As part of our human desire to create meaning from our experiences, we seek Truth, that wisdom and knowing that surpasses all understanding. Most people I know have a sense that some Truth lies beneath the uncertainty and suffering of our existence, so we spend our lifetimes seeking it in the vain hope that we can rest, satisfied that our misery has some purpose.
I’m not sure that, in this lifetime, we ever find the ultimate Truth. Religions, individuals, cultures all create their own understanding of life and death; evil and good. Our truths are different. Even one person holds different truths throughout a lifetime. Perhaps the answer is to seek that Truth less by reading religious or philosophical texts, studying science or art, or even by listening to the stories of generations, and instead to seek it by looking within.
The mystics of all religions tend to encourage inner seeking. For instance, in the article “The Mystical Core of the Great Traditions,” we learn from the Shankara, a Hindu text, that the “pure truth of Atman . . . can be reached by meditation, contemplation and other spiritual disciplines.”  Additionally, according to Meister Eckhart, God doesn’t reside outside of us somewhere, but rather within. Eckhart tells us, “God and I, we are one.”  Buddhist teachers say something similar when they warn that if we meet Buddha on the road, we should kill him. Although the meaning of this statement is complex, one interpretation is that, rather than simply believing what some teacher tells us, we should test the information against our own inner knowing.  Finally, the Catholic mystic, Anthony de Mello, collected many short wisdom stories in his book The Song of the Bird, such as “Eat Your Own Fruit,” ins which a disciple asks why his Master doesn’t explain the stories he tells. The Master replies with a question: “How would you like it if someone offered you fruit and masticated it before giving it to you?” 
In Stories for Telling, William R. White, retells a Jewish folk tale about how Truth, which in this case is a treasure, lies not in some far off land, but in our own home.  Once I have shared my own adaptation of the tale, I will try to minimize how much I chew on it.
The Hidden Treasure
Once upon a time, a poor man named Isaac, son of Aaron, lived in a small hut in Krakow, Poland. He worked hard and tried to do right by his family, yet he made hardly any money at all. They lived quite frugally and were sometimes hungry.
One night, Isaac had a dream in which he was walking over a bridge in Prague, when he heard a voice tell him to look in the water. Peering down, Isaac saw a great treasure chest lying at the base of the bridge. Night after night, this dream came to him, disturbing his sleep, making him restless throughout the days. Finally, after enduring two weeks of this, he decided he had to go look under the bridge in Prague.
So he took leave of his family and walked all the way to the great city. Arriving there, he soon found the bridge he’d seen in his dreams. Getting down on all fours, he leaned over to gaze into river, when he was hauled up by a policeman who angrily demanded what this Jew was doing in a Gentile section of the city.
Without waiting for an answer, the policemen herded poor Isaac to the station for questioning where he and two other burly officers badgered and threatened. Finally, Isaac admitted the truth. He had come to Prague seeking the treasure of his dreams.
Finding the Treasure
The one who had arrested him shook his head. “You stupid Jew,” he said. “Do you really believe in dreams? Why, I myself have had a dream for two weeks now. You know what it was? I dreamed that in Krakow, a treasure chest is buried beneath the stove in the home of a man named Isaac. Have you ever heard anything so absurd? Foolish man. You don’t see me rushing out to look for something that does not exist.”
With great guffaws of laughter, the officers grabbed Isaac and tossed him outside. Dusting himself off, Isaac hurried home, where he shoved aside his stove and looked beneath the floor boards. There he discovered the treasure he had tried to find in Prague.
We All Have Treasure in Our Souls
Since home can be used as a metaphor for our self, this story’s meaning is obvious. The treasure is within us.
All stories are more complex than our analyses. When I tell the story, I wonder about the policeman. He’s a bigot and a bully, as are his friends. He could see Truth if it danced in front of him, for which I’m glad. Imagine him looking in Isaac’s home. Would he shove Isaac aside, trash his house, and steal the treasure from him? Would he realize the treasure was not his to take? Instead of taking Isaac’s, would he seek a treasure that belonged to him? Does he even have a treasure in his soul? Or has he lost his soul entirely?
As a Universalist, I have to say that I think even uncouth policemen have souls within which lie a great treasure. If they dared to look within themselves, they might even find it.
I say “dare,” because looking inside is not easy, especially when we first see anger, anxiety, shame, cravings, and cruel thoughts. I don’t know about you, but even though I have been meditating and praying for years, I sometimes feel disconcerted by the thoughts and emotions that arise within me. That’s one reason it’s easier to look for Truth from teachers, artists, writers, friends, even enemies. Perhaps I am more like the policeman than I like to admit.
The Song of Our Soul
On the internet and in books you will find various version of the following story, this one adapted from A Path with Heart, by the Buddhist teacher, Jack Kornfield. 
In a village in Africa, when a mother first decides she will conceive a baby, she sits down beneath a tree and listens for her child’s song, the one that belongs only to that unborn being. When she hears it, she goes back home and teaches the song to the intended father, to the women of her family, to the midwives. While pregnant, the mother sings and hums the song to the developing fetus. As she labors to give birth, the midwives sing it. After the baby is born, the parents together sing the song to the infant.
Eventually, every member of the village learns one another’s song, so each person can have his song sung during rituals, initiations, when wounded or hurt. When one of them acts in anger, harming someone or something, the village gathers around that person and sings to her the song, bringing her back to her true self. Then, when the person’s life is over, the song is sung one last time as the soul returns home.
Seeking Our True Selves
Each of us has a song that is ours, the true song of our soul. No matter how far astray we travel, how deep in our addiction we get, how lost in loneliness and hatred, our song is there. Perhaps it is that song we seek. Perhaps we long to discover the treasure within us so we can become who we truly are.
It’s not that seeking Truth outside ourselves is all bad. Many wise people have a bit of the Truth, and they point toward it in a way we can sort of understand, using poetry, story, song. They paint, cook, dance, love, heal, garden, pray, and smash atoms and crunch numbers. Truth exists in so many places, in so many forms. Perhaps it exists even in the heart of that boorish policeman and his friends; even in your heart and mine. To some degree or other, we are all the wise ones.
Yet we never finish seeking. As long as we have bodies and minds that desire meaning, purpose, and a wisdom we can convey to others, Truth will dance around us and in us and sing our song to us in one form or another, and maybe we see, and maybe we don’t, yet always, there is more to discover, to feel, to understand. As we grow, our childish wisdom shifts and changes, and then, one day, if we’re lucky, we become children again.
Does Our Seeking Ever End?
Yet what about when we reach nirvana? Not being enlightened, I can only wonder if, in that moment, our seeking ends. Yet if it did, would Masters still need to meditate or whirl or pray or chant? Maybe we will have to wait until we die before our souls discover what they have been seeking all this time and find eternal rest.
Perhaps. Yet even after we die, a force within us may still long to discover, to learn, to grow, to become, and will rise from the earth where we lie and start anew in some shape, some form. At that time, if we are smart enough, we will remember to seek the treasure at home, within our own soul. Perhaps one day we will even hear the song that should have been sung to us before we were born, and in this way become our true selves.
In faith and fondness,
- “The Mystical Core of the Great Traditions,” Center for the Sacred Sciences, http://www.centerforsacredsciences.org/publications/the-mystical-core-of-the-great-traditions.htm.
- See, for example, Metzger, Paul Louis, “‘If You See a Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.’ What About Jesus?,” Uncommon God, Uncommon Good, Patheos, May 10, 2016, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uncommongodcommongood/2016/05/if-you-see-a-buddha-on-the-road-kill-him-what-about-jesus/.
- de Mello, Anthony, The Song of the Bird, Loyola University Press, 1983, 2.
- White, William R., Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers, Minneapolis, Augsburg, 1986, 51-2.
- Kornfield, Jack, A Path with Heart, New York: Bantam, 1993.
Photo Credit: “A December View of Woodnook Valley, Little Ponton, Lincolnshire, England 02,” by Acabashi. Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.