What Is Truth?

Tintoretto, "Christ before Pilate"

Tintoretto, “Christ before Pilate”

The dialogue between Jesus and Pilate from the Gospel of John (18:28) is one of the most profound exchanges regarding Truth:

“Therefore Pilate … summoned Jesus and said to Him, … ‘So You are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.’ Pilate said to Him, ‘What is truth?’”

There are times in our lives which call for standing for the truth, unwaveringly testifying to it with all the awareness of the consequences or sacrifices which are called for. This is the path Jesus chose. This is also the path most prone to sick distortions of fanaticism. On the other hand, what Pilate seems to be imparting to us is that Truth is not fixed or defined eternally: it shifts because it is always relative; it calls for periodic rebirths and renewals. The question “What is truth?” should be asked repeatedly and vigilantly at every single moment of our existence.

Aletheia - Greek goddess of truth, truthfulness and sincerity

Aletheia – Greek goddess of truth, truthfulness and sincerity

Martin Heidegger discussed the etymology of the Greek word for truthalétheia, which means un-concealing. Truth uncovers and reveals that which is hidden. How does Truth remain hidden? What conceals it? I believe that Truth is something that lies beyond conditioning, thoughts, concepts (“the graveyard of perceptions,” as Nietzsche called them), ideas or even symbols. I would equal the Truth with the One, i.e. what Plotinus saw as the ineffable foundation of everything. Perhaps Truth can also be likened to Nothingness – “reality without objects and without forms yet nurturing the seeds of all things,“ as defined in Cirlot’s Dictionary of Symbols. Two thinkers, who are rarely paired together, appear to have answered this question in a similar way: Jiddu Krishnamurti and Friedrich Netzsche. Compare these:

1.“So, why do we create ideas about truth? … Either we see the truth nakedly, as it is, or we do not. But why do we have a picture about it, a symbol, a word, an image? … What would happen if the mind did not create the idea? It is its function to create ideas, to verbalize, to recall memories, to recognize, to calculate. We know that. But the mind is not free, and it is only when the mind is capable of looking at the truth fully, totally, completely, without any barrier, that there is a freedom. … if you can, if I may suggest it, observe your own mind in operation and watch how it thinks, how it reacts, when a truth is put before it, then you will experience step by step what I am talking about. Then there will be an extraordinary experience. And it is this direct approach, direct experience of what truth is, that is so essential in bringing about a creative life. “

Krishnamurti, “On Truth,” (Fifth Talk in London 1952) via http://www.jkrishnamurti.org/krishnamurti-teachings/view-text.php?tid=385&chid=4705

2.“We obtain the concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept.

Only by forgetting this primitive world of metaphor can one live with any repose, security, and consistency: only by means of the petrification and coagulation of a mass of images which originally streamed from the primal faculty of human imagination like a fiery liquid, only in the invincible faith that this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in short, only by forgetting that he himself is an artistically creating subject, does man live with any repose, security, and consistency. If but for an instant he could escape from the prison walls of this faith, his ‘self-consciousness’ would be immediately destroyed.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense” via http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl201/modules/Philosophers/Nietzsche/Truth_and_Lie_in_an_Extra-Moral_Sense.htm

Both thinkers seem to point out to entities (“truths,” ideas, concepts) covering up or burying Truth, which springs from the source that lies deeper than any human ways of expressing it. The creative power of Truth will out, though, through the hard crust of crystallized, conditioned and outworn thought patterns and towards a more authentic existence.

the allegory of Truth in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593)

the allegory of Truth in Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (1593)

This post was inspired by L. Caruana and a chapter “The Symbol That Conceals” in his book Enter through the Image.

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29 Responses to What Is Truth?

  1. Thank you for this post. Truth is quite a life obsession of mine, the legacy of my name, Alethea

  2. Wow. This is much to absorb and process, Monika. I appreciate your sharing these perspectives. I am particularly drawn to your thought that truth calls for periodic rebirths and renewals. That much I can comfortably get my arms around.

  3. litebeing says:

    I agree with Eric. Truth is ever evolving as are we. I would add that light is connected with truth. Illumination directs us to what remains when everything else is stripped away.

  4. Thank you, Monika. You have been selecting illuminating passages and I feel your last post containing the following from Audre Lorde goes well with this most recent one:
    “But I have peeled away your anger
    down to its core of love
    and look mother
    I am
    a dark temple where your true spirit rises
    beautiful and tough as a chestnut
    stanchion against your nightmares of weakness
    and if my eyes conceal
    a squadron of conflicting rebellions
    I learned from you
    to define myself
    through your denials.”

    I have thought about this “idea” of a Truth beyond the relativity of subjective perceptions, and think your writing here is lucid: “The creative power of Truth will out, though, through the hard crust of crystallized, conditioned and outworn thought patterns and towards a more authentic existence.”

    • I am glad that you see correlation between these two posts because they so do go together. Lucidity is something difficult to achieve in times of darkness but also absolutely essential. I also believe there is truth “out there,” beyond the relativity of subjective perceptions.
      Thank you,
      Monika

  5. It’s a joy to read your thoughts, Monika.

    I think that the major problem is that we may think that we can contain The Truth, that we believe our opinions to be the Truth.
    Our lives on earth is a long quest for truth, and as a result we become wiser, become of truth, we don’t contain the truth, the truth contains us.
    Most religions talk about living in the now, in different words, but it means that the truth comes to them as needed, but as long as we believe in our opinions we can’t hear it.

    • Wonderful and valuable thoughts – thank you. Indeed, we do not contain the truth because it is so much bigger than us. Opinions so often prevent us from getting closer to it.

  6. Hi Monika. Great post! I love the idea of Truth as an uncovering of the hidden. I am going to add the closing two lines from Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”:

    ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

    Cheers!

  7. lampmagician says:

    Reblogged this on lampmagician and commented:
    other hand, what Pilate seems to be imparting to us is that Truth is not fixed or defined eternally: it shifts because it is always relative; it calls for periodic rebirths and renewals. The question “What is truth?” should be asked repeatedly and vigilantly at every single moment of our existence.

  8. Pingback: What Is Truth? | lampmagician

  9. herongrace says:

    That is interesting. I was reading just before a blog..The Toltec Path..with a link to 6 missing chapters from Castaneda’s “The Eagle’s Gift” which I read where, Don Juan was teaching Castaneda that we live in world created by consensual agreement which we are schooled in from birth. Sorceror’s learn how to enter other so called “realities” which are as viable as the 1 most of us inhabit, so this implies that our concept of “truth” here is a consensual fabrication.

  10. Thank you for a wonderful and thought-provoking post, Monika, and beautiful images as well. I always appreciate the clues offered by the etymology or origins of various words; aletheia is a beautiful word, and ‘un-concealing’ a juicy clue. Lovely post. Blessings and happy 2015, Jamie

  11. Thanks, Monika! I am about to add this to my Facebook Page “Writing from the Twelfth House” so that I can read and reflect on it some more….

  12. Pingback: What Is Truth? | symbolreader | radupopescublog

  13. beautiful portrayal of conceptualizing truth and the errors of conveniently symbolizing it with concepts and imagery, till it loses its very meaning beyond the semantics – i am reminded of a beautiful poem by Elizabeth Jennings;

    BEYOND POSSESSION
    Our images withdraw, the rose returns
    To what it was before we looked at it.
    We lift our look from where the water runs
    And it’s pure river once again, we write
    No emblems on the trees. A way begins
    Of living where we have no need to beat
    The petals down to get the scent of rose
    Or sign our features where the water goes.

    ( there is more )

    • Let me comment back with another beautiful poem – “Blake” by Jorge Luis Borges:

      Where will the rose in your hand exist
      that lavishes, without knowing, intimate gifts?
      Not in colour, because the flower is blind,
      nor in the sweet inexhaustible fragrance,
      nor in the weight of the petal. Those things
      are sparse and remote echoes.
      The real rose is more elusive.
      Perhaps a pillar or a battle
      or a firmament of angels, or an infinite
      world, secret and necessary,
      or the joy of a god we will not see
      or a silver planet in another sky
      or a terrible archetype lacking
      the form of the rose.

      How wonderful to find a fellow lover of poetry. I cannot imagine my life without it.

  14. ‘The creative power of Truth will out, though, through the hard crust of crystallized, conditioned and outworn thought patterns and towards a more authentic existence.’ A serine thought indeed.

  15. You would; I dare say that might be within your reach.

  16. idpnsd says:

    Vedas define the truth, because the word Veda means knowledge. What is there in Vedas – reincarnation, destiny, yogic power, yogic meditation, soul theory, birth-maturity-death laws, eternal recurrence etc. Thus Vedas define the laws of nature. Therefore according to Vedas the following should be the definition of Truth:

    (1) Truth comes from the laws of nature only (2) Nature always demonstrates its laws (3) Therefore truth must be unique and universal.

    Since nature always demonstrates its laws, the truth must be detected from the demonstrations given by nature, just like Galileo did. This means I cannot create truth by doing mathematics sitting in my office or doing some experiments in isolated and controlled environment inside some physics lab. Truth must be observed inside the nature.

    Since laws of nature are unique and universal, so must be the truth. Thus what is true in USA must also be true in China. Similarly what is true on earth must be true on mars also. Along the same line, what was true million years back, must be true now, and will remain true million years in future from today. Thus technology has no impact on truth.

    Interestingly, the soul theory of Vedas say, that all objects in the universe are created by their respective souls. That is, I am created by my soul, and you are created by your soul. And nature has given many demonstrations of this fact. Therefore there is no God who created the entire universe. For more details take a look at – https://theoryofsouls.wordpress.com/ In Gita if you replace anyone or all of the following words {God, Krishna, I, Me, My etc.} by soul, there will be no contradictions, and in fact, Gita verses may become more robust and understandable.

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