Thursday, December 6, 2007

Be true to yourselves

Gandhiji's life was a pursuit of truth. He had never claimed to have reached any level of perfection. It was always an ongoing experiment, and thus he named his autobiography "A Story of My Experiments with Truth". For Gandhiji, a primary aspect of truth meant - being true to ones own convictions. This is the aspect I would like to delve on further.

By the above definition, truth doesn't have to be absolute or perfect and it could be something that moves towards perfection with each pursuit. This is interesting because it opens up the possibility of following truth without perfect knowledge. Following absolute truth is difficult as absolute knowledge is impossible. So being true to oneself would allow oneself to follow truth without waiting to acquire perfect knowledge.

The theory sounds very simple but the practical implementation of it is very difficult. Take for example the simple case of not lying. I am not sure if there is anybody who would want other people to lie to them. So people do not want others to lie to them. This would imply that they do not like lying. But when it comes to not telling lies to others, there wouldn't be too many people who would get a clean chit on that count. In fact there wouldn't even be too many people who would try their best to not lie at all. Even when they have in their minds the negative attitude about people lying to them they would still go ahead and tell lies to others. Telling lies is a simple example but, it was selected because it was one specific aspect that Gandhiji tried to maintain a clean record on.

If instead people try to be true to themselves they would not commit most of the mistakes they make in their daily lives. It must be noted that this deduction can be made even after considering the fact that nobody has perfect knowledge. It is a logical extension to the premise that people are convinced about the importance of knowledge (even if it is knowledge according to their own limited definitions). So if somebody is convinced about the requirement of knowledge he/she would try to acquire it and having acquired it, it would help in reexamining their established convictions. If there is any contradiction with their existing convictions they would find it easy to change their conviction to match the new knowledge. This last part again assumes that they will remain true to their conviction about the requirement of knowledge.

Nobody is perfect. Gandhiji was not perfect and he himself has confessed about his imperfections. This was highlighted by his statement about his convictions. He stated that he would always try to be true to his convictions. He did not claim that his convictions were always correct and he said that his statements at some point of time in the future could possibly contradict his statements at some point in his past. But irrespective of that he would be true to his convictions in the future as he was in the past. This is probably one of the best preemptive philosophical bails one can get but yes this statement conforms with his pursuit of truth.

The moral of the story is simple; whatever you do or say - examine it within the light of your established convictions and if you see a contradiction, reexamine both your conviction and your action/statement, decide which is correct based on any new knowledge that you have acquired and then try to correct your conviction or your action/statement so that you would not contradict your convictions in the future. An attempt to adhere to this simple concept could take you a long way in the pursuit of truth.