When the Buddha was asked if he was a god, he replied, "No." An angel? No. A spirit. No. When the questioner then asked what he was, the Buddha replied he was awake. He then spent the rest of life teaching how to awaken—to attain a state of mind of perfect compassion and understanding, a state that is attainable by all beings.
States of mind are important to understand because what we are discussing is whether truth is subjective or objective. In Buddhism when we speak of truth, we speak of two truths: subjective as relative truth and objective as absolute truth. Which “truth” arises depends on our current state of mind, our level of awakening.
Having observed the absolute truth on his night of enlightenment, the Buddha explained that until we reached a specific level in our practice, we would not experience and thus know what the absolute truth was. For us truth would be relative, subjective, because we’d view everything though our delusion, ignorance, and flawed viewpoints.
Consider a coin, specifically a quarter (an American coin). Asked to describe what he saw, one person might look at one side of the coin and say a coin was a piece of metal with an image of a head on it. Looking at the other side of the coin, another person would say, no, a coin was a piece of metal with an image of an eagle. An awakened being would say the two sides were two aspects of one coin. In other words, to the deluded, the two appear distinct and different: relative truth. But to the awakened, they are one and the same: the absolute truth.
Okay, so here I am, an ordinary being who can’t tell what is true because I have so many mistaken viewpoints and perceptions. Clearly I have a problem. But knowing about the two truths, at least I realize I have a problem because while I may think I’m right, I also know I may well be wrong.
So what do I do? How do I function, wisely?
Until we reach that stage where we can tell true from false, ancient patriarchs and masters advised us to rely on the words in the sutras, the Buddha’s teachings based on what he experienced and witnessed when the boundaries of space and time disolved. What are the basic universal truths he spoke of? We reap what we sow, do not kill, do not lie, do not steal, treat others as you wish to be treated. Not surpringly, these universal, absolute, objective truths are taught by most religions and ethical teachings.
From a Buddhist perspective there are two truths: relative and absolute. Our practice is (1) to be aware that we unawakened beings invariably function from the relative and (2) to strive to attain the absolute.