What’s True?

Dear Marky,

I would love to find a book, or a YouTube video, or a podcast, or a film that could convince me that UFO’s are actually alien spacecraft and that aliens are present on planet Earth right now.

It doesn’t really matter to me if this is actually true or not. It wouldn’t make any difference to me if it was true or not if I believed it was true. Because if I believed it was true, then, for me, it would be true.

Sadly, I don’t think such a book or video, or podcast, or film exists. At least not for me. Other people have sent me such items that did it for them. But none of the ones I’ve looked at so far have convinced me.

I may not be convincible. 

When I look at the Internet, I see a lot of people who seem very convinced of things that they know — or at least suspect — are not true. They hope that if a lot of other people are convinced of the same thing, it will make that thing true. Or at least people will behave as if it’s true. Which is probably just as good.

Is anything true? I have heard that post-modernism posits that nothing is true. I don’t know if that’s true. People who seek to debunk post-modernism want me to believe it’s true. 

But I’d have to do a whole lot of research into post-modernism in order to determine for myself if post-modernists really believe that nothing can be true. And that just sounds way too hard.

I guess this is how most people — including me — get most of their information. Someone tells you something, and either you choose to believe it or you choose not to believe it. Or you choose to withhold judgement.

I mean, sometimes something happens right in front of you. And you know that thing actually happened. But then you can never be entirely sure that your memory of the thing that actually happened is accurate.

Like maybe the story you initially told yourself in order to try to fix the event in memory wasn’t quite true. Maybe you saw a weird shaped something-or-other in the air one day. At the time you figured it was probably a cloud. But you really wanted that something to be a UFO. 

So you thought of a way to describe it to your friend that would make it seem a little more mysterious than it actually was. And after that, you remembered the story you created for your friend better than you remembered what you actually saw. And now your memory has made the thing you saw look subtly different when you mentally pull up the image for review.

So is there truth? Is there a true event behind every Roshomon-like re-telling of any given event? 

I would like to believe there is. I tell people that I do believe there is. But when I’m being honest with myself, I am not 100% certain I believe that.

Dogen said, “Demons see water as raging flames, and see it as pus and blood. Dragons and fish see it as a palace, and see it as a tower. Some see [water] as the seven treasures and the mani gem; some see it as trees and forests and fences and walls; some see it as the pure and liberated Dharma-nature; some see it as the real human body; and some see it as [the oneness of] physical form and mental nature.”

Then he says, “Human beings see it as water, the causes and conditions of death and life. Thus, what is seen does indeed differ according to the kind of being [that sees]. Now let us be wary of this. Is it that there are various ways of seeing one object? Or is it that we have mistakenly assumed the various images to be one object?”

You can imagine how reading such statements at a tender young age has warped my mind.

But Dogen goes on. He says, “At the crown of effort, we should make still further effort. If the above is so, then practice-and-experience and pursuit of the truth also may not be [only] of one kind or of two kinds; and the ultimate state also may be of thousands of kinds and myriad varieties.”

Is he saying that Ultimate Reality — the final truth, which underlies all the different versions of truth — may not be one single thing? 

But then Dogen says, “When we keep this point in mind, although there are many kinds of water, it seems that there is no original water, and no water of many kinds.”

So both interpretations are wrong. We’re mistaken when we say there is an ultimate single undivided truth. But we are also mistaken when we say there is not. Are we also mistaken when we describe ourselves as “mistaken”?

Because our categories of “mistaken” and “not mistaken” are just as flimsy as any of our other categories.

Dogen keeps going. He says, “At the same time, the various waters which accord with the kinds of beings [that see water] do not depend on mind, do not depend on body, do not arise from karma, are not self-reliant, and are not reliant upon others; they have the liberated state of reliance on water itself. This being so, water is beyond earth, water, fire, wind, space, consciousness, and so on.”

Water is beyond “water.”

No matter how we categorize things, things themselves are beyond all categories. Including the categories of existence or non-existence, truth or falsehood, right or wrong.

But, says Dogen “They (the images we create) have the liberated state of reliance on water itself.”

So there is something. We just can’t ever know what it is.

Y’know… this is some weird stuff.

You should read The Mountains and Rivers Sutra (Sansuigyo) by Dogen.

It’s trippy.

If there’s a library wherever you are, look it up. Better yet, if Dogen is there, ask him what he meant.

See ya sooner or later!


After my book Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen comes out, I’m going to start a podcast called Letters to a Dead Friend About Zen. In each podcast I will read a newly created letter to my dead friend Marky. The audience and I will then discuss the letter. Above is an example of the type of letter I’ll probably be writing for the podcast.


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