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Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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Absolute (Tib. döndam; Wyl. don dam), or absolute truth (Tib. döndam denpa) — everything has an absolute and a relative aspect: the absolute or ultimate is the inherent nature of everything, how things really are; the conventional or relative is how things appear. In the teachings, these are known as ‘the two truths’, but they are not to be understood as two separate dimensions, rather as two aspects of a single reality.
- the absolute which is the basic nature itself and
- the absolute which is the realization (or ‘making evident’) of this basic nature.
Then again, there is the division into
- the absolute that is clarified through study and reflection and
- the absolute that is experienced through meditation practice;
- the absolute that is conceptually inferred by ordinary beings versus
- the absolute that is experienced directly by noble beings.
There is also a division into
- the conceptual absolute (namdrangpé döndam) and
- the absolute that is beyond conceptualization (namdrang mayinpé döndam).
- An Instruction on the View of the Mahayana Clarifying the Two Truths by Patrul Rinpoche
- Literally “about which misconceptions are eliminated.”
The Absolute is the concept of an unconditional reality which transcends limited, conditional, everyday existence. It is sometimes used as an alternate term for "God" or "the Divine" especially, but by no means exclusively, by those who feel that the term "God" lends itself too easily to anthropomorphic presumptions. The concept of The Absolute may or may not (depending on one's specific doctrine) possess discrete will, intelligence, awareness, or a personal nature. It is sometimes conceived of as the source through which all being emanates. It contrasts with finite things, considered individually, and known collectively as the relative. This is reflected in its Latin origin absolūtus which means "loosened from" or "unattached."
English word, absolute, came from Middle French "absolut," which was originated from Latin "absolutus," a past participle of "absolvo," a verb, meaning "to set free, end, and complete," and "detached, pure.
The term absolute denotes whatever is free from any condition or restriction, and independent from any other element or factor. As with other concepts such as infinite, perfection, eternity, and others, absolute can be articulated only by negating finite concepts. Something that is absolute, in itself, is not immediately or directly accessible by human perception, experience, and comprehension. Thus, the concept of absoluteness is usually defined by negating what are immediately available to human knowledge. Perception and comprehension, in a usual sense of the term, are a relational event which presupposes relative elements such as knowing subject and object of knowledge. If the term absolute is understood in the strict sense, it rejects the relativity which is inherent to the mechanism of human cognition, understanding, and language. Thomas Aquinas discussed both ontological, epistemological, and methodological difficulties in articulating and accessing knowledge of that which is absolute which is by definition beyond any conditioning and limitations. Kant elaborated, in his Critique of Pure Reason, the limit of and conditions of human knowledge and the role limit concepts play in human understanding. He also developed philosophical arguments for the positive role of limit concepts in moral discourses.
In Christian theology and philosophy, the absolute is understood in the strict sense by excluding any form of relativity, which in turn raises questions regarding the personality of God. For God to have a personality, He must exist in relation to other beings; however, if God is absolute, then it poses a paradox within God to be both absolute and relative to other beings. Spinoza, for example, denied God's personality and creatorship. He instead proposed the immanence of God in the creation and a pantheistic oneness between God and the world. As with Spinoza, Hegel attempted to explain the creation of the world without the notion of creation. Hegel developed a pantheistic concept of the absolute and its relationship with the phenomenal world. (see Spinoza and Hegel)
The question of God's relativity and ([[[absoluteness]])] raises questions regarding God's nature and His relationships with human beings. Most contemporary philosophers do not accept the pantheistic explanations given by Spinoza or Hegel. As in German idealism, the question of absolute/relative is also intertwined with questions of transcendence and immanence. Some contemporary theories such as Open theism, for example, approaches these issues from the perspective of God's dynamic, personal, and relative relationship with human beings.
In various religious traditions, the term absolute is also ascribed to various values and natures of God, or the Ultimate being, and to human beings. Absolute love is characterized as unconditional love, which constitutes unconditional forgiveness, unconditional giving without expectation of reward or benefits, and service for the sake of others. A few examples of absolute love in religious traditions include Agape love in [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]], Mercy or compassion in Buddhism, etc.
Platonic metaphysics was built upon the eternal existence of the Good. Goodness of the Good (absolute goodness) is established by itself without recourse to any other condition. Kant's moral philosophy also presupposes the unconditionality of the good.
In religious traditions, truth is also understood as an attribute of God or the Ultimate being. Absolute, unconditional truth is often distinguished from natural truths and the former is said to be accessible by faith or revelation.
Faith in religion can also be qualified as unconditional. A Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard characterized faith as an act beyond rational reasoning. Faith is required for one to enter into the religious realm precisely because faith involves some rationally incomprehensible elements and an existential commitment.
Similarities and differences in various traditions
Examples of religions and philosophies which embrace the concept of the Absolute in one form or another include Hermeticism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Islam, some forms of Jewish philosophy, and existential or metaphysical forms of [[Wikipedia:Christianity|Christianity]]. Terms which serve to identify The Absolute among such beliefs include Wu Chi, Brahman, Adibuddha, Allah, Para Brahman, Tetragrammaton, God, the Divine, and numerous other appellations. In East Asia, the concept of the Tao, and in South Asia, the concept of Nirvana is synonymous in description to the attributes of the Absolute as used in the West.
The human vital essence - soul, spirit, spark of awareness, is said to have originally derived in each case from the Absolute and to be indestructible after the nature of the Absolute, and to be capable of returning to its source. This returning is the goal of those Eastern religions that have such a concept.
The general commonalities between the various versions of the Absolute are: infinity, indescribability, formlessness, transcendence and immanence. An additional commonality is that one must renounce and/or transcend physical existence and its distractions, in some cases even to the point of extinguishing identity and individual awareness, in order to understand or co-exist with the Absolute. Uniformly, human passions and vices are regarded as barriers to spiritual advancement, and such virtues as humility, charity and righteousness or pacifism are felt to help pave the way to enlightenment.
Thing in itself
Roughly, the Absolute may be distinguished from the following concepts, although there is debate of the synonymity between them:
Thing-in-itself, an actual object and its properties independent of any observer.
The noumenon is a posited object or event that is known (if at all) without the use of the senses.
However, rather than distinguishing from the relative, the thing in itself is used to distinguish an actual object from phenomenon (the appearance of things-in-themselves to the senses).
The Absolute in philosophy
Heraclitus concerned himself with the knowable portion of the Absolute with his Logos. Plotinus, a Neo-Platonic philosopher, saw all forms of existence as emanating from 'The One'. The One of Plotinus is a trans-sentient power or force. The concept of the Absolute was re-introduced into philosophy by Hegel, Schelling, and their followers; it is associated with various forms of philosophical idealism. The Absolute, either under that name, or as the "Ground of Being", or some similar concept, also figures in several of the attempted proofs of the existence of God, particularly the ontological argument and the cosmological argument. In scholastic philosophy the Absolute was regarded as Pure Act, unadulterated with remaining potential.
The concept was adopted into neo-Hegelian British idealism (though without Hegel's complex logical and dialectical apparatus), where it received an almost mystical exposition at the hands of F.H. Bradley. Bradley (followed by others including Timothy L.S. Sprigge) conceived the Absolute as a single all-encompassing experience, rather along the lines of Shankara and Advaita Vedanta. Likewise, Josiah Royce in the United States conceived the Absolute as a unitary Knower Whose experience constitutes what we know as the "external" world.
The mathematician Georg Cantor equated the mathematical concept of the Absolute Infinite with God.
However, the concept need not be taken to imply a universal unitary consciousness. American philosopher Brand Blanshard, for example, conceived the Absolute as a single overarching intelligible system but declined to characterize it in terms of consciousness or experience.
In eastern philosophy the Absolute is known as Parabrahman and to occult philosophy is known as the Void or Ever-Darkness. According to I. K. Taimni both the Vedas and the Upanishads contain indirect hints to an Ultimate Reality an unknowable principle. Taimni describes the Parabrahman as unknowable by the human mind and unthinkable but the highest object of realization and the most profound object of philosophical enquiry. Taimni wrote that:
Because the Ultimate Reality which is denoted by the word 'Absolute' or 'Parabrahman' is the very core of our being as well as the cause and basis of the universe of which we are part, we can no more get away from it than our solar system can get away from the sun round which it resolves and from which it receives everything which keeps it alive and moving. Although the Absolute is sometimes referred to by such epithets as the Void, Ever-Darkness etc. and is beyond intellectual comprehension, still, from the intellectual point of view it is the most profound concept in the whole realm of philosophy. The fact that it is called 'Unknowable' does not mean that it is beyond the range of philosophical or religious thought and something on which thinking is impossible or undesirable. The very fact that it is the heart and the basis of the universe should make it the most intriguing object of enquiry within the realms of the intellect.
— I.K. Taimni, 'Man, God and the Universe', Chapter 1
An absolute term denotes a property that a thing either can or cannot have. Such terms include absolute itself, chief, complete, perfect, prime, unique, and mathematical terms such as equal and parallel. By strict logic, absolute terms cannot be compared, as by more and most, or used with an intensive modifier, such as very or so. Something either is complete or it isn'tit cannot be more complete than something else. Consequently, sentences such as He wanted to make his record collection more complete, and You can improve the sketch by making the lines more perpendicular, are often criticized as illogical. · Such criticism confuses pure logic or a mathematical ideal with the rough approximations that are frequently needed in ordinary language. Certainly in some contexts we should use words strictly logically; otherwise teaching mathematics would be impossible. But we often think in terms of a scale or continuum rather than in clearly marked either/or categories. Thus, we may think of a statement as either logically true or false, but we also know that there are degrees of truthfulness and falsehood. Similarly, there may be degrees of completeness to a record collection, and some lines may be more perpendicular that is, they may more nearly approximate mathematical perpendicularity than other lines. · Accordingly, the objection to modification of an absolute term like parallel by degree seems absurd when it is used metaphorically, as in The difficulties faced by the Republicans are quite parallel to those that confronted the Democrats four years ago. This statement describes the structural correspondence between two distinct situations, and concerns about the possibility of intersection seem remote indeed. In this sense, parallelism is clearly a matter of degree, so one should not hesitate to modify parallel accordingly.
1. complete; perfect
2. free from limitations, restrictions, or exceptions; unqualified an absolute choice
3. having unlimited authority; despotic an absolute ruler
4. undoubted; certain the absolute truth
5. not dependent on, conditioned by, or relative to anything else; independent an absolute term in logic the absolute value of a quantity in physics
6. pure; unmixed absolute alcohol
7. (Linguistics / Grammar) (of a grammatical construction) syntactically independent of the main clause, as for example the construction Joking apart in the sentence Joking apart, we'd better leave now
8. (Linguistics / Grammar) Grammar (of a transitive verb) used without a direct object, as the verb intimidate in the sentence His intentions are good, but his rough manner tends to intimidate
9. (Linguistics / Grammar) Grammar (of an adjective) used as a noun, as for instance young and aged in the sentence The young care little for the aged
10. (Physics / General Physics) Physics
a. (postpositive) (of a pressure measurement) not relative to atmospheric pressure the pressure was 5 bar absolute Compare gauge 
b. denoting absolute or thermodynamic temperature
11. (Mathematics) Maths
a. (of a constant) never changing in value
b. (of an inequality) unconditional
c. (of a term) not containing a variable
12. (Law) Law (of a court order or decree) coming into effect immediately and not liable to be modified; final See decree absolute
13. (Law) Law (of a title to property, etc.) not subject to any encumbrance or condition
something that is absolute
1. being fully or perfectly as indicated; complete; perfect.
2. free from restriction, limitation, or exception: absolute power; absolute freedom.
3. outright; unqualified: an absolute lie; an absolute denial.
4. unrestrained in the exercise of governmental power; not limited by laws or a constitution: an absolute monarchy.
5. viewed independently; not comparative or relative; ultimate: absolute knowledge.
6. positive; certain; definite: absolute in opinion; absolute proof.
7. not mixed or adulterated; pure.
a. relatively independent syntactically in relation to other elements in a sentence, as the construction It being Sunday in It being Sunday, I wasn't at work.
b. (of a usu. transitive verb) used without an object, as give in Please give generously.
c. (of an adjective or possessive pronoun) used alone, with the noun that is modified understood but not expressed, as hungry in to feed the hungry or mine in Take mine.
a. independent of arbitrary standards or of particular properties of substances or systems: absolute humidity.
b. pertaining to a system of units, as the centimeter-gram-second system, based on some primary units, esp. units of length, mass, and time.
c. pertaining to a measurement based on an absolute zero or unit, as in the absolute temperature scale.
10. Math. (of an inequality) indicating that the expression is true for all values of the variable, as x2 + 1 > 0 for all real numbers x.
11. something that is not dependent upon external conditions for existence or for its specific nature, size, etc. (opposed to relative).
12. the absolute,
a. something that is free from any restriction or condition.
b. something that is independent of some or all relations.
c. something that is perfect or complete.
[1350–1400; Middle English < Latin absolūtus complete, finished, unqualified, past participle of absolvere to release; see absolve]
From a Buddhist perspective, there is no text in which the Buddha explicitly argues that the universe lacks an essence; he instead critiques positions regarding an ultimate nature of reality — such as those found in the Upanishads — in the manner of later Prasangikas. The Buddha of the early texts does speak of experiencing "luminous consciousness" beyond the six sense media. Passages in which the Buddha criticizes those who talk about things not amenable to experience are quite common in the early texts.
Nagarjuna, one of the most prominent philosophers of Mahayana Buddhism, was considered by early scholarship as propounding an absolutist doctrine with his development of the Buddhist concept of shunyata. This is criticized by many modern scholars as incorrect and not grounded on textual evidence. The consesnsus is that Nagarjuna defended the classical Buddhist emphasis on phenomena. For him shunyata is explicitly used as a middle way between eternalism and nihilism, and that is where its soteriological power lies. It does not refer specifically to an ultimate, universal, or absolute nature of reality. Holding up emptiness as an absolute or ultimate truth without reference to that which is empty is the last thing either the Buddha or Nagarjuna would advocate. Nagarjuna criticized those who conceptualized shunyata: "The Victorious Ones have announced that emptiness is the relinquishing of all views. Those who are possessed of the view of emptiness are said to be incorrigible." By contrast, many schools of Mahayana Buddhism, particularly those in alignment with the Tathagatagarbha scriptures, affirmed some notions regarding a positive absolute, identifying it with the true or original substance or Self of the Buddha.
Kant questioned whether the absolute can be thought.
People have always spoken of the absolutely necessary [absolutnotwendigen] being, and have taken pains, not so much to understand whether and how a thing of this kind can even be thought, but rather to prove its existence.... if by means of the word unconditioned I dismiss all the conditions that the understanding always requires in order to regard something as necessary, this does not come close to enabling me to understand whether I then still think something through a concept of an unconditionally necessary being, or perhaps think nothing at all through it.
— Critique of Pure Reason, A593
Nietzsche criticized Hegel's claims about the non-relative Absolute.
Words are but symbols for the relations of things to one another and to us; nowhere do they touch upon absolute truth. ... Thus it is, today, after Kant, an audacious ignorance if here and there, especially among badly informed theologians who like to play philosopher, the task of philosophy is represented as being quite certainly "comprehending the Absolute with the consciousness," somewhat completely in the form "the Absolute is already present, how could it be sought somewhere else?" as Hegel has expressed it.
— Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, § 11.