Walking up a Tower — A Simple Conversation on God, Truth and Knowledge
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 12 Dec 2016
Four men had to go to their office on the 20th floor of a tall tower in a big city. When they reached the staircase they were disappointed to see that both the elevators were out of order. What to do? They had to go to their office for some urgent work. One of the men said, ‘let us relate some stories or events in our lives and that way we will slowly climb up to our office’. The other three agreed and it was decided that youngest of the four would start relating his story for the first 5 floors and the next older person the next five and so on.
The first man (let us call him A) said that we all need peace and happiness in our lives. The question is how should be obtain it? He said “One essential requirement of our lives is good food, comfortable shelter and a decent job. If we work honestly and with devotion we should be able to fulfill our basic needs. We should also have a belief in God for a happy and peaceful life.”
It was now the turn of the second older person (call him B) who agreed with what A had just related but went to say “Yes, a comfortable life that satisfies our basic needs is essential. Belief in God is also necessary. But what type of God do we believe in? Should our God only provide us food and shelter or should He speak to us of basic human values such as truth, kindness and compassion? Should he not provide us suitable conditions for proper education so that we not only learn about the three Rs – reading, writing and Arithmetic but also teach us to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong? I would like to believe in such a God who can not only teach us but also educate us about important values of right and wrong.”
All the other three persons listened carefully to what B had just related about the meaning of God and education. They tried to absorb the import of what he had said. The third person (called C) was quiet for some time as they slowly trudged upstairs. Then he began slowly to articulate his ideas about the meaning of life and faith. ”You know”, he said slowly trying to give voice to his thoughts, “my God gives me all these aspects but he also gives me and my family and friends something more. He gives me strength to believe in Him, and not to be misled by other faiths or beliefs. His teachings are not just words but a way of life for all of us – how we grow up, how we should live our lives whatever profession we are engaged in, what sort of social relations we should have and so on. All that we need to do to lead happy, contended, just lives is to remember Him regularly and to undergo fasting and hardship occasionally to achieve strength and to give purpose to our lives. In fact if we have full faith in Him, we will not feel any hardship at all…”
The words of C were difficult to grasp by the others but they did not ask any question because first, there was no initial agreement to ask any question and second the fifteenth floor had been reached by these young men. It was now the turn of the last person (called D) – who was the oldest among them. He kept quiet for a long spell of time. His companions then urged him to speak out his thoughts.
He started slowly. “What all of you have said is indeed true. But what is the meaning of true? What do we really mean by truth? Does truth mean not speaking any lies? Yes, but it is much more than that. You know the story of the three blind men who touched an elephant on different parts of its body and described the elephant in their own ways. Each was being truthful and yet each was different from the other. You all have heard of Gandhiji. He had earlier said that ‘Truth is God’. But God is different for different religions. Some believe in one God and others in another God. There are some who do not believe in any God at all – people whom we may call atheists. Then there are agnostics who say that it is not possible to establish if there is a God or not. Does this mean that truth is different for different people or that there is no truth in life? Gandhi subsequently changed his opinion to ‘God is truth’ which means that all faiths or beliefs lead to one real or ultimate aim of life to which we must all direct our energies…”
D’s thoughts were not over. He continued, “Thus whether we believe in one God or another or whether we feel that God is an entity that is hard to scientifically establish, we should all direct our energies to values such as goodness, truthfulness, kindness and compassion to all – not only to human beings but also to all forms of life – flora and fauna and the beautiful diversity that we find in life all around us. We should not hurt or damage any living being or our environment…
“How do we educate ourselves? We should try to remove ignorance and focus on gyan or true knowledge, which we can attain by meditation, self-discipline, self-knowledge and spirituality, rather than on mere rituals.”
After this rather longish discourse the four men reached the 20th floor and stood outside their office.
But where were the keys?
It was D who again spoke, “We are all ignorant and forgetful persons. We have left the office keys in our car in the parking lot.”
Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University. firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Dec 2016.
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