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When you appear in court, you swear a solemn oath: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How can we do that in life?
When we tell the truth, we live up to our highest self. When we search for the truth, we aspire to nobility. Every one of the great Faiths asks us to strive for absolute and complete honesty and truthfulness, both internally and externally:
Truth cannot be suppressed, and is always the ultimate victor. – the Yajur Veda
The calmed say that what is well-spoken is best; second, that one should say what is right, not unrighteous; third, what’s pleasing, not displeasing; fourth, what is true, not false. – The Buddha, from the Sutta Nipata
Distance yourselves from words of falsehood… – the Torah, Mishpatim 23:7
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. – Luke 16:10
O People! Try to be honest, for Allah is the helper of honest people. Avoid telling lies since it will ruin your faith. Know that honest people are on the verge of nobility and honor, while liars are on the verge of collapse and destruction. – Imam Ali
Beautify your tongues, O people, with truthfulness, and adorn your souls with the ornament of honesty. Beware, O people, that ye deal not treacherously with any one. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 296.
In many ways, honesty and truthfulness always comprise the first step for a religious pluralist, someone who believes that all Faiths have similar spiritual teachings in common. Because telling the truth and knowing the truth are so closely related, the Baha’i teachings call on everyone to do both—to be truthful, then to independently investigate reality and determine the truth for themselves.
Those two fundamental human tasks—telling the truth and knowing the truth—have a close, symbiotic relationship to one another. When you tell the truth, you practice the essentially spiritual skill of knowing it first. When you lie, either to others or to yourself, you blur the boundaries of the truth. Lying robs you of that internal truth-recognition barometer we all naturally have from childhood, and diminishes your ability to recognize the truth when you see it:
Consider that the worst of all qualities and the most odious of all attributes, and the very foundation of evil, is lying, and that no more evil or reprehensible quality can be imagined in all existence. It brings all human perfections to naught and gives rise to countless vices. There is no worse attribute than this, and it is the foundation of all wickedness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised version, p. 249.
So this privilege and duty of truth-seeking, incumbent on all people, gives us each the responsibility to not only tell the truth but to find it. The Baha’i teachings actually say that “nothing is of greater importance to mankind than the investigation of the truth.” So rather than believing what they’ve heard or been told about other religions, those with a pluralist mindset investigate for themselves, honestly and respectfully:
The first teaching of Baha’u’llah is the duty incumbent upon all to investigate reality. What does it mean to investigate reality? It means that man must forget all hearsay and examine truth himself, for he does not know whether statements he hears are in accordance with reality or not. Wherever he finds truth or reality, he must hold to it, forsaking, discarding all else; for outside of reality there is naught but superstition and imagination…
Reality or truth is one, yet there are many religious beliefs, denominations, creeds and differing opinions in the world today. Why should these differences exist? Because they do not investigate and examine the fundamental unity, which is one and unchangeable. If they seek reality itself, they will agree and be united; for reality is indivisible and not multiple. It is evident, therefore, that there is nothing of greater importance to mankind than the investigation of truth. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 61.
This principle of truthfulness, so important in our personal relationships, also has enormous implications for all life. In fact, the Baha’i writings say that God’s purpose in sending the prophets and messengers of all Faiths to humanity is related directly to truthfulness:
The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to truthfulness and sincerity, to piety and trustworthiness, to resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness, to uprightness and wisdom. His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 299.
All of the great Faiths tell us that the job of every human being involves telling, finding and following the truth. But several religions—or at least their current theologies, doctrines and clergies—proclaim that they have exclusive access to the truth. How could that be? In the next essay in this series, we’ll examine those exclusive truth claims and try to understand what they mean.