Truth: Ultimate and Relative

It’s quite simple, in a way. Buddhism, like early Christianity, makes a distinction between “Ultimate Truth” and the domain of “Relative Truth”, which is the domain we call “fact”. In Christianity, what Buddhism calls “Ultimate Truth” was called “the truth that sets free”.

The domain of Relative Truth is everything we might say, correctly and factually, about the world and our experience. But here lies the trap that we call “delusion” and “delusive mind”. The domain of Relative Truth is mistaken as being the primary realm when it is actually only the secondary, and then it mistakes “Ultimate Truth” as something derived and dependent upon Relative Truth rather than vice versa. This is “the veil of Maya”.

This distinction between Ultimate Truth and Relative Truth domains is why we say there is a distinction to be made between “the truth that sets free” and “the facts of the matter”, which are always originated, secondary, conditional, contingent, provisional, transitory. Ultimate Truth, on the other hand, is called “the unoriginated, unconditioned” because it is precedent and prior to the secondary. It is, in fact, what Jean Gebser also calls “the ever-present origin” or “the Itself”.

The delusional or narcissistic mind inverts the proper order between the domains of the Relative and the Ultimate, mistaking the former as being primary and the latter as something derived from the former. This is the implication also of what Sheldon Wollin called “inverted totalitarianism” — its delusional mind, a glitch in the mental process. And this is also what Iain McGilchrist describes in his book on neurodynamics as the Emissary’s “usurpation” of the prerogatives of the Master (The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World).

Now, in many respects this distinction between Ultimate Truth as the unoriginated and unconditioned whole, and the Relative Truth as the originated and conditioned, is what William Blake also describes by making a distinction between “fourfold vision” and “Single Vision”. We may say that the reduction of Ultimate Truth to Relative Truth corresponds with Nietzsche’s succinct definition of nihilism: “All higher values devalue themselves”.

This also pertains to what Jean Gebser calls the confusion of “Whole” and a mere “Totality”, whereby the Whole that is implicit within any totality is eclipsed by that same totality. This belongs to Maya, or what William Blake equally calls “Ulro” — the shadow world which is a kind of Hades. What Blake calls “Ulro” is also called “Samsara” in Buddhism.

Which brings us to the paradox that is nirvana and samsara, the whole and the totality, the Ultimate Truth and the Relative Truth as something that also pertains to the two modes of perception of McGichrist’s divided brain he calls “Master” and “Emissary” modes. The ultimate paradox of Buddhism is this:

nirvana and samsara are the same; nirvana and samsara are not the same.

This is not at all different from what we find expressed in William Blake in his often own inimitable way: “Eternity in the hour” or “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” or “the world in a grain of sand”. Delusive mind is samsara, and samsara is the opacity of the world. The cure for the delusion and the opacity is what Jean Gebser calls “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world” and is what Blake calls “fourfold vision”.

Intellectually and mentally, the problem appears quite simple, doesn’t it? The mind has misconstrued and mistaken all that is merely epiphenomenal and secondary with being the substantial, the primary, and the real — an inversion of the truth of the ultimate and the relative. In Christian terms, that means the “truth that sets free” is now seen as completely dependent upon and derived from the facts of the matter rather than vice versa, and this is what McGilchrist calls the ego nature’s “usurpation” and the problem of delusional mind.

“All higher values devalue themselves” is this problem. But that is also a description of decadence.

Now, a corrective to this dreadful situation is also represented in physicist David Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order. This is why I take such an interest in Bohm. What Bohm calls “undivided wholeness in flowing movement” corresponds, in meaning, to what Buddhism calls “Ultimate Truth”, while Bohm’s “rheomode” or flowing mode of thinking (thinking as articulation) is its representative within the domain of Relative Truth. There is here an attempt to harmonise the domains of the ultimate and the relative, and this harmonisation represents what Gebser calls “integral consciousness”.

Nietzsche’s formula for nihilism (as decadence) once again: “All higher values devalue themselves”. This is precisely reflected in Blake’s concerns with fourfold vision and Single Vision. Single Vision is now realised effectually in the form of Lewis Mumford’s “Megamachine”, and in this tendency to reductionism and fundamentalism in thought whereby the qualitative is eclipsed by the quantitative, or the integrative is confused with the assimilationist, corresponding to this confusion of the Whole and the Totality.

There are many different terms for this Single Vision — abomination of desolation, samsara, Ulro, kaliyuga, “culture of narcissism”, idolatry, “spiritual materialism”, anomie or alienation, and so on. It all amounts to the same issue.


26 responses to “Truth: Ultimate and Relative”

  1. lyleaolson says :

    It seems all of the ‘views’ lead back to the hard question of consciousness — and Consciousness. McGilchrist describes well the modes and preferences of left-brain and right-brain, but the sticking point, as is the case in philosophy and the traditions, is the question of whether there is consciousness outside of the brain. My teacher said “All of the body is in the mind, but not all of the mind is in the body.” Is that syllogism true?

    • Scott Preston says :

      It is. It’s implicit in the move to field thinking, and its the meaning of Jung’s “collective unconscious”, too, or Krishnamurti’s “you are the world”. The field’s the thing — mind and matter are the epiphenomena corresponding to the meaning “individuation”.

      It’s also the premise of Gebser’s “archaic” structure of consciousness — was not yet focussed or localised in the ego. Quantum non-locality begins to access the meaning of the archaic again.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Might point out, too, that the same paradox we find in Buddhism between Ultimate Truth and Relative Truth, and the paradox of nirvana and samsara being the same but different is also found in Christianity, where the kingdom of heaven is described as both “within you” and yet also “spread out upon the earth although they don’t see it”.

      In that sense, the distinction between self and world, mind and matter, spirit and nature, subject and object is very much overdrawn.

  2. Scott Preston says :

    Another one of the Nietzsche’s ironies, as a matter of fact: the Scriptural statement that “the kingdom of heaven is within you” and also that “the kingdom of heaven is spread out upon the Earth” gives some nuanced context to Nietzsche’s “Be true to the Earth!”

    Consider the Buddha’s earth-touching mudra in that regard. Upon his enlightenment, he invoked the Earth, and not God, to be his witness. Therein also lies the meaning of Nietzsche’s “Be true to the Earth”.

  3. lyleaolson says :

    I relish all of the reasonings in this vein from the last few thousand years, but my problem derives from the finding that the tools of dualism are not able to prove or reveal the nondual. Logic can (usually) prove only what is not true: via negativa, neti neti, Manjushri’s separating the Real from the unreal,etc.. Science is inherently based upon dualism; subject and object. Quantum physics gives it fits.
    But I keep on keeping on, unwilling to depend upon hearsay. The best lead I have for solving the puzzle of all puzzles is direct knowledge, so I meditate.

  4. Yeffen Ray says :

    All of *physical reality is integrated/differentiated by which is in essence, composite, hence, the unseen world occupies all infinite space from which the macrocosm can instantiate its particulate composite or why ALL STRUCTURE is crafted from within the microcosm. The infinitesimally small and infinitesimally large occupy all space which is the field of (infinitude) infinity; and, the entire field occupies a (one to one) region by turning, hence, *curvature.

    Here is what is interesting about conjecture and supposition from the articulations of language in contrast with quantum (space) articulations: [a finitistic epistemology]… is this seminally profound?
    on page six, we find the above [clause] which is made irrefutable as logic in preceding text, which uses the groundwork of Kurt Gödel… maths.


    *I can’t say this is really impressive because I literally cannot directly detect any of this as its comportment within microcosm of quantum space! All of detection within micorcosm is expressed in mathematical proxies for human intelligence!

    Click to access brain-mind-bioess.pdf

    How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful by Florence + The Machine lyrics

    Why is the universe amazing?

  5. Steve says :

    Without participation in the life of the word through the ages, we remain ephemeral. Speaking, thinking, learning, teaching, writing, are the processes into which we must be immersed to become beings. They enable us to occupy a present in the midst of flux. Language receives us into its community; speech admits us to the common boat of humanity in its struggle for orientation on its pilgrimage through space and time.

    Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy

    • Steve says :

      ……then the Last Judgment begins, and its Vision is Seen by the Imaginative Eye of Every one according to the situation he holds.


  6. Scott Preston says :

    Here we go! Into the Wonderland of energy and information (no longer body and mind dualism). This is the trend and the tendency, and also important in this respect becomes the field concept as well.

  7. Scott Preston says :

    Has anyone ever noticed that Nietzsche’s maxim: “Be true to the Earth!” is pretty much the same as Jesus’ “salt of the Earth”?

    Just another one of those recurrent ironies we find everywhere in Nietzsche.

  8. Charles says :

    Truth- relative and absolute. How does one ponder these ideas? That is the challenge today. It seems that each person understands their level of knowledge. Most individuals just agree/conform to the paradigm one grows in. The signs are everywhere that the dominant map of reality is incoherent for many reasons.

    How does define knowledge? It is complex. There are so many ways to describe what knowledge may be. Look at all the varieties of postmodern ideas today.
    There is a scandal of knowledge. One can accept the paradox and ambiguity that whatever truth is, it isn’t literal.

    Is truth an objective match between, on the one hand, statements, beliefs, descriptions or models and, on the other hand, a fixed reality? Is knowledge shaped by a particular experiential history in a particular social-epistemic community?

    You write about Maya.. I agree. Bohm wrote about the fixation of measurement. ‘”the insistent fictions of measurement, the belief the of actuality of discreet things.”

    Single vision.


    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      I’ve found that the English language proves problematic a great deal of the time, not so much when contemplating such subjects, but when conversing about with them with others and not least because we utilize the exact same words in reference to what are so often subtly different things, as is the case with “Truth” and “truth,” not to mention “I” and “i.” You’d think we could be more exact and we can, but only with the aid of a multitude of qualifiers. Even then, it appears to be a roll of the dice whether the conversation results in mutual understanding or some variation of the elaborate word wars we’re witnessing today.

      I’ve often thought that it’s no accident that “Self-referential” pronouns are especially problematic in this regard being that the three major religions are considered (by most) to be monotheistic and assimilatory whether they’re intended to be, should be or not.

      “I Am that I Am.” Those words — “I Am” — are capitalized and opposed to one another for a reason. They’re intended to invoke both the concepts of reflection and “self-similarity” though, of course, they rarely do, perhaps primarily thanks to the fact that “I” is most widely utilized to denote “the sovereign individual” and “Am” (and “am”) merely “Being” and “being,” respectively, among the religious and non-religious alike. Not much room either for Interbeing or “Interbecoming” in that event.

      In the interview between Iain McGilchrist and Jordan Peterson, the conversation eventually turned to the concepts of Being and Becoming. McGilchrist said, “Only a fool says anything positive” (i.e. with absolute certainty) “about God.” He then turned right around and said, “God is Becoming,” though McGilchrist himself is obviously not a fool. Peterson then asked, “Not Being and Becoming?”

      Little wonder I found so much to appreciate in Marcelo Gleiser’s musings on Eon (or) Flux. Even the supposed vanguards of “fourfold logic” still display the dualistic streak that haunts present society. So, perhaps there’s hope for all of us. : )

      I also often thing it’s a good thing — a very good thing — that there is so much emphasis on the quality and role of time and timing in all this. Time is the difference that makes a difference, including the difference between “Truth” and “truth;” “I” and “i; “You” and “you;” “He, She, It, They” and “he, she, it, they;” “We” and “we.”

      “The times are out of joint” sounds about right to me, excepting the fact that the line in Hamlet actually reads “the time is out of joint.”

      If “the times are out of joint,” can we be certain Time is Out of Joint?

      The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
      That ever I was born to set it right!
      Nay, come, let’s go together. ~ Hamlet

      • Scott Preston says :

        I read something interesting a while back (can’t recall who mentioned it) but, apparently, the original Hebrew doesn’t mean “I Am That I Am” but “I Will Be What I Will Be”. Someone interpreted that “will be” as “am”. But it makes quite a difference whether God is then considered as “Being” or “Becoming”.

        Now, this “I Wiil Be What I Will Be” also emphasises something Rosenstock-Huessy said, that “God” isn’t in the past but in the future — the source of our “calling” or the vocation, ie, “God” is a destiny.

        • InfiniteWarrior says :

          Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present. ~ Quote Origin Unknown

          Eleanor Roosevelt? Bill Keane? Beowulf? (No. Not Beowulf. It just happens to be a prevalent meme today.)

          Perhaps a clue as to the subtle difference between Being and Becoming…and the reason books concerning the “Eternal Now” are suddenly so popular. There is just as a subtle a difference between the “pull” of the future and the “push” of the past in relation to the present. Rosenstock also believed:

          [W]e are inescapably rooted in history, even though our great revolutions attempt to rip us out of it, in order to begin anew and build a much better world, thereby opening up new paths of self-hood.

          Attempt to, but never actually, fully succeed in doing so, which is also probably a good thing when you stop to think about it, especially if we’re to speak of a “universal history.”

          When is the time and timing of Becoming? The Present Moment, Wonderful Moment? It is not we who tend to conceive of and live exclusively in a “past” or “future?”

    • Yeffen Ray says :

      Has to be in reality in fact, we don’t know much about what we are literally made form/from as sub-atomic, sub-nuclear constituents… this in fact is
      most formative framework of reality, aside what is beyond light. The fact light
      is squared in the equation, standardizing matter/energy as equipollent is the
      foundation of di-synchrony, how time is the basis for decay within the basis of
      light as creation. Science is proving (2020) the mind cannot know everything,
      as much as the quantum energy is known as form in creation… et cetera

      Hurt Gödel: The Eccentric Genius – Story of Mathematics

  9. Steve says :

    As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life….

    I too Paumanok,
    I too have bubbled up, floated the measureless float, and been
    wash’d on your shores,
    I too am but a trail of drift and debris,
    I too leave little wrecks upon you, you fish-shaped island.

    Uncle Walt

  10. Charles says :

    I agree about the challenge of language. The book To Have and To Be (Erich Fromm) talks about the difference being and having. A noun is a name for a thing/object. One can say that one has things. I have a computer, a car. The proper denotation for an activity, a process, is a verb. I am, I love/hate. I experience.

    Being and having are different. Processes and activities cannot be possessed, they can only be experienced.

    • InfiniteWarrior says :

      The shift from “well-having” to “well-being” is also a prevalent theme today. (I tend to repeat myself on that subject, but it just so happens to be true.)

      Though a lot of what we see and hear actually represents a “shift” merely to a different kind of consumerism (itself heralded under the intriguing banner of “aesthetic minimalism”), there’s no mistaking that the shift itself is real, imho.

  11. Scott Preston says :

    Had a formal interview and exchange of ideas with Chris Kutarna yesterday morning over the internet for his forthcoming book (still in draft stage) which will speak to some of the issues of “the new normal”. Something to look for when it finally comes out (assuming we haven’t exited the “new normal” by then).

  12. Scott Preston says :

    Came across this quote today:

    “The entire cosmos consisting of the visible and invisible things is man. And man consisting of body and soul is cosmos. ”
    St. Maximus the Confessor

    This is what Blake calls “Albion” (the fourfold Atman) and also “the Universal Humanity”. It’s also what Jung means in saying all psyches are one psyche (basis for “the collective unconscious”). Also called “the Anthropos”. Swedenborg’s “Grand Man of the Heavens”, the original cosmic Androgyne before it’s division twofold, threefold, and fourfold as those matters that Blake calls “the Zoas”.

    These are also the four arms of dancing Shiva.

    • Scott Preston says :

      Man is a fourfold being, whose form and structure is now reflected in the four-dimensional cosmos of four fundamental forces. These are reflections in the cosmos of Gebser’s four structures of consciousness unfolding according to a “pre-existing pattern” which is this fourfold Atman or the Cosmic Adam — the Tetramorph. Those matters we refer to all-too loosely as “mind, body, soul, spirit” which are also rendered in Aurobindo’s “Human Cycle” as fourfold nature.

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