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William Patrick Patterson
The Question of Truth

Gurdjieff, Enneagram The question of truth . . . is it a question for us, really? Isn't truth for us simply a living out—that is, thinking, feeling and acting out—of however we believe life to be? Doesn't truth become a question for us only when our belief system suffers a major shock? Otherwise, don't we wander through life being guided unconsciously by whatever "truth" is living us out? And isn't this "truth" itself simply based on our stack of interpretations of what life is and isn't, which in turn is based on prior circumstances and conditioning?

We see that many people mistake their truth for the Truth. The religious, atheistic and agnostic are all dedicated to living out their version and in the wake of their conviction judging others. Wittingly or not they are engaged in trying to convince others of the rightness of what they believe and that to which they are giving up their lives. Isn't extremism and the radical militancy it can evoke founded on this dualistic bedrock?

The Revealed & the Rational

The atheistic and agnostic are each made whole in their denial, their "no," or "maybe yes, maybe no," whereas for the religious it is the "Yes" of that ecstatic moment which brings together all the parts of themselves—intellectual, emotional, instinctive. In time, this moment having passed, they find themselves in a world fraught with temptation, to which, again and again, they must say "No." Isn't the feeling and fear of hypocrisy, of not living what they believe, at the root of their anger toward others and the world at large for not having accepted their truth? How can one live and let live if one believes they are living in a state of sin, a state now amplified by the technology of modernity that crosses all geographic and nationalistic barriers? And so the corrupt world must change so that the person can live in his truth.

If one has not accepted the truth of a religion, Revealed Truth based upon mystical revelation, then one lives out a Rational Truth based on science and philosophy. Where Revealed Truth is fixed and immutable, Rational Truth is a moving target. Scientists and philosophers, those great cerebral thinking machines, have wrestled with the subject ever since the first question—"Why?"—arose. No matter how subtle the scientific discovery, no matter how ingenious the philosophical move, it is only a matter of time until it is countered by still another discovery or move.

Revealed and Rational Truth will always butt heads, the immutable against the mutable. Those in one camp of thought and belief will always see the other as limited—the scientific by its endless questioning, and the religious by its roots in the suprarational. For those living the Revealed life, there are no more questions. For those living the Rational, it can be on a very high intellectual level, but for most people it devolves to the purely personal. They live a secular and personal version, a "Truth" based on what belief is present at any given moment. And rooted as it is in the defense and enhancement of the person, it is always biased and subjective.

Personal truth, by definition unique, is based not only on self-love and vanity but type, polarity and experience, as well as family, group, tribe and nation. Should it be any wonder, then, that so many people live lives of disagreement, denial, argument, and psychic and physical violence? Is it any wonder that at root what everyone yearns for is peace and harmony? So isn't the essential interest not in the question of truth or Truth but rather peace and harmony? Isn't this why zealots and dictators historically always frame their argument by promising to make them a reality ?

Revealed Truth, by definition not subject to rational proof, fulfills a hunger for completion, for certainty. This has been its ageless appeal, which has attracted not only the sincere but the superstitious, mad and megalomaniacal. And even with the sincere there is always an element of the egotistic, for aren't all questions of truth erased in the mechanicality of latent self-love and vanity?

To take one example: the question of the soul. For most people, it's not a question. They simply believe they have one; they cannot conceive that the universe could get on without them. Thus, it's only a question of guarding their soul, not losing it. That one has a soul is a consensual belief. Originally, however, in ancient Egypt only the pharaoh was believed to have a soul. With the passage and pressure of time the nobles were included. Now everyone is thought to have one. It is usually an either/or argument. A third possibility is too esoteric for most to consider. That is, that while we may not have a soul, we can make one. If so, how? But this goes far beyond the probing of the question at hand.

We were speaking of the Revealed and Rational and the person. Can the person ever come to the Revealed through the Rational? The answer is both yes and no. How this can be so can perhaps provisionally be demonstrated by what happened to the author many years ago when he found himself in a confused state in which his personal dream world had suddenly exploded.

Not seeing any future for himself, he wrote a letter to a stranger who was handing out fistfuls of money to passersby, asking for a grant to go to India to research "Death & Life in the Ganges." While the money was real, the fellow was not, that is, he was an escapee from a mental institution (whether he was there because of too much or too little of the Revealed or Rational, the newscast did not report). Weeks later a letter arrived in the writer's mailbox stamped "Undeliverable." By that time, of course, all had been forgotten. Reading the letter, our writer thought to himself that while the words were composed and made sense the premises were unreal. Seeing his own signature at the bottom shocked his mind to stillness, that is, erased his personal or formatory mind. What smacked him right in the face now were questions he had intellectually bandied about but never intellectually-emotionally-instinctively experienced—Who was this? Who wrote this letter?

This was a Revealed question, not a Rational one. The letter writer had been living, unwittingly as most do, in the Rational. Unknowingly, the death of his dream left a psychological emptiness, a type of personal void. So the sight of the signature—a signature that was not him but was him—instantly formed a question that hit the blank tablet of the mind. His mental center received a shock: Who am I? The strength of the shock was such that it also engulfed his emotional center.

An Esoteric Teaching

Centers are spoken about because soon after, our writer, now a seeker after truth, entered an esoteric teaching whose fundamental practices initially aimed at rational verification of the tenets of the teaching. One of these was that three centers make up the human construct: the mental or rational, the emotional or feeling, and the instinctual-moving-sexual. In verifying this, the seeker observed the functioning and misfunctioning of each center and also that each has its own personality. One center desires, another doesn't. Inner conflict. "Yes" and "no" ad infinitum until one side wears out or a shock occurs that tips the balance.

Further observation showed that not only did each center have its own personality, but each had its own truths, its own believers, that is, "I"s who all believe they are the only I and take over body-heart-and-mind. But the seeker's verification, based on the practices of self-remembering and self-observation, rightly conducted, forced him to admit he was not the indivisible I he took himself to be. Observation revealed that each "I-of-the-moment" is a living embodiment of its truth of that moment.

The most radical discovery made at this stage was not only that he was not who he thought he was, but that he had no body. He lived in the head, the mental word-world, only aware of the body when it was in lust or fear, in need of food or drink. He spent his life unknowingly listening to the voices in his head, telling him the ever-changing "truth" of the moment, each predicated on self-love and vanity but otherwise disguised.

The Truth of the Moment

To become conscious of the body would mean one would have to turn off the "mental radio" by redirecting one's attention down into the body. In redistributing the attention, the head clears and the truth of the moment is observed. That is, whatever "I" is manifesting. Or, more directly, the unfiltered impression of the Immediate. But this observation is distorted almost immediately by identification. There is the self-image, the false personality, all the "I"s that make it up. It is this that has been unconsciously taken as the truth. It is this with which all the centers have been connected. The self-image is monolithic. There is no way out of it that is not discounted in its program. There is only one thing (and it is not a thing) that offers the way out. It is a redirection of the attention from whatever center it inhabits at the moment into the globality of the body. In doing so, nothing is disturbed on the thing level and so the program cannot note it and react. Remembering oneself incurs no outer resistance from the world at hand. The resistance is only inner. That is, the initial resistance comes from the identification with the self-image. It is the vanity and self-love projected onto the self-image that creates the identification and thus the inner resistance. Observing the I-of-the-moment from the standpoint of the inhabited body, the self-remembered body, is of a different category altogether than merely seeing from the head center, for now there is sensation and feeling of what is observed. This creates a heat that internally begins to dissolve the allegiance to the self-image. With persistence over a long period of time, an inner separation appears, a space in which intelligence can take root and where there is response and not mere reaction to what is present.

Like many serious seekers, our seeker, guided by his teacher (for no one except spiritual geniuses can awaken without one), after many years of practice and questioning, comes to a direct experiencing that what is taken to be our ordinary self and ordinary life is no longer so ordinary. A shift happens. Psychological time stops. Stillness and space appear. Scale changes. Impressions, once static, become dynamic, dimensional. The Immediate expands; the physical world becomes metaphysical ("becomes" from the viewpoint of the seeker). The interpretation of the experiencing may be symbolic, mythological, even archetypal. It might pass into the questioning of the practice itself with "what is the self in self-remembering." One wakes up to deeper and deeper levels of assumption, identification, sleep—all centered on what one says "I" to, what one takes to be "the self." Conscience is uncovered in the living recognition of unity in plurality. One might even expand to where there is perceiving without the perceiver. Or, as it is sometimes put, consciousness without an object (of course, the latent move missing here is that if there is no object, there is no subject).

So we have come full circle, a joining of the Rational to the Revealed. Having great scale, low to high, it is an ongoing experiencing.

Is it the Truth?

Who is asking?

First printed in Revue 3e millénaire, #81. Reprinted in The Gurdjieff Journal Issue #42