Relativism – Its Positive and Negative Expressions

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The Empty, the Void (suunyataa), the cornerstone of the Buddhist philosophy, is considered to be of the sense ‘neither true, nor false, nor both true and false, nor neither true nor false', and of the other four-cornered forms of negation. From this standpoint, Buddhism is considered as having been helpful for tolerance of all the rival views, particularly the ethical, by denying absolute truth to everyone.

On the other hand, the Jainism holds the doctrine of seven-fold assertion (syaadvaada), which is an opposite of the four-cornered negation. The Jainas claim to show the same tolerance to all theories. It is of interest to know that metaphysical relativism is expressed in both the Buddhist and the Jaina forms. While the former denies the truth of every view, the latter concedes the truth of everyone. Relativism need not necessarily be negative.

It is easy to see that neither position is concretely helpful in critical cases of ethics. It is true that the religious wars and violent ideological conflicts can be avoided by accepting that no way of life or ethics is absolutely valid, and that every way of life or ethics may be accepted as relatively true.

But it may not help when a person is confronted to choose between two solemn alternatives.

Does tolerance of all alternatives mean indifference, or even license? It cannot be as, otherwise, there will be no ethics. There has to be some great guiding principle like self-fulfillment, continuity of the identity and integrality of personality, which has to remain pure and full without the attempt to hide or repress any part of itself from itself.

For the purpose of self-fulfillment, etc, the reality of the I-consciousness is indispensable at least in its transcendental depths. The purpose of self-fulfillment needs an existential decision, the decision of the I for its fulfillment. But what kind of fulfillment has it to be? In what does it lie? No existing or positive laws are enough.

If the guidance is to be found in one self (I-am), then it has to be found in its deeper reaches, the Logos, the cosmic person and his nature (law), with which the I has to identify itself. This is the essence of the Bhagavad-Gita, the teachings of Socrates and the Stoics. The reality and necessity of the I-consciousness cannot be denied. But Buddhism denies the I-consciousness.

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Buddhism In Scripture and Practice

 

 

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