Hermann Karl Hesse was a German born poet, author and painter. He believed that the deity is within a person, not in books or ideas. Almost all of his works explored an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. He acknowledged publicly that the truth must be experienced, not just taught. His books included Siddhartha, Demian, Beneath the Wheel, Narcissus and Goldmund, and several others.
Hermann was the one responsible for this quote. He penned it down in his book “The Glass Bead Game”. In the context of the book, the main character, Joseph Knecht, is conversing with a great master. He asks for an understanding, for a real and valid doctrine, and complains about how everything is contradictory and tangential. The master responds to him, with an offer of truth. He advises him not to wait for a perfect doctrine, but instead to long for perfection of himself. Truth is lived, not taught, and hence he must be prepared for conflicts.
The Difference between Teaching and Living
As Roy T. Bennett, the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, had once said, “Some things can never be taught; they must be experienced. You never learn the most valuable lessons in life unless you go through your own journey.” A taught thing will never have life in it. It will always remain non-living. What we learn gains life only when it is lived in actuality.
When we live a truth, we can understand it completely. We undergo those circumstances and we discern the matter ourselves. Whether or not the matter or happening at hand is true or false, it is always better understood when it has been lived through. We can teach a child that fire is hot, but we cannot teach what ‘hot’ exactly is. We could say it burns, but then again, the child won’t know what that is without experiencing it. Unless the child lives through it, feels the heat radiating out of fire, the child will never really learn that fire is hot. Just as a qualitative term needs to be lived through to be understood, so must the truth be lived in that regard.
The Truth of Teachers and Masters
The truth is not some information or rather, some bookish knowledge that can be forced in, or more likely crammed into our heads by teachers. Instead, it is an experience that is learned by implementing it in our everyday behaviours and personality, which, in short, is living it. Truth, when lived, can have an ever-lasting influence. For example, a child can be taught alphabets, numbers and rhymes. But in their life, they regularly use the alphabets and numbers.
They live through it, and it will remain in their minds forever. However, the same cannot be said for the rhymes, for they are taught the rhymes only once. It does not remain in their minds for too long a time, because they do not recall it regularly. Though a child requires to be taught everything, they absorb the thing only when they start living with it. A sage, who practices his life by the truth, will always refuse to teach others. Why, you might ask? It is simply because the truth can never be taught. The sage will never be a teacher. He might be a master, certainly, but he will never make himself a teacher.
Suffering, or the loss of any precious thing, is not the truth to be lived. The truth to be lived is to face the hardships that come from spiritual learning. Truth, like knowledge, is surprisingly difficult to define. We seem to rely on it almost every moment of every day and it is very close to us. Yet it is difficult to define what the truth is because as soon as you think you have it pinned down, some case or counterexample immediately shows the other possibilities.
The truth is a process from the womb to the tomb, the cradle to the grave. The Greek word for “truth” is aletheia, which literally means to “un-hide” or “hiding nothing.” It conveys the thought that truth is always there, always open and available for all to see, with nothing being hidden or obscured. The Hebrew word for “truth” is emeth, which means “firmness,” “constancy” and “duration.” Such a definition implies an everlasting substance and something that can be relied upon. To conclude, I would like to quote Shakespeare, in Hamlet, wherein he wrote, “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” The simple translation says that above all things, be true to yourself. And by the laws of nature, just as night follows day, the fact follows that you will be true to your fellow-men too.