“The ‘feedback that gives the ‘bystander’ information about a known objectcould be said to depend entirely on the ‘field’ of knowledge in operation. For example, an object located across the room can generate visual but not tactile ‘feedback’, while an event that occurred yesterday is available only in the field of memory. But what are such fields…”

Tarthang Tulku, Knowledge of Time and Space

It’s the New Year! Happy Tibetan New Year to all. It’s also supposed to be an easier year than last year for many people. I’m looking forward to that.

The quote above does not related directly to space, which is what  I’ve been writing about. This quote is from a section of a TSK book that talks about ideas of what the self is, and how knowledge of the self works (as in self-knowledge, and the self’s interaction with knowledge). This section of the book also brings in various terms that show up throughout TSK, so I that’s one reason to pick this part.

The terms are “field,” “bystander,” and “oustide-stander.” I will most certainly have to come back to these terms in the knowledge section. For now, my thoughts about them are as follows: field refers to the way there is an environment of experiences and associations around all… experiences and associations. That’s a little circular. There is an environment of experiences around all perceptions. This is “environment,” and it’s also “mandala.” If I seem to be getting mysterious or unclear here, part of the reason is definitely a lack of knowledge on my part. It is my understanding, though, that part of the teaching on mandala is that even around one thought, a lot of other things circulate and orbit, or arise. Even a little thought is something like a mandala.

Which is a field in TSK. In the very chapter I’ve been talking about just now, Rinpoche mentions field dynamics. So there is not only a sense of environments surrounding given things, but a sense that the environments have movement, gravity, energy of their “own” which influence in various ways.

Okay, now to outside stander and bystander. These are subject and object. This is an interesting, and classically TSK maneuver. It’s actually brilliant. Bystander is the self, or the ego. It is somehow watching from the sidelines, although we all know it’s also mysteriously involved. It’s like a fan that’s also suspiciously similar looking to the referree, and the players. The outside stander is the thing being perceived or experienced.

How is that thing “outside”? Well, it’s outside the self, in a sense. There is some separation between self and other. But choosing the term “outside” does an odd thing to perspective and the way I picture this. Somehow it’s both “there” and not there, outside. Rinpoche does not say just “bystander” and “experience” or “event.” The thing being observed is also outside somehow. It’s intoxicating and puzzling stuff. Beyond saying it’s brilliant and hard to understand, why “outside”? I think it affects focal setting or perspective, and makes you question the position and solidity of observed events (things).

So that’s not exactly space. And space is what I’ve been talking about(although it’s nice in a way to take a break and shift gears, especiallly since those terms are ones I didn’t understand much until now).

Of course, one way to connect this to space is to bring in the visual. I think this is something natural for me, and I also think there is something else at play (I don’t think the visual element is just a personal proclivity or coincidence).

By bringing in the visual element, I mean that mandalas can be seen visually. Of course, sand paintings and thangkas are visual, at least in one way. But if thoughts and experiences are mandalas, are interconnected, then that can be visualized. This thought connects to that one, connects to that memory. And I do this visually, at least in large part, if not completely.

Then the outside stander/bystander thing becomes very easily visual for me as well. It’s the same kind of process. The really interesting thing for me is that it induces a change of feeling at the same time. Picturing things as outsiders make you feel different. It’s not just a visual picture or process.

But I do think that’s a somewhat superficial analysis of the space element in this knowledge-based discussion. I’ll return to the space part of “Time Space and Knowledge,” and I’m lucky I’ll be able to offer a somewhat deeper analysis of the space/knowledge connection.

In the book, I’ve been reading and writing about focal settings, and lower space. Lower space is related to a solidified version of things. I think it’s fair to say that the lower space realm and the experience of a bystander and outside stander are related. Rinpoche compares lower space to a petty official who is probably corrupt. Ego looms. Then we read about how finding a new kind of space is the goal, in one way, and not just an exploration of various focal settings or perspectives.

Next, Rinpoche writes about higher space realms. Ironically, he writes, lower spaces are marked by strict boundaries and solidity. We work toward higher spaces, and this transition often takes a lot of work and effort at first. I think this kind of thing always takes effort, but that is what he says. It is said that at a high level meditation is effortless, or becomes “nonmeditation.” Then there seems to be a strong contrast between the higher spaces or insights and the lower spaces.

The irony is that higher spaces tend to be marked by less clear boundary, less solidity, less rigidity. This is similar to the discussion of first/second/third level time. So the boundaries seem to need to be broken through. But then once you do, they weren’t there at all. Something like that.

This connects back to the knowledge/self talk from the beginning in that the higher spaces are knowledge. If one didn’t experience a different form of knowledge as a result of reaching Great Space, there wouldn’t be any point. The bystander/outsider thing has to be hashed out, and the space journey seems to accomplish that. At the same time, like all relative/ultimate discussions, the irony exists at the point of realization: bystander and outsider have to be reconciled, we think, but then the very boundaries and dynamics that seemed problematic are said to be, when you break through, nonexistent.

Since this tension and irony is somewhat dissatisfying, and too easy, I’ll add this: in TSK, Rinpoche makes a point of mentioning in various places that this kind of juxtaposition or paradox is a sign that something must be figured out. So that is where I’ll leave it: the lower space/higher space paradox indicates a problematic understanding, and one that I will keep exploring.

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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