What Are the Two Truths?

What is the relationship between absolute reality and the relative world we inhabit? Mahayana Buddhism’s answer is called the two truths.

Lion’s Roar Staff3 January 2018
Illustration by Ray Fenwick.

Relative Truth

Relative truth includes all the dualistic phenomena- ourselves, other beings, material objects, thoughts, emotions, concepts-that make up our lives in this world. These are sometimes called maya, or illusion, because we mistakenly believe they are solid, separate, and independent realities. But the problem is not relative truth itself, which is basically good, but our misunderstanding of its nature. That is revealed when we understand….

Absolute Truth

Absolute truth is the reality beyond dualism of any kind. It’s also the true nature of relative phenomena. In Mahayana Buddhism, it can be called emptiness or interdependence. Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing.” In Vajrayana Buddhism, absolute reality is also referred to as space, complete openness, or primordial purity.

The two truths are what’s called a provisional teaching in Buddhism-helpful for where we are on our path but not the final truth. The final truth is that there is only one reality, and it unites the relative and absolute. Absolute truth is the true nature of the relative. Relative truth is the manifestation of the absolute.

Lion s Roar Staff

Lion’s Roar Staff

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