“How can we know we are on the right path”?
This is a relevant question and issue. What is right or wrong is very relativistic and we cannot give any absolute uniform answer to this. What looks right to one person may be wrong for another person. For example, arranged marriage is considered wrong in western society, but it is considered correct one in our society.
The question of right and wrong is decided by the respective worldviews of the societies. For example in Indian (and other Asian) societies, for the sake of the welfare and interest of the family, the individual has to sacrifice personal desires in his life; and a family should do the same for the sake of the community; and a community should do it for the sake of the society; the society should do it for the sake of the nation. In the west, it is quite the opposite where individual rights get priority.
Though every society is influenced by the worldview of other societies, the basic worldview doesn’t disappear easily or radically. One society may integrate both good and bad views from another society, but it will take a long time and the society has to pay a cost.
For example, due to the outside influence of Islam, Christianity, and the west, Indian society has received many new aspects in its worldview, but it has not given up its core values quickly. That is why even today most of the youths who go outside Indian to earn money, still do it keeping the need of parents and siblings in mind, even sacrificing personal interests and needs.
At the same time, he is also influenced by the values of those societies and countries where he migrated. He cannot overcome his conscience overnight and become a non-Indian completely. Even if he tries to do, his conscience will prick him and won’t allow him to enjoy his life based on the new values which he tries to adopt from another society.
So right and wrong is relativistic and we cannot give a uniform solution. But as change and continuity are the basic tenants of our Indian worldview, we also receive new values while keeping the old ones—both good and bad. Here each individual has to work out her own creed to decide what is right or wrong.
In response, the student wrote:
There can be many relativistic rights and wrongs but there can only be THE TRUTH. What should be the aim of our actions. I think it should be survival. We sacrifice something because we are likely to receive something back; anything that promotes one’s survival chances is good. That is why IMMORAL acts like murder, treachery, etc are wrong as they are likely to render trouble when people do it. Do you agree with me that anything done for promoting survival chances is good (with long-term prospects considered)?
Again the so-called TRUTH is relativistic. What is true to one need not be true to another and what is true in one situation need not be true in another time. And this truth, if it is related with ethics and moral issues, definitely becomes relativistic. Each situation demands its own assessment. But if it is related with God, religion or spirituality, there is no shortcut and clear-cut one time answer to this. If there is only one universal TRUTH, then why all are not following it?
Killing a person is murder and will receive punishment. But if it is done to defend oneself or one’s nation (like in war) then it is not considered murder but self-defence. But can self-defence always be decided from the person’s point of view? For example all the claims about so-called ‘fake encounters’ by the police cannot be decided by common people. The courts can decide about them, based on the evidence and arguments presented before it. Several war-time crime trials in international courts are not acceptable by others according to their self-defence. How we are going to judge about the killing of several thousands of Tamilians in Sri Lanka? Though I am against all kinds of militant activities, war-time crimes cannot be justified in the name of opposing militants.
This is a big subject and we two cannot resolve it.
Now to come to the question about Truth in religion/spirituality. Every religion/sect claims that what it promotes is the only absolute truth and the rest are not. But how can we judge this? My solution is to make some serious commitment which convinces you. Then travel in that path with single-minded devotion to see whether that particular claim is true or not for you.
At the same time I have to warn you that you should not think that I am promoting some kind of ‘situation ethics’. I am dead against it. And this is also a big subject for two of us to discuss and decide. However I can say out of my personal experience how I found my absolute TRUTH.
This I can explain by giving a personal example. As a sannyasi I am not suppose to take care of anyone. But for the last twenty years I have been taking care of my mother she has been living with me permanently for the last seven. Though my other siblings literally begged her to come and stay with them, she refuses to go and only wants to stay with me as I take care of her 24×7. That is why I cannot even go out much and am confined within the house. I only see three people in a day: my mother, one of my shishyas who lives on the first floor, and the domestic help. My everyday life is confined within the four walls of my room, hall, kitchen and bathroom. Rarely do I go outside even the gate.
Even I abandoned my ashram for the sake of my mother, though I prefer to go and live there with my own quiet and calm life as a recluse. It is situated in a beautiful quiet and calm place near the national forest in a cool place. Now I’ve come and live a city for the sake of my mother. When others hear about it, they were really surprised to see how I manage to survive.
Here comes the Indian worldview in which mother is even worshiped more than God.1 But as a sannyasi I am not expected to take care of her as there are other relatives who are ready to take care of her. At the same time I cannot fulfil my other dharma as a sannyasi: to serve my shishyas. They also request me to come and visit them, which I cannot do as I have to take care of my mother. In such a scenario, I found my dharma and truth in Muktinath.
As a bhakta of my guru Muktinath, whom others call Jesus, He helps me to understand my dharma based on His absolute Truth: love God and love your neighbour. If you cannot love those whom you see and serve, you cannot love and serve God whom you cannot see.
For the last 35 years I have chosen my path as I found my Truth in Muktinath. Then I made a personal commitment and gave some time to prove that He is the guru whom I was searching to found answer to my questions in life (as you ask now). When I was convinced that He is the one, I never made a permanent commitment to Him, but gave Him a chance to prove Himself that He is that TRUTH. Then it was a long but very difficult journey. It took several years for me to understand to make a final total commitment to Him—even with several mistakes along the way.
To give a short summary: Truth is not absolute; but once you find the TRUTH which you are searching for then it becomes absolute for you.
So this is my long response to your one line question about Truth.
- Greater than ten teachers is the preceptor: greater than ten preceptors is the father: and greater than ten fathers is the mother. The mother is greater than even the earth. There is no guru greater than the mother. [Anushasana-parva, 105.14-5; also Shanti-parva, 108.16-7.]— Chaturvedi Badrinath, The Mahabharata: An Inquiry in the human condition, New Delhi, Orient Longman, 2007, p.360
It is only the mother who gives comfort and heals those in distress. Only that long does a person feel protected as long as the mother is alive; without her, he feels he is unprotected wholly. [Shanti-parva, 266.26]—ibid. p.361 [There is a Tamil Proverb that says, “Once mother is gone, one won’t get welfare”]
…maybe poor, he is still rich on entering his home, calling out to his mother.[Shanti-parva, 266.27]—ibid. p.361
Himself now a father, and a grandfather too, and of age one hundred, he behaves with his mother as if two years old.[Shanti-parva, 266.28]—ibid. p.361
Therefore, in the Mbh., and in the dharmashastra-s too, there is nothing more reprehensible than to disregard one’s mother.[See Shanti–parva, 108.13,28-30] The father may be repudiated but never the mother.—ibid. p.361