Some Common Misunderstandings of 'Two Truths Doctrine' in Nondual Philosophies that May Impede Recognition and Discussion of Painful Situations
[Note from The Editors: The following remarkably lucid (and scholarly) article was originally posted as a comment to the article Vimala Thakar’s Concealed Criticism and Andrew Cohen’s Treatment of Women—The Investigation Continues. We thought it might be good at this juncture to quiet the dogs of war, take a deep breath and consider its clarifying wisdom on the relationship between experiences of the absolute and conduct in the relative--often a tricky and confusing matter.]
1) From a lettery by Tim Conway
“…the greatest sages of India have long cautioned that enlightened spiritual vision must function on two levels:
the absolute level of (paramarthika satyam)
the conventional, "relatively real" level of truth (vyavaharika satyam).
(Note: In Buddhadharma this is known as 'Two Truths Doctrine' and an interested reader can find an article about it on Wikipedia)
Conway writes: 'Thus, the sages, when speaking from the absolute level of parlance, say that, indeed, everything is Divine, all is Brahman, nothing is wrong (in fact, no-thing is really happening!), it's all the perfect leela of the One.
‘But, on the relative or conventional level, the level of earthly conduct, these sages strongly uphold the Dharma of righteous action, ahimsa, purity, and so forth.
'Such sages thus say that, in the absolute view, everything is okay, but on the relative level they are quite adamant that certain behaviors are wrong, sinful, or just inappropriate and should be stopped.
‘For devotees of the Lord to sit back and just say that "everything is divine," which is certainly true on the absolute level, but then do nothing about evils and injustices that occur within the dream of earthly life because "it is all divine" --is a terrible avoidance of basic duty on behalf of Dharma. With this apathy and flawed attitude, none of the great evils of history would have ever been resisted and overcome.
"…one can in fact see everything as Divine leela, but still be quite active in an engaged spirituality on behalf of socio-economic justice issues. (unquote)
(from the article by Renard entitled ‘A Hot Potato’) http://www.advaya.nl/
2) “I still like the expression ‘Advaita Shuffle’ for what I mean here. It points to secretly (or unconsciously) removing a subject that is experienced as threatening or uneasy to a level where that uneasy matter has ‘dissolved’; in other words dissolved into the very substance it consists of indeed: Consciousness itself, pure Knowing.
‘A smuggletrick is used in order not to be accountable as an individual (because ‘the individual’ is seen as unreal). And that accountability is precisely what this is all about.
“What actually is accountability?
”It means being open to the reality of all levels, no matter how temporal and relative, and being ready to resonate with those levels. It also means a readiness to listen to comments or observations that may refer to a specific attitude which could be a blind spot for us.
“Even though one has seen and ‘experienced’ deeply that one is nothing else but undifferentiated, homogeneous Consciousness, one still is, when relating to people, a visual and behaving figure who could be mistaken sometimes. And nothing or no one is getting any benefit from hiding behind ‘Consciousness’ when one is mistaken. (Unquote)
3) Over forty years ago, Sanskrit scholar Aghendanda Bharati, an Austrian born Sanyassi monk in India, tartly described a abuse of two truths doctrine-- used by some Indian scripture scholars or religious professionals when they wanted to avoid admitting that they had lost an argument because their logic was flawed or their understanding or use of textual material had been faulty.
Bharati reported, ”I learned the stereotypical method of rebuttal common to all traditions of religious doctrine in India: The moment discursive thought (that is, thought that is based on reaching a conclusion through use of reason and verifiable /falsifiable evidence) would jeopardize the axiomatic perfection of the text, the critic is given a simple line:
‘Your argument may be intellectually valid but what of it? Only those who have seen the light can see the consistency of the text. Only those who have experienced the truth from within can see that intellectual argument is of no avail in the end.’
"This would hardly be objectionable were the atmosphere among Indian scholastics purely non-discursive.
‘But’ wrote Bharati ‘this is not true: the theologians avail themselves of refined scholastic argument all the time, but they jettison all of it the moment their axioms are impugned.’
(Bharati, from his memoir The Ochre Robe pages 132 to 133)
The confusion of different levels of reality listed by Tim Conway can be the product of an innocent misunderstanding — a misunderstanding that seems common on the spiritual path and that frequently goes uncorrected.
The distortions of two truths doctrine described by Renard as a ‘smuggletrick’ and a 'steoreotypical method of rebuttal' by Bharati are harder to identify and correct.
Confrontation is often frowned on in spiritual communities, with the result that problems go undiscussed and uncorrected.
It is also quite difficult to identify and rebut this kind of argumentation when one is under severe stress--- often the case when one is undergoing the ordeal of discovering that a beloved spiritual community or teacher has become hurtful.