From the Secret Doctrine:

"Outside of initiation, the ideals of contemporary religious thought must always have their wings clipped and remain unable to soar higher; for idealistic as well as realistic thinkers, and even free-thinkers, are but the outcome and the natural product of their respective environments and periods. The ideals of both are only the necessary results of their temperaments, and the outcome of that phase of intellectual progress to which a nation, in its collectivity, has attained. Hence, as already remarked, the highest flights of modern (Western) metaphysics have fallen far short of the truth."  SD I 326-327

From B.P. Wadias Studies in the SD   Knowledge Absolute and Relative

Let the reader meditate on this whole passage; let him read and re-read and then brood over the ideas as they emanate from between the lines and within the words. It is one of those passages in The Secret Doctrine which yields regular seasonal harvests in terms of the mental sowing done. It throws new light on the very intricate maze of human evolution, individual as well as racial, especially in reference to the development of the lower mind. It also brings some illumination on the problems of Karma, how it grows, how it weaves its fine web of life, imprisoning, and setting free to imprison again, the human soul. It affords opportunities, not only to conjecture but to understand, how ideas come to birth and die, how ideals live and decay, how knowledge, in its aspect of growth through perpetual change, comes to be regarded as ever-evolving. On the other hand, it most emphatically unveils that other and higher existence of Knowledge in its aspect of profound stability, wherein ideals and ideas are immortal and change not and which the human soul can discover, when it is “initiated into perceptive mysteries.”

Your Thoughts and comments and questions please.

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What do these passages tell us about Absolute and Relative Truth?


How might we describe the concept of Absolute truth in theosophy?


Perhaps we can say: absolute truth is that which is not dependent upon anything, whereas relative truths are always dependent upon other things.

The truth that something is hot is dependent upon the idea of cold; up is dependent upon down, etc.. But Absolute truth is beyond those kinds of dualities.


For me, language itself is relative because language is the process of distinction and differentiation.  It seems that any discussion, using words, of either relative or absolute 'truth' can only be expressed in relative terms... And so, we're back to the beginning, and wondering how close can we even get to the absolute 'outside of initiation'?




Good point!


Could it be that the notion of the Absolute is not so much  something we reach for but rather an idea we keep in the back of our minds as we learn to keep us honest and moving forward?


I agree that relative truth, as opposed to absolute truth, would represent the condition of duality, and hence of limitation vs. of wholeness.

The kind of knowledge that we ordinarily work with or think by; cultural, historical, scientific, etc., would be at any one time an example of 'relative truth'.  As long as our perception or conciousness is filtered by this kind of relative knowledge, we can only see only pieces of the whole but never the whole.  It seems that thought, or our manasic faculty in theosophical terms, is confined in this way.

We sense that there is a view which isn't confined to this kind of limitation, and one that doesn't necessarily exclude the manasic viewpoint, but which is one that is higher and broader in scope. That kind of view we can imagine would not be confined by time either, which is another form of relative thinking.     


From the Platonic perspective, Plato discusses the problem of relativism in the Theaetetus. The kind of "Hey, if your opinion works for you, that's great, rock on, dude" attitude. His own epistemology from the Republic could be described as absolutist, I suppose, although his take on absolutism in the Theaetetus seems pretty sceptical.

I guess what she means by modern western metaphysics, are the theories that had emerged after the widespread rejection of the "Great Chain of Being" model of theological metaphysics, which occured around 1850, thereabouts. The German Idealist thinkers being the ones she took most seriously, probably.


"Hey, if your opinion works for you, that's great, rock on, dude"

Hehe... I see a lot of this in the online world. People who disagree fundamentally on something will say: "well, that's your truth, and I have mine." And that ends the debate right there. It seems like nothing more than being rigid in one's own conceptions and unwilling to let them go.

That said, I've also noticed, even among many self-identified "philosophers" a complete absence of the concept of the Absolute. Many seem unable to even conceptualize something beyond relative truths. A little study of Plato would probably do all us westerners a lot of good.


Good point- The mainstream western world is pretty much on an empirical scepticism track at the moment, the result of concerted political efforts toward secularization. Although Plato concludes that relativism ultimately leads to confusion, I think a certain degree of relativism has the virtue of at least tolerating different viewpoints - the caricature of absolutism would probably go something like: "My truth is the only real truth, and I must save the ignorant from error or they will be lost in delusion."

The more philosophical way to the absolute recommends the middle way (Plato, Aristotle, etc...) between extremes... 


Just a thought, I do not know the true meaning of this passage. I think it would come more to light with many different perspectives. I am sure if I read it again in a year it would be viewed differently again.

In my limited view I am reminded over and over again, while reading this, that old saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” or Ecclesiastes 1:9 in that we are all here right now to work through this, that the ideas are not new. They have been transpired previously through each individual, racial, nation and universal before us and through us. The ideas and ideals free from imprisonment to be built upon, constantly changing, evolving during that life span. As the ideas evolve though, since we are imprisoned within our bodies, there starts to be building blocks, and imprison the idea or ideal because of our own limitations and/or our own intellectual capacity from whichever view as individual, racial, nation or universal. Our 'Karma' we must work through that imprisons us, limits us and stops us from building more or going any farther than we can. This becomes our opportunity to understand and grow through it, but we don’t always see that opportunity and we limit ourselves, stump our growth, so to speak. Just as the ideas die or get imprisoned, they are also reborn again, just as us, free to be built upon again to get further along, however much further they can grow from how much we have grown and understand from that point. I am not sure if this has to do with Absolute and Relative truth, I'm still trying to figure that one out. I just wanted to say a thought on the passage :)


Sharisse; what does it mean to you to say there is nothing new under the sun?

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Permalink Reply by Sharisse on March 27, 2013 at 9:51pm

Hi Gerry,

I'm not quite sure I can explain what the meaning of ‘nothing new under the sun’ is to me but I can explain how I view it, in my small window at least. It has been coming through many different ways. At first, I started noticing that there is nothing I could remotely say that is not known. If not, at least, by the person whom I am sharing a conversation with. Then quite possibly it is known by someone else… somewhere.

Which through that it led my small view on ideas, or inventions, as much as ‘i’ might think ‘i’ came up with an idea or invented some formula (used only as example), the basis of that idea or formula is already there and was already there, more or less HPB states it “The idea that things can cease to exist and still BE, is a fundamental one in Eastern psychology.” SD 1:54 sloka 2(a).There was no invention or idea through 'i', just rediscovered, or plucked from the ethereal highway (meant in the smallest degree that I view this), and given as an opportunity to build upon it.

That led my small perception to my odd way of viewing things, and probably one of the only passages I know from the bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9, which is ‘nothing new under the sun’ yet I see the numerals. The first and the last digits, 1 and 9. You can add the sum digits of any number added to 9 and the result will be, again, the number you added to 9, i.e. 1+9= 10 and 1+0= 1 or 3+9=12 and 1+2=3, so in my limited way I see 1 and 9 and 1 again, 1st and last and 1st again, full circle, death and rebirth, us, our life cycle, ideas, nothing new under the sun, and eventually leads me to that question again, “Who am I?”  

Through all that and what you posted I just saw a sort of relationship through my own obscurity.

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on March 29, 2013 at 4:05pm

as much as ‘i’ might think ‘i’ came up with an idea or invented some formula (used only as example), the basis of that idea or formula is already there

Well said. Seems to me that it'd be more accurate to look at ourselves as discoverers (or re-discoverers) than inventors.

Permalink Reply by Sharisse on March 30, 2013 at 9:26pm

Oh, yes that seems more accurate and a better way to say that, thank you for the words. 'A discoverer or re-discoverer', is this possible to be looked at as a pioneer also, in a way?  

Permalink Reply by Peter on March 20, 2013 at 10:28am

In Theosophy the term “Absolute truth” refers to the One Reality underlying all appearances.  It is THAT from which everything in Kosmos ‘arises’ and into which all ‘returns’.  It is THAT in which all rests during those periods of inactivity called the Maha Pralaya.   The assertion that such an Universal Principle exists and is the root of all existence is found in the First Fundamental Proposition of the Secret Doctrine (SD I 14):

(a) An Omnipresent, Eternal, Boundless, and Immutable PRINCIPLE on which all speculation is impossible…

While the Absolute is beyond the range and reach of thought, since it is Omnipresent it is necessarily the ground of being that underlies everything in Cosmos and Kosmos - from the immeasurably small to the immeasurably great.  While IT is beyond the range and reach of our thoughts, we are not beyond the range and reach of that Light and Life which issues from the Supreme Source.  Thus, it is not beyond us to sense the Presence of this underlying Reality even though its infinite nature is forever beyond the limits of our comprehension.

All truths in the manifested Cosmos are in some measure, greater or smaller, reflections of this Light – the Divine Wisdom which issues through the Spiritual Sun from the Unknown Causeless Cause.   This is, in part, what the term ‘relative truth’ refers to in Theosophy.   They are partial truths holding some aspect(s) of the Light of Wisdom, but not all.   To what extent this Light can be accurately reflected in any body - whether a body of knowledge such as a spiritual tradition or the vehicles of consciousness which make up our seven fold constitution - depends on the make up and purity of the vehicle itself.   Those vehicles of consciousness that may accurately reflect and apprehend that Divine Image are still being developed in Humanity at large as it progresses along the path of its spiritual evolutionary path.  Therefore, the collective religious and scientific institutions with their various and often contradictory claims of revelation and truth are necessarily limited at the present time by the overall stage of human development, i.e. not yet having en masse the necessary spiritual faculties to apprehend the underlying reality of the world(s) and planes of nature in which we live and have our being.

However, we can but start from where we are and not where we wish to be.  Each of us has it in ourselves to choose to turn towards the source of that illumination that comes from ‘within’ - no matter how small it may seem.   And even if we feel such illumination is completely lacking, then we can make the effort to study and reflect upon the wisdom that is shed on the path by those far wiser than ourselves. As the Chinese proverb eloquently states:

                   ‘Better to light one small candle than lament the darkness.’

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 21, 2013 at 11:13pm

If we acknowledge the idea that the Absolute Truth cannnot be described or characterized does that protect against dogmatism?

Permalink Reply by Jon Fergus on March 22, 2013 at 11:53am

I would think so. However, it's only one protection, and might not be enough in itself. Take Advaitis, for instance. While the teaching includes Parabrahma as an impersonal principle, it also includes Ishvara as the 'manifest god', and those who tend towards a monotheistic outlook may simply grasp on to the latter and somewhat ignore the former, thus setting up Ishvara as 'God' in much the same way Christians might set up Jehova as such. In fact, if you go through Advaiti literature you'll find God sprinkled throughout, often with the same sentiments we find in monotheism.

So I think the theosophical view of the Absolute helps keep dogma at bay, but it really depends upon the capacities of the individual - for those unable to see the distinctions between Brahma and Ishvara, for instance, the idea that the absolute cannot be described might hold little value. But for the philosophical types it certainly is a big help.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 27, 2013 at 2:31pm

It is interesting that HPB puts this idea up front and center in the explanation of the Esoteric Science. First Fundamental Principle  etc.  Philosophically it occupies a kingly position in the hierarchy of philosophical ideas.

Permalink Reply by Peter on March 23, 2013 at 1:32pm

Gerry asks, If we acknowledge the idea that the Absolute Truth cannnot be described or characterized does that protect against dogmatism?


I doubt it. Dogmatism is an attitude of mind with respect to our own opinions and beliefs. It has little to do with whether something is true or not.

I would suggest that we can seek to describe or characterise absolute truth so long as we bear in mind that our characterisation is merely aid to understanding - a stepping stone for our intuition - and in itself falls far short of the truth.  Paradoxically, we might need a clear conceptual understanding of just what it is that we believe is beyond the range and reach of our thought.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 26, 2013 at 11:28pm

It is important to recognize that there are heirarchies of relative truth.  Not all relative truth is equal.

If we grasp fully the notion that the Absolute is indescribable then by definition any description of the absolute is inadequate.  This is what I was referring to.  Just a logical statement.  People will dogmatize because they have an agenda but those who recognize the nature of the absolute realize there is no philosophical justification for it.

Permalink Reply by Gerry Kiffe on March 21, 2013 at 11:14pm

Is it important to recognize that there are degrees of relative truth on an ascending scale?

In other other words are all relative truths equal in the degree of truth they comprise?