When the man who became Mahatma Gandhi was 12 years old, he saw a play that struck a chord deep inside, telling the story of someone who stood up for the truth even when all his loved ones, and he himself, suffered greatly as a result. The boy acted out the part countless times and wept. Many years and much experience and many experiments in truth later, this great soul realized “satyagraha,” truth force: consciously and with great conscience he showed the British and the world a way of saying and showing and being the truth. This way helped countless people, including Martin Luther King, Jr., whom we honor today.
When the man who became the Buddha was a boy he sat under a rose apple tree, watching his father and other men in the village plowing the fields, peaceful yet open, in solitude yet compassionate towards all beings. Many years later as he sat under a different tree patiently and courageously seeking awakening, the Buddha remembered that boyhood state. In the end, after the trials and trainings that became the great path, the Buddha showed how to return to this state, how to be islands of awareness, refuges unto themselves. This was not the end but the beginning, a platform for receiving a truth that is beyond thought, a truth that is a perception–and communion–with reality.
There is a kind of faith that is an act of inner opening to what is known in a dim way, deep down, without much sophisticated thought about it. This knowing comes to us as a gift, as grace, maybe even (often) in childhood or on a morning walk or when we are otherwise engaged in seemingly unimportant things. This knowing consists of knowing that there is more at stake in life than winning favor, than winning in any way. There is a force of truth.
“Sati,” the Pali word for mindfulness means to remember–to remember this act of returning and opening to a truth that cannot be thought. The spiritual path is a practice of remembering and forgetting–seeing that we always forget yet remembering to return. The spiritual path consists in the realization of a truth (“sacca” in Pali or “satya” in Sanskrit) is not just a verbal proposition or article of belief but seeing the nature of things as they are–as we are. To realize truth our whole being must slowly learn to open and be seen, to surrender to what is.
This takes a long,long time, yet we can start now, today, in a moment. Experiment with telling the truth when it feels useful and timely instead of just saying any old thing that sounds good or pleasing. Risk silence, yes, please, but also risk telling the truth in your own words and in the midst of your own messy situation because telling the truth to the best of your ability can establish a correspondence between our own inner being and a greater reality. Much more than an ethical principle, a dedication to telling the truth is way of remembering, a way of opening to a reality that is greater than anything we might think we desire.