Thursday, November 20, 2008

Relative Truth and the Mere Relative

On page 212 and 213 of The Karmapa's Middle Way, the Karmapa details a key distinction in his Middle Way presentation, the distinction between the relative truth and the mere relative. Relative truth, he says, is that which appears as real to the confused minds of ordinary beings. The mere relative is a more interesting category, and applies to the post-meditation experience of the noble ones--beings who realize and dwell within the ultimate nature, but who still experience appearances that are the results of ignorance and karma during post-meditation.

So, in terms of unconfused perceptions, relative reality is not reality. There is no truth to relative truth. However, it is a reality for those for whom it appears to be real. I find this explanation to be a nice way of expressing the balance between the two truths. Even though the relative truth has no ontological status when subjected to an ontological analysis, it will entail real effects and real experience for everyone who perceives the phenomena of the relative to be real.

Ordinary beings perceive the relative truth; bodhisattvas in post-meditation perceive the mere relative.


Michael Hennessy said...

Hi Tyler-

This distinction sounds similar to the mind-only school's distinction between the imaginary (imputed) nature and the dependent nature (when empty of the imag. nature).

Or is it better not to mix these?


PS Great blog-- long may it run.

Tyler Dewar said...

Hi Mike,

This is an interesting point. Some scholars have said that the dependent nature empty of the imaginary nature is the perfectly established nature. However, I wouldn't equate with imaginary nature to the relative truth as explained here by Chandrakirti and the Karmapa. For sentient beings, the relative truth consists of labels as well as the bases of the labels. If I were to attempt a comparison with the three nature, I would say that relative truth is the impure dependent nature, and the mere relative is the pure dependent nature.

Great question!