The Ultimate is a general term embracing the concept of an ultimate supernatural reality which transcends material reality and from which, according to a broad spectrum of Eastern philosophies and religions, material reality derives. The Ultimate is Generally non-anthropomorphic and may or may not (depending on ones specific doctrine) possess discrete will, intelligence, awareness or a personal nature.
Examples of religions and philosophies which embrace the concept of The Ultimate in one form or another include Taoism, Jainism, Buddhism, Shinto, Hinduism, and others. Terms which serve to identify The Ultimate among such beliefs include the Tao (the Way), Atman (Universal Spirit), Brahman (The Power), Universal Mind , Universal Intelligence , Dainichi-Nyorai (nature-substance), and numerous other appellations. Even polytheistic Eastern faiths tend to acknowledge a unifying principle which transcends their various gods.
The vital essence of Man, soul, spirit, spark of awareness, is said to have originally derived in each case from The Ultimate, and to be indestructible after the nature of The Ultimate, and to be capable of returning to its source. This returning could be said to be the goal of most Eastern religion.
The general commonalities between the various versions of The Ultimate are: infinity, indescribability, formlessness, and transcendence. An additional commonality is that one must renounce and/or transcend physical existence and its distractions, in some cases even to the point of extinguishing identity and individual awareness, in order to understand or co-exist with The Ultimate. Uniformly, human passions and vices are regarded as barriers to spiritual advancement, and such virtues as humility, charity and righteousness or pacifism are felt to help pave the way to enlightenment.
Parallels may be drawn between such tradition and Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic thought. The concept is of a universal subconsciousness , undivided and incapable of being depicted through gods or icons, parent to the individual souls of men, and to which men strive to return. This sought-after return is impaired by evil thought and deed, and facilitated by altruism. In addition, the traditions share a general value system that discourages worldliness and encourages seeking higher, more intangible principles, such as righteousness, justice, and good deeds done for their own sake.
Where the basic division begins to appear between Eastern and Western spiritual tradition with regard to The Ultimate the separation of God from Creation, nature, and the souls of men themselves. In Eastern thought this is not done, but in western spirituality it often is.