I suspect that the teachings on what are called the Two Truths are similar to many other profound, far reaching ideas in Buddhism, in that while they may be of great value to people, they have become quite abstract, embedded as they have been in academic traditions, and seemingly removed from our lives.
Like other wisdom teachings though, nothing could be further from the truth – I suspect that they describe exactly the nature of our lives here, and can be of wondrous benefit, but that they also need to be unpacked, understood, and spoken anew…
I start with these personal questions then, as they are the vibrant threads that draw me forward.
The Two Truths, generally speaking, are relative truth, and ultimate truth, which is simple enough to say, as a door. Relative truth also goes by the names consensus reality, provisional truth, and the way things appear to ordinary consciousness.
Lama Zopa refers to conventional truth as ‘deceptive truth’ and ‘truth to the all obscuring mind’.
Ultimate truth, by contrast, is the way things actually are, and is the known by someone who has wisdom, superior seeing, or true discernment.
To take it a bit further: In Buddhism, the liberating Eightfold Path begins with Right View, and that is followed by Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Samadhi, or Concentration.
If the first step is off, or if there is anything at all lacking about our view, then everything that follows will likewise be mistaken, to some extent at least.
We’re not Buddhas to begin with, so, what to do? I think we’re encouraged to keep this outline of the Eightfold Path in mind, and then to continually examine our view, to adjust and improve it, in line with what we find in our study and contemplations.
I come to this part of the body of teachings then to understand as well as I can – What is the nature of Right View? This is the most important question we can be asking in our lives, because how we answer it determines all that we do and share with others.
I recall again now how common and tragic delusion are in this world. Everything from a paranoid person I knew, to the illusions that arise and deceive in my own mind, and in the minds of my family members, to the mass delusions of racism, aggression, and class bias, and the desecration of our precious mother earth.
In the Tibetan Tradition, they have an area of study called Pramana – or Valid Cognition, which right away raises question of What is the mind that clearly sees the way things are?
We live with and accept a certain amount of illusion, liminally – in relationships for example, where one person will wake up one day and find that the person they were seeing, or had married, was not the person they thought they were. They have become dis-illusioned.
Advertising and patriotic or political fervor also illusion us; we’re influenced by others; we believe things that are not true about ourselves, and one another, and our world; we are all too familiar with the vocabulary of imaginal worlds;
and as bad as that is, we also don’t believe in or trust what is verifiable, the profound, and the sacred in our lives.
So my questions leading into this study are:
What is the complete nature of Right View?
Or, in the context and language of these teachings,
What is the nature of valid cognition?
Valid cognition, of course, implies a valid cogniz-er, and so,
What kind of mind sees things as they are?,
Just how do we cultivate that awareness?
How can we engage wrong views in others in our world?
How are these mistaken ways of perceiving understood in this body of our inherited wisdom? –
This applies to everything from mass delusions, ego fixations, projections, dreams and fantasies, to hallucinations, like those brought on by drugs, exaggeration and denigration. All those are distortions, and, as I understand it, are remedied by cultivating the mind and heart that knows rightly.
This is helpful, from The Two Truths, by Guy Newland:
The term “concealer-truth” indicates that conventional phenomena are truths only for the perspective of an ignorant consciousness that conceals reality. In fact, conventional phenomena are not truths, but are falsities because they do not exist as they appear.
Nonetheless, concealer-truths are found by conventional valid cognition while ultimate truths are objects found by ultimate valid cognition. Conventional valid cognition is not superseded or invalidated by ultimate valid cognition.
Concealer-truths cannot be divided into real and unreal because they are all unreal and false. However, they can be divided into those that are real in relation to a worldly perspective and those that are unreal in relation to a worldly perspective.
Most people familiar with Buddhist wisdom teachings already know about wrong view, as ego grasping, that is taught as the cause of suffering. It is the common way people relate to themselves and to others, continually and pervasively superimposing fixed concepts, as one teacher put it, ‘like a latticework of thoughts and ideas’.
Ultimately, it’s taught that the two truths are to be understood as one. This teaching then is a method to comprehensively clarify the nature of our lives here.