Relative truth

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Relative truth (Skt. saṃvṛtisatya; Tib. ཀུན་རྫོབ་བདེན་པ་, Wyl. kun rdzob bden pa) — one of the two truths, the way things appear to be, as distinct from how they actually are.

Patrul Rinpoche writes: "Generally speaking, all appearances—from those of the lowest hell of Ultimate Torment up to and including the post-meditation experience of bodhisattvas on the tenth bhumi—are relative."[1]


Patrul Rinpoche writes:

"There are two kinds of relative:

  • the incorrect relative and
  • the correct relative.

"All that we perceive before we set out on the path belongs to the category of the incorrect relative. When we have reached the stage of ‘aspirational practice,’ if we can integrate some realization into our experience, it becomes the correct relative, but whenever we do not, it is the incorrect relative. Once we reach the bhumis, all that appears to the mind is the correct relative—‘relative’ because ‘mere appearances’ have not yet ceased, and [‘correct’] because their falsity is seen directly. These appearances continue to arise from the first bhumi until the tenth bhumi, since the age-old habit of perceiving things as real has not yet been abandoned, in the same way that the scent of musk will linger in a container. Eventually, at the level of buddhahood, when these habitual tendencies have been completely eradicated, there are no dualistic perceptions whatsoever, and one remains exclusively in the ultimate sphere, beyond any conceptual elaboration.

"Clinging to the ordinary world, both the outer environment and the beings within it, as real is the incorrect relative. The antidote to this, such as visualizing everyone as pure deities and the environment as the pure mandala palace, while at the same time considering them to be a mere illusion, is the correct relative."[2]

Alternative Translations

  • Conventional truth
  • Everyday truth (Sprung)
  • Ostensible truth (Kapstein)
  • Superficial truth/reality
  • Surface reality (Seyfort-Ruegg)


  1. Patrul Rinpoche, Clarifying the Two Truths
  2. id.

Further Reading

  • The Cowherds, Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2011