While I was browsing the bookstore with my good friend, an old Indian guy approached us and asked us if we knew about Taoism. He was very well-dressed, and it seemed like he was browsing the philosophy section, chanced upon two girls by the New Age section and decided to talk to us. I wasn’t sure if it was because we happened to be sitting down next to the tarot cards section, or maybe he just felt the sudden urge to share his spiritual perspective to two complete strangers. Whatever his intentions were, he approached us.
“Do you guys know about Taoism?”
Interesting that he should ask, because I’d been reading up on Taoism lately. I told him exactly that. I also asked him why he asked us if we knew about Taoism. In hindsight, I don’t think he came to talk to us about Taoism. I stood up to talk to him, sensing an interesting discussion about spirituality. My friend just sat silently on the floor, checking her phone.
“I like Taoism because it’s all about being natural. It’s all about the natural state of being.”
Somehow, this led to a conversation about the faults of religion.
“I hate religions,” he says. “And gurus. Do you know gurus? I think religions are wrong.”
I’m just paraphrasing what he said here. He was quite an eloquent guy, so I don’t think my attempt to encapsulate his words would do him justice. Besides, I was very tired when I talked to him since it had been a long day. But anyway, in short, he started talking about the dogmatism and the “wrong” way of pursuing spirituality. He didn’t think spirituality was about the pursuit of happiness, calmness and freedom. He proposed that spirituality was a quest for truth. I disagreed but didn’t object. To me spirituality is something utterly personal and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. His way to engage spirituality is to seek truth. My spirituality is more concerned about self-knowing and self-awareness, self-empowerment, getting in tune with my emotions and living a healthy, carefree life.
“If truth gives me pain, then I will have to accept it. If truth gives me happiness, then I accept it also.”
He kept talking about truth, so I asked him, “How would you define truth?”
So he seemed genuinely surprised because he did not expect such a “profound” question from me. Self-five, way to go, Kim. You’re not just an impression, or a stereotype. I said “stereotype”, because throughout our conversation he kept trying to check my English understanding. “Do you speak English well?” Nope, apparently not. I wasn’t sure what I was just speaking to you just then. I thought it was pretty evident that I spoke English fluently. I was standing there having a philosophical discussion with him, for Goodness’ sake.
Needless to say I was annoyed. As an immigrant you just get asked dumb questions like that from time to time, but I usually just brush it off. But seriously though, after talking to me for five minutes, hearing that I had no accents and my–I would say decent–display of vocabulary, you still question my ability to speak English? That’s just insulting. But anyway, I didn’t want to waste any emotional energy on somebody I didn’t even know so I just kept the conversation going.
Where were we? Yes. He was just about to define “truth”. He quoted a philosopher whose name I don’t remember: “Truth is as simple as pointing your finger at the rain and say, ‘It’s raining.’ Or pointing your finger at the clear sky and say, ‘It’s not raining.'” And truth is something that doesn’t change and requires no perceive. It is something eternal. Truth just is. What I was getting from him was that spirituality is a search for the eternal truth, the changeless truth. Truth with a capital T. I didn’t know why though, his “truth” sounded more like a scientific “fact” to me. For me, truth is more about intuitive insight, a meaning that doesn’t change regardless of context or form. Truth differs from facts because truth has to be felt; it’s less quantifiable and definable than a fact.
I thought about this after our discussion was over: what is truth with a capital T? What is something that is eternally truth? To be honest, I don’t think there is an answer and I don’t think seeking to find the eternal truth is productive. First of all, how would you ever apply it to your own life? How does that help you morally, emotionally, psychologically? To me, spirituality is about self-betterment so the quest for truth doesn’t really align with what I believe in–so this is more of a personal preference thing. Second, how could you ever decide something is eternally true? Can you record or capture such truth? If it is eternal, how can you measure if, being mere mortal? Unless, he was talking about something poetic or metaphorical–something like transcendental love or the powerful stuff of dreams, then we might have established some common grounds–but seeing how he disagreed with the pursuit of happiness or emotions as a spiritual path, I don’t think that was what he was talking about…or maybe we just didn’t have enough time to chat about it.
For me, the eternal truth of the universe is that there is no eternal truth. Something that stays “constant” or “eternal” is limited by human perspectives. No matter what we do it will still be something we perceive. And if an eternal truth requires no perceiver, then whatever we do end up perceiving runs the risk of not being eternal. We will always be limited by our perception.
I remember towards the end of our discussion of truth, I just totally derailed and started about something else altogether, haha. I guess what I wanted to say was “I disagree, this is what I believe spirituality means.” So I started talking about “I’m an emotional person…” And I meant to say that I believe emotions are the language of the spirit. It’s something intuitive and beyond our rational intelligence. It’s what I use to navigate through life and how I stay connected with my spiritual path. I don’t even remember what I said about me being an emotional person. I only remember saying “Sorry. I’m kind of braindead and I’m just tired.”
And he chuckled awkwardly and then just drifted away, disappearing into the nearby shelves. For me, it was an interesting experience and gave me a lot to think about. In the end, though, I do feel like it’s wrong to just say something like “religions are wrong” or “this is wrong” or “whatever is wrong”. I mean, you can have your own opinions about what’s right for you spiritually, but as far as the right kind of spirituality for other people, you really don’t get a say. I’m not for organized religion either because it’s not something I’m comfortable with and it’s not something I can relate to spiritually–it’s just not my path and that’s that. Criticizing religion for dogma while dismissing religions as wrong–isn’t that the same self-righteous attitude that you see often in dogmatic religions (that shun other religions or spiritual practices as heretics?)
Anyway. I just really wanted to record this encounter and I apologize for the mess. And oh man, I haven’t posted since forever!!!