Paramartha

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Paramartha (devanāgarī: परमार्थ paramārtha) is a Sanskrit term that can be translated as "the highest or whole truth, spiritual knowledge".[1] When used along with the word "satya" it is used to refer to the absolute truth (paramārtha-satya) as opposed to the relative or empirical one (saṃvṛti-satya).

Blavatsky on Paramartha

In The Secret Doctrine, H. P. Blavatsky writes:

“Paramârtha” is self-consciousness in Sanskrit. Svasamvedana, or the “self-analysing reflection”—from two words, parama (above everything) and artha (comprehension).[2]

This "self-consciousness" is not the normal awareness of the self that the common person has. In another passage, Blavatsky talks of paramārtha as being "true Self-Consciousness".[3] This true self-consciousness is not associated to any sense of egotism, as can be inferred from the following definition: "Absolute Being and Consciousness which are Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness".[4]

Paramartha-satya

In Mahāyāna Buddhism the term paramārtha is frequently used together with the word "satya" (truth) to mean the absolute or ultimate truth (paramārtha-satya) as opposed to the relative or empirical truth (saṃvṛti-satya). This doctrine is known as the "Two Truths". They are defined as follows:

  • Relative or commonsense truth (Sanskrit samvṛtisatya, Pāli sammuti sacca, Tibetan kun-rdzob bden-pa), describes our daily experience of a concrete world. This "truth" is dualistic and regarded to be based on appearances and mistaken perceptions.
  • Ultimate truth (Sanskrit, paramārthasatya, Pāli paramattha sacca, Tibetan: don-dam bden-pa) is non-dual, and describes the ultimate reality as śūnyatā or the emptiness of concrete and inherent characteristics of objects.

Samvriti-satya

Connected to the concept of paramārtha-satya is that of saṁvṛti-satya, refers to the conventional, as opposed to the absolute, truth or reality. It refers to the empirical truth based on the common understanding of ordinary people, which is usually accepted in everyday life and can be admitted for practical purposes of communication.

Mme. Blavatsky on the "Two Truths"

Mme. Blavatsky explains this subject as follows:

Satya mean[s] absolute true being, or Esse. In Tibetan Paramârthasatya is Dondampaidenpa. The opposite of this absolute reality, or actuality, is Samvritisatya—the relative truth only—“Samvriti” meaning “false conception” and being the origin of illusion, Maya; in Tibetan Kundzabchi-denpa, “illusion-creating appearance”.[5]

This word has been used both by the Yogachara and the Madhyamaka schools. H. P. Blavatsky says:

There is a difference in the interpretation of the meaning of “Paramârtha” between the Yogâchâryas and the Madhyamikas, neither of whom, however, explain the real and true esoteric sense of the expression.[6]
The Yogâchâryas interpret the term as that which is also dependent upon other things (paratantral); and the Madhyamikas say that Paramârtha is limited to Paranishpanna or absolute perfection; i.e., in the exposition of these “two truths” (out of four), the former believe and maintain that (on this plane, at any rate) there exists only Samvritisatya or relative truth; and the latter teach the existence of Paramârthasatya, the “absolute truth.”[7]
This is shown by the very wording of the Sloka, which speaks of Alaya being in Paramartha—i.e., in Absolute Non-Being and Unconsciousness, being at the same time absolute perfection or Absoluteness itself. This word, however, is the bone of contention between the Yogâchârya and the Madhyamika schools of Northern Buddhism. The scholasticism of the latter makes of Paramartha (Satya) something dependent on, and, therefore, relative to other things, thereby vitiating the whole metaphysical philosophy of the word Absoluteness. The other school very rightly denies this interpretation.[8]

The "Two Truths" in Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta, together with other spiritual traditions, makes a distinction between relative truth and absolute truth. The former referring to the relative knowledge of the normal, dualistic world and the latter to the knowledge that comes with the experience of non-duality.[9]

Paramartha-tattva

Further reading

Notes

  1. Paramārtha at Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary
  2. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 48, fn.
  3. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 44, fn.
  4. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 47.
  5. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 48, fn.
  6. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 44, fn.
  7. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. I, (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 48.
  8. Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, Collected Writings vol. X (Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1988), 347.
  9. B. Gupta, Perceiving in Advaita Vedanta: Epistemological Analysis and interpretation (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1995), 15.