The Absolute and the Relative


Perhaps you’ve heard this one.  God and Satan were walking together one day, when God leaned down and picked something up.  Satan asked, “what is that?” and God answered, “oh, it’s just the Truth,” to which Satan responded, “give it to me, I’ll organize it for you.”

As the notion of non-duality enters the collective subconscious, new debates are springing up about the absolute state of existence vs. the relative, and what is real.  There is a movement of neo-vedanta afoot which proclaims since all fabric of reality is an illusion, there is no action to perform and no sadhana is necessary because we already are That.  It is said that even the act of seeking the absolute is a barrier because it presupposes that there is separateness.

This is a little like telling a person standing in a dark cave that in fact there is a whole crowd inside the cave with him.  Existentially this may be true but, in that pitch, black, the man will feel utterly alone until he turns on a lamp.  He is both alone, and not alone at the same time.  That is precisely how existence is – both absolute and relative.  Existence is infinite, and can be both, and is both.  Ironically, only a dualistic human being would argue that infinity can only be absolute.  There is no “either/or,” there is always “both/and.”  Existence is a paradox. (see:

So, the question becomes, where do we find ourselves?  If a sage is grounded in the infinite bliss and established in the silence of being, then she can speak from that perspective.  But if we find ourselves in the relative world then we must begin here.  Yes, there is an illusion of separation from the absolute, but that is a contracted energy form – we feel it in our bodies.  We need to work with that contraction to dissipate it, and as it goes, the illusion clears, and we can rest in the absolute.  But denying, or worse, fighting the illusion only feeds it more energy.  In order to clear away the veil, it needs to be dissolved in love, not denial.  Yoga also works on contracted energies in the body in order to release them.

The litmus test of where we are is in our likes & dislikes.  If they exist in any form, then we are in the relative.  But to take in all experience in an equanimous way, spontaneously and joyfully, that is a sign of pure being.  Rejecting our experiences, usually because of how we feel, means we are in a divided state within ourselves and we are arguing with what is.  Then there is no experience Oneness and from that space, we can not claim that there is only the absolute because that is not what is being experienced as reality in that moment.  As Amoda Maa says, “Real Oneness manifests as your lived experience when there is no attempt to reject the depth of your inner experience.”

The distinction is that there is a self before and after realization.  Prior to that, the self deludes itself into believing that it is separate.  After that, the self is a reflection of the One Self.  The self continues and matures into more and more transparent melting into its Source.  That is the process of integration on this plane that we find ourselves on.

The question of the absolute and the relative can be likened to a fuzzy picture.  Yes, ultimately there is only one picture but now it is fuzzy.  We can go on pretending that it is just one clear picture but that is only a mental concept at this point.  Only by either snapping into a sudden focus (direct path) or gradually working on focusing the image (progressive path) can we eventually take away the fuzziness and see absolute, sharp clarity.

And so, even after realization, the process continues.  Existence is infinitely complex and to experience it means to engage with it.  The relative is impermanent, but impermanence is not the same thing as non-existence.  If what we call as God permeates every spec of Creation, then how can we claim to be divorced from the relative world?  As the Gita says, “Established in yoga, perform action.”

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