The Inseparability of the Two Truths

There is an easy way to recognize the inseparable nature of the relative and enduring truth. If we begin with enlightened activity, we can see their essential unity, plain as day…


There have been times for all of us, I’m sure, when we have given or received help and support that happened spontaneously, creatively, and in a way that surely felt not-separate. These are the very characteristics of enlightened activity- the compassionate motivation, together with the intelligence or wisdom responding to the needs of the moment.

Now, we can’t say that the words spoken, or written, or the compassionate gestures were at all separate from this awakened nature we can find in our teachers and in ourselves- they are the expressions of this nature, like the rays of the sun.

As Suzuki Roshi said,

Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.

And as the Thai Forest Master, Ajahn Maha Boowa said,

For an enlightened being, there is no other response to the human condition, than compassion.

In the same way, the work that we do, and our everyday activities are not at all apart from the true, unchanging basis, the ground of our living.

What we call ‘the relative’ is just this nature rising to meet the needs of the time, and these expressions are not for a moment separate from the ultimate truth.

One way of thinking of the ultimate, or definitive truth is the way things are, whether it is seen or not. This gives us room to gradually learn, and it accommodates all the mistaken or partial beliefs a person can have in a larger view.

Seeing the unity of the two truths, the relative and the definitive is onward leading. We gradually learn to see more clearly and more fully.

Another term for the relative is the provisional, which I like because of its connotations – provisions are what enable us to get from one place to another. They are all necessary. They fulfill an essential function.

We may easily overlook what seems to be commonplace, the transient, the ephemeral, preferring the lasting, the sure and reliable, but this life of freedom and helpful activity is fully realized through the temporal.

The two truths, the relative and ultimate are known then to be essentially one. They are two aspects of one truth, that when well understood are of equal importance.