“Full allowing of happening discloses giving as spontaneous variations in the rhythm of knowledge.”

Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Time and Space


I’m not sure what to say about this quote. It’s from a chapter in which Rinpoche lays out the problem of culture and knowledge as self-referential, limited by their own system, and the promise of a kind of “knowledge” that is still a kind of play, a very pleasant, even beautiful game, but is not limited in the same way. Why is it different? What’s the difference? I’m not sure. Somehow, I think it’s the other side of the coin of language, or the coin of form: language always distorts or puts a veil between subject and object. In the proposed kind of knowledge, the distortion itself is the style of the wisdom. This makes me think of the five buddha families: the confused styles of emotion of anger, jealousy, ignorance, and so on, are forms of enlightenment.

I still don’t understand that idea very much, but it seems like maybe language, in a general sense, is so powerful that it can’t be done away with. If we could destroy language itself maybe that would be good, for perception, for our understanding to become direct. But it seems like human culture and the way people are means being in the midst of language all the time. So maybe the chapter I quoted from is, in a sense, a way of taking that quicksand that we’re trapped in and building something out of it.

So I suppose I’ll try to write this one about language. Since I’ve been working on the time section of the first TSK book, I’ll do it in that arena.

“Some systems of thought suggest that the interrelatedness of ordinary things- their being relative to one another in some respect- shows their unreality as separate entities. This seems to be an unjustified conclusion in any ordinary context, and offers little basis for relating to ordinary appearance in any new way.”

In terms of second stage time, Rinpoche describes it as “the essential force that lets moment give way to moment, and the factor which permits items within a situation or moment to have their own identities.” Maybe it’s safe to say then, since second level time can be experienced as flow and dynamic, that this second level shows a vivid energy that both gives things certain forms, and propels experience along. Even if we’re “present” this is a moving target.  Second level time seems to have elements of quality, which I think could be associated with the drala principle, and elements of movement.

Now, as for the quote above, the one about interrelatedness, this connects clearly to Buddhist thought. Interconnection, and emptiness of individual things or labels because of that interconnection is something a lot of Buddhist thinkers have talked about.

On one level, I see the critique Rinpoche is making as a traditional one. It’s a traditional one even in Buddhist thought, actually an essential one, I would venture. The critique goes something like this:

1. We tend to think of reality in terms of things, people, places, with identities.

2. The identities of these things are problematic in certain ways, and tend to make people unhappy and confused.

2a.This identification is not just something that happens in terms of conscious thought and decision, but at very “deep” levels, unconsciously.

3. By studying, meditating, and so on, we can dissolve or open those identities. This is supposed to help with the unhappy and confused part in two.

4. Even when we do this diligently, we also tend to create new identities and solidifications in place of the old ones. For example, the identity of solid self is replaced by the identity of changing, nonsolid self. That’s problematic because it’s not that much different than the initial, confusing identity.


I think this is a very important critique, or point. One way that Rinpoche adds to this in TSK is that he mentions the “physical sciences.” I won’t really talk about that here. In general, the scientific part of TSK doesn’t interest me a lot. This probably due in part to my own lack of understanding of science concepts.

The other thing Tarthang Tulku adds is time. He states that the element missing from investigations that deconstruct things into relationships is time, with its structuring power, its forming power. I think what he is saying is that in saying “form is emptiness,” people often get stuck on “emptiness as form.” Thinking of things as empty or interconnected implies that things exist (as empty). There’s the implication of a kind of identity or solidity in the very label of emptiness- what’s empty? This is empty.

At this point, I think we’re in the territory of some sophisticated Buddhist theoreticians. I do believe some schools of thought claim that things are just empty, some claim that things do exist, but have a quality of emptiness, et cetera. That’s a careless and somewhat disrespectful summary, but this kind of parsing out of different kinds of emptiness is territory that’s been hammered out by various thinkers in Buddhism before (and that’s not even beginning to look into this line of thought outside of Buddhism).

I really should try to wrap this up. This one’s getting too long, and is losing focus. How is it that time is the missing element that allows investigations into emptiness or interdependence to succeed?

“The solid reality of people and selves cannot be questioned by logic alone.”

Which is not to say that I’m off the hook when I can’t explain myself clearly. Which is clearly a lot of the time.

I think a couple elements are at play when Rinpoche says that time is needed for emptiness or interrelatedness to touch us. One is the practical. It’s easy to say that the self is empty, much harder to use this insight to become less attached to your favorite things, or less stuck in painful patterns of thoughts and behavior. The other element I notice is ‘timing’. It seems like this term is used in TSK to denote identity that is time-based, but not overly concrete. Third, there is the element of unity. Rinpoche mentions unity a few times in the pages I’m working through- “the transcending unity at the heart of reality,” “a profound unity and no-thing-ness.”

I’ll come back to those three elements, the practical, timing, and unity, next time.

Finally, what can I say about language? I think “language” could be a valid way of entering the world of emptiness and space. Things exist as separate in our experience largely due to the way language works and plays, not just in terms of conversations, internal and external, but in terms of subtle “body language,” pulsations and nudges from the people around us, from our memories, from the natural world.

Well, that was much too long. And the part about language at the end was much too easy, too superficial. Maybe I’ll use that next time to expand on. It would be good to write more about language next time, along with unity, practicality, and timing.


Excerpts used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.


About jakekarlins

Aspiring writer and artist, dharma practitioner, yogi.

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