“Great Time is the self. But the self cannot fathom Time.”
Tarthang Tulku, Time, Space, and Knowledge
I’m moving ahead with third level time, which is connected to ‘Great Time’. As I think I’ve said before, there is a ‘Great’ associated with the third level of each element: Great Time, Great Space, and Great Knowledge. There’s also a ‘body’ referred to (the Body of Time, etc.). What those mean exactly, and what the distinction is between the Greats and the Bodies I’m not sure yet.
I picked this quote to begin with partly because I’m talking about third level time, and partly because it caught my eye as I was doing some reading. Seeing Time as the self: this is a surprising approach for me. This is complicated by the fact that it is not just time, but Great Time that is the self, which is described in TSK and in the Buddhadharma as limited, limiting.
The limiting or samsaric side of things is brought in with the second part of the quote: the self can’t fathom time.
Jumping back a step, though, it’s significant that according the Rinpoche:
1. The self is Time.
2. Time includes lower, middle and higher levels.
3. The self can’t understand what it’s made out of; it can’t comprehend its own substance, which is transcendental.
Maybe transcendental isn’t the right word. But the self can’t understand its own makeup as Time. I can also say the self can’t understand itself as luminosity, or as the masculine principle of form.
Is it as simple as saying that the kind of understanding we’re talking about is what Rinpoche calls knowledge? I think that’s close, with the caveat that all of these designations are self-dissolving at the highest level, so even knowledge at a high level isn’t solid.
The quote I pulled out follows a section in which Tarthang Tulku describes the self’s split from time, a state of unity with time, as a sort of play on a stage. This section sounds very similar to Trungpa Rinpoche’s description of the evolution of ego through the five skandhas. You have a situation of total unity, then some kind of basic split, and then various complications, and complex process of self-confirmation and buildup.
Let me try to wrap this part up, since I haven’t even gotten to the subject the title refers to.
I’ve been going over the section on third level time. It is described as the intimate partner of Great Space, and the ‘Universal Bearer.’ I interpret this as meaning that Time shapes and is how things happen: it bears them into what we call existence. It bears things, but things do not exist, so it’s a process that is vividly energetic, but not at all solid. The ‘do not exist’ side is space, and the dance of this bearing into space-existence is knowledge. Again and again, it is called intimacy. Maybe this is related to Trungpa Rinpoche’s use of the term ‘all pervasive’ (all pervasive equanimity, which is quite simply what the Great Wrathful one is… as we approach the full moon).
So in a sense, the little ‘self’ is manifestation, and can’t understand itself because that manifestation is so complex and spacious, but the self defines as somewhat simple and solid.
On to the topic of the title. Maybe it will have lost some zing now, since I thought about it two days ago, and time passing often seems to mean that I lose the zest of an idea for a post. Here goes.
I moved to New York City about five years ago. I currently live in Thailand, but I was ‘in the city’ for about four years. As someone entrenched in Buddhist practice and theory, I saw myself as an aspiring bodhisattva, someone who wants to help all sentient beings. I still maintain this, in some way.
This led to many small adventures. Near the end of my time in the city, I got a job working with high school students with disabilities. I won’t specify where or with who. I’m sure people can figure that out if they dig, but really, who cares?
At first, the job seemed confusing, then like a mission, to really help others, then it became hellish. I didn’t kill anybody, or do anything more terrible than get angry, raise my voice more than I needed to. My point is that, overall, I went into a situation, NYC in general, hoping naively to help a lot. I came out of it feeling really bruised.
Don’t get me wrong. There were some absolutely wonderful things that came out of my time in the city, not the least of which was getting married. And life is good, in general, and right now.
But I go over my time as an aspiring bodhisattva in NYC, and still get angry, and feel hurt. Why did it go so wrong? I practiced a lot, and I certainly followed certain rules, and I tried to help. But a lot of it backfired, and now I feel like my work just beat me up. I’m sure others who’ve tried to help have felt the same, and much worse.
That’s the wall of the title. I ran up against the wall of my own vulnerability in a sense. I’m left bewildered: the big quest didn’t turn out like I thought it would.
So what to say about that? Patience is considered essential for a bodhisattva, one of the six bodhisattva virtues, or ‘paramitas’. I guess I need more patience with my mission, and maybe an understanding of where my patience ends (in terms of often lacking it).
Does this connect to the previous discussion of third level time? In terms of the self feeling hurt by events and stories, that’s the self that also doesn’t know time. But it has so much pull! And the perspective- ‘That’s just the self’ is also a story, and often a very cold one. To finally connect this to intimacy, which is such a big part of TSK, I think courage and the taking off of layers of defensiveness are probably important for intimacy, both smaller and larger forms of intimacy. Uncomfortably, this courage and de-armoring often come at the price of pain, lasting pain. When that pain goes from being hearty to being another mental filament, it becomes problematic.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.