Should we not conflate the paramārthika (absolute) with the vyavahārika (relative)?

The dual and the non-dual…should the twain never intersect?

I find many non-dualist sādhakas admonish ordinary folks such as myself that the non-dual absolute (paramārthika) should never be brought into a dualistic (vyavahārika) context. This is typically a reaction when these highly intelligent individuals are questioned vis-á-vis their often strong reactions to perceived (and/or purported) wrongs against something they believe in very strongly.

Let me walk you through an example. One worthy was critiquing someone who expressed the view “I am spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) in the context of his/her faith in Bhagavan (God), without subscribing to the definition of Bhagavan that the hindu shāstras outline. It is evident from such a statement that the SBNR individual was not very well versed in the traditional sense, and/or has some limited exposure. Yet, this individual’s demeanor towards the SBNR was one of contempt (later altered to annoyed amusement).

When I inquired as to whether it would be a better idea to have compassion towards the SBNR rather than contempt, it was well received (this person is very intelligent, and has very good grounding in the shāstras (formal student), and a practicing Advaitin). However, when I made the point, “if we are advaitins, and consider that it is our own Self that is in all beings, how can we bear a contemptuous/condescending attitude towards another?”, I faced the “don’t conflate the vyavahārika with the paramārthika” response. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this of course. A very famous Hindu activist “intellectual” often admonishes people for what he calls “idiocy” of conflating the “relative with the absolute”. Let us refer to this group DCARs (Don’t conflate the Absolute and the relative).

Let me post a disclaimer — I’m neither particularly well trained in the shāstras (I consider myself a self-trained maverick), nor am I an exceptionally intelligent person (I’m mediocre in comparison to the many super sharp friends). So please keep grains of sand handy if you decide to read this article any further.

Is the Absolute a fragile little flower that needs to be protected?

Personally, I don’t see a reason why the absolute (paramārthika) should remain relegated to the domain of some dusty altar, to be reveled at from time to time, as if it is something unique and rare, as if it is some fragile thing that one can only glance at sideways, and even looking at it would result in it getting tainted somehow, or worse still, destroyed!

That is not the absolute that I know of. The Absolute is our very Self, hence it is called “Atman”. And we put in substantial effort and rigor in order to know it. After all, that IS the objective of Self-realization, or ātmasākshātkāra. Then, after knowing what it is, how wise is it to just set it aside, like one would set aside their laptop bag after coming home from work or school?

Is this Absolute somehow susceptible to being tainted? Is it so fragile that it will crumble to bits if one were to “conflate” it with the dualistic/relative and transactional reality? No! In fact, our shāstras go out of their way to say that the Atman is immortal, it is spotless and untainted, ever free from sin and from any negativity (or positivity for that matter). So then, what is it about the Absolute that cannot be “conflated” upon the relative?

I’ve not heard a single argument from anyone who espouses “don’t conflate the absolute with the relative”, that has cleared my doubts.

Is the Absolute transactionally impractical?

Is spirituality meant to be kept separate from the “practical”? If we concede that, then we have to admit that spirituality is not practical, and therefore only an idiot would apply it in the transactional world. But if we introspect the purpose of having a spiritual practice at all, it is so that our everyday experience of the world is made free of suffering (due to rāga-dvésha aka the like-dislike duality). Ultimately the outcome should be to become liberated from the cycle of birth and rebirth, mōksha.

So it seems that our spiritual pursuits are primarily  in order to change our experience of transactional reality (which is none other than suffering, for the mumukshu/seeker). That being the case, how can we claim that the absolute should not be conflated with the relative? The whole reason why we seek the absolute is to be free from the clutches of the relative, to stop being tormented by the ups and downs of life.

It seems that the DCARs, are not especially better off than the SBNR group. One group might be deficient in shāstraic education (SBNR), the other seems to be deficient in humility and compassion (the side effects of true jñāna).

The absolute should become the guiding light for all our interactions in the vyavahārika world. One cannot consider to be on the jñāna yoga path if one cannot develop and exhibit the very attributes that are the result of said jñāna — compassion, gentleness, loving-kindness and equanimity (samadṛṣṭi (समदृष्टि)). They are very clearly articulated in form of sādhanā chatushtāya and shadsampat.

If we investigate exactly who is it that wants to keep the absolute separated from the relative, we will find that it is none other than the ego. It is the ego that likes and dislikes, that loves the us-vs-them paradigm. It is the ego that exhibits egoism, contempt, scorn and condescension.

Summary

So if I could summarize the 902 words prior to this section, I would say that one must indeed conflate the Absolute and the relative. In fact, one should not do a single thing in the relative, transactional reality that would negatively affect the criteria outlined in the “sādhanā chatushtāya”.

If so, should a sādhaka even participate in the vyavahārika world? Should he or she run away to the mountains or forests to live out their lives in solitude?

The great Advaita masters seem to say that is wrong. One cannot run away from the world and call oneself “liberated”. True liberation should happen while living in the world. The Daoist masters call the sage “in the world but not of it”. If we cannot maintain our abidance as the Nondual Self amidst the trials and tribulations of samsāra, we cannot be free. So, the world, should be our laboratory, where we become the absolute and “disappear” the relative, over and over again. Not seeking separation and duality, but rather oneness via unconditional love, for every single being (and even thing) is nothing but our own Self.

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10 Replies to “Should we not conflate the paramārthika (absolute) with the vyavahārika (relative)?”

  1. What do you mean by “The absolute should become the guiding light for all our interactions in the vyavahārika world”..?

    Do you mean someone has to strive hard to make absolute their guiding light, in which case you mean there is duality, your ego determines your actions and someone has to work hard to somehow get that guidance of absolute into them..?

    If this ‘work hard’ differentiation is created, then there will be people who ‘will work hard’ and then there will be people who will not work hard. Then that leads to differentiation of ‘us vs them’. Then the attributes of jnAna (according to this article) like samdRsti, compassion may only differentially manifest..?

    just trying to understand… 🙂
    -TBT

  2. Dear TBT,

    It seems you didn’t read what I wrote properly. I’m not suggesting we have to “work hard” for anything. All I’m suggesting is that our actions in the vyavahārika world should be informed by the Absolute truth, which is that there is nothing apart from our Self. So, even one who has not yet realized that truth (only theoretical knowledge), should perform actions that will be cogent with that belief, that there is no one or no thing apart from the Self. When that is the perspective from which our interactions with the “world” occurs, there will no longer be (or very seldom be) feelings of hatred, anger, etc. Even if we have the feelings of hatred, anger, us-vs-them, we can then rectify it by remembering “I am Brahman”. This is a part of the practice called Nidhidhyāsana (this is accompanied by śravana, manana).

    Of course, this advice, though useful to all, is especially important for those who follow Nondual traditions, imho.

    Best,

    Dwai

    1. Dear Dwai

      🙂 . The ‘brahman’ in me that guides my reading action seems a poor reader.

      Dwai:

      “All I’m suggesting is that our actions in the vyavahārika world should be informed by the Absolute truth, which is that there is nothing apart from our Self. So, even one who has not yet realized that truth (only theoretical knowledge), should perform actions that will be cogent with that belief, that there is no one or no thing apart from the Self. ”

      My question:
      If ‘our’ actions are always actions of that ‘brahman’, then what is the need to be ‘informed’ of that.. What is the need of that belief..?

      Dwai:
      “When that is the perspective from which our interactions with the “world” occurs, there will no longer be (or very seldom be) feelings of hatred, anger, etc. Even if we have the feelings of hatred, anger, us-vs-them, we can then rectify it by remembering “I am Brahman””

      My question:
      Are the actions of people of different religions, faith systems apart from yours also guided by that Brahman..? If so, the universe can be seen as a play of brahman, but does such beliefs control anger, jealousy etc..?

      For eg. one may believe that God ‘X’ guides him/her, is in him/her and carry out killings of people without any anger (with the belief that it leads to heaven ) or with anger (with belief that’s order God has given) etc. . I mean use that belief/faith system of brahman in me to justify their own actions, right..?

      -TBT

      1. [[If ‘our’ actions are always actions of that ‘brahman’, then what is the need to be ‘informed’ of that.. What is the need of that belief..?]]

        Brahman doesn’t act. Our actions appear to be, just as the universe appears to be. All are just appearances in Brahman. Until there is this realization proper, the belief is needed to take us out of the “dream”.

        [[Are the actions of people of different religions, faith systems apart from yours also guided by that Brahman..? If so, the universe can be seen as a play of brahman, but does such beliefs control anger, jealousy etc..?

        For eg. one may believe that God ‘X’ guides him/her, is in him/her and carry out killings of people without any anger (with the belief that it leads to heaven ) or with anger (with belief that’s order God has given) etc. . I mean use that belief/faith system of brahman in me to justify their own actions, right..?]]

        See previous answer. Brahman doesn’t do anything. But everything appears to be done. All “doing” occurs only in the appearance. There is no personality, in reality. The work we do is to transcend the personality (and the world it seems to live in). 🙂

        1. Hmm…

          If Brahman does not act, all are appearances in Brahman, all doings occur only in appearance, no personalities are there in reality, then what is meany by ‘we do work to transcend the personality and the world it seems to live in’…?

          The ‘we’ is an appearance, not reality, the ‘work’ that ‘we’ do is appearance, not reality, the transcending is an appearance and not reality, right..?

          The sAdhanas that ‘we’ does, the ‘ideas’ that ‘we’ has about itself and others are all appearances and not reality.. It’s all the in ‘image’ projected by ‘real’…?

          The ‘real’ projects an ‘image’. Whatever the image does, Can ‘image’ become real..?

          -TBT

          1. Dear TBT,

            Action happens in the projection alone. Effort is needed to eliminate ignorance (of our true nature), which is neither existent, nor non-existent. It has a strange nature. When we investigate properly (effort), it turns out to not be there, through earlier it appeared as if it were.

            The “we” is really a result of this ignorance. The “we” is actually That (Brahman), which is appropriated by the mind as “I am”. The mind reflects the light of Brahman/awareness. So long as the sense of “I am A body/mind/personality” exists, effort is required. Once the realization happens that I am only That (Brahman), and all is my own projection, all effort falls away.

          2. Ok. The ‘image’ realizes it is an ‘image’. We all ‘understand’ or ‘realize’ that ‘we’ is a projection, it is ‘brahman’ that is true etc etc etc..

            What happens with that ‘understanding’ ‘realization’..?

            Your ‘realization’ or ‘understanding’ in itself is a ‘projection’, an ‘appearance’ that keeps changing. Not just the perception of ‘We’, the perception of That (Brahman) is also a projection/appearance as that ‘understanding/realization’ is part and parcel of the projection and appearance.

            In the colors that a soap bubble reflects, no color is permanent. All colors are projections, including what I am writing now..

            🙂

            -TBT

  3. [[What happens with that ‘understanding’ ‘realization’..?

    Your ‘realization’ or ‘understanding’ in itself is a ‘projection’, an ‘appearance’ that keeps changing. Not just the perception of ‘We’, the perception of That (Brahman) is also a projection/appearance as that ‘understanding/realization’ is part and parcel of the projection and appearance.]]

    Is it an appearance that keeps changing? It is not. The problem is that you are assuming that the personality/mind realizes. No! The identification with the personality/mind/body ceases. Then Self remains as Self. There is no “new knowledge” gained here. Just an “a ah!” moment in which identification with personality/mind/body ceases.

    1. The ‘You’, the ‘mind’ ‘concepts of brahman’ ‘projection’ ‘appearance’ ‘understanding’ ‘realization’ ‘mind’ are part of this projection, right, according to these principles. That is these are all the assumptions of these projections. These are the colors in the soap bubbles.

      Probably, the ‘realization’ of ‘body/mind’ ceasing or the ‘ah moment’ is also one color of this bubble..?

      “ko addhA veda ka iha pra vocat kuta AjAtA kuta iyaM visRSTiH arvAg devA asya visarjanenAthA ko veda yataAbabhUva”

      -TBT

  4. I think it is not possible for a person like me with very limited understanding of the Parama principle to either avoid mixing my ventures into such understanding with my vyavaharas or to do such mixing properly. If you ask me, I would not even now what ‘proper’ mixing would be like. But I thoroughly enjoyed Dwai;s article indicating the trickiness and inevitability of such conflation, and the endless problem which another bright seeker TBT has in fully absorbing the article as presented.

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