Universal Truth – More Than One Kind?

Is there any correct understanding of character development? Or is there no one universal truth about the deeper side of life?

In the western world an emerging minority of people seem to identify themselves as more spiritual than religious. Perhaps you are one of them. Universitas Swasta di Bandung By spiritual I mean seeing things around us as not merely material but reflecting some transcendent meaning and purpose.

By being religious, in contrast, I mean finding the spiritual dimension to life by engaging in personal prayer in a relationship with a personal idea of deity.

People, who see themselves as more spiritual than religious, think in a less clear-cut way than does a religious believer. They tend to speak in an impersonal, abstract way about non-material forces and energies.

Studies have found that, despite having this searching attitude towards the deeper things in life, such people tend to have a negativity towards traditional religion. This critical attitude, however, does not necessarily amount to atheism. For them the questions can be sometimes more important than the answers.

Some understand and express spirituality in a private, individual manner devoid of ties to any formal frameworks of thought. Others find meaning and express their spirituality within transpersonal, humanistic and existential philosophical traditions.

Barna study
A recent study in the United States found that 58% of teenagers and 62% of adults agree with the statement, “Many religions can lead to eternal life; there is no one true religion.”

There’s a sense among teenagers (born 1999 to 2005) that what’s true for someone else may not be “true for me”; they are much less apt than older adults (born 1946 to 1964) to agree that “a person can be wrong about something that they sincerely believe in.” For a considerable minority of the younger people, sincerely believing something makes it true.

But I would ask is this necessarily so?

Celebrating diversity of belief
Pluralism assumes that the claims about the truth from different life teachings are equally valid. This attitude celebrates diversity in belief. We find it reflected in religious education in schools in the UK. This is saying your truth is different from my truth and different again from theirs. In other words, schools assume there is no one universal truth about deeper reality.

It sounds like a paradox to say ‘no one truth is possible’, for, if so, such a statement cannot itself be absolutely true. To affirm all spiritual teachings as equally valid, amounts to denying the claims of each and every one of them.

Universal truth about the quiet ego
Psychologists study our experience and behaviour regardless of the teachings of the spiritual traditions. This is because as scientists they are concerned with the universal truth about human beings.

In studying people they have described the difference between those with a ‘noisy ego’ and those with a ‘quiet ego.’

The noisy egos:

  • These have a poor sense of self-worth and abhor anything that suggests one is less than perfect.
  • They tend to self-aggrandisement and arrogance which leads to problems in personal and interpersonal functioning.
  • The noisy ones behave to please others for the sake of rewards or to avoid punishment.

The quiet egos:

  • These however are accepting of their weaknesses because they have a basic good sense of self-worth. They do not easily feel threatened and are open and truthful with others expressing their feelings freely and naturally.
  • They behave in line with a realistic self-evaluation and act in line with their values.

Without making value judgments, the researchers, in the spirit of positive psychology, are describing what I would say is a universal truth; a developed spiritual condition of mind.

State of wakefulness
Research also revealed a higher-functioning state called “wakefulness”. In this a person feels an enhanced sense of well-being, clarity, and connection. He or she has a more intense awareness of the world around them, a greater sense of appreciation of nature, a broad global outlook, and an all-embracing sense of empathy with the whole human race. In other words having oneness with everything and being part of something greater beyond ourselves.

The book Waking from sleep is a study of temporary higher states of consciousness. It is by transpersonal psychologist Dr Steve Taylor. He analysed reports of these experiences looking at the characteristics, situations and activities that generated them. He concluded that such experiences were far from uncommon. They seemed to be linked to an intensification and stilling of life energy.

In another book The Leap he went on to look at permanent states of wakefulness and discovered that many people have been going through a gradual awakening for some time without recognising it for what it was.

Altruism & compassion
Psychologists have studied the phenomenon of altruistic behaviour. This is sharing, helping and co-operating with others even when self-sacrifice necessary. Many kinds of common needs are addressed e.g. the family, the community, country, or a political or a religious cause.

At the same time mixed motives may be found. For, in addition to concern for someone’s distress, there may be sometimes an anticipation of the reward of social recognition, or perhaps a sense of reduced shame about not doing something.

It can mean a lot to be involved in contributing to the needs of others. It feels that one is uplifted out of oneself into something greater than oneself.

It looks like that whatever one’s religious or moral upbringing, everyone has within oneself the potential to act in kind, considerate, and loving ways.

When one experiences compassion, one notices and is moved by the hurt of others, so that the desire to alleviate their suffering arises. Compassion for the failings and misdeeds of others is having understanding. This instead of harsh condemnation that simplistically judges someone as bad. A compassionate attitude recognises that we are all a ‘work in progress’ and so unskilled actions or falling for temptations of life are seen in the context of our shared human fallibilities.

The empirical findings of science seem to be supporting the notion that there is a universal truth about the spiritual side of life.

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