A seeker of the truth

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A statue of Buddha in a shop in London

When I was reading about the early life of the Buddha today, I was really struck by this phrase: ‘a seeker of the truth’.  In Buddha’s life story at this point he had not yet found enlightenment – he was still Gautama Siddartha.  But his world view had just been shaken to the very core as he discovered that his life within the extensive walls of the palaces of his father, was not true to the experiences of human life.  It wasn’t just that he had luxury and wanted for nothing, but it was that he discovered his life had been an artifice.  His journey outside the palace walls enabled him to see ‘the human condition’ – and he was totally shocked by what he saw: old age, sickness and death.   How could life ever be the same again when sickness would likely happen, and old age and death would surely come. How could people live, knowing this was part of life?  His quest lead him to solitude and contemplation, and it was then that he came across a holy man who had such a quality of peace and contentment about him, that Gautama asked how he could emanate such serenity in the midst of the harsh realities of life?  And the holy man said he was seeking that which did not change, which did not decay, which endured and could never be extinguished even with the passing of his own body.  He was a seeker of Truth.

I have heard this story before, but it has never struck me so forcefully as it did today.  Because here was an ancient tradition witnessing to something called Truth, something that is as much an aspect of the universe as atoms and electrons, as light and heat.  Yet unlike those material things, Truth is intangible and so is harder to pin-down.  The holy man was assured of such a thing and knew he must journey through life to find it.  And we know that Gautama subsequently became a seeker after the Truth.

And as I was thinking about it, I thought of the difference between rules and truth.  Rules and norms are created by humans and can change and vary.  Rules may try to orient people in the way of Truth, but rules are not Truth.  Rules can change over time and custom, but Truth endures unchanging.  And then I thought of the ancient philosopher Plato and his idea that there are enduring Forms of Justice and Beauty and the Good, that do not change, principles along which we do well to orient our lives.

In one sense, this is out of fashion.  Of course it is! Fashions come and go.  Truth remains constant.  And yet it seems to me that the deepest fulfillment and flourishing of us humans needs more than passing fashions.  There is Truth that doesn’t change?  I’m relieved to hear it.  Where to find it?  Ah, that is the journey, the quest.  I am a seeker of the Truth.

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