Absolutism and Relativism in Advaita

Rajiv Malhotra rajiv.malhotra at WORLDNET.ATT.NET
Wed Apr 5 10:13:55 CDT 2000

Comments on Nanda Chandran's posting:
For Advaitins the truth is absolute - one without
another. But this is paramArtha saytam - ultimate
The moment you, i.e. any conditioned being within the manifest, try to
conceptualize it, it is no longer absolute, because it is framed and
filtered through the viewer's conditioning. So any absolute view is
inaccessible from outside that absolute state. Hence, to defines something
as absolute has the risk of it getting pictured, visualized, even abstractly
understood in terms which are inherently dualistic. Therefore, what Shankara
calls absolute cannot be understood as such until one achieves the absolute
However, upon reaching the absolute state, there are no concepts or ideas
left in terms of which to describe it.
The problem is trying to explain a meta-language from within a language
For the JainAs truth is multi faceted and that's
the logic behind the syAdvAda or the "maybe"
doctrine - relatively the truth is one, relatively
the truth is many etc It's an anti-absolutist stand.
Yes, this says that since the discourse of philosophical conversation
happens within language, any view must be relativistic only, since language
cannot transcend dualities. Going further, it says that even to think that
there is some absolute state 'out there' is itself the product of
relativistic thinking, because it is the intellect that requires categories
and logical explanation. Any intellect is trapped in a relative realm.

 But again the MAdhyamikas accept neither
the absolutist stand of the Advaitins or the
non-absolutist stand of the JainAs. For them
truth cannot be expressed in words as all thought
is in the realm of relativity ie there can be
an absolute only if there's a relative. Truth
is beyond these conceptions.
I agree with this stand.

All speculative philosophies if logic is strictly
adhered to will either end up in absolutism or
nihilism - because these are the two ends of human
conception. Push the right buttons and all the
HinayAna schools of Buddhism which deny the Self
will end up in nihilism. All the non-absolutist schools
which have the Self/consciousness as reality - the JainAs,
the brAhmanical schools - if they strictly adhere to
their own logic, will end up in the absolutism of
But logic must itself get relativized at some stage in order to proceed.
This is also the post-modern conclusion by many scientists. Even categories
such as the concept of number itself are not absolute.

Rajiv Malhotra

bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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