Blog: The Two Truths: Finding Meaning in Difficult Situations
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
In a dinner conversation with friends, the Buddhist concept of the Two Truths came up. In Buddhist philosophy, the Two Truths offers an explanation of the nature of reality. The discussion wound around to how I introduce adapted elements of the Two Truths to students in my Depth Hypnosis Foundation Course. This adaptation is a bit like an overview, making the concept a little easier to grasp and apply in a Western context. Of course, the Two Truths are in fact quite a complex set of teachings and there are many excellent texts where you can learn more about them in-depth. For further reading on the subject, I recommend Live in a Better Way: Reflections on Truth, Love, and Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Buddhist teachings on the Two Truths describe the ways that we perceive and experience reality as relative truth and ultimate truth. Relative truth is the experience we are more familiar with. This is the reality of the daily highs and lows we feel as we relate to our environment. Relative truth is changeable.
Ultimate truth is our deeper level of experience, one that is not blown about by the winds of change. By some definitions, the essence of the ultimate truth is compassion, bliss, and wisdom. While ultimate truth is different from relative truth, they are not separate. For instance, Buddha nature, which refers to our truest state, one that is connected to limitless compassion and permeates our experience as human beings, is considered to be the expression of ultimate truth on a personal level.
For ease of understanding and to bring it down to a more personal level, the Two Truths are adapted for Depth Hypnosis in this way: We can understand our experience at the personality level (relative truth) and the soul level (ultimate truth). While these two levels on which we can interpret our experience are not separate from one another, they are different, and they support each other even though they encompass different perspectives.
The concept of the Two Truths may be better understood when applied to a situation one of my students experienced with his mother. Juan struggled with his decision to leave his home country of Spain in order to study in the United States. His mother, Lucia, did not want him to go and took every opportunity to make him feel guilty for choosing to go. If we evaluate Juan’s situation using the Two Truths concept, we are able to see that his personality level experience was one of pain due to his mother’s rejection of his choice to move to America to pursue his aspirations. Yet, at a soul level, he knew he had to go.
Juan’s mother’s rejection of his desires and dreams was uncomfortable for him on a personality level. On a soul level, however, Juan had an important task before him that he may not have had the opportunity to accomplish without the obstacles his mother put before him. While trying to free himself from the pain caused by his mother’s unkindness, Juan had to do a great deal of self-examination to determine what he was and was not willing to give up to please her. This self-examination, which occurred on the personality level, provided him with lessons on the soul level.
The effort to know his deepest desire led Juan beyond the experience of his mother’s treatment of him, and beyond the experience of their negative exchanges. He had to connect with that which was ultimately unchanging in importance to him, which he discovered was the experience of living to his highest potential. To do this, he needed to look deep inside and examine his reaction to his mother, review his intention for himself and his happiness, and then determine the best way to set the course in order to attain his ultimate goal as he had envisioned it for himself.
By making the difficult choice to separate from his mother, Juan discovered the importance of remaining loyal to himself and to his own highest calling, rather than allowing himself to be harmed on both the personality and soul levels. Learning to be loyal to himself was an important realization on a soul level that Juan could not have attained without the difficulty he had experienced in his relationship with his mother on the personality level. To find peace, Juan had to discover what was right and true for him – not for his mother or anyone else – and then determine how he would remove any obstacles preventing him from reaching his goal. And he had to do this while holding his mother with compassion.
What Juan’s journey shows us is how the experience on the personality level informs the experience on a soul level and vice versa. If Juan had not been tuned into his soul’s desires, he would not have been able to fully comprehend the degree to which the conflict with his mother was acting as an obstacle to fulfilling those desires. By tuning in further on the soul level, Juan was able to use the obstacles that arose on the personality level to shed light on the importance of his experience on the soul level, which he was then able to articulate.
The teachings of the Two Truths are among the most profound that Buddhism offers regarding the nature of reality. Their wisdom is demonstrated for us over and over again in almost every action we take and in every relationship we participate in. Juan’s experience exemplifies the relationship between the ultimate and relative levels of existence. What we are experiencing on the personality level is often just a message to us to look for the deeper lesson that is being presented by the situation.
All of us, in every moment, are in this navigation between the soul’s level of experience and the personality’s level of experience. However, most of us are completely unaware this is taking place. The irony is that we don’t seek to understand our experience more deeply until we are struggling to resolve a conflict that has arisen. But when we allow conflict to reveal the deeper aspect of our nature by helping us tap into the truth of our experience, we realize once again the gift that lies hidden in the heart of conflict.
Juan was able to access this gift when he took responsibility for his experience. Doing so opened up his view of the entire situation, allowing him to see the parallels between the part of himself that kept him feeling guilty and the part that felt powerless due to his mother’s blaming of him for making choices she did not agree with. Because of the external experience of conflict with his mother and the suffering it caused, Juan undertook the task of examining how his own intention and motivation was affecting his inner world. In doing so, he gained clarity about the way he had participated in creating a painful relative reality and was able to change his relationship to his mother’s disappointment by choosing not to feel guilty.
If we can learn to cultivate the teachings of the Two Truths and integrate their wisdom as we go about our days, our lives will change for the better. Not only will our daily experience take on a new depth and richness, we also will be less reactive to those whose opinions are different from our own. We will be more open to approaching situations where conflict is present as opportunities for learning and less likely to see those with whom we are in conflict as separate from us. This helps us stay connected to our essential nature and the truth that we are all connected.
Editors’ Note: For more on Isa’s approach to Buddhist concepts check out her video on Applied Buddhist Psychology.