In Search of Wisdom: The Dilemma of a Truth Seeker

Published in: PratibhaPunj(Print Media)

“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” Albert Einstein

Shortly after writing the final semester exam of Intermediate in Science (Grade 12), I headed to Rasuwa, a district north-west of Kathmandu bordering China, in search of a teaching job. I arrived at Dhunche Bazaar in a winter evening. Coincidently, a day earlier in Dandagaun, I had found that there works a supervisor from my own district, Baglung. And his presence was a thread to hang onto in a strange place. I met him at the upper floor of District Education Office building, where a group of people were playing a card game. He was considerate to make an arrangement for me to stay with a junior staffer, a young and spirited person who hosted me by sharing a meal of rice and mountain potato curry, and his only bed in a crammed apartment. I slept under a warm Sirak (quilt) shared with him and escaped the bitter winter cold of Dhunche.

Next morning, I found that Dhunche was a beautiful place facing majestic Langtang Mountain on the edge of Langtang National Park, which is also home to famous Gosainkunda Lake. Since my mission was not the observation of the mountain scenery but securing a job, I was at the District Education Office at ten o’clock sharp with an application for a teaching job. As it was not the busiest of the administrative places, I was called for an interview within one or two hours. Asked and answered in the interview were many questions but what has been permanently remembered is a specific part of the conversation that has intrigued me ever since. And I am still seeking to conclude my inquiry that began when I was a teenager.

The District Education Officer asked me two pointed questions. “Do you believe in any political ideology?” and “Did you participate in any political movement?” Incidentally, I was just released from Bhadragol jail for participating in political movement which had barely subsided. I knew that telling the truth was not in my best interest and answered “No” to both the questions. Having had first-hand experience of the physical and mental torture in detention under the then ruling Panchayat regime, and a fresh memory of a threat of being barred from getting a public job if I was to keep political aspirations, I was smart enough to not say “Yes”. To a regime representing the ideals of yesteryears, inquiring minds like ours were threats and were deemed anti-nationals. The officer then asserted that I must have voted in a Free Student Union election in the campus. I craftily answered that I voted for those who either were my classmates or whom I knew. The truth was covered under the mask of my lies, and I was happily awarded the job of a teacher. Ever since that day, I have been wondering about the utility of the business of finding the truth about someone else’s life!

Paradoxically, that was not the first time I had lied. I remember lying even way-back in Grade 1, when I played with some children on a freshly cleared Kodo-Bari (millet terrace) off the trail to school for the whole day long and returned home with full pretension of going to school. Only after receiving a threat of impending punishment, I realized that my parents had already found out about it from other sources! On another instance, my father never found the truth when I told him that Balibhadra Dai was not at home. In reality, I had not at all gone to his house, as asked by my father. Instead, I had rested on a tree branch on the way and came back home after ample time has passed. Thus, even as a child, I must have learned that lies can mask the truth at least some of the time. My mind is not bothered by what I lied about back then but by why a person who is largely truthful, and is trained to be truthful, lies? And the Dhunche incidence seems to have taught me some interesting lessons.

The first lesson I learned was that those seeking to delineate the facts for the purpose of discrimination will end up farther and farther away from the truth. When something ominous is associated with truth, lie would be a perfectly sensible device for the individual under threat, although lie amounts to a dangerous device for the moral development of the society. The hiring officer’s conversation was not motivated towards a dialogue but towards pleasing his superiors, who ordered what one ought to believe as true. His pursuit was to find whether I was on the “true side” or on the “false side”.

The second lesson was that, given an environment of trust, all humans are happy to tell the truth, and no special training is required to make them tell the truth. If the quest was to simply understand the truth and not to discriminate against me, I would have been adequately happy to tell the whole truth. Within days, students, teachers, and the villagers of Kalikasthan, with lot less education and knowledge compared to the officer, had found out about the political side of my life, through no one but me.

Thirdly, the gatekeepers of “truth” only create a dangerous antagonism between those who already embraced a new truth and those who will eventually end up embracing it tomorrow. This is so evident in Nepal. Just before Ranas were toppled, most Nepalese were pro-Ranas who all got converted to anti-Rana camp after their fall. Likewise, before the Panchayat regime was overthrown, most were pro-Panchayat but after its fall it was hard to find any Pancha. Repeating the same pattern, the post-1990 regime declared the rebels seeking to abolish the monarchy as terrorists in November 2001, only to find a total reversal in their position in 2005 when the then King Gyanendra sacked the regime.

Fourthly, society runs away from truthfulness and nears towards deception and mistrust when the rulers attempt to remove the contradictions through the use of coercion. The problem occurs when those enjoying the power want to keep the status quo while the deprived ones want a change. Even the change seekers bring only one round of change, and start resisting the new breed of change seekers, once they are in power. The power corrupts them to such an extent that they cannot accept contradictions to their ideas, at the risk of the lifeline of our societal wellbeing. When district officers heard rumors about my views, they ended up asking my colleagues about me only to spread the network of lies further and further into the society. Although people may not be agreeing with my views, they did not want me to be hurt, and so they lied to protect me.

Fifthly, only in the prolific times of spiritual, philosophical and moral growth, societies embrace contradictions as means to getting closer to truth, be they Socratic, Hindu, Buddhist, or Marxists, notwithstanding most of the present day followers of those philosophies, as well as their opponents, do not bother to take time to understand their dialectic foundations. But Nepal was not in the times of awakening. That the cow-eating Westerners had already stepped on our venerated Moon, educated people in Nepal had started to deride their traditions. Most teachers drank alcohol in violation of their traditions and so did the government officials. The officers were gambling and drinking in the office premises. What was known in philosophy as dialectics, which was in use time and again as a method of persuading people holding different views, was of no value to a society of declining ethics such as the one of that moment.

Societies in moral growth treat their opponents respectfully. In ancient Greece, dialectic was a form of reasoning based on the exchange of arguments around propositions (thesis) and counter-propositions (antitheses) so as to cross-examine them to identify contradiction or inconsistency in them. Socratic aim was to improve the interlocutors, by freeing them from unrecognized errors. To ancient Hindus, the interplay between two complements, Purusha (the active cause) and the Prakriti (the passive nature), brought everything into manifestation or existence and gave rise to Dharma (the universal law of nature). The Hindu epic Geeta states that the true knowledge is where one can find the action hidden underneath an inaction, and the inaction hidden underneath an action. Buddha said, “Believe nothing just because a wise person said it. Believe nothing just because a belief is generally held. Believe nothing just because it is said in books. Believe nothing just because someone else believes it. Believe only what you yourself test and judge to be true”

More recently, German philosopher Friedrich Engels said, “Life is, therefore, also a contradiction, which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly originates and resolves itself; as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to an end, and death steps in. We likewise saw that, also in the sphere of thoughts, we could not escape contradictions.” Contradictions, according to Karl Marx, are essential to revealing the inner and stable side of objective reality – the essence, which is hidden underneath the surface of appearance. What we see is only the changeable side of objective reality, which depends on the essence and is a form of its expression. Summarizing this, Marx concluded, “All sciences would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” Even in nature, variations in species are necessary to bring improved breeds.

In Kaivalya Upanishad, in response to his quest to find absolute reality (true meaning of things), Asvalayana’s teacher says that the knowledge he is seeking is something that he has to learn to know and discover, by himself and in himself, through confidence, devotion and concentration. No one can give him that knowledge. The absolute reality is unmanifest (invisible) and is like the essence of a huge tree that is hidden in a tiny seed but cannot be seen in the seed. The manifest (visible) on the other hand is like the huge tree, which is visible but its essence again is in its countless seeds, the countless invisible trees. This essence cannot be shown by anybody as an objective reality, the learner has to see for himself from his mind (Antaratma). The truth fed by someone else is most likely a distorted fact, a mixed bag of understandings and misunderstandings.

Today, bolstered by the pride of being in the information age, people expect that the truth will be taught to them by some expert. And emerging from the growth of expertism is the complacency in the pursuit of truth. People are in a consumptive mode in all aspects of life, including in the endeavor of thoughts, thus gluing onto television and media to be fed with truth. Sadly, they are consuming ideas and arguments used as a device to confuse the people in the interplay of vested interests. Therefore, it would be in the best interest of the society and humanity if we once again accept the perpetual existence of contradictions in all spheres of life. Thus, instead of trying to bring everybody into the interest of one group, and, therefore, distorting the truth and degenerating the general ethics in the society, we would be better off by letting the ordinary citizens see the truth with the use of their inner persuasions and knowledge. The day we accept the perpetual existence of contradictions as an integral element of a living society, the life would be worth living!

Leave a Reply