what is truth like?

In going along with yesterday’s post, I wanted to share one more story I heard from Goenka while at the Vipassana meditation course.  Vipassana meditation is all about personal experience.  I am not qualified even a little bit to write about the technique and its fundamental values, but I can say this much.  There is truth that we can accept at an intellectual level, but to fully understand it and for it to influence our lives we must experience it ourselves.  A simple example: someone can tell you that hot water will burn your skin.  They can show you experiments that explain temperature and sensation, but it is not until you come into contact with hot water yourself that you will truly understand the principle.  So it is with Vipassana.  A lot of the concepts make sense, but it is not enough to accept them intellectually, one has to experience them through the practice of meditation.  I believe most religious/spiritual practices, if not all, adhere to this truth.

With that in mind…

There are two small, poor boys living on the streets of India.  One of them is blind.  Every day the two boys must go out into the streets to beg for food.  One day, the blind boy is not feeling well so he tells his companion to go out that day on his own.  The second boy heads out, but promises his blind friend that any food he receives that day he will bring back for the two of them to share.  He heads out onto the streets and meets a kind person who offers the boy a traditional dish (I believe it was called “kiel”, but I cannot find reference to it on the internet so I could be wrong).  This dish is a milk-based sweet concoction and is mostly liquid.  The boy did not have a bowl or any other type of carrying container with him so he ate all of the dish himself and did not take back any to his friend.  At the end of the day he sits down beside his blind friend and admits that while he did find food for himself it was a dish that he could not bring back to share.  The blind boy starts asking questions about this dish, and having been blind from birth does not understand what his friend means when he says that the dish was white.  What is “white”?  The boy who can see tries to explain to him the concept, but since the blind boy does not have any reference points in terms of colors, only asks more questions and becomes more confused.  At that moment a white duck happens to walk by, the boy who can see grabs the duck and puts it into the hands of the blind boy and tells him that this duck is white.  The blind boy runs his hands over the duck and says, “Oh!  I understand, white is soft and feathery!”.  “No, no, no!” cries his friend, “that is not what white is!”.  The blind boy tries again.  He runs his hand slowly from the top of the duck’s head, down its neck, follows the curvature of it’s back all the way to the duck’s tail.  “Oh!  I understand!  White is like this…” and reenacts the curved motion of the duck’s head, neck, and back in the air with the movement of his hand.

Perhaps the blind boy will never understand what “white” is, just like someone who does not experience something for themselves will never really know the reality.  As Goenka said upon completing the story, “For those that are blind, the truth always remains crooked”.

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