“Although we have learned to regard some kinds of knowledge as immutable, even the most fundamental aspects of the knowable are bound to a specific time and place. For example, cosmologists agree that during the first few moments of the universe, time and space themselves may have ‘acted’ in unimaginable ways… On the far smaller scale of a human lifetime, the styles of thought and action we follow and the customs we take for granted change from year to year and decade to decade.”
Tarthang Tulku, The Range of the Knowable, Love of Knowledge
This quote makes me think about how realization and freedom have to happen in the midst of culture, and what a challenge this is. What we know, what we’ve been programmed to react to, and what we’re programming ourselves to do, are all bound up with culture, and any images of enlightenment, peace, happiness, kindness, that we have are all also bound to culture.
At the same time, this perspective on culture’s influence is itself a part of a particular culture. I think there’s definitely something distinctively American about even thinking that culture can be chosen or escaped from.
Maybe that’s not a big problem. Maybe part of the solution involves keeping one’s cultural training in mind as you go through your day. Maybe studying other cultures is useful for perspective. I don’t know. Maybe it’s impossible to break out of this environment, and the best you can do, unless you’re fully enlightened, is to look at a range of perspectives and options that go along with a particular “time and place.”
As Buddhist meditation and yoga become more established in the West, the question of waking up in spite of culture, or in spite of culture’s chaotic mix of wisdom and confusion, is relevant, I think.
Anyway, let me try to write a little more about “Time, Space, and Knowledge,” and maybe tie it back to original quote, if my brain is feeling limber enough today.
So. I’ve been writing about second level time, dynamic and flashy, and before about the masculine and feminine principle(s).
In the section I’ve been reading in the book, Tarthang Tulku says some interesting things about experiencing second level time, suggesting, to me, at least, that if you really get an experience of it, your life changes dramatically. He writes that one tends to get a feeling of control, “things going better,” and that meditation practice can be “much more precisely oriented at this stage, and can progress quickly.”
Of course, these kind of claims are problematic, at least: any claim to a system or process helping one “progress,” or “meditate better” have to, in my opinion, be treated with caution. It could be a fraud, although I don’t think TSK is, or it could what Trungpa Rinpoche called “spiritual materialism,” ie using spiritual practice to strengthen ego, feel good, just achieve stuff in the relative. I always have trouble explaining this concept, but I think that is an ok description. It’s actually a very profound teaching, so maybe it’s not possible to explain it without dedicating a fair amount of time and space to it.
Is this vision spiritually materialistic? What is Tarthang Tulku saying about second level time, and why does it sound like we’re being promised something there?
“As our perspective becomes less rigid and more open, we can develop an appreciation of ‘things’ as inspiring symbols.”
I will pretty much leave it there. As I see it, at the second level of time, the person is starting to experience reality happening as ordinary magic, as something symbolic beyond “omens” or luck. As usual, I’m pushing my luck by trying to describe things I’ve only experienced a tiny shred of, at best. Next time, I’ll write more about the spiritual materialism problem in this part of TSK, and ordinary magic. And it looks like I was not able to gracefully bring things back around to the original quote. How does ordinary magic relate to freedom from culture, and freedom within culture? I have absolutely no idea.
Excerpts used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.