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Philosophy

In Search of Universal Truths | Dr. Jeannine Goh

In Search of Universal Truths

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed” Einstein

We have reached a pivotal moment in our lives. Our survival is increasingly threatened by a myriad of tragedies and challenges spanning economic, environmental, social and philosophical spheres. It is more important than ever for humanity to reach urgently for common threads and beliefs that draw us together, before our civilisation and habitat are irrevocably torn apart.  

Creating the foundations for a collective awakening

This is a time to dig deep and excavate for solid ground, to create a strong foundation for a collective awakening. To generate and accelerate a collective awareness of our interconnection, shared values and goals. The challenge we face in our fragmented and ever-more divided population, is to create a set of Universal Truths, a set of shared experiences that all 8 billion people of the world could agree upon. 

All living beings experience death

During the pandemic, the spectre of death has haunted us relentlessly and with it, the call for us to face an obvious Universal Truth. A truth that is perhaps the only inevitability our precarious lives offer us; the unassailable truth that one day, each one of us will die.

It is true to say that we in the West are generally shielded from death, therefore we know very little of it. We hear of death. We cry for it. Nonetheless, most of us do not really see or engage with this indisputable Truth. On the other hand, we do witness death frequently in nature’s classroom, as we accidentally squash a bug or swot a fly. Similarly, the simple experience of picking a leaf from a plant or a tree leads to a clear observation of the leaf as green, juicy and full of veriditas. As the plucked leaf loses its life force over the course of a week, it can be seen to gradually wither and die. If we watch it for a little longer, the physical shell will eventually become dry and brittle before finally turning to dust. 

Death as a shared reality

This process of death and decomposition is quite a phenomenon if we think about it, mirroring as it does the essential process of the human body. It takes 10 minutes for the life-force to drain from the human brain until death is pronounced. It takes years for the body to become dust, but to dust it will inevitably return. In fact all of what we call ‘life’ – surely we can all agree – is destined to return to cosmic dust: plants, animals, people and planets. There is, therefore, a great deal that we can learn from death. Could it be through an honest appraisal of death – this monumental shared reality – that we could really learn how to live? 

COVID-19 

During the pandemic, for instance, many of us have heard of those escaping death, vowing to never take life for granted again. We have heard of such people awakening each day, alive and grateful, humbled once more by simple birdsong.  

Most poignantly, we have seen images of those in intensive care, accompanied by medical staff doing all they can to ensure that life; that precious, vital-animating life-force, stays within the body. We hear of those waiting with bated breath, praying they will not receive the dreaded news that their loved-one is ‘gone.’ That whilst the body remains, the essence, that vital-animating, life-force has disappeared forever and with it the person they love.

What is this vital-animating life-force?

Therein lies one of life’s greatest mysteries. What is this phenomenal vital-animating life-force that no longer thrives in the body of the loved one? What is this force that remains a mystery to even the greatest of scientists? Moreover, what can be universally agreed upon regarding this mysterious force that is all and everything, so precious, so powerful and yet so fragile?

Proposing to find a universal truth around what this vital-animating life-force is immediately opens a Pandora’s box of both possibility and controversy. The nature and truth of this perennial life-force lies at the centre of many fundamental disagreements that often divide humanity rather than unite it.

The unifying power of shared experience

By searching for Universal Truth, digging below preconceptions, stereotypes and differences, surely the possibility exists of humanity uniting on just a few basics? If humanity could agree, for instance, that this ‘life’ – whatever we may call it – is a perennial thread that connects all living beings, then the stage would be set for a global bond of connectedness and shared experience with all forms of life.

In times of fundamental disagreements between disparate faiths and cultures that so often rage into war, it is from this Universal Truth that we could begin to draw humanity together in agreement. 

A return to reverence

Even more tantalising is the question of what kind of bridges could be built if we dared to go a step further? To collectively realise that this immeasurable, intangible, miraculous, nameless, changeless force that runs through each and every living being for such a short time, is so precious, so great, that all of humanity begins to feel reverence for it. To accept that life is a perennial thread that runs through all living beings. To be humbled by this truth and rediscover a natural reverence for that greatest of mysteries; life itself. What would it mean to accept that? 

From dissonance to harmony 

It is known that humanity, for millennia, has loved to reign supreme as the self-crowned, all-knowing being, wielding its self-awarded power to control and dominate the very nature which it depends upon to survive. But if all humanity were to agree that this vital-animating, mysterious life-force is greater than us, it would constitute a shared awakening, immediately placing us within the natural order. Moreover, rather than carrying the hefty burden and responsibility of being the supreme masters of the universe, there could instead be the great relief of looking up in reverence and stepping back in humility. The acceptance of this Universal Truth has the potential to generate a collective awakening capable of bringing harmony to our shared existence.

Reviving forgotten connections

And what of that magical, mysterious, creative force that brings endless beauty and wonder everywhere we look – that very fountain of being so many of us have lost connection with? Alone and adrift in a hostile world, it’s little wonder we so often feel disillusioned and disenchanted. Reviving our forgotten connection to this wondrous life-force would naturally lead to a more curious, compassionate, kinder and gentler modality of being; towards an intrinsic motivation to protect all life. 

Such a modality would naturally lead to treating all life with sweetness, tenderness, reverence and love. Just as we often do when touching a newly sprouted seedling, or a newborn, we become naturally more compassionate, respectful and responsible. 

An antidote to self-centredness 

We are often told that gratitude, kindness, prayer and being in a state of awe are good for us. We are told that these practices, rituals and cognitive processes will help us to be healthier and happier. All too often however, these approaches to life become disjointed packages that are easily lost; unless they are brought together organically with a belief in – and reverence for – the great life-force that binds us.  

Gentle respect for all beings

The child who grows corn from seed and gently tends to the seedling is not so quick to disregard it from their plate. They will care for the seedling carefully, savouring and relishing those precious kernels when the time comes to eat them. Each kernel is touched with the love of the hand that sowed it. That often-neglected plant in the corner of the room is no longer just a decoration, it is a living being with the same life force that is contained within us, which thrives and has veriditas when it is nourished and, just like us, cowers when that nourishment is retracted. The child who understands this will not trample over the newly sprouted bulbs to retrieve their ball. A simple acceptance of this one universal truth can demonstrate how to live life in harmony, with love and respect for all beings. 

Celebrating & nurturing all life

Celebrating and revering life once more, as our ancestors did, would naturally address a plethora of society’s most pressing and challenging problems. The priority of education, for instance, would no longer be so rigidly based on dry, academic achievement but rather to nurture respect, reverence and love for this omniscient life force that we all share. Education would be a process of teaching children how to allow this life-force to flow strongly through not only themselves but all living beings. As a collective, we would become attuned to noticing when other manifestations of life – including our peers, ourselves and the natural world – were not thriving. We would recognise that trauma and life’s challenges can shut and shrink this life-force down in one another and in the living world around us.  

Facilitating the flow of veriditas

The priority in life and in education would be to allow life-force, this veriditas, to flow in its most vibrant form. Such reverence towards the innate preciousness of life would lead to an intrinsic motivation to thrive, whilst naturally highlighting ideas prioritizing short-term financial gain above the thriving of all life as shallow and even absurd. What good can money, clothes, cars or wealth be if one nurses a shallow heart and soul? Ostentatious wealth and ego-driven desire for status would become both vulgar and misplaced if it was acknowledged that there was something far greater at stake.  

Perennial agreements & universal truths

As a species, we must return to perennial agreements and Universal Truths. Now is the time to build a new collective understanding: a consensual reality based on reverence for all life. It is imperative that we let this perennial life-force flow and breathe through our collective humanity anew, so that once again we can revel in and celebrate life for the wondrous gift it is. 

In light of the terrible social, environmental and economic challenges currently threatening the very survival of humanity, if such an awakening does not happen during this century, then there may well never be another chance. It is imperative that those who hear the urgent call of our damaged Earth and her children pour all of their energy, wisdom and compassion into healing and reconnecting our broken and fragmented world.

Author | Dr. Jeannine Goh  Editor | Jane Charilaou BA (hons) MA