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the Difference between Truth and Meaning in defining Spirituality

What is spirituality to me? Well, it's a little complicated. I've got a reading from one of my favorite books, a little commentary, then a poem. With a little luck, I'll get through this in 5 minutes.

Douglas Adams, " So Long and Thanks for All the Fish", the forth, and not last, book in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe" trilogy. chapter 20

Arthur Dent tells a story to his girlfriend, Fenchurch about an incident in a British Rail station. I edited this a little to get to the point more quickly.

" I arrived at station. I was about twenty minutes early, so I bought a newspaper, to do the crossword and went to the buffet to get a cup of coffee.

I buy the cup of coffee, and some rich tea biscuits.

Laden with all these new possessions, I go and sit at a table

So, let me give the layout. Me setting at the table. On my left, the newspaper. On my right, the cup of coffee. In the middle of the table, the packet of biscuits.

There is a guy sitting at the table already, opposite of me.

He is perfectly ordinary. Briefcase. Business suit. He didn't look as if he was about to do anything weird.

Then, he leaned across the table, picked up the packet of biscuits, tore it open, took one out, and ... He ate it.

What did I do? Well, in the circumstances, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do. I was compelled to ignore it.

Well, it's not the sort of thing you're trained for, is it? I searched my soul, and discovered that there was nothing anywhere in my upbringing, experience, or even primal instincts to tell me how to react to someone who has quite simply, calmly, sitting right there in front of me, stolen one of my biscuits.

I stared furiously at the crossword. Couldn't do a single clue, took a sip of coffee, it was too hot to drink, so there was nothing for it. I braced myself. I took a biscuit, trying very hard not to notice that the packet was mysteriously open.

I'm fighting back, taking a tough line. I ate the biscuit. I ate it very deliberately and visibly, so that he would have no doubt to what it was I was doing. When I eat a biscuit, it stays eaten.

So what did he do? Took another. Honestly. This is exactly what happened. He took another biscuit, he ate it. Clear as daylight.

Now, the problem was that having not said anything the first time, it was somehow even more difficult to broach the subject the second time around. What do you say? "Excuse me... I couldn't help noticing, er" Doesn't work. No, I ignored it with, if anything, even more vigor than previously.

Stared at my crossword again. Still couldn't budge a bit of it. So, showing some of the spirit that Henry V did on St. Crispin's Day... I went into the breach again. I took another biscuit. And, for an instant, our eyes met. Just for an instant, and then we both looked away. I am here to tell you that there was some electricity in the air. There was a little tension building up at our table at about this time.

We went through the whole packet like this. Him, me, him, me ...

It was only eight biscuits, but it seemed like a lifetime of biscuits we were getting through at this point. Gladiators could hardly have had a tougher time.

So. When the empty packet was lying dead between us the man at last got up, having done his worst, and left. I heaved a sigh of relief, of course.

As it happened, my train was announced a moment or two later, so I finished my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper... were MY biscuits."



This story was an epiphany for me. For years, I had struggled to understand the Buddhist concept of illusion. The Buddha taught that we would be unable to understand the Truth (obtain Nirvana) until we are unable to rid ourselves of illusion and see things as they really are. But how?

It was this story that made it crystal clear to me that meaning is personal and relative. Meaning is not Truth. Things, events, actions, and situations don't mean anything until we assign meaning to them.

We each build our own world from a patchwork of meanings that we have sewn together over the course of our lives. You and I or anyone else agree with each other or are in conflict to the extent that this world we built is in agreement or conflict with each other.

What does this have to do with Spirituallity?

One of the definitions of spirit is the nature of a thing. For me, I interpret this as the true nature of a thing. The Spirit of the universe for me is Truth,.

For a long time, I thought spirituality was the search for the meaning of life. I realize now that I am surrounding by meaning. In fact, maybe too much. Political spin doctors tell us what things mean. News analyst tell us what events mean. Ad agencies tell us what products will mean in our lives. Truth, now there's the challenge. What if, instead we asked what it meant, we asked ourselves what this told us about the fundamental Truth?

No, for me, spirituality is the search for truth.

So do I think life is meaningless? Not mine. I have chosen all sorts of meaning in my life. But, I often forget and have to remind myself that I chose it and it is relative and when I find myself in conflict with someone else, I have to ask myself whose tea biscuit I am eating.

So now for the poem.


If Truth were Water

If Truth were water

I might be tempted

To scoop some up

And put it in a bottle.

I'd carry around

And put it on display

To show the world


Or at least my piece of Truth.

But Truth in a bottle

Wouldn't be much good,

All sealed up,

Isolated, sterile.

Truth can be like water,

Shaped by its vessel

Or formless in vapor

Or locked in a form to be chipped at later.

Powerful in motion.

Capable of terror.

Soothing in its flowing,

Calming in its stillness.

An agent of change,

Whose abundance is infinite.

Yet it can be,

In places,

As rare as one can imagine

To the point that life ceases.


So, if Truth were water,

Maybe it'd be better

To take a shower

Or quench my thirst

Or pour it on a flower.

It wouldn't be mine,

But I would be Free

To swim.


- Al Lewis


file: /Techref/other/truthvsmeaning.htm, 6KB, , updated: 2005/10/5 19:41, local time: 2024/7/15 16:31,

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