“Our usual inability to ground religious terms and our inability to account for the fundamental significance of our ordinary reality are closely related.”

Tarthang Tulku, Time Space and Knowledge


This excerpt comes from a section in which Tarthang Tulku is writing about problems with the way religions describe things. He says that certain terms that point to exceptional experiences or reality only work in terms of second and third levels. I’m not sure precisely what this means, although I can tell that part of the idea is that “metaphysical” terms like oneness, enlightenment, etc. don’t entirely make sense in the midst of conventional ideas and language.

In my experience studying in the Buddhist tradition, and my very limited experience in college studying Christian theology, there are hurdles to leap over when it comes to expressing extraordinary things in ordinary language. The approach Rinpoche uses in the above example seems to be pointing this out, and then putting this in the context of the three levels.

What the three levels approach does, I think, is allow for a structured approach to the language of spiritual matters, and a context in which to describe the strengths and weaknesses of various linguistic techniques in regards to the spiritual. I think the latter is the more interesting, personally, although they’re both useful ideas. The latter interests me more because it seems to say “This particular model describes the reality of spirit in these ways, and it is limited in some regards because it is X kind of model.” So the level or model comes with a sort of tool kit or map that can be used, and also comes with a set of warnings, warnings as to its own limitations.

And I think I’ll tie it up there. No exhaustingly long post today. A couple final thoughts:

1. Is the three level structure overly simplistic, or overly self-conscious (the latter in terms of what I’ve described as its self-correcting setup)?

2. One thing I haven’t talked about at all is the idea of the Bodies. Time, space and knowledge are described at high levels as having bodies- the Body of Time, and so forth. What are these, and how do they differ from the ‘greats’- “Great Time,” et cetera?

3. What is the significance of bodily awareness and practice in TSK? The first book came out in 1977, just as body-awareness was beginning to be married to meditative practice in the West (I think). The first TSK book starts with “giant body” exercises. Does this connect to the previous ideas about the bodies of Time, Space, and Knowledge?


Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing.



About jakekarlins

Aspiring writer and artist, dharma practitioner, yogi.

4 responses »

  1. *This really answered my problem, thank you!

  2. Very informative Great article!

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