Lotus Buddhism / FAQ / What is “Truth”?

What is “Truth”?

Nichiren Buddhism distinguishes between 2 kinds of truths: Relative and Absolute:

  • Relative truth is that which is valid according to changing circumstances.

  • Absolute truth is that which is valid at all circumstances in time and space.

In his teachings “Introduction” chapter: seven important points, Nichiren explains what is relative and what is absolute though the example of the phenomenon of “fire” :

  • it is true that “fire” can be used as in a burning torch to produce light that can be beneficial at night. This is a relative fact, because fire will not produce this effect in daylight, where everything is already visible.

  • but “fire” will burn the matter it consumes - and this is true, whether it is day or night.  This is a truth that Nichiren calls Unchanging. It does not change with occurring circumstances.

The concept of Universal Truth in Buddhism

The words Universal, Absolute and Ultimate, imply an observation that is valid at all times, past, present and future (and of course, in any place).  A fact that is occurring everywhere and at all times - is beyond the conditioning of time and space, and because it is not relative to anything, then it is universal. 

Such truths that are unchanging (or universal and absolute) are agreed upon by all people, because the mentioned truths are already experienced - by every person:

Impermanence, Interconnectedness and Order (or Law)

1/ Impermanence: All things and phenomena undergo change.  Although various phenomena repeat in time, they do not last in duration.  This is the truth of impermanence, referred to also by the truth of “temporary existence”.  We all experienced this “truth of continual change”, body and mind, since birth.

2/ Interconnectedness: All things are interconnected and dependent on each other through relationships.  Nothing can claim an isolated separate identity - because everything is dependent on other things, which are also dependent … etc..   This observation is based on the concept of Dependent Origination. (It is also referred to by Sunyata or the field of ‘emptiness from ego-self’, but using the word “interconnectedness”, however, is easier to refer to the basic essence of this truth).  All people’s lives are interconnected with each other and the environment.

3/ The Law (of Cause and Effect): The world we live in is not chaotic: it manifests certain order or laws (of nature) and patterns (in relationships).  The dynamism of changes that take place - is not arbitrary.  Events occur in consistent patterns of causes, conditions and effects.  The Law of Cause and Effect is the bond of all what exists. This Law is what science depends on in explaining the dynamism of natural phenomena.  In the mental field of relationships too, we all know that causes of actions create consequences.  

Source: three truths | Dictionary of Buddhism | Nichiren Buddhism Library

How do we perceive the truth of an object?

In order to identify an object, we use the five senses to discern its physical features.  It is undeniable that any object or phenomena must have traces through which the object is detected.  The truth of physical existence is referred to in Buddhist terms as the truth of Temporary Existence.

Another important aspect of existence is the mental or inner nature of an observed object.  It is not possible to detect mental nature by the five senses.  This marks the difference between the Physical and Nonphysical aspect of existence.  In Buddhist terms, the inner nature (or mental aspect) is a field of information related to the history and relations of the object - and it is called the field of Sunyata (emptiness of individual nature).

In this mental field of information there is no matter to be detected, no substance existing on its own - it is lacking inherent individuality (or ego-self). This realm of information about the reality of the world is filled with the potentialities of how objects or situations can change.  Being a field of information, it is void of matter, a Void filled with vibrant imagery about the functions objects display, and about their potential of change. 

The truth of the Physical aspect, and the truth of the Mental aspect were always debated in philosophy and religions, and are viewed as dualistic and separate in nonBuddhist views.  Nichiren Buddhism regards the integration of the Physical and Mental - as a truth in itself, called the MiddleWay. 

The MiddleWay of existence is the fusion of both physical and mental truths.  This fusion is evident in the entity of a living being, having both aspects of body and mind at the same time. This is why the Middle Way truth is called the “Entity” of existence. 

The MiddleWay then is the bond that fuses the physical and mental into one entity. In Nichiren Buddhism, this power that is operative at the essence of all existence is called the Mystic Law of Life: MyohoRengeKyo.