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Relative Truth

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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Relative truth (Skt. saṃvṛtisatya; Tib. ཀུན་རྫོབ་བདེན་པ་, Wyl. kun rdzob bden pa) — one of the two truths, the way things appear to be, as distinct from how they actually are.

correct relative incorrect relative

Patrul Rinpoche says:

Generally speaking, all appearances—from those of the lowest hell of Avichi hell up to and including the post-meditation experience of bodhisattvas on the tenth bhumi—are relative.
Moreover, there are two kinds of relative, the incorrect relative and the correct relative.
All that we perceive before we set out on the path belongs to the category of the incorrect relative.

When we have reached the stage of ‘aspiring conduct,’ if we can integrate some realization into our experience, it becomes the correct relative, but whenever we do not, it is the incorrect relative.

Once we reach the ten bhumis, all that appears to the mind is the correct relative—‘relative’ because ‘mere appearances’ have not yet ceased, and [‘correct’] because their falsity is seen directly.

These appearances continue to arise from the first bhumi until the tenth bhumi, since the age-old habit of perceiving things as real has not yet been abandoned, in the same way that the scent of musk will linger in a container.

Eventually, at the level of buddhahood, when these habitual tendencies have been completely eradicated, there are no dualistic perceptions whatsoever, and one remains exclusively in the ultimate sphere, beyond any conceptual elaboration.

Clinging to the ordinary world, both the outer environment and the beings within it, as real is the incorrect relative.

The antidote to this, such as visualizing everyone as pure deities and the environment as the pure mandala palace, while at the same time considering them to be a mere illusion, is the correct relative.

Alternative Translations

The relative truth (sammuti sacca in Pali) is the commonsense or conventional Truth just like when we say there is a “self” and “things exist” or “things do not exist.”

It has as its field all of the usual ways that we live in the World.

When we want to express our feelings, for example, we say things like “I Love you,” “I’m mad at you,” “I envy you,” and so on.

This is true, in the relative sense, because we need to think of ourselves as separate individuals in order to make sense of what’s going on around and within us.

Another aspect of the relative Truth is when we try to live our lives in a conventional way by doing things that will be of some benefit to others or ourselves.

We communicate with each other, react to each other’s behavior, hold different opinions, and do our own thing within our own environment.

Our individual views about reality, our relative truths, help us go on with our lives and interact with people normally.

However, it is not fruitful for us to cling to our own extreme notions about this Truth.

For example, clinging to the view that the World is real and the idea that you are separate from it leads to a wide array of unwholesome actions and ideas including obsessive attractions, repulsions, egotism, conceit, hedonism, or excessive austerities.

These are all referred to as Mental Defilements, and it is these which conditions Rebirth.

On the other hand, if we cling to the idea that the World has no real existence, we demolish all the value and meaning in Life.

We then tell ourselves that nothing is real, so why should we even give a damn?

The consequence of this is that we become nihilists, and this makes us adhere even more strongly to the cycle of repeated births.