To understand the nature of Truth has been the preoccupation of
mankind’s best minds since the dawn of time. It is central to all
religions, to all philosophies, to all efforts of individuals to know
themselves, whether they be a shepherd minding sheep, a carpenter
building houses, a ruler in a palace, a warrior on the battlefield, a
mystic in a cave, a mother raising children, a teacher in school, a
business person in the office, a poet seeking a rhyme, a writer at the
desk, or a musician with their music.
Perhaps the most telling phrase associated with the search for truth is this;
“No one has a monopoly on Truth.”
Here are some other phrases that have become identified with this pursuit;
“...and the Truth shall make you free”;
(Lord Jesus Christ; John 8.32)
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
(Keat’s Ode to Grecian Urn)
Truth has come and falsehood has departed
(The holy Qur’an)
“An’al Haq” (I am the Truth/Reality)
“I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”
(The oath sworn in a British court of law before giving evidence)
"When I forgot my existence I saw Truth all around and nothing else."
Abul Hasan Kharaqani
“Truth needs no argument.....reverence for Truth is the high watermark of
(Dr Zahurul Hasan Sharib)
Truth is Truth, though explanations vary.
(J M Zahuri)
The most common mistake regarding Truth is the view that it is primarily a
spoken or written statement in the manner of dictionary definitions. To take
this view is to plunge into the convoluted depths and swirling currents of
philosophy – let us walk on past.Let those who care to swim in those murky
waters do so. Let us satisfy our selves with the simple idea that truth is not
finally definable but it is also undeniable. It is also something other than, and
more significant than, a fact or a collection of material facts.
We could call it the touchstone against which facts or collections of facts or
indeed spoken or written statements are measured. An example of a
touchstone would be gold, against which not so many years ago the value of
currency could be measured – known as the ‘gold standard’. This has been
replaced recently by something called the Libor rate which is an average of
various estimates of the value of assets held by banks. Gold is replaced but
the necessity for some standard is recognised even in this somewhat
‘psychologised’ or democratised process.
An error in thinking about Truth has crept into the modern mindset. This error
assumes that Truth is relative. It may be pertinent to say that facts are
relative, as we might say an elephant is large in relation to a mouse but small
in relation to the moon. When we speak of Truth we take that word to refer to
an immeasurable absolute against which every fact can be measured. The
obvious, though much debated, flaw in the idea that Truth is relative is that if
Truth is relative then that statement must be relative too, in other words not
It is common to hear people say things like “This is my truth and that is your
truth”. Sometimes people say; “You have your god and I have my god”. In
economics this would imply allowing everybody to form their own view of the
value of currency. Somewhat awkward if, when doing one’s weekly shopping,
the shopkeeper decides your evaluation of the currency differs from his.
What is really meant is “I interpret this thing one way and you interpret it
another” – stated in this way we understand there to be the possibility of Truth
as being more comprehensive than opinion or interpretation. This mindset can
make people more tolerant and is therefore not without merit, but by implying
every view is of equal value we are left with no benchmark against which to
evaluate the views. In a court of law the judge and jury may disagree with the
point of view of the criminal but they do not therefore let that person go free on
the basis that the person has a different viewpoint. Again discussion on this
draws one towards the murky waters of philosophy and we pass by without
The other side of that coin is the mistaken belief that the absolute nature of
Truth can be ascribed to any particular interpretation or understanding of a
given statement. Even a statement like ‘God is Truth’ may be capable of
various levels of understanding. The absolutist approach creates as many
difficulties as the view that truth is entirely relative. In the absolutist approach a
specific understanding of Truth is elevated to be Truth itself. Wars are fought
over the understanding of what given texts or phrases mean – each party
happy in the belief they have the whole truth and that the other party does not.
We must look beyond these alternatives if we are to any glimpse of what Truth
Truth, like the gold standard, must have two qualities; one ideal or
non-material, the other that it must have a material manifestation. The
combination of both is required. The value attributed to gold in the gold
standard was both ideal (subjective - based on people agreeing to it being
valuable on account of its beauty and rarity); the other is that it must be an
actual material substance that has a palpable physical existence.
It is not enough to say that Truth is abstract or ideal, though it must be this too.
To put it into more religious terms; to describe God as existing only as
something ethereal or spiritual is to deny Him as being comprehensive. It is to
see Him as only transcendent and to deny His immanence. On the other hand
to see Him as only immanent in forms is to deny His transcendence. Inevitably
we have to declare that He comprehends or encompasses both perceptions.
Mevlana Rumi writes in the Masnevi; “Both the one (who asserts the
transcendence of God) and the other (who asserts the immanence of God)
are bewildered by Thee.”
Keeping these considerations in mind let us look for a moment at what is, or
appears to be, other than truth. This may be lies, stories, fantasies,
perceptions, magical illusions, imagination, distortions and so on. We can only
know that these are such by holding them up to Truth to see if they in accord
with Truth. In a sense they are the proof of Truth, since by not being true they
indicate the necessary existence of Truth.
The carpenter makes his measurements and cuts his wood – then he
‘offers it up’ to see if he is correct and the wooden structure actually fits as
it should. Is this not a metaphor suited to the story of our lives?
There is a tale in the holy Qur’an and the Bible which is well known. In it
Moses throws down his staff or rod and it becomes a dragon that eats up
the magic illusion of snakes produced by the magicians of Pharaoh.
Mevlana Rumi points out that the dragon that Moses rod became is True
because it existed as a dragon in the Mind of God. The magician’s tricks
were illusions existing only in the mind of the spectators. We may note
however that the rod of Moses also had its form as a rod in the material,
physical world and was used again to trigger the Red Sea parting to allow
the children of Israel to cross.
The mystic might well say then that the forms that exist within the Essence
(God) are a manifestation of God, but also that every physically existent entity
has latent within it the Essence requiring only the Command of God to
become apparent. The Qur’an says, ‘God is the light of the heavens – and
When we come to the issue of narratives or stories as distinct from objects
the same thing can be found. For this we can look briefly at the famous story
of Prophet Joseph (Yusuf). It is by far the longest single narrative in the holy
Qur’an. You can read it for yourself as it is too long to recount in a short
space. We will make some points with regard to the story but first let us step
back a moment and consider the Pen and the Tablet, which are metaphors
often used in mysticism. In passing, however, we will note that Joseph was
regarded as the most beautiful man inwardly and outwardly and the
association of Truth with Beauty is remarked on by Keats above.
At the mundane level a writer sits down with an implement to make marks on
paper or some other medium. For the sake of illustration we restrict our self
to pen and paper (tablet) but it can apply of course to computer or typewriter.
That writer uses the imagination and intellect to picture events in the mind that
can be transferred by means of words and sentences to the mind of any one
reading those marks as a narrative. Human error means this transference
won’t be perfect of course for the mind and imagination of the recipient will
form a different picture according to their personal experience.
The source of the ideas is in the mind and/or imagination of the writer.
The Pen in mystical terminology is the process by which ideas are made
manifest in the normally unseen spiritual dimension by the Essence (God).
This unseen dimension is the ‘Tablet’. The interactions of the forms within the
Essence become a kind of narrative. This narrative has not yet become
tangible and physical in the material universe but because it exists in the
Essence it will be transferred to this dimension too since the mystic’s view is
that the material world is a shadow of that dimension and a shadow inevitably
follows the object that casts the shadow.
There is therefore a true narrative that has its source in the unseen
dimension which we will call the Mind of God for convenience, without
wishing to be sidetracked into a discussion on the accuracy of that
expression. This narrative is True in that it originates from that Source. To
be complete however it must cast a shadow – i.e. become evident in the
visible or material world.
Let us return to the story of Prophet Joseph. It begins with a dream that
reveals symbolically the outcome of the narrative in the physical world. So
we can say that in the unseen dimension the narrative has been completed
before it even commences to be revealed in the physical world. Mevlana
Rumi uses an appropriate expression – “The pen has dried on that.”
The story that then unfolds is full of incidents that you can read about if you
are not familiar with it. It is full of lies and deceit – the brothers deceive their
father and then lie to him about the fate of Joseph – tellingly his father says
to the lying brothers “Your minds have made up a tale that passes with you.”
(We return to this point later.) Zuleikha, Joseph's owner’s wife makes up a
story when she fails to seduce him; and there are a number of other
incidents of deceit or downright lies and many of them are associated with
One could write much about what the Qur’an refers to rightly as “..the most
beautiful of stories”. For our purpose however we can see it as a narrative
that is true in the sense of having been ‘written’ in the unseen dimension and
then played out in the material world where, all sorts of deceits
notwithstanding, the foreshadowed events ultimately achieve their physical
reality in this world.
From this we can say I think that the True narrative entails both the spiritual
dimension and the material dimension and that it ‘descends’ from one to the
Now if we turn to the more practical issue of our own inner workings we
can apply what we have discussed. The fact of the matter is that most
persons are deceivers or liars – sometimes to others but nearly always to
themselves. For a huge variety of reasons we invent stories that we may
even believe. Just as it was implied above the brothers of Joseph even
convinced themselves they did not do what they did when they put Yusuf
down a well. You could say we create a personal mythology to justify the
actions we have taken. These may become settled in our minds as if they
are incontrovertible ‘truths’.
In respect of our bewilderment with life and it’s seemingly random events this
is understandable as Prophet Isaac acknowledged, and one hopes ultimately
forgivable as is implied in the ending of the story in the Qur’an. The fact that
we live in ‘tangled web’ of self deceit does not however preclude the
existence of a true narrative that is conceived in the unseen spiritual
dimension and made manifest in the physical events of our lives. Our false
narratives will be revealed as such to us when we return to God as we must.
The true narrative will then be revealed.
The mystic however seeks to come as close to the True narrative of his or her
own life as possible whilst still alive in this world.
Our search for the Truth within ourselves therefore includes deconstructing the
stories we have told ourselves and may firmly believe. This the mystics refer
to as tearing down the house to find the treasure beneath and then rebuilding
the house on solid foundations. This is a start and is sometimes called Tauba
or repentance. It is truly a soul searching task and really requires inner
guidance by one who is fully familiar with the process.
To proceed beyond this requires that we gain knowledge of the inner workings
of the unseen where our soul resides in God. Ultimately this is a gift from God
but we can and should do what we can to prepare ourselves for it by purifying
our present actions. Sincerity and self-honesty are required and we should
measure our thoughts and future actions against the highest ideals. We should
be our own sternest critic to the extent that we have no time to consider the
faults of others. We should, however, also keep in our mind that we are
reliably and frequently told that God is Merciful.
Until we reach the stage of seeing for ourselves the amazing workings of the
Unseen Dimension we must rely on individual guidance, inwardly and
outwardly, and on the words of those trustworthy ones who do demonstrate a
knowledge of the Unseen Dimension. Not for nothing is the holy Prophet
Muhammed referred to as the ‘Trustworthy’. Not for nothing were the lives of
the great saints full of an impeccable regard for Truth. Their words and
actions are models to be followed in our search for the Truth within us that
underlies our actions and the apparently random events of life. The Truth if
we find it within does indeed as Lord Jesus says, have the potential to free
us from the tissue of lies we have told ourselves and believed formerly.
We can say I think that within each of us, indeed in the soul of mankind, and in
the workings of the material world, there is a completely solid, real and
tangible ‘ideal’ we can call Truth that manifests itself inwardly and outwardly in
our lives. It is perceivable by the inwardly sighted but beyond comprehension
even by those fortunate few. We cannot measure up to it or measure it in any
way but it is self deceit not to recognise its absolute if ineffable Reality.
Amongst the Sufi mystics there is an identifiable state of being called Haqiqat,
the Reality/the Truth. It is a stage beyond those things we have discussed and
cannot be understood, only experienced.
Khawaja Hafiz Shirazi only refers to it obliquely in this extraordinary verse.
To show how the game goes I will move a pawn, just to see,
King and rook (warrior) have no power on the board of profligacy.
Khawaja Muinuddin Hasan Chishti says:
The gnosis of the world of jabarut (power) is the haqiqat, the state of reality.
We mention these only that it may be clearly understood that any exposition
of Truth is inadequate and to wet the seeker’s appetite to go beyond what
the mind and reason can possibly understand.
Mevlana Rumi says; “Always ask if there is more”.
Dr Sharib says ‘Truth is better appreciated by the heart than the head.”