It’s said that we live in an unfortunate season of time; a time when simple living and elevated thinking give way to complicated entanglements and diminished reasoning, when purity gives way to pollution, mercy gives way to malevolence, and truthfulness gives way to falsehood.
It’s a time when people are needlessly quarrelsome, consistently misguided, unlucky, and, above all, always disturbed.
On Wednesday, the diminished reasoning, persistent pollution, malevolence, and falsehood that’s been simmering for the last four years came to a rolling boil here in my adopted hometown of Washington DC.
The misguided hullabaloo that unfolded at our nation’s Capital was a clamorous demonstration of the power of fear, the incremental escalation of hostility, the disavowal of personal responsibility, and, most importantly, the invalidation of facts.
Neutralizing the illuminative influence of inconvenient facts is a two-step process. Step one: cut people off from sources of valid information. Step two: supply those who are dissatisfied with objective reality a set of ‘alternative’ facts that will allow them to construct an alternative, subjective reality.
And the key to creating a convincing subjective reality is to strip truth of its gravitational force, which is easily achieved by downgrading the criteria for truth from deference to direct perception, logic, and authoritative testimony to mere belief.
Thus, the fortunes of would-be authoritarians rely on the possibility that, as 20th century philosopher Hannah Arendt put it,
"...gigantic lies and monstrous falsehoods can eventually be established as unquestioned facts, that man may be free to change his own past at will, and that the difference between truth and falsehood may cease to be objective and become a mere matter of power and cleverness, of pressure and infinite repetition."
Truthfulness, the second ethical principle of yoga, is thus the first casualty of political expediency in the iron age of quarrel and hypocrisy.
The Sanskrit word for ‘truthfulness,’ satya, indicates a direct relationship between the truth and eternality, sat, which is to say that a fact is always a fact whether one believes it or not. The correlation between truth and eternality is made explicit in this verse from the Bhagavad-gita:
“That which has no endurance does not truly exist whereas that which exists eternally never undergoes change. Seers of the truth have reached this conclusion by studying the nature of both.” - Bg 2.16
‘Seers of the truth’ translates the Sanskrit phrase tattva-darśibhiḥ. Tattva is a word that indicates ‘truth’ as a feature of reality. In contemplating the significance of this verse, we can consider two hierarchical levels reality: relative and absolute.
Relatively speaking, this too shall pass: the convulsions of American politics will eventually subside. And with their abatement will come the opportunity to look for the root cause of the social diseases that gave rise to them.
Seekers of the truth would be wise to look beneath the surface of the social diseases to the spiritual amnesia that gives rise to the affliction of misidentification; the illusory perception of the eternal spirit soul as the temporary material body.
Our attachment to a temporary body, draped over the eternal soul like a cloak, induces an embrace of a bodily conception of life: we become convinced that ‘we’ are this nationality, race, gender, tribe, etc. and that ‘they’ are that nationality, race, gender, tribe, etc.
Ignorant of the fact that this distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ does not truly exist, needless quarrel ensues as ‘we’ try to align the universe with ‘our’ desires rather than allow ‘them’ to align the universe with ‘their’ desires.
And who'll deny it's what the fighting's all about?
From a spiritual perspective, our blind acceptance of a temporal identity within a relative world as the sum total of reality is to accept a monstrous falsehood as an unquestioned fact.
The most important message that yoga wisdom has to offer us is that the relative truths of our temporary material existence play out within the context of the absolute truth of our eternal spiritual existence.
This is good news because knowledge of absolute reality, received through authoritative testimonials of self-realized sages, can revoke fear’s power, cool the consciousness, and support a level of existential courage that will make us immune to manipulation by authoritarian con artists.
The proposition that relative truths are nested within the context of an absolute truth is actually quite logical, akin to studying American history within the context of world history in order to get a complete understanding of how America came to be what it is.
And the practices of yoga constitute a spiritual technology that enables us to transform theoretical knowledge into realized knowledge, an undeniable experience of absolute reality by direct perception.
Taking advantage of the opportunity to pursue an awareness of our eternal spiritual nature while we’re passing through this unfortunate season of time isn’t an act of self-absorbed withdrawal from world events. On the contrary, banding together in pursuit of transcendental knowledge is our best hope for a revolution in consciousness that will simplify living, elevate thinking, restore purity, advance the cause of mercy, and establish the ultimate fruition of truthfulness.
May we look forward to a time when we’re all causelessly kind to one another, guided by wisdom, recipients of good fortune, and, above all, always peaceful.
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Hari-kirtana das is a yoga teacher, spiritual guide, and the author of 'In Search of the Highest Truth: Adventures in Yoga Philosophy.' He's been practicing Bhakti yoga and other yogic disciplines since 1977, has served in ISKCON over the years in various capacities, and brings a wide range of spiritual knowledge and life experience to his classes, workshops, and presentations. Hari’s talent for making complex ideas easy to understand, his keen sense of humor, and his passion for critical thinking and meaningful dialog have made him a sought-after journal contributor, public speaker, and podcast guest. You can learn more about Hari-kirtana by visiting his website: https://hari-kirtana.com/.
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