“The issue is simply to learn to appreciate what is ‘here’ ordinarily, and the path to this appreciation seems to require these transitional perspectives.”
Tarthang Tulku, Time Space and Knowledge
This quote comes from the section on space, and a description of the highest level or experience of space. In TSK, this is called the third level. The two-pronged approach of saying that things are perfect as they are, but we still need to improve them, or purify things or ourselves in some way is familiar to me. I think it’s probably familiar to people from a variety of spiritual traditions (although it is very Buddhist, you hear about this kind of thing in Tibetan Buddhism a lot).
As a Buddhist, I agree with this. I’m not saying that I just buy the party line, although that’s probably part of it, but I have found this approach useful. If I were to just say that things are perfect as they are, I would probably stop meditating and lose that practice and its benefits. I might also become less civilized. On the other hand, if I ignored the perfect side, and just tried to train and work on myself, or even work with others, I could easily burn myself out, become frustrated. I know from experience that meditation is very good, and powerful, but I also know that the benefits don’t arrive in a quid pro quo fashion. It’s a complex process, which affects you subtly, and sometimes does very little.
I think there’s also something clever about the relative/ultimate approach, that things are good, but we still need to work on them. It seems to be illogical. It creates a kind of cognitive dissonance that I suspect has some kind of positive effect. I’m not experienced enough to say what that is exactly, but, to put it vaguely, it seems like that kind dissonant logic does something to your mind, opening it in some ways, maybe even intoxicating it a little bit.
I’d also like to say, before I go back to talking about time, that the idea of “levels” always seems problematic to me, and a little suspect. The categories are there for a reason, though, if the system is well-designed: they are there to help people learn, understand, contemplate. The quote touches on the problem of levels a little: these are “transitional perspectives.” It is a means to an end. Finally, it looks like the third level of all of these facets disposes with the conventional idea of levels and categories, so categories are used to go beyond categories.
Last time I brought up three points in the discussion of second level time. Tarthang Rinpoche wrote that the experience of second level time can reveal a kind of unity at the heart of experience, a kind of timing that is different than conventional timing, and what I called practicality. The latter refers to the goal of this teaching of changing our lives (and not just providing intellectual food, or a new perspective on our old habits). As far as that point goes, I’m not the best qualified to present this, seeing as I’m more of a Buddhist than a TSK person. I hope that doesn’t entirely poison this project.
Practicality is an important point, I think. Rinpoche writes that at the second level of time, we’re able to find ways to allow our practice to penetrate our minds more, so that our practice is not just superficial. Now, personally, I work on this in various ways. I have not personally found that when I want to “deepen my practice” I use TSK methods or apply the teachings on second level time. Personally, I find that having a regular meditation practice is valuable, as well as finding time to do short retreats, and talking to teachers sometimes. For now, I think I’ll leave it at this: I have enough respect for Tarthang Tulku and for TSK as a system to present what I think is being said, in spite of the fact that I may not be the best presenter.
In fact, I know I’m not. I think that’s ok. It’s good practice for me to try to understand these teachings, and connect them to Buddhist teachings, and there are so few people working on these teachings.
Enough about my own angle on the project. I wanted to talk about the three elements of unity, timing and practicality. For me, the practicality aspect comes in in terms of a brain workout, and finding new ways to look at Buddhist thought. In terms of unity, this is something that I think Buddhism shares with TSK, and with many other traditions, although in Buddhism it’s not talked about as much as in other schools. Unity, for me, means that there is a goal of sorts, and that one thing I’m trying to do is reach beyond my conditioned experience.
What about timing? It seems like partly a way of describing a more direct living experience of things and phenomena as interconnected and shifting. This speaks to practicality in one sense. It’s easy to get an intellectual grasp of the fact that things are made up of other things, and have connections to other things, and are changing all the time, but my usual experience is more in terms of solid entities- very distinct, solid. Time, Rinpoche seems to be saying, structures situations and phenomena as interconnected.
This kind of experience would have to be different from a purely intellectual one. That’s what sets it apart. As a path with levels, one reason this makes sense is that I could see it being very disorienting to go from a conventional experience of separate objects and situations to a much more open experience of reality, without taking smaller steps (these smaller steps being seeing things as changing and interconnected). Of course, these “small steps” can be really challenging and hard to bring to life. We’re conditioned to overlook this side of things, and I think everyone has habitual patterns that do help us function efficiently in certain ways (while closing us off in others).
Back to timing. Time is described as presenting things in a specific way, which is “more open.” As I keep saying, people get a taste of second level experience in terms of feeling the dynamic and flow of things. Days, for example, tend to have a flavor. I find people often have sleepy days, or bad or good days on the same day, together. Individual experiences differ, but there’s also a rhythm to things.
“All the ‘timed’ connections within situations are pervaded with space. Every part of our interlocking world may be discovered to be full of gaps or discontinuities- which allow us to depart from ordinary procedures so that we may enjoy a bit of nonstandard control.”
I’ll try to wrap up. In the above quote, there is the dance of masculine and feminine, time and space. There couldn’t be time without space, because time moves, and for that movement to happen you need space. There’s one kind of “interlocking.” It seems like as we move up through the levels, more space is being introduced, up to the point in third level time at which time becomes very “spacey.” There are two other interesting points: gap, and control. First, gap is a teaching familiar to most people who’ve studied Trungpa Rinpoche. This relates to the bardo. Control is something I don’t hear about a lot in the teachings I study. It is definitely a theme in second level time: progressing in certain ways, being able to do things differently based on experience and practice.
And I think that goes back to gap. Being able to relate to the gap in different ways, beginning with just becoming aware of gaps, allows a person to begin to step a little beyond past habits, beyond the expected. And, of course, at a certain point, you’re really asking for it!
Quotations used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.