What is Truth? said Pilate confronted with a mighty messenger of the truth, not jesting
surely, not in a spirit of shallow lightness, but turning away from the Christ with the
impatience of the disillusioned soul for those who still use high words that have lost
their meaning and believe in great ideals which the test of the event has proved to be
What is truth, - this phantom so long pursued, so impossible to grasp firmly, - that a
man young, beautiful, gifted, eloquent and admired should consent to be crucified for its
Have not circumstance and event justified the half-pitying, half-sorrowful question of
the Roman governor? The Messenger suffered on the cross, and what happened to the truth
that was his message? The Christ himself foresaw, it has never been understood even by its
For a hundred years it was a glorious mirage for which thousands of men and women
willingly underwent imprisonment, torture and death in order that Christ's kingdom might
come on earth and felicity possess the nation. But the kingdom that came was not Christ's;
it was Constantine's, it was Hildebrand's, it was Alexander Borgia's.
For another thirteen centuries the message was - what? Has it not been the chief
support of fanaticism, falsehood, cruelty and hypocrisy, the purveyor of selfish power,
the key-stone of a society that was everything Christ had denounced?
Jesus died on the Cross, for the benefit, it would seem, of those who united to slay
him, the Sadducee, atheist and high priest, the Pharisee, zealot or hypocrite and
persecutor and the brutal, self-seeking, callous military Roman. Now in its last state,
after such a lamentable career, Christ's truth stand finally rejected by the world's
recent enlightenment as a hallucination or a superstition which sometimes helpfully,
sometimes harmfully, amused the infancy of the human intellect.
This history is written in too pronounced characters to be the exact type of all
messages that the world has received, but is it not in some sort a type of the fate of all
What idea has stood successfully the test of a prolonged and pitiless enquiry? What
ideal has stood successfully the test of time? Has not mankind been busy for the last
fifty years and more denying almost all that it had formerly affirmed?
And now that under the name of rationalism or materialism the denial has shaped itself
into some form of workable practical affirmation, mankind is again at the work of denying
its denial and rearranging - but this time doubtless - its old affirmations. The
scepticism of Pilate would therefore seem to have some excuse in a recurrent human
Is there, indeed, such a thing as truth, - beyond of course that practical truth of
persistent and material appearances by which we govern our lives, the truth of death,
birth, hunger, sexuality, pain, pleasure, commerce, money-making, ease, discomfort,
ambition, failure and success?
Has not indeed the loftiest of our philosophical systems declared all things here to be
Maya? And if Maya is illusion, a deceit of the thinking consciousness, then indeed there
can be not truth anywhere in the world except that indefinable Existence which we cannot
comprehend and which, after all, Buddhism, not without logic and plausibility, setting it
down as another and more generalised samskara, a false sensation of consciousness in the
eternal Void, denies.
And yet man is so constituted that he must follow after truth whether it is attained or
not; something in him secretly masterful, essential to his existence, forbids him to be
satisfied with a falsehood; the moment it is perceived or even believed to be a falsehood,
he rejects it and the thing begins to crumble.
If he persists in his rejection, it cannot last. Yesterday it was, today we see it
tottering, tomorrow we shall look or it and find that it is no longer. It has passed back
into Prakriti; it has dissolved into that of which it was made.
For sraddha is the condition of all existence in consciousness and that in which
sraddha is denied, ceases to have existence, whether here or elsewhere, na caivamutra
no iha. It is not, neither in this world nor in another.
We may not unreasonably infer from this importance and this imperative necessity that
Truth does really exist and everything is not illusion. If then Truth is always escaping
our hold and leaving us to disillusionment and derision, it may be because we have neither
formed any clear conception of what Truth itself is nor taken hold of the right means by
which it can be grasped.
Let us leave aside, for a while, Buddha's world of samskaras; let us put aside, packed
away in an accessible corner of the brain, Shankara's gospel of Maya, and start instead
from the old Vedantic beginnings, OM TAT SAT. That (Brahman) is the thing that Is, and
sarvam khalvidam brahma, verily, all this, everything of which we are aware, is Brahman.
It is at least possible that we may return from this inquiry with a deeper idea both of
Samskaras and of Maya and may find that we have answered Pilate's question, discovering
the nature and conditions of Truth.
I am speaking of the fundamental truth, the truth of things and not merely the fact
about particulars or of particulars only as their knowledge forms a basis or a help to the
discovery of fundamental truth.
The fact that a particular sort of contact makes me uncomfortable is nothing in itself
except in so far as it throws light upon the general causes of pain; the nature, origin
and purpose of pain is the fundamental truth that I seek about the sensational reaction to
This law of pain, moreover, is not so fundamental as the truth about the nature, origin
and purpose of sensation and contact themselves of which pain is a particularity, an
example or a modification. This more fundamental truth becomes again itself particular
when compared with the truth about the nature, origin and purpose of Existence of which
sensation and contact are only particular circumstances.
In this we arrive at the one fundamental truth of all, and a little consideration will
show that if we really and rightly know that, the rest ought and probably will reveal
themselves at once and fall into their places. That being known, all is known.
Our ancestors perceived this truth of the fundamental unity of knowledge and sought to
know Sat first, confident that Sat being known, the different tattvas, laws, aspects and
particulars of Sat would more readily yield up their secret.
The moderns follow another thought which, also has a truth of its own. They think that
since being is one, the knowledge of the particulars must lead to the knowledge of the
fundamental unity and they begin therefore at the bottom and climb upwards, - a slow but,
one might imagine, a safe method of procession.
"Little flower in the crannies", cries Tennyson addressing a pretty blossom
in the wall in lines which make good thought but execrable poetry, "if I could but
know what you are I should know what God and man is."
(Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
what you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should now what God and man is.)
Undoubtedly the question is whether, without knowing God, we can really know the
flower, - know it; and not merely its name and form or all the details of its name and
Rupa we can know and analyse by the aid of science, Nama by the aid of philosophy; but
It would seem that some third instrument is needed for that consummation of knowledge.
The senses and reason, even though aided by microscopes and telescopes, cannot show it to
The form of That stands not in the ken of sight. Mind and speech are not permitted to
lead us to it. Even the metaphysical logic of Shankara stops short of that final victory.
This realisation in thought is not to be obtained by logic. All these various disabilities
are due to one compelling cause; they are, because Sat, the truth of existence, Brahman,
the reality of things which fills and supports their idea and form, is beyond the
recognisable and analysable elements of idea and form. It is subtler even than elemental
subtlety and therefore not to be deduced, induced, inferred or discovered by a reasoning
which proceeds from a consideration of the elements of name and form and makes that its
standard. This is a truth which even the greatest philosophers, Vedantic or un-Vedantic
are apt to forget; but the Sruti insists on it always.
Nevertheless mankind has for some thousands of years been attempting obstinately and
with passion to discover that Truth by the very means which the Sruti has forbidden. Such
error is natural and inevitable to the human consciousness.
For the Angel in man is one who has descended out of light and bliss into this
darkness, twilight and half-light here, the darkness of matter, the twilight of vital
consciousness, the broken half-lights of the mind, and the master impulse of his nature is
to yearn passionately towards the light from which he has fallen.
Unable to find it at once, too little dhira (calm and discerning) to perfect himself
patiently, it is natural that he in his eagerness should grasp at beyond their capacity
compel them to serve this his supreme object, - which is always to recover the perfect
light and by that recovery to recover also what dwells only in the perfect light, - the
perfect and unfailing bliss. From this abuse of the parts of knowledge have resulted three
illegitimate human activities, of which Philosophy, Religion and Science have severally
made themselves guilty, the disputatious metaphysical philosophy of the schools, the
theology of the churches and the scientific philosophy of the laboratories.
Philosophy, Religion and Science have each their appointed field and dominion; each can
help man in his great preoccupation, the attempt to know all that he can about Sat, about
The business of Philosophy is to arrange logically the eternal modes of Sat, the
business of Science is to arrange observantly and analytically the particular forms and
movements of Sat. They are really necessary and ought to become so to each other; and, if
they who recognised proper limitations and boundary marks could by their joint activity
help man to his present attainable fullness; but by a sort of intellectual land hunger,
they are perpetual invaders of each other's dominion, deny each other's positions and
therefore remain unprofitably at war through human ages.
Finally, all three after illegitimately occupying each other's fields insist on
snatching at a knowledge of which they are all equally incapable, - the essential nature
of the world, the secret reality of Sat, the uttaman rahasyam of the Brahman. This error,
this confusion, this sankara or illegitimate mixing of different nature and function is
the curse of the Kali and from it arises much, if not most, of the difficulty we
experience as a race in escaping from this misery and darkness into bliss and light. It is
part and a great part of kalikalila, the chaos of the Kali.
India has always attempted, though not, since the confusion of Buddhism, with any
success, if not to keep the three to their proper division of labour - which, with the
general growth of ignorance became impossible - at least, always to maintain or
re-establish, if disturbed, some harmony between them. Of this attempt the Gita is the
standing monument and the most perfect example.
To see the confusion working in its untrammelled force, and it is only so, by isolating
the disease from the modification of curative forces, that we can observe, diagnose and
afterwards find its remedy, - we must go to the intellectual history of the European
There have been, properly speaking , two critical periods in this history, the
Graeco-Roman era of philosophic illumination previous to Christianity and the era of
modern scientific illumination which is still unexhausted.
In the first we see the revolt of Philosophy (with Science concealed in her protecting
embraces) against the usurpation of Religion. We find it, after achieving liberation, in
its turn, denying Religion and usurping her sacred prerogative.
In the modern era we see Science this time emerged and adult, keeping Philosophy behind
her, in revolt against Religion, first liberate herself, then deny Religion and usurp her
prerogatives, then, or as part of this final process of conquest, turn, deny and strike
down her lofty ally and usurp also her ancient territory.
For if Science has scorned and denied Religion, she has equally scorned and denied
Metaphysics. If she has declared God to be a barbarous myth, a fiction of dreams and
terrors and longings and denied us the right of communion with the Infinite, equally has
she declared Metaphysics to be an aberration of the ideative faculty, a false extension of
logic and denied our right to recognise any metaphysical existence or anything at all
which cannot be judged by or inferred from the result of the test tube, the scalpel, the
microscope and the telescope. Neither, however, has she herself hesitated to dogmatize
about the essential nature of existence and the mutual relations of its general modes,
matter, life, life, mind and spirit.
But for our immediate purpose it is only necessary to note the result in either of
these eras of these tremendous usurpations.
The result of the usurpations of Philosophy was that mankind flung itself with an
infinite sincerity, with a passionate sense of relief into the religion of an obscure
Jewish sect and consented for a length of time which amazes us to every theological
absurdity, even the most monstrous, so that it might once more be permitted to believe in
something greater than earth and to have relations with God.
The old philosophical spirit was torn to pieces with Hypatia in the blood-stained
streets of Alexandria. Theology usurped her place and discoursed blindly and foolishly on
transubstantiation and consubstantiation and one knows not what other barren mysteries.
So far as philosophy was allowed an independent existence, she was compelled to do not
her own work but the work of Science; so we find the schoolmen elaborately determining by
logic and a priori word-fencing questions which could only be properly determined
by observation and analysis.
For Theology, for Mediaeval Religion herself did not care for this field of knowledge;
she had no need for scientific truths, just as the Jacobin Republic had no need of
chemists; in fact she guillotined Science wherever its presence attracted her attention.
But all injustice - and that means at bottom all denial of truth, of the satyam and rtam -
brings about its own punishment or, as Religion would put it, God's visitation and
Science liberated, given in her strenuous emergence the strength of the Titans, avenges
herself today on her old oppressors, on Religion, on Philosophy, breaks their temples,
scorns their gods and prophets and seeks to deprive them even of the right to existence.
That was the result of the Graeco-Roman illumination.
And what will be the result of the scientific illumination, the modern enlightenment,
the fiery triumph and ardent intellectual bigotry of the materialist? It is too early to
foresee the final dénouement, but unformed lines of it show themselves, obscure masses
arise. Mysticism is growing obscurely in strength as Science
grew obscurely in strength in the Middle Ages. We see titanic and mystic figures
striding out of the East, building themselves fortresses and points of departure,
spreading among the half-intellectual, capturing even the intellectual - vague figures of
Spiritualism, Mental Science, Psychical Research, Neo-Hinduism, Neo-Buddhism,
Neo-Mahomedanism, Neo-Christianity. The priest of Isis, the adepts and illuminates of
Gnosticism, denied their triumph by the intervention of St. Paul and the Pope, reborn into
this latter age, claim now their satisfaction.
Already some outworks of materialism are giving way, the attack grows more insistent,
the defence more uncertain, less proudly self-confident, though not less angry,
contemptuous, bitter and intolerant; the invaders increase their adherents, extend the
number of their strongholds. If no wider and higher truth intervenes, it would almost seem
as if the old confusion in a new form might replace the new. Perhaps an Esoteric Society
or a Spiritualist Circle of high Mediums will in a few centuries be laying down for us
what we shall think about this world an the next, what particular relations with Gods will
be permitted us, what Influences or Initiates we shall worship. Who knows? The fires of
Smithfield may yet reblaze to save heretics from perdition.
These are not mere fantastic speculations. The history of humantiy and the peculiar
capacities of that apparently incalculable and erratic thing, human nature, ought to warn
us of their possibility or at least that they are not entirely impossible, in spite of the
printing press, in spite of the clarities of Science.
No doubt with so many Schools and Academies, such spread of education, never again
would enlightenment be dimmed and the worship of gods and ghosts would in the end amuse
none but the vulgar. We must accept these things as possible and examine why they are
This reaction is inevitable because Philosophy, though exceedingly high and luminous,
tends to be exclusive and narrow and Science, though exceedingly patient, accurate and
minute, tends to be limited, dry and purblind. They are both apt to be as dogmatic and
intolerant in their own high way or in their own clear, dry way as Religion in her way
which is not high but intense, not clear but enthusiastic; and they live on a plane of
mentality on which humanity at large does not yet find itself at perfect ease, cannot live
without a struggle and a difficulty in breathing.
They both demand from man that he shall sacrifice his heart and his imagination to his
intellect, shall deny his full human nature and live coldly and dryly. You might just as
well ask him to live without free breathing. The mental world in which we are asked to
live, resembles what the life of humanity would be if the warmth of the sun had
diminished, the earth were growing chill and its atmosphere were already too rarefied for
It is no use saying that he ought to live in such an atmosphere, that it will improve
his mental health and vigour. Perhaps he ought, though I do not think so, but he cannot.
Or rather the individual may, - everything is possible to individual man, - but the race
The demand can never be allowed; for it is a denial of Nature, a violation of the great
Mother, a displacement of her eternal facts by the aridities of logic; it is a refusal of
the Truth of things, of the satyam, rtam, and if it is persisted in , it will bring its
Philosophy and Science, if they are to help mankind without hurting it and themselves,
must recognize that man is a complex being and his nature demands that every part of that
complexity shall have its field of activity and every essential aspiration in him must be
It is his nature and his destiny to be aptakama, satisfied in his desires, in the
individual and in the race - though always in accordance with the satyam. the rtam, which
is also the sukham and sundaram, not lawlessly and according to aberrations and caprices.
It was the great virtue of the ancient Hinduism, before Buddhism upset its balance and
other aberrations followed, that it recognised in principle at least this fundamental
verity, did not deny what God insists upon but strove, it does not matter whether
perfectly or imperfectly, to put everything in its place and create a natural harmony.