“Although earlier views brought knowledge and not-knowing closer together, not-knowing was still understood as ‘surrounding’ knowledge or underlying it.” Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Time and Space
From one angle, this quote is about knowledge, but from another it’s about space. Here, Rinpoche talks about “not-knowing” and knowledge. Not-knowing is something I’ll explore more in the knowledge section, but basically I think the name speaks for itself. It has to do with various kinds of ignorance, or limited knowledge. I see this quote as being about space in that it describes one view of knowledge as being surrounded by not-knowing.
So, in terms of what we know or live or experience, there’s what we do know, and then certain limits we don’t explore or touch on. These constitute a space around our knowledge. The idea is not to say that we’re supposed to know everything, or become renaissance people, or even ‘expand our minds’. The idea is that there’s stuff we acknowledge, and stuff around that, a kind of empty space.
Maybe empty space is not entirely accurate in this case, but it is a space. So this points to the idea of space as demonstrating structures and boundaries and relationships. That’s one thing I’m starting to see about TSK, and about space in these teachings. I don’t think this is quite accurate enough, but you could almost say space is relationship. If we take it in that direction, then time as space, knowledge as space, make an interesting kind of sense: time is relationship. Knowledge is relationship. And then from there you can expand the argument: how does time manifest its relationships? How does knowledge manifest its relationships?
I think there are a few ways to do this in the context of TSK, and in the context of a TSK informed by Buddhist practice and thought. Here are a few ideas:
1. Good/bad: Relationships in TSK as limited, and as perfect. The relationship between limitation and perfection, relative and ultimate.
2. Drawing out relationships within each element, then between elements of TSK.
3. Relationships in terms of the three levels both within, and between the elements of TSK.
4. How this works in terms of daily life experience and practice…
I’d like to come back to that later, maybe in the final section, after knowledge. For now I’m going to go back to talking about space. Last time, I wrote some about space and objects, space as deity and feminine, space in itself.
In the book, Rinpoche suggests that space may in itself be the nature of things, of reality. I’m inclined to agree right off the bat, mostly out of my own faith, more than some kind of in depth logical analysis. He then writes about different kinds of space: physical space, perceived space in contrast to things, the possibility of some other kind of space that might be at play when we perceive or work with space in some way.
This last point seems intriguing and basic at the same time. We can always find ‘space’ of some kind ‘surrounding’ a given ‘thing’. The nature of perception and understanding seem to involve connections and contrast, so there’s always space in terms of that contrast. But there’s something beyond that, and this seems related to what we are calling space, itself; a beyond-ness, a quality that goes beyond what we ordinarily feel or think.
Rinpoche then writes that this form of space suggests a kind of unity, or a deeper reality beyond everyday things. He also calls this an ‘ambiguous presentation’- a hint of something hidden within space, but really a hint, not a clear exposition or an artful drawing out of concepts and feelings.
“One very useful and positive consequence of such an ambiguity is that even conventional dichotomies themselves preserve, in a symbolic or ‘inspired’ sense, expressions of a higher order unity. It is very suggestive that space and objects coexist…”
Ambiguity, dichotomies, contrasts, seem to coexist. I’m a nice person and an extremely cruel person. I have done a great deal, and I’m very lazy and have accomplished nothing. Beyond psychologizing and feeling good or bad, these elements seem to coexist in what I’m calling ‘myself’.
In Tibetan Buddhist art, the garuda appears all over the place. It is a mythical half-bird, half-human being. It’s said to have come originally from Hindu myth, and is involved in a story of battle, I believe. It looks a little frightening. The garuda has human arms and torso, wings, a bird head, and bird legs with talons.
Now, with a tradition that is old and various, symbols and teachings have many different meanings, along with some ‘accepted’ ones. One thing the garuda means is that things can coexist, and do coexist, even in spite of big contrast. Bizarre and shocking things can coexist in even the most normal and conservative of lives. Of course, this can cause ‘cognitive dissonance’, stress, and confusion, but I think one thing the garuda is hinting at is that this dissonance is not necessarily negative. It can be ‘relaxed with’.
Why is Tarthang Tulku writing about contrasts and space, and symbols? I think one reason is that he sees space/object as a kind of symbol of another reality, a unity. Like the garuda, space and things somehow coexist. Rinpoche suggests that this coexistence is somehow supported or allowed by space. I think at this point, you’d have to say that the ‘allowing’ space, and the space of space/thing are slightly different (and could be called different levels).
I said that the above was “one reason” for this particular presentation because I think there’s more going on, and more than I can explain based on my understanding. I do think that “the symbolic” is something we see occasionally in TSK, and worth going into more later. It makes me think of “mahamudra,” a teaching associated mostly with the Kagyu school. It means “great symbol.”
The garuda is wrathful. This means that it is compassionate, but not always in a way that is comfortable or restful. It breaks out of its shell fully formed, and can fly across the universe. Wrathfulness can destroy things, hopefully things that need to be destroyed, just like time, space and knowledge can also destroy. Look at how time pushes us around, or how time’s flow turns rocks into dirt and people into bones. Space turns solid things into nothingness. Knowledge can break holes in walls of definitions, even breaking through to our heart. Finally, though, the garuda is said to represent fearlessness in terms of no hope, no fear. Which is to say that things are good as they are.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.