After having taken a short break, I’d like to keep going with a post covering a couple of topics, a post with a definite Buddhist flavor, and a post that may have a real lack of focus. Here we go.
I’m going to keep on with the commentary on the Time section of the TSK book, but first, a bit about the Buddhist thing. I’ve studied a couple of different traditions, in varying degrees of depth. I am a Buddhist, having taken a number of vows, and so on; this is the main tradition I study and practice within. I am a firm believer in choosing one “main path” and working on that. TSK is not Buddhist. Why am I not writing about Buddhism per se? Well, that’s complicated. I probably will someday. One reason is that there is a lot of good Buddhist writing and blogging out there already.
I’m a Buddhist, and TSK is not, although it is Buddhist-influenced in my opinion. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, there is a vast range of things to study. One of the first that one often learns about is impermanence. This connects to time. I see “impermanence” as having two aspects:
Often, impermanence is equated with the ever-present possibility of death. I take issue with this, at least when it’s done too easily. Impermanence is the way things change and transform constantly, which we tend to ignore, or forget. I know I do. Things are always changing, shifting, moving, but it’s very easy to think that they will last, stay the same, in spite of the evidence to the contrary.
Death is a subset of this. Buddhists are reminded of death. Life ends, whether we like it or not, and if you keep this in mind, it can help give you some perspective.
So time, change, death, are things Buddhists sometimes think about. Egolessness or emptiness is something else that gets talked about a lot by Buddhists, and impermanence, change and death, are also angles on that: things are not what they seem, not separate solid entities, in part because they are always changing, and because they die and are reborn.
This kind of talk, about things not being as they seem, is one sort of Buddhist discourse, in my experience. Another major kind is talk about suffering. The idea that people do suffer is an important one, an important starting point and returning-to point. Another take on this point is that we have habits, addictions, habitual patterns. We suffer, in part, because we have addictions, habitual frameworks, which limit us, often keeping us safe, but at the same time shutting off whole areas of experience and interest.
This is something I connected with quicky, when I began studying Buddhism, before I officially “became a Buddhist,” although that’s questionable in its own right, that one can ever really become a Buddhist. I understood the notion of limiting patterns, habitual patterns, because I struggled with drugs and alcohol for a while, for most of my time in high school and college. As it is for a lot people who become addicted, I think, it was fun at first, but then it started to be a pattern, not fun, and then it became scary, and scarily limiting.
Maybe I’ll write more about that part of my life here, and maybe I won’t. I have mixed feelings about making that public, insofar as this is public, and I have mixed feelings about any sort of profit or credentials I might get as a result of those experiences. We’ll see.
But my point there is that I connected with teachings on habit and addiction. The way I often think about it is this: I like to try new foods, sort of. I have tried many foods, and often found the experience delightful. BUT, just the act of trying a new thing, even a new flavor of a soda I already like, say the lime version of Coke, it carries with it a pull. I start to get it, pick it up, and then there is a hesitation and a physical pull- should I? I might not like it at all. I might waste the dollar or so, when I could go with the usual. This doubt might last less than a second, but it’s there. Even trying to go beyond the smallest habitual pattern can be challenging. If we’re at all interested in going beyond larger habitual patterns, if we’re interested at all in that kind of freedom and what it entails, there’s even more of a challenge.
This connects back to TSK. In the last post, I believe I talked a little about the grid way of looking at things, or the list way of looking at things: desires and expectations to be checked off. I don’t think most people involved in “spiritual growth” or whatever you want to call it expect to toss out dreams or expectations entirely, but it’s important to recognize that the grid does not satisfy. We can’t just go through a checklist and end up satisfied. We can’t just schedule happiness or peace.
In some sense, it is helpful to get to the point of being desperate, even brokenhearted: we need some way to figure our way out of our intense suffering. We can realize at that point that the old grid or checklist isn’t giving us sanity. At the same time, this kind of discussion, the idea that being down and out leads to spiritual insight, leads to growth, is problematic in its own way. I want to come back to that sometime. It’s a convenient story, a convenient angle.
So impermanence and habitual patterns appear in both Buddhist and TSK teachings. The TSK way of looking at it can relate to time. In TSK, time has power, force, and is seen in terms of levels.
The grid, I think it’s safe to say, is a lower level view of time. It can be efficient and help us with certain tasks, but ultimately limits us. Part of our journey, then, working with TSK vision, is to explore “higher level” perspectives. I often understand little of this material, but I do find it interesting to explore what this means, and if I can somehow apply it to my life.
So, finally, I want to go into a little bit of commentary on the book itself. Tarthang Tulku writes about ways we try to control time, and that technological means of creating timelessness, or lastingness seem to create unintended consequences. This seems correct, and not too hard to get. Rinpoche writes that we are often trapped in time, unable to move out of lower measured out time, but sometimes seem to do so through religious or spiritual means. However, since this usually happens in the context of lower time, there tends to be little change in terms of day to day experience.
I will leave it there. This is a good point. Whether it’s through TSK, or something else, it is very possible to practice or pray and experience something, maybe even have dramatic feelings and experiences, but then it can be SO hard to bring about changes in everyday routine life. I think this is a problem. What is the point of learning and practicing, if one’s ordinary life, with its patterns and problems, just keeps going as it was?