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Satyatva or the Absolute Truth: Resonances across Religions and Rejection of Exclusivism

The true realisation of the Absolute Truth is accompanied with unconditioned existence, pure consciousness and unfiltered bliss.

The Absolute Truth, both, exists and exists-not!

Paradoxical as this statement is, this is the underlying contradiction that truly defines the Absolute Truth. This is because the Absolute Truth transcends the relative, the subjective, the worldly, to the extent of transcending polarities and dualities. Existence is defined as per attributes, be it in expansion in aspects such as volume or mass, or nature such as being electrically charged or self-interacting. This existence is not only constrained by binaries, such heavy or not-heavy, long or not-long et al, but is rather defined in terms of a fundamental binary: existence and non-existence. However, the latter is defined in terms of absence of existing elements rather than reality itself. Modern Physics has shown us that even vacuum is not truly ’empty’ (such as the quantum vacuum, which is a frothing field of creation and annihilation of particles and anti-particles). What spiritual traditions and religion have regarded as the Absolute Truth transcends this definition, this scaffolding in binaries. They do so in dialectics and a final rejection of the material, the subjective, the relative, in attaining a final resolution, a final realisation of what this Absolute Truth truly is.

In this article, I would like to use spiritual, scriptural and experiential elements and ideas to reflect on the Absolute Truth, particularly focusing on the question of its accessibility. I shall be looking at the ideas of permissivism, extensivism, salvific efficacy of the Truth and doctrinal puritanism. In doing so, I shall try to establish how exclusivism is in opposition to the nature and idea of the Absolute Truth.

The Conception of Satya, the Absolute Truth

Before moving to the analysis of the question of accessibility of the Absolute Truth, one must look into the conception of the same [1]. Satya (Truth, in Sanskrit) is what is said to be truly eternal about Sanatan Dharma (the eternal way of life), which we regard as Hinduism today [2-7]. Although Satya, transliterated, means ‘Truth’, the Dharmic traditions do not talk about just any Truth. This is the truth as Vedic seers saw it of life, Universe and everything within [8].  I have been interested in looking at the conflict between propositional truth, which relies on the absence of spoken or enacted falsities, and ontological truth, which encapsulates the idea of ‘reality’, and to highlight how the two can operate on different levels [9-11]. While most religions may diverge on the former and on certain doctrinal elements, I will argue that it is the latter on which they unite and converge. Whether the conception of the Absolute Truth relates to a personal, loving ‘God’ [12] or a formless and uncaring universal principle and presence [13], there are resonances in the greater conceptions of divinity and God-head that are fundamental [14-26].

As per the scriptures, across religions, this Truth is knowable and yet mysterious [27, 28], transcendent and yet immanent [29, 30], unchanging and yet dynamic [31-36]. This Truth manifests as the impersonal and yet personal, the uncaring and yet loving. In fact, it manifests as neither being nor non-being, and yet both and beyond [37, 38]. It is in this paradox, like in the beginning of this article, that the key to the idea of the Absolute Truth lies. This is the Truth sages and seers, monks and maulvis and priests, have discussed for millenia. With regards to the conception of this Truth, this can be manifested or conceived in various ways: as a personal God (as in Sikhism, the Abrahamic religions and the theistic traditions of Hinduism), as an impersonal transcendent being (as in Brahman in some Hindu traditions, Tao in Chinese traditions, the Christian image of God as the Unmoved Mover, the Sikh One without Attributes and the Mahayana concept of Tathata), as being immanent in each person (as in the Hindu Atman, the Mahayana Bodhi or Tathagatagarbha and the Christian concept of the indwelling spirit), as the ultimate goal or the ‘blessed state’ (as in the Buddhist concept of Nirvana and the Jain ideal of Paramatman), as the common solidarity of many spiritual being which work with a single purpose (as in the Sioux Wakan, the Shinto Kami and Taoist deities), and as the eternal law and order (as in the Hindu Dharma and Rta, Buddhist Dhamma, Taoism’s Tao, Christianity’s Logos and Jewish Torah).

The conception of this Absolute Truth in One, in Unity, is seen in Hinduism (Rig Veda Mandala 1 Hymn 164 Verse 46, Atharva Veda Book 13 Hymn IV Verse 16-21, Svetasvatara Upanishad Adhyaya 6 Verse 11 and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter III Section IX Verse 1), Judaism (Shema Yisrael – Deuteronomy 6.4, Isaiah Chapter 45 Verse 5 and Yesode Ha-Torah 1:7), Islam (Qu’ran Surah 112, Qu’ran Al Muminun Verses 91 and 92, and Qu’ran Al Anbiya Verses 19 – 22), Taoism (Tao Te Ching 22), Confucianism (Doctrine of the Mean 26), Buddhism (Lankavatara Sutra 83 and Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā – Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines – Dharmodgata Verse 1), Christianity (Epistle to the Corinthians Chapter 12 Verses 4-6, Epistle to the Corinthians Chapter 8 Verses 4-6 and Gospel of Mark Chapter 12 Verses 29-30), Sikhism (Guru Granth Sahib Mool Mantra) and Zoroastrianism (Ohrmazd Yasht Verses 5-7).

The transcendence and immanence of the Absolute Truth is seen in Hinduism (Isha Upanishad Chapter 1 Verses 4-8, Chandogya Upanishad Chapter 7 Section 24-25, Rig Veda Mandala 10 Hymn 90 Verses 1-4, Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 7 Sloka 4-7 and Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 11 Sloka 5-25), Christianity (Isaiah Chapter 55 Verses 8-9, John Chapter 1 Verse 14, Philippians Chapter 2 Verse 6, Deuteronomy Chapter 4 Verse 39, Isaiah Chapter 57 Verse 15, Jeremiah Chapter 23 Verses 23-24 and Acts Chapter 17 Verses 24-28), Islam (Qu’ran Al-Baqarah Verse 255), Sikhism (Adi Granth Japji Pauri 3), Buddhism (Avataṃsaka Sūtra) and Judaism (Talmud Sanhedrin 39a, Book of Isaiah Chapter 6 Verses 1-5 and Genesis Chapter 28 Verses 10-17).

The traces of the Absolute Truth and thereby the ways to access it are discussed in Hinduism (Rig Veda Mandala 3 Hymn 54 Verse 5, Mundaka Upanishad Mundaka III Khanda I Verse 8, Isha Upanishad Verses 15 and 16 and Rig Veda Mandala 6 Hymn 47 Verse 18), Christianity (Epistle to the Romans Chapter 1 Verses 19 and 20, John Chapter 1 Verse 18 and Psalm 19 Verses 1-4), Islam (Qu’ran Fussilat Verse 53, Qu’ran Al-Anʻām Verses 95-99, Qu’ran Ar Rum Verses 20-25 and Qu’ran Al Anam Verses 75-79), Taoism (Tao Te Ching 21), Confucianism (Doctrine of the Mean 16), Buddhism (Udana 80 – Nibbāna Sutta: Parinibbana) and Judaism (Zohar Genesis 86a).

This Absolute Truth has had an element of omnipresence and omniscience in all these religious traditions, with it being referred to in Hinduism (Lakshmi Tantra and Yajur Veda Chapter 40 Verse 8), Judaism (Exodus Chapter 15 Verse 18, Book of Isaiah Chapter 46 Verses 9-11 and Psalm Chapter 139 Verses 2 and 3), Christianity (Book of Deuteronomy Chapter 32 Verse 39, Gospel of Mark Chapter 10 Verse 27, Hebrews Chapter 4 Verses 12-13, Psalms Chapter 138 Verses 1-4, Proverbs Chapter 15 Verse 3, Chronicles Chapter 28 Verse 9 and Peter Chapter 1 Verse 20), Islam (Qu’ran Al Maida Verse 120, Qu’ran Al Hadid Verses 1-6, Qu’ran Ibrahim Verses 19-20, Qu’ran Al Baqara Verse 117, Qu’ran Ibrahim Verse 38, Qu’ran Al Baqara Verse 115, Qu’ran Luqman Verse 34 and Qu’ran Al Mujadila Verse 7).

The formlessness and incomprehensibility (in terms of relative constructs) of the Absolute Truth is seen in Hinduism (Kena Upanishad Chapter 2 Verses 1-3, Mundaka Upanishad Mundaka 1 Khanda 1 Verse 6 and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 4 Brahmana 5 Verse 15), Islam (Qu’ran An Nahl Verse 74, Qu’ran Al Anam Verse 103, Qu’ran Yusuf Verse 76 and Qu’ran Ash Shura Verse 11), Judaism (Book of Isaiah Chapter 45 Verse 15, Exodus Chapter 33 Verses 18-23 and Book of Isaiah Chapter 55 Verses 8 and 9), Christianity (Job Chapter 11 Verses 7-9, John Chapter 4 Verse 12, John Chapter 1 Verse 18, Timothy Chapter 6 Verse 16, Deuteronomy Chapter 4 Verse 12 and Mark Chapter 4 Verse 11), Sikhism (Adi Granth Gauri Sukhmani M.5, pp. 290) and Buddhism (Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya and Mulamadhyamaka Karika Chapter 25).

Read: Rediscovering ‘Sunyata’: Unifying Buddhism and Vedanta

The attribution of an unchanging nature and/or transience to the Absolute Truth is seen in all these traditions, with these aspects explored in Hinduism (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad Chapter 4 Khanda 4 Verse 25, Svetasvatara Upanishad Chapter 4 Verse 1, Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 8 Verses 17-21 and Srimad Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2 Verses 16-17), Christianity (Book of Revelation Chapter 4 Verse 8, Book of Revelation Chapter 22 Verse 13 and 2 Peter Chapter 3 Verse 8), Judaism (Psalms Chapter 102 Verses 26-28 and Book of Isaiah Chapter 40 Verses 6-8), Islam (Qu’ran Ar Rahman Verses 26-27 and Qu’ran Yunus Verse 64), Buddhism (Lankavatara Sutra Chapter 61, Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra Chapter 29 and Dhammapada Verse 151).

As much as there may be doctrinal resonances across religions, one may argue that there are fundamental doctrinal divergences. So, for instance, Christianity says that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and sacrificed himself for the salvation of humanity, while other religions may actively deny this. Islam says that Prophet Muhammad PBUH is the last messenger of God, while other faiths may actively oppose this. How does one reconcile these if the Absolute Truth being described by all religious traditions is the same? I would like to highlight the idea of the Absolute Truth by John Hick [39]. Hick opted for believing that there were a limited number of incarnations of the Truth with different messages for different people of different races, cultures and languages, and thereby supported

a theology of religions which stresses the infinite nature of the Godhead, exceeding the scope of all our concepts, and the salvific efficacy of the variety of ways formed around the different incarnations that have occurred throughout human history

According to John Hick, the ultimate transcendent reality of the Absolute Truth is beyond the scope of human constructs, concepts or forms. Due to this, this Truth cannot be directly experienced by human beings, as per Hick,

as it is in itself but only as it appears in terms of the various human thought-forms

In this way, Hick likens God to the Kantian noumenon, in having a reality that cannot be completely explained, described or understood. According to him, the religions are but different and distinct expressions of an ever-encompassing Absolute Truth. I would go one step further in asserting that all religious conceptions about this Absolute Truth are not absolute in themselves but are complementary to one another, both due to the mystery surrounding this Truth and its incomprehensibility in relative terms, and also the limited understanding and perception of man with respect to this Ultimate Reality, which thereby makes people perceive the image of God received either in terms of words of spiritual leaders, socio-cultural and historical contexts, or politics.

The question of any one faith’s description of the Absolute Truth and its prescribed mode of accessibility of this Truth being absolute is redundant and unnecessary since there is no one way or form or construct or conception by which to describe that which transcends all that is relative and the worldly.  No religious tradition can and should claim sole salvific efficacy of its beliefs and tradition.

The Absolute Truth is personal and impersonal, immanent and transcendent, one and many, existing and non-existing.

Neither and yet both, for each attribute, and beyond.

The Absolute Truth is beyond all manner of comprehension, conception or description, in the relative world.

No one religion, even if begun by the Absolute Truth itself (personified), can claim to help humanity of all races and times and cultures, if it is fixated on doctrinal elements of the faith. This is simply because of the lack of divine immanence in the receptors a similar to the ideal founder of the faith and the lack thereof also of those who compose and interpret the doctrinal elements of the faith. At the end of the day, faith and religion are based on spiritual experiences and elements, more than just socio-cultural or intellectual constructs, which is why a truly enlightened being can only know who is enlightened and what is the Absolute Truth. For the rest of humanity, I believe all faiths must
come together, given their overwhelming fundamental resonances to help humanity from self-centredness, blind consumerism and immorality. The journey put forth in every religion and faith is one of seeking the grace of realising the Absolute Truth and one of inner transformation, wherein the individual goes from being centred around oneself to being placed in a more universal, transcendent Truth.

Going Beyond, Kindly: Permissivism and Supererogation

One of the major contradictions of our society is that experiences and stories that underlie major religions are known to people of other faiths, possibly at times in closer contact, but denied or outright rejected as expressions of the Absolute Truth. For instance, in the times of Jesus Christ, there were many Judaistic schools that were in close physical proximity to him and yet theologically and soteriologically distant to him [40]. The same goes for Lord Buddha and various Shrauta ritualistic traditions in India [41] or Prophet Muhammad PBUH and various Arabic tribes [42].

Why does this happen?

It is due to the principle of permissivism [43, 44], which posits that multiple people having the same corpus of evidence can form different doxastic attitudes based on it. While there have been people who have argued that this is based on the idea that most permissivists deny personal uniqueness (the idea that given any body of evidence and proposition, there is at most one doxastic attitude that any agent with that total evidence is rationally permitted to take toward the proposition) although they do not necessarily deny propositional uniqueness (the idea that given any body of evidence and proposition, the evidence all-things-considered justifies either the proposition, its negation, or neither) or attitudinal uniqueness (the idea that given any body of evidence and proposition, the evidence all-things considered justifies at most one of the following attitudes toward the proposition: belief, disbelief, or suspension) [45-47], I will take the extreme permissivist view when it comes to the Absolute Truth that denies all three: personal, propositional and attitudinal uniqueness! The reason for this is that while the premise of the logical permissiveness lies in the binary of truth and false, the premise of spiritual permissiveness lies in a paradigm-shift: there is truth and only truth. The deviation from a truth is also a truth, and part of the Absolute Truth.

You may ask whether taking a spiritual permissivist view centers around strong negation of one truth and acceptance of another. No! Just like negating one color of a chameleon and strongly aligning with another makes little sense, one must suspend judgement on that which one is unsure of or personally at slight variance with instead of negation, and align with the path that one seeks to align with. To go one step further, permissivism is the natural outcome and mode of true spirituality simply because the extraction of meaning from a ‘corpus of evidence’ (spiritual experiences) has an experiential and subjective element inherent in it. The final state of realisation of the Absolute Truth is beyond words, constructs and ideas, and can never be described. If one seeks to describe it, it shall have some aspect still beyond that description. This can be further heightened by the idea that one can also have intrapersonal permissivism [48], whereby a single person can adopt more than one belief-attitude toward an idea or conception of the Absolute Truth. This can arise in the case of those who may have a degree of doubt or skepticism. They may want to believe and yet not believe a certain conception of the Absolute Truth.

The other major reason could be epistemic supererogation [49, 50], the idea that in one’s search for knowledge one goes beyond some reasonable measure of epistemic responsibility. Some say this is because of diligence or curiosity to go beyond a certain epistemic threshhold to firmly establish one’s belief. I would say that this is more because the moment one seeks to establish an aspect of the Absolute Truth, another emerges, and then does still another, as non-dual Judaism [50] and Advaita Vedanta [51] would posit. This is because

All that there is, is a part of the Absolute Truth that yet transcends all, including the negation of every element, every idea and every construct, as well.

There can be no epistemic thresh-hold for realising this Truth since knowledge and existence themselves are a part of it.

Therefore, naturally, in the process of seeking to access the Absolute Truth, one can have interpersonal and intrapersonal permissivism, atleast when it comes to doctrinal elements of one’s belief and faith.

In the conception of a spiritual supererogation – doing more than what may be required to form belief in the Absolute Truth, lies the idea that one must seek to know the essence and various aspects and dimensions of the Absolute Truth, through reflection, spirituality and experience, beyond what one may be endowed with or have developed in one’s life. In doing so, those aspects which have little epistemic basis for belief or negation must be put under suspension of judgement, in a respectful manner, and not met with denial or opposition. If what one feels closest to is atheism or agnosticism, till one can base any belief above that on experience and even with intrapersonal permissivism, so be it! This is the Dharmic way, with even atheistic schools of philosophy such as the Carvakas being preeminent in ancient India [52].

A natural question to ask is: where does one stop? Does one ever reach a firm realisation of the Absolute Truth?

There is only one overarching symptom of such a state of attainment, which has been spoken of in terms of Moksha [53-55], Nirvana [56, 57] or salvation in Abrahamic religions [58-61], which is

Realisation of, and dissolution in, the Absolute Truth.

This comes from true detachment: Detachment not only from worldly elements and possessions but also from any and every element, idea and construct in the material world. This is detachment from binaries: good or evil, hot or cold, this or that, here or there. This is detachment from dualities, form and thought. This is detachment from every conception of existence and even void!

The best way to begin seeing whether one has reached there is only be self-assessment regarding ego-consciousness: whether one identifies with oneself or worldly, relative elements of one’s life.

True realisation of the Absolute Truth is accompanied with unconditioned existence, pure consciousness and unfiltered bliss.

Salvific Efficacy, not Doctrinal Puritanism

There can only be one true assessor of the spiritual dimension for you: you, yourself. Dharmic as well as Abrahamic traditions speak about assessing one’s spiritual resources, determining a good path for progression and implementing the same, often with the help of a spiritual teacher or tradition [62-70]. Grace of God is held to be key [71-73], in this regard, as is a yearning to realise the Absolute Truth, in all these traditions. One is born in a certain society and community, with certain beliefs and entrenched ideas of existence and the Absolute Truth. This is the endowed spiritual and social heritage of every individual. Few are those who are completely devoid of this, even among the destitute and the orphaned. One develops this and evolves with time. Spiritual teachers and traditions can add to this journey, positively or negatively, but the sum total of these elements inform and influence one’s own spiritual progression, which is the fundamental element in all this.

However, what one must always remember, given the previous discussion on the conception of Truth and permissivism,

it is the salvific efficacy and spiritual effectiveness of a spiritual path and tradition more than doctrinal and dogmatic puritanism to it that is important.

One must try to learn actively from all religions and traditions, unless some lead to discomfort or non-alignment to one’s inner spiritual state and nature, which are best realised intuitively and spiritually.

Even if there are prophets and messengers who can speak on and/or transfer spiritual power and resources to others, and one does become a beneficiary of this, one must still realise that there is more to the Absolute Truth than just that. Those who are one with the Absolute Truth will naturally evade and avoid exclusivism, for that shall be irreconcilable with the limitless being and nature of the Truth, while who are not one with the Absolute Truth must actively dissociate from exclusivism and rather focus on one’s own spiritual progression than concern oneself with the spiritual trajectory of others. Only those in line and one with the Absolute Truth must lead others, not by directives, but by facilitating the inner quest and seeking of the Truth by others.

Read: Is Hindu Spirituality a Super Science?

One must actively try to break free from -isms (apologies for using some such terms in this article, for ease of communication) and dogma completely, even with a positive connotation, such as pluralism and cosmopolitanism. The creation of any such conceptual platform of ideas is always, by definition and nature, restrictive in some respect, and hence cannot reflect the reality of the limitless Absolute Truth. That which is limitless can only be perceived with limited faculties when one realises the essence of the limitless in the limited, much like a drop losing its individuality and identity by merging with the oceans. It is sincere humility and complete destruction of identity and ego that accompanies true realisation of the Absolute Truth due to the aforementioned dissolution of the self into the higher, Absolute Self. It is in the dissociation with conceptual scaffolding for this Truth that the path to the true realisation of the Absolute Truth lies. It is in the emanation, sustenance and destruction but also, and more importantly, the transcendence of physical phenomena that the path of the true realisation of the Absolute Truth lies [74]. It is in Lord Buddha’s silence [75], Sri Krishna’s dialectics [76], Jesus Christ’s proclamations [77], in Guru Nanak’s teachings [78], Jain Agamas [79], in Prophet Muhammad PBUH’s words [80] and in the Torah’s wisdom [81] that the path of true realisation of the Absolute Truth lies. But more importantly, it is within, in each of us, that the seed of true realisation and divinity lies [82-100].

We are limited and yet limitless. We are one and yet many. We are conditioned and yet unconditioned. We are temporal and yet eternal. 

We are, in essence, the pregnant silence, beyond all causation and temporality, instilled with the creative principle.

When the Vedantin of the times of yore said: अहम् ब्रह्मास्मि, which means ‘I am the Absolute Truth’ they were making more than a clever rejoinder. They were highlighting the Absolute-ness of our existence, which is, in essence, untainted by conditioning or change. In essence,

We are.

This is Satyatva, the essence of the Absolute Truth.

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