How to Determine the Truth

truth-166853_640The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient set of scriptures describing yoga practice and philosophy. In the first of the three portions, there’s some useful advice on how to determine the truth. My understanding is that Patanjali explains that for something to be confirmed as truthful, it must either be as a result of (i) direct perception (ii) inference or (iii) believing a trusted source.

Direct perception is when we know that something is obviously true because we directly perceive it. If we see a field in front of us we know there is a field there. If we feel the wind blowing against our face, we know it is windy. Direct perception is very much based on acknowledging facts. This is the best way of understanding the truth because it’s so direct. However, it is limited by what we can directly perceive, which is why we also need to deploy the next two methods.

Inference involves using evidence and reasoning to confirm the truth. For example, if your alarm sounds in the morning you can infer that it’s time to wake up. If you look out of your window and see puddles everywhere outside you can infer that it’s been raining. With this method, you need to be very careful not to jump to conclusions too early. If somebody only spotted puddles on their drive, it may be the neighbors water sprinkler created them rather than rain. If one person told you something about another, that may not necessarily be true. Inferences that lead to the truth must be straightforward to understand. In complex situations there are sometimes too many opportunities for a mistake to be made. What you accept as the truth is actually false.

The third way of determining the truth is through believing a trusted source. In the Yoga Sutras, the focus here is on going to a guru or authoritative set of scriptures for spiritual truths. This method of understanding the truth can be applied wider than just spirituality. If you had a good friend that you trusted deeply, and they told you about something they observed, you assume that to be the case. If you take your bicycle for repair to a specialist you trust, and they tell you it needs a new chain, you will believe them. This third method for determining the truth is similar to inference, in that it can be easily misused and lead to delusion. People can believe that somebody is a trusted source when they may be speaking falsely. A popular TV show with a longstanding reputation for truthful communication may prove to be false and therefore untrusted. Some sources are true sometimes and not others. Being Present will help you determine which is which. Consistently true sources, which is what Patanjali refers to, be them books, people, or any other type of source are extremely rare.

I encourage you to use these three methods (i) direct perception (ii) inference and (iii) believing a trusted source. Challenge yourself. Are you believing and speaking the truth?

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