“What is truth?” This was Pontius Pilate’s question to Jesus. To really understand what truth is, we have to begin by imagining the situation; Pilate is the most powerful man in Jerusalem controlling the destiny of Jesus, and yet Jesus holds something much more powerful: the truth.
In the face of death, Jesus says with confidence to Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world…I came into the world to testify to the truth.”
It is clear that Jesus is not afraid of death because he expects an afterlife. This is the same for people who have near death experiences, they have absolutely no fear of death because they have been on the other side already and know it is nothing to be afraid of.
However, it is also clear that Jesus speaks of a truth that is “not of this world” as he came into the world to testify about it. But what exactly is this truth that he speaks about?
We can answer this question by looking at what it was that got Jesus in trouble, or what his crime was. He was convicted of blasphemy and it was the line in John 8:58 that got him convicted: “Before Abraham was born, I am!”
“I am!” was how Jesus described his authority over the established religion of the time; Abraham – but I am is also what the Old Testament tells us who God is. In Exodus, Moses asks God for his name and God says to him; “I AM WHO AM,” and looking in the footnote this is explained as: “I am being itself.”
The footnote in my Bible also explains that this being itself is not only self-existent both also eternal and independent. The understanding that being itself is eternal and independent can help us make sense of Jesus’ “Before Abraham was born” as the eternal “I am,” or Spirit of God, in Jesus was present before Abraham and therefore also independent of the religion of the time.
If this same principle of the essence of truth and the Spirit of God in Christianity applies to before Abraham it must therefore also apply not only after Abraham but also after Jesus. And it does. This is why we find the same universal source in all religions and spiritual traditions.
It was not only the Gnostics at the time of Jesus who proclaimed that self-knowledge was the highest form of knowledge but also the ancient Greeks before Jesus. In Greece, when democracy and western civilization was born, the highest form of wisdom was written upon the Oracle in Delphi: “Know Thyself.”
In the East the teachings and traditions of enlightenment goes back thousands of years before Jesus and all of the 84,000 teachings of the last Buddha can be condensed into three words: “recognize your essence.” Also meditation is part of the Sufi tradition found in Islam where the great poet Rumi tells us that: “To say ‘I’ at the wrong time is a curse. To say ‘I’ at the right time is a gift from God.”
And even if we go further back, over 40,000 years, to the religions of aboriginal peoples like the Native Americans we find that the Great Spirit is the Supreme Being of the universe, which is the same understanding of the supreme essence of our being.
Here we should note that “I am” is a pure form of being that does not include: “I am sad,” “I am depressed,” or “I am afraid.” How we feel about being is not the pure form of our being and that is why pure being is our foundation that is free of pain and suffering. Pure being is the universal truth found in all religions and spiritual traditions, and more importantly it is your rock foundation in the dark night of the soul.
This universal essence of religion and spirituality is also the same essence that we find at the heart of the near death experience. At the core of the near death experience is a profound sensation of love, joy and peace that is experienced through a very strong state of heightened awareness.
Some people will say that they felt as if they were “pure consciousness” or say that “I was the Light.” Also in my own research, I found that most people would not only confirm that God is within but also say that the light experienced on the other side was part of their true nature. In essence our true nature is love, joy and peace and this is also God’s nature as the source of our being.
But the way to really understand this eternal, independent and self-existent truth is to see it in its pure form as beyond this world or as Jesus says “not of this world.” This is important in religion but also in figuring out if a form of therapy is really working: both must have a connection and understanding of the pure truth beyond this world.
People who have near death experiences directly experience this truth in its raw form beyond this world, and as such, these experiences serve as a good description of the pure truth. As they leave their bodies they enter another dimension and most describe this other dimension as beyond human comprehension. The sensation, power, love, bliss and information of being in this other realm is so overpowering that all words and concepts completely fall short.
This other dimension or realm is very clearly non-physical and as a form of energy existing in a divine dimension or on a higher plane beyond space and time, human words and comprehension fail to reach it. Many people will say that their experience cannot be explained or interpreted in human language.
This is how we should see the raw and ultimate truth beyond this world and beyond space and time. The truth is in us through our essence and inner being and in this world through God as the source of being, but at the same time God and absolute truth is beyond our language and interpretation.
The Buddha makes this point about the truth very clear through a simple analogy: “My finger points toward the moon, but do not think my finger is the moon.” In other words, the Buddha like Jesus or any other religious person speaks about and point towards the truth but they themselves are not the truth.
Philosopher Martin Heidegger makes this same point clear as he asks in Being and Time; “what is being?” His answer is that; “Being cannot be understood as a being” or entity but must always be understood as “the Being of a being” – as pure being in itself.
What Heidegger is getting at through the being of a being is the source of being that is found within being itself. The truth is the essence of man and this essence is “the source that determines him.”[vi]
When I say: “I am Rene” or when we say; “Jesus is the son of God” we are talking about a being through the name “Rene” and the description: Jesus as “the son of God.” This is called the narrative self or we could also say the history about our being. However, the name, narrative or description of a being is not the actual being of that being – it is not being in its pure form.
So, what Heidegger rightfully points out is that the true being of Rene is “I am” and of Jesus “is” – both “I am” and “is” describe the true being of each as the essence of that being. Whatever we put on top of “I am” or “is,” are labels that as the Buddha pointed out: point towards the truth without being the truth.
My name or that Jesus was the son of God, are historical labels or structures as part of a conceptual apparatus that we put on top of being in its pure form. The history of this labeling then turns into dogma through building a system in time around a form of being or truth that is beyond time.
Finite time and human language cannot catch the infinite mystery beyond time and thus becomes fundamentally blind of the real truth. This is because any truth based on history in time is based on an untrue foundation as the fundamental level or the source of truth is beyond time.
The conclusion from this is that anything we hold on to in time as truth will be dissolved though time because the real truth is beyond time. Any religion that tries to hold on to history through its tradition will find itself in trouble at some point in time because while the tradition is fixed in time, the truth does not stand still.
However, if we instead hold on to our true being or that of Jesus outside of time we will have found a real and true foundation to stand on. In effect, “we ourselves are it” – the truth – because we are alive and part of being, and by standing on the essence of being as being in itself without the history we are standing on the truth beyond time.
As Christianity aims at salvation and Buddhism aims at Liberation, Heidegger also explains that the essence of truth is freedom. Rather than intellectual understanding or taking a specific action, the freedom of truth is a disclosure or openness to the essence of our being.
Truth is a disclosure of our being where our openness towards truth comes from letting things of the world go and letting ourselves be. It is through time that patterns of thinking and behavior have been built up as our history, and thus, our being has been covered up and distorted. Truth is therefore found by letting go of our history; our patterns of thinking and behavior in time, so that we can get out of time by simply letting ourselves be.
The reasons that this truth is your foundation is that it is eternal and beyond this world. While not irrelevant, this world from a spiritual point of view is not the ultimate truth, so therefore, if you base belief or perception of truth on anything in this world, you will be disappointed and deceived.
What this means in a practical sense is that in religion you can use the story of Jesus to inspire the Spirit of God within you, as long as you are attached to the Spirit and not the story. The story of Jesus is part of history in time that points towards the Spirit of God, however, the story is not the Spirit of God which is beyond time.
The same applies to therapy. A therapy that tries to uncover your problem in time through your conscious mind can only uncover your conscious patterns. This is the same as a meditation technique that uses the repetition of a word and here the thinking of the word never gets you beyond your conscious mind in time.
Instead for a therapy or meditation to really be helpful, it must take you into your unconscious mind beyond time and from there look at your conscious mind. Only by uncovering unconscious patterns can problems be solved through therapy, and only through a meditation practice that takes you into your unconscious mind to uncover the emptiness of your true being can you experience the truth.
To get anywhere and solve anything, you yourself must directly experience the truth which is beyond time and found in the unconscious of your mind. This takes trust but remember that the foundation is your true being as the truth. To let go and surrender to the mystery and unknown of your unconscious takes courage and trust. But the important part is that the only person you need to trust is yourself – your true being.
Other people can help you and guide you, or like the Buddha point towards the truth, but no one can tell you the truth – you must experience it for yourself. This is because the truth for your, or your truth, is as we have seen found in your being. The truth for you is the truth of your being as the independent “I AM.” And here of course only you can experience the truth of your own being.