There is truth in the universe. What is that truth? It is the universe itself, or rather the nature of the universe as manifested in its operations. Its laws are the courses of action of that universe manifesting itself in cosmic terms; and a true philosophy, a true religion, a true science, attempts to interpret these essentials in formulations of thought. The illuminated human intellect can so interpret these essentials because we, as offspring of the universe, have all the faculties and powers latent in us that the universe has, expressing them-selves in us as our own powers and faculties. Thus we have the organs to understand the universe, and this understanding comes to us through the unwrapping of the enshrouding veils of our nature.
Now the faculty of understanding is something we can evolve. This does not mean that we must build up an organ of understanding much as someone builds a house of wood and bricks. Our understanding is within us, not without; and as we grow in self-consciousness, we shall understand ever more clearly the manifesting of the inner light that is at the core of each one of us. Therefore has every teacher said: Look within! Follow the path leading inwards!
Yet, though truth comes ultimately from within, we can learn much from the fruitage of the mature thought of another mind. Even though it is not the fruitage of our own inner revelation, we can learn much from what great and good people may tell us if we take it into ourselves and honestly ponder over it and seek to understand it.
What did Paul mean when he said to “prove all things and to hold to that which is good”? Who is the judge of the good? Is it not the inner faculty of judgment and under-standing? Or are we going to take somebody’s say-so and prove all things that come to us by that? If so, we are merely testing one dogmatic declaration by another dogmatic declaration. Anything we accept from outside, we take either on trust or on faith, unless we have the faculties developed within ourselves of judgment, discrimination, intuition, and understanding, these four being fundamentally one. Is it not therefore clear that the process enabling one to prove all things is the developing of the inner eye? Where else could such an infallible touchstone be found?
Hence, if we want to prove all things, then we must do it in the manner of all the great philosophers and thinkers: cultivate within ourselves the inner faculty of understanding. This can be done by deep thinking, meditation, refusal to accept others say-so, by the exercise of will power in an inflexible determination to solve questions for ourselves, cost us what it may. As we thus exercise ourselves, as surely as the sun deluges the earth with light will we attain to what we are seeking: the faculty of proving all things by knowing them for true or for false. There is the whole philosophy in a nutshell.
When we look into what has come down to us, even from the most remote times, we are struck by how similar people everywhere seem in their strengths and weaknesses, their hopes, desires, and fears, their sense of self, their wonder in nature and the cosmos. They asked the same key questions we do: Who am I? How do I relate to other people and nature? What makes life worthwhile? How can I control what happens to me and others? What happens after we die? What is real, and how can I discover it?
Modern knowledge is so wide-ranging and constantly increasing that we may question the value of exploring older views. Many of their metaphors and attitudes conflict with the world revealed by science and with modern principles of equality and human rights. Some of their “wisdom” seems not just inaccurate but wrongheaded. This can make the ancients hard to relate to, even if we’ve grow up in a religion with ancient roots. However, other traditions, such as Buddhism, seem very up to date and are having considerable impact on contemporary thought.
In some ways we can benefit greatly from investigating unfamiliar religions, philosophies, myths, and lore, especially since each tradition develops certain concepts more clearly, directly, or deeply and different presentations speak to different people. Few things are more stimulating then finding customary thoughts expressed in a way that stretches your mind and makes you look at them creatively, perhaps overturning habitual notions or reactions. We probably won’t understand ancient thoughts as the original person or people did – sometimes we may even interpret an idea or symbol in an opposite way. But myths and traditions often act as intellectual Rorschach tests, where we gain insights that have a particular value to us.
Once we look into various traditions, we find the same concepts and values expressed again and again in different forms; and certain ones among these have been referred to as the perennial philosophy, theosophy, or the wisdom-tradition of mankind. Of course universality itself is no token of truth or merit, since selfish, violent, hurtful, and limiting concepts and values appear in human thought as regularly as do the altruistic, uplifting, loving, and inclusive. We can only examine each statement for ourselves and decide whether it conforms to the reality underlying nature and would be beneficial to adopt into our minds and hearts. Putting concepts we accept into practice in our lives generally shows us in time whether their “fruit is good.”
From another viewpoint no tradition, belief, or “truth” can offer us wisdom. Wisdom is something we each have to find in ourselves and for ourselves, distilling it from our experiences and living it in our lives. Ideas dealing with the physical world are difficult to express; those dealing with what is beyond our senses are almost impossible, reducing us to metaphor, symbol, and stating what it is not. Chinese sage Lao-tzu, in discussing the Tao (Way) or unknowable principle underlying all, began: “the Tao that can be expressed or named is not the true Tao.” Those who are enlightened have rebecome one with this principle which is beyond duality, beyond human distinctions and values, and unintelligible to the mind. Such sages spontaneously conform to the flow of nature rather than set their consciousness and will in opposition to it. It is when we separate ourselves from the Way that ideas and values arise: “When the Way is forgotten, duty and justice appear; then knowledge and wisdom are born along with hypocrisy. When harmonious relationships dissolve then respect and devotion arise; when a nation falls to chaos then loyalty and patriotism are born.” Through such unexpected statements Lao-tzu sought to disarm the mind and inspire intuitive insight.
In the end we have little choice but to trust our inner sense of what is true and wise, realizing that as we learn through experience our ability to recognize and understand will grow. Studying a variety of traditions helps us remain flexible and promotes a healthy discontent with our present store of knowledge and truth.