“…shape and form appear as ‘structurings’ of space, partitions that function almost like ‘blueprints’, determining how space will manifest. We might say provisionally that by giving space structure, ‘shape and form’ allow us to communicate with it.” Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Time and Space
The space part continues. To be honest, I can’t exactly remember what I wrote last time- it was a little about focal setting/change of perspective, growth, and the ‘gradual path’. So I haven’t completely blanked on what I wrote. In the quote I started with, the exploration of space continues from a slightly different angle.
What struck me today about this is the almost deific use of space in this context. And this is not something entirely new, in my experience studying and practicing with Tibetan Buddhists. Space is put on a pedestal.
What if we were to jump to that side, maybe not an extreme, but that perspective: space as god? What would that look like, and feel like?
Without much knowledge or practice in deity yoga/practices, my opinion is somewhat limited. Still, it’s interesting. I find that many Western Buddhist teachers are VERY careful about presenting deity related teachings to a Western audience (at least until a certain point- maybe this changes once you start practicing a deity yoga, or maybe not). Partly this is wise, I think, a matter of working with the idea of deities manifesting an aspect of mind, and also as a teaser of sorts: what if deities are ‘real’? How can they be experienced. The other side, I think, is Western anxiety about nonhuman entities, and madness, and a kind of tailoring of teachings that can potentially sink to pandering or dumbing down.
On another side of said coin, as someone living in Thailand currently, I see a lot of people who wholeheartedly buy into spirits, ghosts, and gods. And this has a lot of problems, too, I think: people asking for a good jobs, money, love and burning a lot of incense and putting pretty flowers on statues. Which is problematic because: it’s not the best thing the spiritual path has to offer,
-it ‘materializes’ things, when things aren’t strictly material
-it could potentially make people more selfish(asking for stuff for themselves)
This is a complex issue, I guess. I haven’t given it adequate description, and might not at all. I will say this: I think Vidyadhara Chogyam Trunpga described it succintly and beautiful in terms of ‘spiritual materialism’. There’s a book that talks about that. Maybe that’s a reasonable excuse to not discuss this more: someone much wiser than myself has already covered the issue perfectly.
As another side note, ‘space’ is often associated with the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. They consider space very important. You won’t generally hear other schools talking about space in the same way. As an added twist, the association of Nyingma with space, and Kagyu with energy, generally, is connected to the Rime tradition in Tibet. The Rime tradition had to do with systematizing things, and reigniting a practice tradition when things had become less practice oriented. It is also connected to a cross-fertilization, I think (although this happens a lot anyway). It seems like now a lot of Kagyu and Nyingma people share ideas and practices. But, again, space is associated with the Nyingma. And Tarthang Tulku is a nyingma lineage holder. And TSK comes out of that, at least in part. That side of things doesn’t interest me as much as the practice and theory, but it is there.
Back to the idea of space as deity. What would that be like? It’s interesting, and different from how space is usually presented. I was trying to think just now of what that would look like. What would space as deity be? I’m connecting space with the feminine principle in general, so maybe Samantabhadri, the female space buddha. I thought maybe Prajnaparamita would fit, but then based on my reading of VCTR, Prajnaparamita is considered less than the highest level of space, not the most spatial. Prajnaparamita is the ‘mother of all buddhas’, but I think the idea is that this kind of space is much beyond any kind of specific buddha.
Which might be the problem with deifying it in this way: at least in this context, space seems anti-form, so associating it with a deity with features and characteristics seems like something is lost. But maybe this is just my own lack of understanding of deity principle, and anxiety resulting from said inexperience: maybe when you really practice with a deity, characteristics and forms are not limited, as they might seem when you look at a picture of a buddha, or any deity for that matter, and see that they have so many arms, various weapons, and so forth.
As far as the anxiety goes, just the idea of space being all pervasive is somewhat challenging, although I think you develop a tolerance for this kind of thinking when you’ve been around Tibetan Buddhists for long enough. But the idea of a deity being all pervasive, like space, makes me much more nervous. And I think this is a very juicy and promising area. It feels like experience and practice could open up a lot once I start to work with that. But I want to be careful: I can’t transmit it to myself. I can’t just make it up; although I will probably try.
So I’ve wasted a great deal of space talking about the very first quote, without working on the TSK book, as I intended to. Let me do that a tiny bit, and then finish up. So in the TSK book, we’re just beginning to dance with space.
“Space is not only above us and beyond us, space is also within us and surrounds us. Objects are never really ‘frozen solid’.”
This is essential to Rinpoche’s argument, and essential to the TSK vision of space. Space exists in play with objects. How does this play happen? In terms of the structure of things.
Tarthang Tulku then goes on to say that space seems to be everywhere, involved in many aspects of existence, and that this means that there is room, room for movement. This always makes me think of the Buddhist idea of impermanence. Things are always changing, and this is the same as movement.
Next, Rinpoche invites us to look for space, to try to see where our mind goes when we think of space. You can try this if you like.
Then, he discusses how space seems inseparable from objects. Space seems to surround and allow for objects in any given situation. Not only that, but it seems to be bigger. Think of a desk, and the space around it. The space to be bigger to allow for the desk. Then there’s a part I like, where I’ll leave things for now:
“It encompasses everything, and also leads us beyond, beckoning ever beyond.”
And, finally, to bring things back around:
This beckoning is something we follow, if we’re on a path of some sort. This exploration of space/spaces is a kind of communication, as in the first quote. Whenever we explore space, we communicate, and certain things are set into motion. Why the title, Mud? It was part of a song I was listening to. And, of course, the lotus of our own beings, good, unharmed, grows up through the mud of confusion and depression, and that’s what we communicate with.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.