‘Identities and meanings all depend on a referring process, a subtle tendency to ground something by placing it in a wider or more general context. Within this framework we are able to gather evidence and to have encounters which support our references and justify our belief in the existents to which they refer.” Tarthang Tulku, Time, Space, and Knowledge


That’s one side of samsara, and so I’m tempted to say it’s nirvana as well. If you’ve seen the Tibetan ‘infinite knot’ symbol, that’s one interpretation of it (at least one I came up with, don’t know how traditional it is).

The infinite knot is something like a more complex infinity symbol, the eight turned on its side. Of course, there are lots of more or less compelling illustrations of this idea, including some famous ones by MC Escher.

This is an idea I’m very fond of (maybe because I feel like I understand it better than some other ideas).

The problem seems to be, at first, that any definition or idea is built upon others, which are built upon others. And what is the ultimate foundation? Even Buddhists disagree about this- and maybe that shouldn’t be surprising since it’s an old and diverse tradition. I think some would say Mind, or Buddhanature. Some would say nothing, that there is no foundation. Maybe more relevant is the fact that there are different valid answers depending on the audience, time, place, and so on.

It seems like I haven’t answered my own question much, and since I’m writing, I will allow this. It’s nice to be in charge of something! Now, in terms of TSK theory, is there some ultimate foundation or supporting or defining mechanism? I think that must be knowledge. At the highest level this is described as ever-present: you can’t get away or lose it.

Another connection to this theme of the infinite web, the groundless web of definition, is terms in TSK. TSK is rich with novel terms and turns of phrase. As I’m nearing the end of the Time section, I thought I’d go through some of the terms I encountered in this part of the book. Here we go:

1. Intimacy

2. Bearer

3. Structure

4. Things

5. Timing

6. Control

7. Presentation

8. Unity


Structure and things are not too difficult. We ordinarily perceive things- solid, separate, independent. Even without training in meditation or philosophy of any kind, it’s easy enough to see that things change, are composed of parts of other things, are actually different from how we usually perceive them. A structure does exist, but it’s probably different than we imagine. Structuring, at the same time, refers to how time, space, and knowledge appear in life. In time, the structure starts by appearing clear directed, rigid, but as we investigate, it becomes more alive and less gridlike.

Time is described as the bearer, as in the bearer of bad news, only this news is not bad. So it carries something, brings something, to us. The force of time moving is there at first and second levels, in different ways. At the third level, there is ‘no straying’- something is borne, but it is space.

The idea of unity is one I can’t talk about much from personal experience. It does seem to be familiar in terms of mystical paths, the idea of oneness or unity. So there’s that. I think the fact that higher level time and space seem to be nearly the same also points to this unity. Also, the idea of nowhere to go, no straying, that there was nothing actually wrong.

I believe timing and presentation go together. Both describe how events and things pop up. Timing leans more to the lower level times- there’s more a sense of separate events. However, it is used in terms of second level stuff. Awareness of timing is said to grow at this level, potentially a great deal. Presentation is the same thing, but to me it feels more expansive, more like a scene. Both could go either way- solid timing and presentation, or fluid and lively timing and presentation.

The key there is practicality. Are we really experiencing things in a new way, or fooling ourselves? One answer to that, and a good one, is that it helps to find a teacher and a community. That’s a good system of checks and balances.

Since I’ve been pairing these things up, next is control and intimacy. Control for me is a very loaded term. In TSK, as with some other terms, it goes either way: it can be self-ish, narrow, as I usually think of it, or it can be connected to second level experiences and growth therein.

As for the latter, the growth experiences, this does mean that it’s good to have some sense of intention, and mastery of phenomena. Recently I’ve been working on opening my front door skillfully. That’s a tough one.

Finally, intimacy. One element of this that I haven’t really touched on is interconnectedness. This is, again, practical. If interconnection is something of interest, it is not that valuable to just think about it. It needs to be ‘experiential’. And there, as with other things, if you practice it, you’re ‘asking for it’, because that is a way of dismantling ego, and in my experience that involves a lot happiness and also a lot of pain and confusion.

Intimacy, in this vision, involves interconnection, on various personal levels, and also on larger levels involving big concepts such as Space, Time, and so on. One thing this means is that you never just get space or time acting alone, they are always interacting in many ways (intimately).

But Tarthang Tulku didn’t choose the term intimacy without being aware of its other connotations- openness, loving, tenderness. This emotional, loving side to TSK is there. Maybe it’s easier for me to talk about the more heady side. Maybe the emotional side feels cliched to me at times, when I write about it. But it is there. It’s important, too. Talk about practicality! What is more practical than openness and love?


Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publications. Books available from Dharma Publications.



About jakekarlins

Aspiring writer and artist, dharma practitioner, yogi.

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