concept of realization includes the two elements of knowing and becoming, as when we say that someone realizes certain possibilities. To realize transcendent consciousness requires a shift away from the conventional habits of consciousness aimed at perceiving (understanding) what-is. In this shift to another process of knowing, a person also comes to exist, "becomes," in a new way.
The highest truth, then, in this approach requires insight into the nature of the process of becoming; it stresses how a person contributes positively or negatively to this process by the manner or quality of his or her awareness. This means that the expression of truth must "fit" the level or quality of the hearer. Truth is not a single idea or proposition that stands eternally and to which all particular forms partially correspond. Ideas and concepts are useful as pointers to truth, or catalysts for freeing a person from habitual mental-emotional entanglements, but a statement that would "fit" a lower spiritual condition, and thus be "true," might be denied as an appropriate expression for someone at a higher level of spirituality. Because thought, emotions, and inner dispositions are interrelated, say the teachers of this way, a true statement is not a universal abstraction, an idea known by the intellect, but a catalyst for insight. Also, the hearer of truth must be prepared to receive it; for a religious idea to bear spiritual fruit, it must be received with a pure heart, or liberated mind. Such an apprehension requires more than intellectual skills or socially conditioned reflex responses; it is cultivated through serenity, courage, diligence, and love (compassion). To know the highest truth, then, is an illumination of "becoming" as an aspect of what-is, which is experienced as unconditional freedom.
The methods for attaining insight, which liberate one from self-imposed bondage according to several spiritual disciplines in India, include quieting the mind through meditation, separating oneself from conventional perceptual and emotional stimuli, sustained and detailed awareness of the factors in one's self-conscious "becoming," concentration (samādhi ) on the unmoving or unifying center of consciousness, and various levels of mental absorption (dhyāna ). These are techniques through which a person is reeducated to "see" himself or herself in relation to the world so that he or she is not constructing mental-emotional chains that cause suffering. For example, in Theravada Buddhist practice, the meditation procedures are intended to help one to withdraw from external conditioning forces and to concentrate one's consciousness, so that one can avoid the habitual confusion of one's pure consciousness with the shifting appearances of things, people, ideas—all aspects of the "objective" world. Once a person is not attached to conventional perceptive and ideational imagery, he or she can expand consciousness through trance or mental absorption and eventually, in a freed state of mind, be intuitively aware of "the immeasurable" or "emptiness." In such a state of awareness, say the Buddhist sutta s, the Buddha perceived the nature of "becoming" as dependent coarising and also understood the root cause of suffering and the possibility of its elimination. Similarly, classical Hindu Yoga advocated the use of certain body positions, controlled breathing, detachment of the senses from external objects, and concentrated mental states to quiet—that is, to avoid producing—conventional procedures of knowing, such as habitual perceptions, inference, memory, or authoritative (sacred) words. These conventional means of knowing are useful as practical vehicles for business, getting physical pleasure, or establishing social relationships, but they are not useful in knowing the deepest reality, pure consciousness (puruṣa ). Yoga intends to free one from the small, limiting consciousness, or the image of one's ego, so that one may become directly aware of universal con-sciousness.
A common metaphor in both theistic and nontheistic religious traditions for the transcendent consciousness is the identity or union of the self with ultimate reality (God). Well-known examples of this are found in Advaita Vedānta Hinduism, in Muslim Ṣūfī recollection of God, and in Christian mysticism. Śaṅkara (eighth century ce), as an exponent of "nondual highest knowledge" (advaita vedānta ), asserted that a genuine and deep investigation into dharma led to the inquiry into brahman, the single undifferentiated reality that pervades all differentiated existence. The eternal brahman is pure being-consciousness-bliss (sat-cit-ānanda ), and the most profound spiritual truth is to realize that self-consciousness (atman ) is identical to brahman. The Ṣūfī master Ibn al-ʿArabī expresses a comparable insight in his assertion that true submission to God is an all-pervading sense that the self vanishes in the only true reality, God. He says in his Fuṣuṣ al-ḥikam : "When you know yourself, your 'I'-ness vanishes and you know that you and God are one and the same."
The Spanish Christian mystic John of the Cross (1542–1591) makes a similar claim in his manual on spiritual discipline, Ascent of Mount Carmel, when he writes: "This union comes to pass when God grants the soul this supernatural favor, that all the things of God and the soul are one in participant transformation; and the soul seems to be God rather than a soul, and is indeed God by participation." The soul, then, is like an unstained window that allows the divine rays to illumine it and "transform it into its own light." These examples indicate a common concern to know the highest truth through emptying the self of its conventional consciousness so that the ultimate reality itself is manifest; however, because mystics each use a distinctive method interwoven with their own psychological and cosmological concepts, their statements about the nature of consciousness and ultimate reality remain significantly different.
A fifth approach to the expression of truth is that found in classical Greek reflection on the nature of reality. While Greek philosophy is not a religious tradition in the conventional contemporary sense, Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle wrestled at a profound level with the relation between self-consciousness, the perceived world, and eternal reality (or realities). Their reflection had a significant influence on patristic and medieval Christian theology and on Islamic theology, as well as on the post-Renaissance European philosophical discussion of truth. Despite important differences in the understanding of truth found in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, they shared several assumptions in their approach that have been carried forward in the way Western philosophers, and some Christian and Muslim theologians, have addressed the issue of truth.
One of the basic assumptions is that reality (the being of things) is universal, necessary, and, consequently, prior to any knowledge of it. Truth (Gr., alētheia, from alētheuein, "to disclose") is a disclosure of what-is. Whether the eternal being is defined in terms of eternal ideas, as in Plato, or in terms of substances, as in Aristotle, the object of true knowledge is a necessary reality that is effective (even active) in the experienced world. The being of things is objective, presenting itself to the mind. Another important assumption is that whatever is real is intelligible; reality is that which can be known by the intellect. It has a signifying character, or a meaning of its own, which is known by cognition and, for Plato, intellectually contemplated by the mind. The "being" of things is the subject of any true judgment, which is basically a response to the disclosure of being. Whatever is real has a universal potential—it is potent and is a possibility—and is disclosed in particular forms and events. Plato asserted that being is itself a unity expressed by many particular forms, and such being is known by an integration of self-consistent judgments. By means of the intellect, human beings can know the universal potentials (reality), that is, can identify their meanings as they disclose themselves. By knowing the eternal ideas, especially the Good, human beings respond appropriately to life and achieve their own well-being.
In this context true knowledge is the mind's inner appropriation of the universal potentials that are disclosed by cognitive judgments pertaining to the continually changing appearances of the outer world. The mind has both a passive and an active role in becoming aware of the meaning that is exposed in the changing appearances. The passive aspect receives the impressions through observation, while the active aspect constructs the meaning mentally, by thinking or judgment. In this act the self-consciousness appropriates to some degree the meaning inherent in the being of things. The truth cognized is the valuable quality of the meaning appropriated, and it is evident to the degree that the mind signifies to itself what is disclosed by what-is. In this approach to truth, then, the primary effort is to respond with the intellect to a meaning found in an impersonal but active reality outside the mind. Truth is universal and has an inherent signification that must be reflected by the intellectual grasp of that objective meaning. The basic conceptual signification of reality should be the same in the mental experience of all human beings, regardless of their particular languages or symbolic systems.
Unlike the approach to truth through myth and symbol (which establishes the true meaning in symbolic duplication of a sacred realm), the meaning in this approach is assumed to be in an external reality that is only reflected in corresponding concepts. When mental images or concepts that intend to signify the meaning inherent in nonsymbolic facts conflict with each other, it is an indication that one or more of the symbolic significations do not correspond to the meaning, or self-signification, of reality. Such meanings are simply "beliefs," which may have emotional force but are not regarded by people taking this approach as signifying what-is. In the Western religious traditions, this approach has led to both dogmatism and scientific theorizing: the former identifies eternal, universal, and objective signification with divine revelation and its explication in theological dogmas; the latter identifies eternal, universal, and objective signification with scientific theories based on empirical verification and general inferences that are presumed to function alike in the experience of all people.
All religious truth, as an existential expression of what-is, is tested and verified by ever-changing human experience. Regardless of the nature of ultimate reality and its relation to the process of its becoming actualized in self-consciousness, as discussed in the approaches to truth given above, the quality of one's awareness, symbolic expression, or social relationship is tested in the changing circumstances of personal maturation and cultural-historical development. There is a basic question arising in each religious and cultural tradition: how is knowledge of the transcendent reality related to a general human means of knowing, for example, perception and inference? Another question arises: how is the original, eternal truth—which itself became manifest in a specific historical-cultural-linguistic situation—to be known in changing and sometimes quite different cultures? We will look at various answers to these questions by first considering the issues of continuity, meaning, and interpretation of symbolic and moral truth. We shall then examine levels of meaning, practical techniques, and the use of language to communicate the special awareness found in the experience of spiritual presence(s) and transcendent consciousness.
In the claims of truth that are based on a sacred word (divine revelation) and/or found in a tradition of trained scholars (such as priests, lawyers, or Confucian literati) who conserve and interpret the eternal moral law, there is a profound concern to understand or make intelligible the meaning of the sacred word and the eternal moral law. Great effort is made to learn, preserve, and interpret the normative teaching so that it is relevant to a community of believers in a specific lived experience. The difficulty in exposing the genuine intention of the original symbolic expression in light of new situations and personal differences of interpretation has resulted in the development of various schools or denominations within all religious traditions. For example, the center of Jewish life is the study and interpretation of the Torah. In this tradition there are different interpretations regarding the relation between the written Torah and the oral Torah. All faithful Jews try to live in the basic myth of the Exodus and according to God's commandments, but there are different interpretations of the purpose of God relative to the historical experience of the Jewish community, the nature of the promised salvation (in this life and the next), and the degree to which certain customs and ritual laws are to be observed in different cultural situations, as well as the centrality and character of study, prayer, moral action, and observance of sacred days. For the past two millennia the leadership of the Jewish community has centered on the rabbi, who not only was trained to interpret the Torah in a creative fashion but also served in many communities as judge and administrator of the law. Especially since medieval times, the rabbis and philosophically inclined thinkers have had to relate the expressions of the Torah to reason and, in the last two centuries, to scientific analysis of the human condition. Such questions as the nature of free will, divine providence, and the psychological conditions for faith are important considerations for contemporary efforts to worship God in truth and to fulfill divine moral obligations of justice and love.
Similarly, Christian faith is based on the divine revelation in Jesus Christ, and study of the Bible, especially of the New Testament, has been central to the life of the Christian community. Already in the first centuries of the Christian church, as the New Testament canon was taking shape and the creeds (the "symbols" of the church) were formulated to define the normative understanding of faith, the impact of the Classical Greek philosophical language helped to shape the doctrines of the Trinity, the person of Christ, and the nature of humanity. A continuing issue in the proper intepretation of scripture, devotional life, and worship was the authority of one or another bishop to declare the official understanding of Christian faith, which was settled by the convening of councils in the fourth and fifth centuries.
The concern to formulate statements of belief that would gain intellectual assent by believers has pervaded the history of the Christian church. During the thirteenth century a watershed formulation was made by Thomas Aquinas that eventually was recognized as authoritative and has remained the supreme theological statement for the Roman Catholic Christian community. In his Summa theologiae and De veritates he synthesized an understanding of Christian faith with Greek philosophical thought, especially from Aristotle, affirming that truth is a transcendental property of being that, in turn, is dependent on God, the ultimate intellectual cause. According to him, faith is human understanding, but the truth of faith rests on the truth of God, and belief—which includes church dogma—is a result of divine grace. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, however, Christian reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, rejected the medieval understanding of a single ministerial (papal) office and, thus, many Roman Catholic dogmas; they emphasized the need to base Christian faith on the primal sacred word, the Bible. During the past three centuries, Christians in western Europe and America have engaged in theological reflection in a cultural context dominated by rationalism, scientific analysis, and industrial socioeconomic structures. These intellectual influences condition the formulation of Christian faith on issues such as the nature of human life, the meaning of revelation, and the role of men and women in the political and social order.
Some basic problems encountered by advocates of truth derived from an intimate experience of spiritual presence(s) and from transcendent awareness are (1) communicating an inconceivable reality through the use of words or appeals to conventional human experience, (2) relating unusual inner experience to general criteria of verification in common-knowledge perception or inference, (3) justifying the claims for a superior inner spiritual quality within the person who claims unusual and authoritative states of consciousness, and (4) avoiding the apparent circularity entailed in the claim that those who do not affirm the validity of supraconscious truth are not qualified to understand or judge the validity of this truth. The manifestation of the ultimate source of truth in an experience of spiritual presence(s) or an unconditional transcendent awareness is seen by its advocates to be a source of knowledge beyond logic, symbolic imagery, and conventional perception.
Nevertheless, advocates use words, symbols, and inference to argue by analogy or by logical analysis. For example, the vision of Lord Viṣṇu in the Hindu classic Bhagavadgītā (Song to the Lord) includes such imagery as "many mouths and eyes," and "the light of a thousand suns springing forth simultaneously in the sky" to portray the Lord. The Muslim devotional mystic Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (d. 1273) describes the true devotee as a person with "a burning heart." With regard to the use of inference to communicate transcendent awareness, a prime example is the second-century ce Indian Buddhist philosopher-monk Nāgārjuna, who used a rigorous logical dialectic to reject the claim of unchanging essences as the reality of existence. Or, in the Zen Buddhist tradition, logical riddles (kōan ) are used to break the habits of language and conceptual imagery that cause attachment to things or ideas. Logic and symbolic imagery, then, are never wholly descriptive of the transcendent reality—only suggestive, or preparatory to moving to a new level of awareness.
Critics, on the other hand, argue that since the religious reality that its advocates claim to know is so different from any communicable description of it, religious experiences indicate more about the simply subjective (perhaps only psychological) conditions of the knower than about any universal reality. Or, since the nature of religious truth requires a change in the quality of apprehension through special techniques or through transcendent power (e.g., God's grace), any special appeal to unusual states of consciousness cannot provide the norm of validity for a general theory of truth that also relies on conventional inference or perception.
Truth in world religions, then, is a concept that not only has different meanings and uses in religious language but also indicates different approaches to the religious concern for the becoming self-conscious of what-is that makes possible the attainment of the highest well-being. Each of the approaches described here provides an evaluative process that structures the conditions, goals, and nature of truth. The different approaches each have their own development, principles of validation, and impact on people's lives. While different religious and cultural traditions emphasize one or two approaches to truth, the major world religions and civilizations have included several of them as sometimes permissible options.
In the contemporary world, where people of different, and sometimes conflicting, religions and ideologies are in a network of political, economic, and ecological relationships, there is a heightened sense of urgency to develop strategies for at least existing safely within a plurality of ultimate commitments, if not for integrating or discovering the principle of unity in that truth that declares the source of well-being for all humanity. One of the most difficult issues in attempting to integrate the various approaches is that each holds that a distinction must be made between lesser, conventional truth and the highest, or divine, truth. Each approach is itself a system of evaluations about the nature of ignorance, the ultimate reality, and the mechanism of knowing the truth that rejects alternate systems of evaluation.
Especially in those communities that identify their survival and highest fulfillment with a single form of truth, through orthodoxy (normative or prescribed teaching) or orthopraxis (normative or prescribed behavior), the tolerance of alternative approaches to truth is difficult to maintain. Paradoxically, a society often holds rigidly to a form of truth when there is change in, or confusion about, the underlying system(s) of evaluation (as, for example, the conflict between the epistemological assumptions of the scientific method and those of the symbolic self-consciousness attained in myth and sacrament), and often an openness to explore alternative forms (contents) of truth emerges when there is stability in the basic system of evaluation.
The contemporary world is characterized by rapid changes in technology and the development of a worldwide communication network. This situation requires new concepts of the self and the universe and an exchange of cultural and religious approaches to truth. The challenge for contemporary people is how to live within some system of comprehensive evaluation (as found in a religion or ideology) and how to respond in a mutually life-enhancing way with people committed to another system of evaluation. The survival and well-being of people in all cultures necessitates a creative reexamination and critical assessment of varied truth claims that implicitly give weight to different ways of valuation.
Epistemology; Knowledge and Ignorance; Philosophy; Religious Experience.
Introductory discussions of the concept of truth in world religions can be found in the following works: William A. Christian, Jr.'s Meaning and Truth in Religion (Princeton, 1964) and his Oppositions of Religious Doctrines (New York, 1972); Truth and Dialogue in World Religions: Conflicting Truth-Claims, edited by John Hick (Philadelphia, 1974); Wilfred Cantwell Smith's Questions of Religious Truth (New York, 1967); and my Understanding Religious Life, 3d ed. (Belmont, Calif., 1985).
For introductions to the nature of truth in shamanism and the symbolism of archaic cultures, see Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God, 4 vols. (New York, 1959–1968); Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane (New York, 1959) and his Shamanism (New York, 1964); S. F. Nadel's Nupe Religion (London, 1954); and Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff's Amazonian Cosmos (Chicago, 1971).
The religious significance of truth in Western traditions is discussed in Mary Boyce's A History of Zoroastrianism, 2 vols. (Leiden, 1975–1982); Jacob Neusner's The Way of Torah (Belmont, Calif., 1979); Understanding Jewish Theology, edited by Neusner (New York, 1973); Stephen Reynolds's The Christian Religious Tradition (Belmont, Calif., 1977); Leslie Dewart's Religion, Language and Truth (New York, 1970); W. Montgomery Watt's Islamic Philosophy and Theology, 2d enl. ed. (Edinburgh, 1984); and Islam from Within, edited by Kenneth Cragg and R. Marston Speight (Belmont, Calif., 1980).
The nature and cultivation of truth in Eastern traditions is described in Hajime Nakamura's Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples (Honolulu, 1964); Revelation in Indian Thought, edited by Harold Coward and Krishna Sivaraman (Emeryville, Calif., 1977); K. Kunjunni Raja's Indian Theories of Meaning (Madras, 1963); Padmanabh S. Jaini's The Jaina Path of Purification (Berkeley, 1979); Kulitassa Nanda Jayatilleka's Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge (New York, 1963); Francis Dojun Cook's Hua-Yen Buddhism (University Park, Pa., 1977); Tantra in Tibet, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins (London, 1977); Toshihiko Izutsu's Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism (Tehran, 1977); A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, translated and edited by Wing-tsit Chan (Princeton, 1963); Fung Yu-lan's The Spirit of Chinese Philosophy (Boston, 1962); Invitation to Chinese Philosophy, edited by Arne Naess and Alastair Hanney (Oslo, 1972); and Tu Wei-ming's Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-yung (Honolulu, 1976).
A critical assessment of various principles of validity emerging from different cultures is found in Eliot Deutsch's On Truth: An Ontological Theory (Honolulu, 1979); Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies, edited by Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan (London, 1973); and Knowing Religiously, edited by Leroy S. Rouner (Notre Dame, 1985). For an examination of the relation of language, meaning, and truth in the mystical experiences of different religious traditions, see Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis, edited by Steven T. Katz (Oxford, 1978).
Allen, Barry. Truth in Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass., 1993.
Blackburn, Simon, and Keith Simmons, eds. Truth. New York, 1999.
Field, Hartry H. Truth and the Absence of Fact. New York, 2001.
Gupta, Anil, and Nuel Belnap. The Revision Theory of Truth. Cambridge, Mass, 1993.
Hill, Christopher S. Thought and World: An Austere Portrayal of Truth, Reference, and Semantic Correspondence. New York, 2002.
Kölbel, Max. Truth without Objectivity. New York, 2002.
Luntley, Michael. Reason, Truth and Self: The Postmodern Reconditioned. New York, 1995.
Lynch, Michael P., ed. The Nature of Truth: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge, Mass., 2001.
Soames, Scott. Understanding Truth. New York, 1999.
Williams, Bernard Arthur Owen. Truth and Truthfulness: An Essay in Genealogy. Princeton, N.J., 2002.
Frederick J. Streng (1987)
In this article, truth means that which conforms to each faith's essential reality. For instance, Jesus posited that, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. John 8:22. DEFINITION OF TERMS.
- How to end in speech?
- What is the best ob gyn peoria il?
- Did thomas really go to india?
- Aws cloudformation features?
- What is time constant in transfer function?
- What is the best lo mein new york?
- What is standard deviation of the mean?
- What is the best of little rock arkansas?
- Would you suggest best cities to live in California?
- What is unjust treatment?