Does Each Person Have His Own Truth?
a conversation in State College, Pennsylvania, USA
with Stambha dasa
Student: I don't think that someone else, a book or some person, can tell me what is reality for me, because I am an individual, with my own experiences and existence. I think each individual is his own truth and he is the only one who knows what's best for him.
Stambha dasa: Do you mean that truth is mere subjective opinion? In other words, do you really mean that my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion and that your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion?
Stambha dasa: Are you sure? Are you sure that my opinion is true, just by virtue of its being my opinion?
Stambha dasa: Well, my opinion, then, is that truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are absolutely wrong in saying that truth is subjective. And since this is my opinion, you have to grant that it's true, according to your philosophy.
Student: Well . . . that may be true for you, but not for me.
Stambha dasa: No, no. That's not logical. If you allow that for me truth is absolute, then you have allowed that there is an Absolute Truth. And absolute means "complete." Therefore, if you allow that a truth is absolute, that truth must be “complete," or containing all other truths. There cannot be a truth which is not contained in that complete truth, if it is indeed complete or absolute. Therefore, since my truth is absolute, it is superior to your so-called truth.
Student: But I think that truth is what each individual believes it to be.
Stambha dasa: Do you mean that if you believe that two plus two equals five, it must equal five just because you believe that it does?
Student: If that's what I believe, then it's true for me.
Stambha dasa: All right. Someone please go get me a whole stack of one-dollar bills. Now, according to you, since this is your truth and since we want you to be able to dwell in truth and not live a lie, I'll hand you two one-dollar bills and then two more, and you can give me a five-dollar bill in return. And then again I'll give you two more plus two more, and you can give me another five-dollar bill, and in this way we will pass the entire night very happily. Okay?
Stambha dasa: You see, this is the difficulty. This is the practical difference: these relative truths cannot be satisfactorily practiced. They're just so much talk. Everyone is talking. But philosophy is not just mental speculation and mental gymnastics. Philosophy is meant to guide the activities of one's life. So much armchair philosophy, so many parlor-room truths. But then when it comes time to practice these so-called truths, no one can do it. Therefore, you can only speak your truth, whereas we are able to live our truth, and very happily. So who is living reality and who is living a lie or some mental dream?
We hear so many people talk so much, yet in their lives they can't stick to their philosophy. For example, there are some scientists who are always saying that life is nothing but a combination of chemicals. But when we say, "All right, so if we give you the chemicals can you produce life?" they can't do it.
Because these philosophies are imperfect, relative truths, they don't bring satisfaction to the self, which is hankering for absolute, eternal truth. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that that which is true now but is not true tomorrow is not actually truth. Truth is eternal. It's true for all people in all times and all places. Only this will actually satisfy us.
Our subjective truths are simply sources of uncertainty, because with subjective truth we actually don't know. We have to admit to ourselves that we don't know anything for certain, and this uncertainty causes continuous anxiety, anxiety rooted in ignorance.
We're thinking, "Should I go to this college? Should I take this job? Should I rent this apartment?" We want to know what will make us happy, but practically every one of us has found that we have made so many wrong decisions in the past. So we should admit, therefore, that what we're presently considering by this subjective process is not at all certain to bring us happiness.
But even though we've made so many mistakes and gone through so much frustration and anxiety, we are so egotistical that we can't admit that we really don't know what is in our best interest. We can't just be humble and agree to hear from Krishna, from God Himself, the one who is in full knowledge of past, present, and future, who is fully conscious of everything, and who has been followed to success by great sages since time immemorial.
As long as we don't have atma-jnana, knowledge of the self, as long as we don't know what this material world is, who God is, where we have come from, what the goal of our lives is, and what will happen to us at the time of death—as long as we're uncertain about these matters, there can only be anxiety in our lives, no matter what pleasant distractions we may arrange for our senses, no matter what so-called philosophies or subjective truths we may try to pacify ourselves with.
We take advice from so many friends, counselors, and teachers. "What do you think I ought to do?" So if we just hear from the supreme friend, the supreme teacher, Krishna, then we can be situated in real truth and happiness. Krishna says, "This knowledge is joyful." But how can someone be joyful if he doesn't know if he's going in the right direction?
Sometimes when you're driving you're not sure whether you turned in the right direction, and you suspect that you may in fact be going the wrong way. Then every mile you travel is simply anxiety. You don't know whether to go sixty miles an hour or twenty miles an hour, because if you're going in the wrong direction you don't want to go too far too fast. On the other hand, if you're going in the right direction you want to get to your destination as soon as possible. So a life without spiritual knowledge is full of a similar anxiety. We see so many people with motivational problems in their lives.
We're in so much anxiety until we get some assurance, some highway marker that shows we're going in the right direction. Guidance from the bona fide scriptures and spiritual master is essential, so that we can be free from anxiety and work confidently toward the goal of life.