The Nature of Reality

The Nature of Reality

What is reality? What do we mean when we use the nouns ‘reality’ and ‘truth’, and their corresponding adjectives ‘real’ and ‘true’? We consider many things to be real or true, but are any of those things absolutely real, or is their reality merely relative? If the reality of something is only relative, can it actually be called real in the strictest sense of the term?

 

If something is relatively real, it is also relatively unreal. It may appear to be real at certain times or under certain conditions, but it ceases to be real at other times and under other conditions, so its reality is impermanent. Because its reality is dependent upon certain conditions, it is not independently real. Its so-called reality is limited by and relative to the reality of whatever conditions it depends upon, and is therefore imperfect. Being relative, conditional and dependent, it is not real in its own right, but merely appears to be real under certain conditions. That which appears at one time will inevitably disappear at some other time. Since it is not real either before it appears or after it disappears, it is in truth not real even when it appears to be real. Its seeming reality is only a transitory appearance or apparition, and is therefore not absolutely true. That which appears at one time and disappears at another time merely appears to exist, but does not really exist. That which really exists, that which really is, must be at all times. Hence all temporal forms of existence are mere appearances, and are therefore not real. Only that which is absolutely, unconditionally, independently and permanently real is real in the strictest sense of the term. That which is perfectly real must be real at all times, in all circumstances and under all conditions. Its reality must not be in any way dependent upon, limited by or relative to any other thing. Moreover, it must not change, or cease to be as it once was. That which changes exists in one form at one time, and in some other form at some other time, so it has no permanent form of its own. Being impermanent, none of its forms are absolutely real. Moreover, since change occurs within time, that which changes is time-bound, and hence its reality is dependent upon, limited by and thus relative to time. Only that which is unchanging and immutable, therefore, is real in an absolute sense. Thus a thing can be considered to be absolutely real only if it is permanent, immutable, unaffected by the passing of time and the changing of conditions, independent of any other thing, unlimited by any other thing, and in no way relative to any other thing.
If we are satisfied with things that are impermanent, imperfect, changeable, relative, conditional and dependent, we may take such things to be real. But are any of us really satisfied with such things? Do we not all consciously or unconsciously seek happiness that is permanent, perfect, immutable, absolute, unconditional and independent? We cannot attain such happiness from anything that is impermanent, imperfect, changeable, relative, conditional and dependent, and therefore we can never be truly satisfied with any such thing. Something that is relatively real can give only relative happiness, and only that which is absolutely real can give absolute happiness.

 

 

Therefore, if we are serious in our desire for absolute happiness, we should accept only an absolute definition of reality. If, instead, we choose to accept a relative definition of reality, we clearly have not understood that what we really desire is only absolute happiness. Because we wrongly think that we can obtain the happiness we desire from objects and circumstances in this relative and temporal world, we delude ourself into thinking that such relative and transient objects and circumstances are real. However, so long as we continue to believe that such transient and relative things are real, we can never experience the absolute happiness that we all desire, and that can be found only in that which is absolutely real.

 

 

 
Happiness and The Art of Being
Michael James

 

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