The Relative and Ultimate Truths in the Dharma
by Drikung Ontrul Rinpoche
In order to receive the teachings, first you should cultivate the right motivation that you would like to listen to these teachings in order to liberate all sentient beings. This motivation is bodhicitta.
With regards to Bodhicitta, there are Six Paramitas, which are the precepts or the practices of bodhisattvas. These Six Paramitas is the path of the bodhisattvas. But we do not leave the Six Paramitas to do sometime in the future.
We can start to practice the Six Paramitas now during this teaching, even if it is through more general or easier methods. For instance, while receiving teachings, we can try to practice the paramita of generosity. This can be done by making offerings of flowers, incense sticks, and by making contributions.
The second paramita, which is morality, can be practiced while we are listening to the dharma, by abstaining from all rude behaviors, and by maintaining very polite gestures and behaviors. Even keeping the shrine room and kitchen area clean can also be a type of moral practice.
While we are sitting listening to the dharma, you might feel some inconveniences or physical discomforts, such as getting tired, having back pain or feeling hungry or thirsty. Enduring or tolerating these discomforts can be considered a practice of the third paramita, which is patience.
When you listen to the dharma, one comes here because you take delight in the dharma. You like to listen to the dharma, so you make an effort to come to this place to listen to the dharma. One feels it is an important thing to do, and this sense of delight in listening to the dharma can be a practice of the fourth paramita of enthusiastic effort.
While listening to the teachings, you gaze at the face of the teacher and then you listen to the words with full attention and without wondering. This undistracted listening to the dharma is a practice of the fifth paramita, which is meditation (contemplative stability).
When we listen to the teachings, certain doubts and confusions in your mind get dispelled. When you gain that kind knowledge and gain confidence in the teachings, it is a practice of the last paramita, wisdom.
Therefore, we do not have to think that the Six Paramitas are some practice to be done in the future; both the student and the teacher can practice them right now!
Rinpoche's teachings is based on the Two Truths, and the source of his explanations comes from the text, "Instruction of the Mahayana View, the Two Truths" by Dza Patrul Rinpoche, a great Dzogchen master.
For all those who want to free themselves from samsara, there are two types of dharma to follow. The dharma of practice and the dharma of realization.
The dharma of realization has two functions: to analyze and examine general phenomenon, and the mind. Regarding the division between general phenomenon and the two truths (relative and absolute), relative truth pertains to all phenomenon up to the Tenth-Level Bodhisattva. The Tenth-Bodhisattva Level (bhumi) is the last stage before Buddhahood is attained. All the phenomenon, experience, and specifications on the path are also called relative truths. Relative or conventional phenomenon are of of two specific types, correct conventional phenomenon and incorrect conventional phenomenon.
Incorrect conventional phenomenon is the perception of ordinary, deluded beings, who wander in samsara. Without spiritual realization, whatever they perceive and recognize is considered to be incorrect conventional phenomenon. After having achieved the stages of the Bodhisattva and reached the state of aspiration, one attains some degree of realization.
Then whatever you perceive, you see phenomenon as correct conventional phenomenon. The reason the perception of the individual on the path of the Bodhisattva is called correct relative phenomenon is because he or she can directly relate to the reality of appearance; this means, phenomena is appearing but the bodhisattva knows it has no intrinsic reality.
From the first to the last stage of Bodhisattvahood, all the appearances of the world occur due to the result of habitual patterns; they are a reflection of one's habitual patterns. Even though it is known that these habitual patterns do not have an intrinsic reality, these inherently emtpy appearances still are there.
For example, there is a type of medicine called deer musk which is very smelly. Even if one takes it away and the musk is not present, the smell stays around for some time. This is an analogy to phenomenon on this level of bodhisattva realization; it is there even though it does not have intrinsic reality.
So the Buddha Shakyamuni went through all the stages of Bodhisattva practice. He does not have any habitual patterns and all conventional phenomenon seized to appear as we ordinary beings see them (ordinary beings falsely see phenomena as solid entitites). Such a person, like the Buddha, abides in a state free from all elaboration; they see all just as it is.
Therefore, being attached to the world and ordinary appearances is called incorrect or perverted conventional phenomenon. In order to get rid of this ordinary perception, you can meditate using Deity Practices (meditation on Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, etc.) and you can meditate on the illusory-nature of phenomenon.
The perception gained from these practices is called correct conventional phenomenon, because it is used to overcome the incorrect view of conventional phenomenon. These are still all part of the first truth, which is the relative or conventional truth.
Absolute truth refers to the state where there are no elaboration; the state of Buddhahood.
When all elaboration has ceased, this is called dharmadhatu. Dharmadhatu is a Sanskrit word; it is defined as the unconceived or unfabricated mode of existence, which is essentially Buddhahood. Dharmadhatu itself does not have classification or division, but in order to realize it and begin to understand it, some classification has been made. Therefore we can talk about realizing the nature of all phenomenon, realizing the dharmadhatu. We can talk about gaining the absolute realization, which is Buddhahood.
But, in the state of dharmadhatu itself, there is nothing that can be experienced or not experienced. However, in order to relate to dharmadhatu you can explain it in a conventional way. Ordinary beings can relate to absolute truth by inference but not directly; ordinary beings can infer or imagine but cannot directly see absolute truth, until they have gained enlightenment. However, exalted beings on the path of the bodhisattvas can relate more directly.
So, in summary now, there is first the appearance of phenomena and then there is also attachment to it. This is how phenomenon appears to ordinary beings with ordinary perception; this is the incorrect conventional/relative perception. This incorrect perception is called invalid cognition.
To persons on the exalted path, the path of the bodhisattva, phenomenon appears to them but they do not have attachment to it. This is how they perceive. This type of perception is called correct relative perception, or valid cognition.
When there is no more specification anymore such as appearance and nonappearance, attachment and non-attachment, and realizing and not realizing, when all these dualistic perceptions have subsided that state is called Buddhahood, and also known as the Absolute Truth, or cognition which realizes ultimate reality.
Therefore, ordinary beings perceive the phenomenon and are attached. The second type of person, those who are not yet enlightened but not ordinary (since they are progressing on the bodhisattva path) see the phenomenon but are not attached. Finally those who abide in a state of Buddhahood are beyond both extremes, and have no specification of appearance or attachment.
For ordinary beings to understand the relative truth they have to rely on examination and analyzation. Whereas, exalted beings or bodhisattvas can realize the nature of appearance directly through practice, without examination and analyzation.
Those who are in the state of dharmadhatu, Buddhahood, have realized the ultimate nature of phenomenon and so there is no specification such as realizing and non-realizing. However, in order for us to relate to these states we need conventional terms such as realization.
So, from the point of view of the equality of the two truths, there is no perception of existence or nonexistence. As long as one holds on to any of the two extremes, one has not gained this state of equality, which is the Madhyamika view or middle way. The moment one realizes the unperverted relative truth, all the perceptions of existence and nonexistence dissolves. So at that moment, that very moment one realizes the absolute nature of the conventional truth, all specifications that exist in the perception of existence and nonexistence, permanence and impermanence (all this duality of ideas) dissolves!
The true nature of the relative aspect itself is ultimate truth. The true nature of the relative truth is the ultimate truth, that is said in the Prajna-Paramita Sutra. The reason for dividing reality into Two Truths is to make it easier for people to realize it, to make it more systematic to follow.
So whatever appears, perception which is not enlightened (not based on the view of the Buddha's enlightened mind) is called relative truth. When all the confusions and the ordinary perceptions are dissolved, when the mind is free from the perceptions of not having confusions or ordinary perception, this is called Absolute or Ultimate Truth.
Shantideva said in the Bodhicaryavatara, the perception of existence and nonexistence does not remain in front of the (enlightened) mind, there remains no perception of any sort. In this state one is free from all conceptualization and the mind is pacified. From the point of view of the ultimate truth there is no ability to be divided or unequal, since it does not exist itself as an entity. Because it does not exist as a true thing, it cannot be divided. The mind of the Buddha is free from all extremes. From that point of view, reality cannot be divided into any number.