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Relative Truth

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Relative Truth

Arising of Relative Truth is Dependent Upon and in Response to One’s Personal History and the Present Situation

The kind of objective truth that I have just described is not what is usually called ultimate truth in most spiritual traditions. But in our approach, when we talk about finding the truth, we include this kind of truth. I call it relative truth. By relative I don’t mean that different people will experience the same phenomenon differently. For example, what I feel as sadness, another person will not feel as hatred; if another person feels what I’m feeling, he or she will feel sad. It is relative truth because its arising is dependent upon and in response to one’s personal history and the present situation. It is the truth we find in the conventional dimension of experience. So, in the previous example, the sadness is an objective phenomenon, but it is dependent on my present experience, in the sense that it arises in response to specific conditions of this time and place. As those conditions change, the truth will change, which makes it relative. Furthermore, another person will likely have another phenomenon or feeling under similar circumstances, because each person’s experience is dependent on personal predispositions and history. It is easy to see this when we look at percepts such as sadness, anger, or love. These simple percepts always arise embedded in specific circumstances, and they are easy to agree upon as being objective truth. The same is true of actions, reactions, and behaviors; it’s easy to see what an angry reaction or a loving response is, for example.  

At the Beginning of Inquiry, what You are Exploring is Relative Truth

The exact nature of basic knowledge can be understood more precisely when we consider essential experience. At the beginning of inquiry, what you are exploring is relative truth, the truth of conventional experience. In the territory of relative truth, the fact that whatever you are experiencing is basic knowledge is not strikingly obvious yet. You do experience sadness and sensations, but you are still not recognizing those perceptions as knowledge, or knowingness, because of the dichotomy of observer and observed. Knowledge is still seen as the meaning or insight that you discern from your immediate perceptions. You believe that it is something added to the simple perception. Thus in conventional experience, when you see some relative truth, you end up with insights, and the content of those insights is considered to be knowledge. At some point, however, you come to the recognition of what we call “essential truth.” Essential truth is not an insight about something but the apprehending of the immediate reality of the moment. This immediate reality is presence—the quality of beingness—as when one is experiencing an essential aspect, such as Compassion or Strength. 

The Fact of What is Happening

The first type or level of truth that we encounter is what we call relative truth. Relative truth is the fact of what is happening, and we call it “relative” because it is specific to the person, the situation, and the time in which the experience is taking place; this means it is constantly changing. For example, the relative truth right now is that you are sitting reading this book, and a while ago the truth was that you were doing something else. The relative truth depends on the situation, and tells us the facts of what is happening now. These truths are the most obvious ones, and are the points of departure for contacting a deeper level of truth. If you inquire more deeply into the relative truth of a situation, you will find that the psychodynamic and existential bases of it begin to reveal themselves. Then, at some point, you might start to experience what we call the essential truth, which is the presence of Essence itself. 

Facets of Unity, pg. 75

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