Distinguishing Temporal and Eternal Truths

Every scripture, whether sacred or secular, will necessarily contain within it certain Truths or at least aspects of the Truth, which represent part of the universally available experience of mankind. At the same time, the specific circumstances, details, form of language and assumptions made in the expression take on the cloak of the specific period and situation in which it was brought forth. It is important, when trying to obtain any deeper sense or value from any scriptural text, to be able to distinguish between the “eternal” and the “temporal” aspects of the teaching. The eternal portions can have value and provide guidance to people of virtually any period or circumstance, and they tend also to harmonise well with the universal truths expounded in other scriptures. The temporal portions, being necessarily circumscribed and limited, will tend to be less applicable and less able to be understood by others, whether separated by time, space or circumstance.

Sri Aurobindo emphasizes the focus on the eternal aspect: “…there is undoubtedly a Truth one and eternal which we are seeking, from which all other truth derives, by the light of which all other truth finds its right place, explanation and relation to the scheme of knowledge. But precisely for that reason it cannot be shut up in a single trenchant formula, it is not likely to be found in its entirety or in all its bearings in any single philosophy or Scripture or uttered altogether and for ever by any one teacher, thinker, prophet or Avatar. Nor has it been wholly found by us if our view of it necessitates the intolerant exclusion of the truth underlying other systems….”

The real goal, therefore, in studying any scripture, including the Bhagavad Gita must be understood: “What is of entirely permanent value is that which besides being universal has been experienced, lived and seen with a higher than the intellectual vision.”

Sri Aurobindo sets here therefore a measuring rod that takes us beyond the divisions of the mind and the disputes that are engendered by the intellect. It is necessary to find that which originates in higher levels of consciousness and which therefore has the capacity to unify the apparently conflicting aspects we find at the mental level.

Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 1, Our Demand and Need from the Gita, pp. 2-3,

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