Urban Dharma Newsletter...
March 16, 2004
This Issue: Ultimate and Relative Truth
1. The Two Truths ...Mark Whitley's home page - Mark's Musings
2. Relative Truth and Ultimate Truth ...Researched by Andrea
3. Buddhism Introduces Absolute and Relative Truth ...Vairocana
4. Shunyata in Pure Land Buddhism ...Michio Tokunaga
5. The Curative Value of Egolessness and the Ethical Importance
of Compassion in Buddhism ...Sharon Belfer
6. Emptiness, Concepts and the knowledge of Truth ...The
White Lotus Center for Shin Buddhism
7. E-sangha, Buddhist Forum & Buddhism Forum - Truth?
A Season for Nonviolence
9. Book/CD/Movie: Appearance and
Reality: The Two Truths in Four Buddhist Systems ...by Guy
are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth. - Agnes
Repplier (1855 - 1950)
those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it. -
Andre Gide (1869 - 1951)
truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second,
it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)
shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. - Bible,
after truth like hell and you'll free yourself, even though
you never touch its coat-tails. - Clarence Darrow (1857
public will believe anything, so long as it is not founded on
truth. - Edith Sitwell (1887 - 1964)
truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the
point is to discover them. - Galileo Galilei (1564 -
The Two Truths ...Mark Whitley's home page - Mark's Musings
The Ultimate Truth - This is the ultimate state of reality that
is devoid of all ephemeral, temporal, transitional things that
are found on this Earth. This is the destination of the perfect,
enlightened being, and the ultimate liberation of all suffering.
The Relative Truth - This is the perception of reality as it
exists on this Earth. So named because social conditions, human
wisdom, lifestyles and human achievements are constantly in
a state of flux. Growing an attachment to any Relative Truth
is a cause of suffering.
Relative Truth and Ultimate Truth ...Researched
by Andrea Deschenes
taught that there is neither reality nor non-reality but only
relativity. Madhyamika introduced the concept of Sunyata or
emptiness. It taught that all elements are impermanent and have
no independent existence in themselves. Another important concept
attributed to Nagarjuna is his teaching of relative truth and
ultimate truth. Relative truth is conventional or empirical
truth - that experienced by the senses, whereas, the ultimate
truth can only be realized by transcending concepts through
Yogacara school emphasised that the ultimate truth can only
be known through meditation.
Madhyamika teaches about two truths - relative and absolute,
Yogacara divides truth into three: Illusory truth which is a
false attribution to an object because of causes and conditions;
Empirical truth which is knowledge produced by causes and conditions
which is relative and practical; and finally Absolute truth
which is the highest truth.
Buddhism Introduces Absolute and Relative Truth
...American Zen Buddhist Temple - Vairocana Monastery
than the Eight Right Paths, Buddhism introduces Absolute and
defines that all understandable phenomena based on worldly common
sense or rational traditions and customs that people agree upon
with is the Relative Truth and that the truth of the reality
that is clearly observed by those Saints without any defilement
is the Absolute Truth. The commentary of the Middle Path (Mulamadhyamaka-karika)
explains the absolute and relative truth by the empty nature
of interdependent origination. The understanding of interdependent
origination, that is, all phenomena arise or cease based on
co-existing interdependent relationship, is called the Relative
Truth. Interdependent origination is a temporary phenomenon.
All things do not have permanent and unchangeable nature. Therefore,
arising or ceasing is just a false image that has false name
and function but no real substance. The arising is not real
arising and ceasing is not real ceasing. The reality of no arising
and no ceasing is called the nature of emptiness. Realizing
the empty nature is the Absolute Truth.
Absolute Truth and the Relative Truth, one is the empty nature
of all phenomena and the other the temporary occurrence and
function of all things, are in truth an indivisible method of
non-duality. Even though the Relative Truth is not the ultimate,
yet we may rely on it to search for the Absolute Truth. For
example, language, action, ideal, and concept etc. are all Relative
Truth. Yet, if we do not apply them, we are not going to be
able to explain the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the Relative
Truth, to sentient beings. If there is no way to realize the
Absolute Truth, then there is no way to enter the Nirvana.
Shunyata in Pure Land Buddhism
Highest Truth in Two Divisions
is in Mahayana a noteworthy analysis of the highest truth in
two divisions - the 'mundane' truth and the 'supramundane' truth
- usually termed 'two truths'. The relationship between the
two has been given in diverse ways but, in order to avoid confusion,
the 'two truths' doctrine is discussed here only as two aspects
of shunyata. One is the highest truth, which is formless and
beyond conceptual understanding, and the other, the manifestation
of the formless in the realm of human conception, that is, form.
was Nagarjuna who first presented the notion of 'two truths'
as an analysis of shunyata. The highest truth (paramarthasatya)
is beyond words or description, i.e. beyond the reach of conceptual
understanding and yet it was presented by the Buddha Shakyamuni
as his teaching so that our conceptual understanding could grasp
it. It is in this sense that the teaching is regarded as an
'expedient means' (upaya), often likened to a finger pointing
to the moon. What is crucial about this metaphor is that the
finger and the moon are mutually reflexive. Without the finger,
the moon would not be known. Without the moon, there would be
no need for the finger pointing to it. The one is involved in
the other. The finger and the moon are inseparable. In this
sense, the 'two truths' may be called the 'twofold truth'.
in his treatment of shunyata philosophy in translating Nagarjuna
into Chinese, used the term chia-ming ("name only for a
temporary use") for the mundane aspect of the truth. 'Temporary'
in this compound represents the negative aspect of the highest
truth. 'Negative' in this case means the non-substantial nature
of beings from the viewpoint of the truth of shunyata. 'Name'
represents the positive aspect in which conceptual understanding
'revives' only after it is once negated. Even shunyata is a
'name only for a temporary use' so long as it is expressed in
order for our conceptual understanding to grasp it. It is chia-ming
which is the very ground of Pure Land Buddhism and which refers
to the 'positive' phase of shunyata expressed in 'forms'.
The Curative Value of Egolessness and the Ethical Importance
of Compassion in Buddhism ...Sharon Belfer, Department of
Psychology - Simon Fraser University
Personhood and the Path to Self-Actualization
Gautama's path to cure focuses on the insubstantiality of self,
Gautama's path to self-actualization focuses on the insubstantiality
of the dualism between self and other. In other words, once
one's cognition, affect and conation have been cured of ignorance
of egolessness, one has only achieved an understanding of relative
reality. To become a fully self-actualized person, however,
one must achieve a three-fold understanding of both absolute
and relative reality.
cognitive understanding of absolute reality involves an intellectual
recognition that "all experience is basically a manifestation
of mind. . .the whole of existence is empty of a duality of
substance between mind and matter" (Gyamtso, 1988, p. 39).
According to Gautama, the essence of this universal mind is
luminous, unborn awareness; absolutely real, yet "empty"
of concepts and preconceptions. Once one realizes that the essence
of absolute reality is indiscriminate and nomothetic, one will
inevitably realize that the nature of everyone's mind is this
luminous awareness. At this point, one intellectually understands
that there is no absolute basis for the relative experience
of duality between self and other (Rahula, 1974). Note that
Gautama is neither denying the existence of individual differences
nor suggesting that all people are really just one big Person.
Rather, he is suggesting that the essence of all people (and
of the entire world, for that matter) is the same indestructible,
unalterable quality of luminous awareness. Accordingly, although
differences among people obviously exist, they are meaningful
only on a relative level.
affective understanding of absolute reality involves an emotional
experience of the lack of duality between self and other. Having
already experienced the relative realization that there is no
"self" to protect and prioritize, one now experiences
the absolute realization that there is no "other"
to be compassionate towards (Trungpa, 1975). Because there is
no longer any sense of "mine" and "yours",
one's primary emotional state is characterized by spontaneous
compassion, beyond contrivance or condescension. At this point,
one has transcended both the intellectual dualism between self
and other, and the emotional dualism between giver and receiver
the third aspect of Gautama's path to nondual, nonconceptual
self-actualization, the conative understanding of absolute reality
transcends the duality between intention and action. Remember
that in the relative reality of ethico-legal personhood, people
are held responsible only for actions with deliberately intended
consequences; people are not held responsible for actions which
have unforseen or unintended consequences. Implicit in this
distinction is a recognition that people are either not interested
in being aware or are not able to be aware of all the consequences
of their actions. In contrast, in the ultimate reality of Gautama's
absolute, self- actualized personhood, one is always aware of
the consequences of one's actions, and one always acts with
the intent of achieving a desired result.
relative reality, people's actions are caused by both the efficient
motivators of unconscious karmic predispositions, and the teleological
motivators of conscious intentions. In absolute reality, however,
one is no longer subject to the unconscious, self-perpetuating
force of karma , and one's actions are therefore entirely motivated
by the conscious intent to achieve a desired end result (Trungpa,
1981). Free of all karmic tendencies to act mindlessly and habitually,
one now realizes that there is no absolute basis for the relative
distinction between the giver and the act of giving (Trungpa,
1981). Moreover, one's sense of morality is no longer constrained
by the arbitrary, dualistic distinctions of relative reality.
Once one has developed a three-fold understanding of the indestructible
luminosity of one's mind and one's world, cognition, affect
and conation become synchronized beyond the relative dictates
of culture and law. One may not always think, feel and act in
a culturally appropriate manner, but one will always think,
feel and act in a way that manifests the absolute nature of
one's mind (Trungpa, 1994). Therefore, although Gautama emphasized
the ethical value of the synoptic functioning of cognition,
affect and conation, his path of self-actualization is really
one of absolute personhood, in which the fundamental essence
of a person is universal and nomothetic.
distinguishing between relative and absolute reality, Gautama
was aspiring to make his theory applicable to all human beings,
beyond the relative boundaries of culture, financial situation
and social status. Contrary to the stereotype of the disheveled
Buddhist struggling to escape the grime and grit of everyday
reality, Gautama's curative goal of ethico-legal personhood
stresses the importance of being able "to function as normal
human beings" within the shared reference point of relative
reality (Gyamtso, 1988, p. 21). Moreover, Gautama's ethical
goal of absolute personhood does not contradict or deny the
importance of relative truth. Although "self" and
"other" may not exist in an absolute sense, they still
have a relative existence which enables us to communicate and
function within the constraints of common sense reality. For
Gautama to deny the importance of relative reality, encouraging
each student to believe that "the world is his own invention
and that nothing exists outside of himself. . .would be like
some kind of madness" (Gyamtso, p.38, 1988). As Khenpo
Tsultrim Gyamtso (1988, p. 14) has pointed out: "without
a proper understanding of the vast aspects of the relative truth,
meditation on Emptiness [i.e. absolute reality] can be misleading
and even dangerous". Therefore, to follow the path of the
Buddha is not to deny the importance of our relative situation;
but to realize that our absolute essence remains unaltered by
the happiness or misery of our present situation. Like the sun
which has been temporarily covered by passing clouds (Rahula,
1974), absolute truth pervades and sanctifies the poignancy
of our relative truth, even on our sickest and most un-actualized
Emptiness, Concepts and the knowledge of Truth ...The White
Lotus Center for Shin Buddhism
the historical Buddha stated that:
all forms of existence are characterized by unsatisfactoriness;
all forms of existence are characterized by impermanence;
all elements of existence are characterized by non-self.
the existential experience we can therefore not speak of permanent
or autonomous values.
how then should we interpret this existential experience?
Buddhist terms this is samsara, the 'world of suffering'. 'To
exist' is what each separate being perceives for itself. Existence
is that which takes place - again for each separate being -
between the moment that has passed and the moment that is not
yet here, i.e. the transitional process from past (karma = the
acts of the past) towards future (phala = karmic results). The
present therefore is always a 'becoming'. This 'becoming' is
none other than pratitya samutpada, namely, a process of causal
which is 'true' therefore remains beyond being (permanence)
and non-being (annihilation).
consequently extends this train of thought.
calls this 'neither being nor non-being' sunyata (empti-ness).
Emptiness is not a negative concept (as in 'nothing'), but affirms
the possibility, in function of eventual relational conditions,
of manifesting all imaginable characteristics.
all that is knowable (the phenomenal world) is 'empty', also
all our knowing which is made relative by the relation (subject/object)
is 'empty'. We reduce the perception into elementary concepts
(dharmas), who in their turn can be again regarded as cognitive
objects. Nagarjuna stresses the 'emptiness' of each dharma on
every level of our cognitive abilities.
(dharmas) are empty, i.e. without substance. Our discursive
thought, which uses language to attach concepts to what is perceived,
is therefore irrelevant when it comes to adequately knowing
reality in-itself, i.e. independent from perception.3
only thing that can be said with sense, is that all experience
and expression of that experience, is 'emptiness'. 'Emptiness'
is, where our powers of cognition are concerned, the only reality
that all things (subjects and objects) have in common.
also this concept of 'emptiness' is 'empty' and in the final
analysis irrelevant - yet, it remains the ultimate point of
what is expressible.
thought is necessarily dualistic since - when reduced to its
simplest expression - it can only exists in the mutual relationship
of a 'conceiver' (as subject) and a 'concept' (as object). Neither
'conceiver' nor 'concept' can be regarded as separate entities.
By way of discursive thought, which works with concepts and
their language expressions, we therefore can never go beyond
what is relative (or relational).
Nagarjuna manifests himself clearly as an empirical epistemologist.
He comes to the conclusion that there are three levels of truth.
The first two are mutually related and form a bivalence: something
is untrue/something is true. Which gives us:
1. asatya - untruth (lie or mistake), e.g. "a hare has
2. loka-samvriti-satya - 'world speech truth', 'relative truth',
e.g. "a hare does not have horns"
the third level of truth is non-conceptual :
3. paramartha-satya - 'ultimate truth, absolute truth'. Since
this third level can neither be conceptual nor discursive, it
is a truth which is inconceivable and inexpressible.
these three levels of truth are illustrated by the metaphor
of the snake :
dusk a man walks along a path in the forest. Suddenly on the
road in front of him he sees a snake. He is terrified and runs
off. Next morning he walks the same path and discovers that
what he took to be a snake is, in broad daylight, just a rope.
1. the perceived 'snake' is untruth
2. the 'snake that is a rope' is a relative truth.
Nagarjuna adds to this that both 'rope' and 'snake' are only
concepts and concludes:
in 'absolute truth' there exist neither snake nor rope, only
the empty concepts of them.
that are untruth, belong to the world of ego-illusion (aham
iti = I am) and are characterized by ego-thought:
'untrue' object 'untrue'
that are relative truth, are forms of expression from a non-ego
perspective. They are 'true' in the system in which they appear:
'untrue' object 'true'
can never be 'absolute truth', since on this level every duality
falls away. Every knowledge of absolute truth therefore has
to be non-conceptual i.e. 'im-mediate' (without mediator)
the forms of mediate knowledge, which makes use of ideas, thoughts,
words, etc., things are only knowable as concepts, i.e. within
the relations in which they appear. Subject and object are reducible
to dharmas, thus, 'emptiness' is the only 'true' nature we can
attribute to them.
there is dualism present, the "true nature of things"
or "true reality" remains beyond knowing; the "knower"
- at best - remains at the level of relative truth.
examples of dualisms or dichotomies: good/evil, creator/creation,
the Enlightened One/the foolish being, transcendent/immanent,
suffering/joy, duality/unity, samsara/nirvana.
in relation to the Buddhist teachings this gives:
* untruth: adharma, the non-teaching
* relative truth: buddhadharma, the teaching as it was proclaimed
by the historical Buddha Sakyamuni.
* absolute truth: saddharma, the Teaching seen beyond time and
then, is the relation between the Four Noble Truths and the
levels of truth established by Nagarjuna?
the level of relative truth belong the first two Noble Truths
(Suffering and the Cause of Suffering), since they take place
on the samsaric level. They form as it where the transition
from (a) to (b) and their result is relative knowledge (jñana:
the level of absolute truth belong the last two Noble Truths
(Cessation of Suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path), since
they take place on the nirvanic oriented level. They form as
it where the transition from (b) to (c), and their result is
absolute knowledge (sarvajña: omniscience or prajña:
can note here that each of these transitions is nothing else
than a process of dependent causation, which takes place according
to the paradigm which is pratitya-samutpada.
point of departure is clearly negating. The introductory verses
to his MMK e.g. are (from the Sanskrit Version):
"I salute him, the fully enlightened, the best of speakers,
who preached the non-ceasing and the non-arising, the non-annihilation
and the non-permanence, the non-identity and the non-difference,
the non-appearance and the non-disappearance, the dependent
arising, the appeasement of obsessions and the auspicious."
E-sangha, Buddhist Forum & Buddhism Forum -> Topics
in Buddhism -> Buddhist Philosophy - (Truth?)
"Kyrie, Iisous Christos, Yios Theou, eleison imas."
we all see truth different, how do we know what truth really
the practice of Buddhism is relative to the induvidual. in Buddhism
the major part of practice whether in meditation, or in daily
affairs, is mindfulness. being mindful means we should be mindful
of many things in order to learn about how we act and react
according to the arising and cessation of phenomena in inter-action
with the essence of mind consciousness which creates all our
experiences. this being the case each particular participant
in the play of the Dhamma is learning in relativity to ones
own experiences as we are all the owners of these aggregates
and our actions which we create by using these aggregates as
a vehicle ... the senses which with we perceive and experience
contact with phenomena, including that of ourself, perceive
according to how they are physically engineered and also the
way which our physical self behaves is in accordance with how
the mind consciousness reacts to that experiencing of phenomena,
including that of ourself.
being the case each individual, having differing experiences
will learn in differing stages and sequences according to which
parts of the Dhamma they are capable of associating with at
certain and various times depending on their circumstances which
have led up to that point of such time.
there is very little chance of ever getting the same response
from any two practicing Buddhists because each experience will
vary accordingly, although the four noble truths and the eightfold
path are timeless truths which have been expounded by all the
Buddhas and are essentially necessary teachings within the teachings
of the Buddha, and therefore for that reason the understandings
in these areas will be more consistent than understandings in
areas which become most confusing are those which attempt to
define the undefinable, but even so there is much to be learnt
from speculating these kinds of things, though any conclusions
should never be taken as a final or definite conclusion. methods
of meditation vary in practice also relative to the preferences
and needs of the individual practitioner, in theory methods
are similar in most cases, some have extra aspects such as recitation,
chanting, visualising, etc ... but essentially mindfulness,
effort, and concentration are key elements in meditation, and
also right intention so one should understand the purpose of
meditation in Buddhist practices. breath meditation is common
amongst the traditions, also metta (loving kindness) is common,
the main purpose is to attain the jhanas but until then we just
have to keep meditating as best as we can, so in that way meditation
will also vary relative to each individual practitioner.
"Kyrie, Iisous Christos, Yios Theou, eleison imas."
do understand that relativism (meaning all points of view are
equally valid and that all truth is relative to the individual),
is self refuting?
i guess so, i would say that whatever one perceives to be the
truth, whether it is the truth or not, is valid to one, ...
just as what is perceived to be truth to another, whether it
is the truth or not, is valid to the same extent to that individual.
it is valid as an accurate and effective truth is another matter,
but each individual sees truth in their own experiences whether
it is true or not. if one reflects deeply enough then they are
able to see this, and then make effort to change that pattern
to some extent so that one may realise that they should not
take their own comprehensions as truth, but always accept that
everything is merely speculation, and the truth is always around
the next corner ..... but even so, one still believes oneself
to a large extent simply because we all have the affliction
i have understood what you want to know ...
maybe i have misunderstood myself ...
"Kyrie, Iisous Christos, Yios Theou, eleison imas."
all truth is relative, then the statement "All truth is
relative" would be absolutely true. If it is absolutely
true, then not all things are relative and the statement that
"All truth is relative" is false.
there an absolute truth taught in Buddhism?
perceived truths are relative, but the truth is the truth and
is not relative, so truth both is and isn't relative depending
on whether you mean it is relative to the individuals understanding
and grasping of some speculated truth, or if it is relative
to the effective existence of the individual.
even a speculated truth which is not true has effects on the
individual who grasps at it and believs it because in turn it
manipulates his/her way of thinking, of course thoughts are
precursors to actions, and so our actions will be influenced
by what we believe at that particular time. so in turn it has
truthfully deceived the owner of those thoughts and actions,
so in this way it is possible to consider that it is a truth
but not not a true truth ....
Buddhism there is no absolute or ultimate truth which is taught,
although there is a truth which one comes to realise through
actually experiencing it, ... or ... through not experiencing
it even these kinds of truths should not be taken as truth.
truth is always around the next corner.
truth is that the dhamma makes perfect sense and we are able
to benefit and create benefits for others, and so we practice
it like dhamma junkies just for the heck of it ... well, maybe
there is a bit more to it than that.
then ... what was that about relativism again ???
You are asking a good and difficult question that pierces to
the heart of things. I would say, Buddhism teaches one absolute
truth, that is the truth of interdependent arising, but understood
fully, and not only as 12 links of interdependent arising, but
understood fully as shunyata (Buddhist emptiness).
is mentioned over and over again in every school of Buddhism.
You can think of shunyata as absolute, but it has no particular
form of its own, so if you label it "absolute" you
still can't grasp it. So, if by "absolute" you're
trying to fix a picture or some idea in your mind, it will not
you are interested further in this, and you are of a philosophical
bent, you may want to pick up "The Fundamental Wisdom of
the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika" translated
and commented by Jay L. Garfield.
also like this writing from Theravada:
would especially suggest reading the commentary in addition
to the actual sutta.
you are not of a hugely philosophical bent, you may want to
ponder a little bit on this: when you see light, right away
you know what darkness is, even if you are not yet experiencing
darkness. If you see 'self' right away you know what 'other'
is and vice versa. If you see past, you also see present and
future, and if you see present, you see past and future, etc.
And what is time without form? What is the nature of mind? Where
is the limit of mind? And meditate, obviously, right?
few words: this question only occurs when you cling to the idea
of 'self'. Without 'self' this question loses its importance.
anyone notices any errors, etc., please correct me.
"Kyrie, Iisous Christos, Yios Theou, eleison imas."
new, so all I can do is ask questions.
A Season for Nonviolence
a human family we are asking the question: “How can any
act of violence be recognized as a solution to the consequences
of violence that we face today?” Violent actions and reactions
are the scars of social, educational, and economic wounds...
the voices of a spiritually inarticulate culture.
practice of nonviolence is initiated by choice and cultivated
through agreement. The time has come to agree upon this as a
global community--as if our lives, and those of our children’s
children, depended on it. Our vision is of a better world for
all human beings.
this end, we undertake “Gandhi & King: A Season for
Nonviolence” by applying our efforts and resources to
identifying, then bringing into focus the spectrum of grassroots
projects and programs by individuals and organizations who are
pro-actualizing a peaceful social order.
mission is to create an awareness of nonviolent principles and
practice as a powerful way to heal, transform and empower our
lives and communities.
an educational and community action campaign, we are honoring
those who are using nonviolence to build a community that honors
the dignity and worth of every human being.
are demonstrating that every person can move the world in the
direction of peace through their daily nonviolent choice and
Appearance and Reality: The Two Truths in Four Buddhist Systems
...by Guy Newland
- Reviewer: An Amazon.com Customer ...When someone seeks
to understand Buddhism, where should one start: With the elaboration
on what it means to take refuge in the three jewels? Or the
four noble truths? When the Dalai Lama was asked this question,
he suggested that for many in the West today, the two truths,
conventional truth and ultimate truth, is the best place to
start. When the Buddha awoke from the dream we still dream,
he saw the ultimate reality of things just as they are. There
are shifting appearances and conventions, the manners and traditions
of the vast and diverse world; and then there is the mystery
of things just as they are, sheer reality. And yet we cannot
find this reality anywhere else but right here. Each system
of Buddhist philosophy has its own way of explaining exactly
what these two truths are and how they relate to one another.
In exploring these systems, we are looking over the shoulders
of Buddhist thinkers as they grapple with a basic question:
What is real? This is not an idle intellectual question, but
a matter which cuts to the heart of our practice in life.
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