Because we’re going through the part of the space chapters with a heavy concentration of exercises, I thought I would just quickly mention these exercises. I think the names alone are interesting and informative:
1. The Giant Body
2. Internal Details
3. The Microlevel
4. Just Interactions and Shining Outlines
5. Released to Space
6. Opacity versus Translucency
7. Mind-Body-Thought Interplay
8. The Translucent Person
9. Participation as Observer; Participation as Embodied Person
10. Participation and Space
There they are. I think just reading those titles gives some flavor of what TSK is about. It looks like the ideas of interaction, participation, and translucency are important. I think overall, for those who are interested and read the books, even if you don’t get deeply involved in the practices or path of TSK, just reading some descriptions of the mind and body from the TSK perspective can be very helpful to meditators. A lot of what you experience as a meditator gets talked about in TSK. Sometimes it’s down to earth, sometimes it’s very playful or challenging. Any or all of those have their value, and their appeal to different people.
Last time, I wrote about openness. Tarthang Tulku writes about allowing and the TSK practices as both ground and fruition- allowing lets the exercises work, and is a form of Great Space. You start with allowing, and get allowing.
According to TSK, things can be seen as lower space. But at the same time, they are Great Space. They are described as infinite.
“Ordinary things and space are items of a lower space… But the fact that they appear at all is due to some connection with the open, expressive nature of Great Space.”
As I understand it, in lower space, there is the juxtaposition of things and space(which is not thing).
But the fact that this juxtaposition exists, or, to put it another way, the fact there are myriad interactions or space and form is allowed by another kind of space (Great Space). Great Space is a form of space that goes beyond space that is limited in any way. Lower space is limited by its definition in terms of objects. Higher space is not limited at all (thus the definition that includes lower space- higher space is so infinite or beyond limitation that it can’t be said to be excluded from lower space).
I think this has some implications for theistic philosophy, or theology. But I’m not knowledgeable, or hardworking enough to draw the connections. And, of course, I’m sure many good theologians have already worked in this territory. But I am saying that TSK, and TSK as Buddhist influenced way, might have some interesting crossover with theistic philosophy.
Next, there is a discussion of the exercises, and being nowhere, or going nowhere, and things becoming space.
What I’ll offer is my interpretation based on some practice, but not on a specific understanding of the TSK practice.
Things are usually experienced as more or less solid. Even as less solid, more changeable, more energetic, whatever, the assumption of thingness is still usually somewhere under the surface. And even though it is under the surface, the impact of the belief is powerful. One of the benefits of various practices is experiencing more space.
This can include seeing things as less solid. This includes both physical and metaphorical objects. Things becomes less solid, definitions and ideas can become more flexible. This is a classic play on words.
So if things can become space, where do they go? What happens to the things that become space? According to the text in question, nothing: since space is nothing, and exists nowhere, the things go nowhere and do nothing. Yet they’re still space.
“The more you ‘open things up’- inlcuding your idea of what it means to do that- the more you experience yourself as Great Space, which has no ‘place’, no ‘position’.”
This is a very interesting quote. It puts the focus on the self, and its experiences. You experience yourself as Great Space. You experience yourself beyond place and position.
To oversimplify, this is a description of a kind of realization. This suggests that it’s positive, or a positive step at least. But is there something wrong with not having a place, or a position? In this part of the TSK vision, I don’t think so. It is problematic in terms of social and cultural experience, or at least it could very easily be problematic.
So let me jump into that particular area a tiny bit. As someone who’s not well educated in sociology or anthropology, but who observes, I see the world becoming more homogenous while it’s becoming more accessible and connected. As places become homogenized via big business, franchises, mass pop culture, isn’t being placeless and positionless a threat? The traditional positions and places with their cultural weight, baggage, and richness could be and have been swept away.
There’s a tricky point there, I think. Working with space could mean not caring about the traditions and art of the past. What value do those things have? In the Nowness chapter of “Shambhala,” VCTR gives one kind of teaching about this, about the power of connecting past and present.
I guess the simple answer, for me, is that:
1. I have faith that space does not necessarily mean losing culture.
2. Losing various cultures is a real threat.
3. It’s a threat because what is lost with culture is:
the hard work and wisdom of various people
the drala, power, energy, blessings of those people and their wisdom
-also, that the specificity of specific cultures has some value- ie they fit somehow their energetic living environments (not that a Japanese person can’t appreciate a French TV show, but having more homogenous culture will mean fewer Japanese shows, maybe, and thus losing some specificity power).
Then, as always, with an American, the question is “What do we do?” Pragmatics come into play. I don’t know. Maybe educating ourselves about specific cultures, not as general education, but because they have meaning and a place in our individual lives. I think also, the various dralas and energies specific to places will provide a sort of subtle protection against the homogenization of culture.
As VCTR so brilliantly did, and other Buddhist masters have before and since, space and energy are paired. In TSK, we’re talking about space. In terms of culture, we’re talking more about energy right now. One of the insights of the Rime tradition that Trungpa Rinpoche handed down, was that space and energy go well together- just picking one can be one-sided. Actually, I’m sure any valid tradition uses both in a sophisticated way. But in terms of cultural forms, I guess I’m talking more about energy than space. (although both are involved)
Cultural forms as energy can be handed down, molded or changed in various ways, or ignored (or even denigrated). I think my intuition as far as this goes is that there is some sacredness to that energy, which implies a certain way of handling it.
I chose the title for this post partly based on a song I was hearing, By Kraftwerk, which involves numbers in different languages. I guess both the fact that I can listen to that song from a German band, and the content of the song say something about the kind of cross fertilized interacting world we live in.
But I wanted to say something about the three levels of space, as well. I’ve talked about the three levels of time, and now I wanted to quickly touch on the three levels of space.
1. First level: Objects are solid, and have space around them. as with all first levels, it is associated with inflexibility, narrowmindedness, and practicality as well. It works very well in its own way (which is problematic)
However, the perspective the book takes is that even at this level, Great Space exists in various forms, breaking through lower space. Lower space is a “focal setting” on Great Space.
2. Second level: By understanding the first level to some degree, you can touch on the second level of space. Second level time introduced more feeling of dynamic, flow, less rigidity. Second level space is marked by more freedom, greater relaxation and well being, possible heightening of experience. At the same time, it still somewhat conventional or self-centered. In its conceptuality, it is still a limited version of Great Space. As a Buddhist perspective, sometimes people talk about higher level practices as “nonmeditation” or talk about not doing anything. In contrast to this, second level stuff involves a lot of freedom, but also a lot of doing.
3. Third level:The map itself breaks down. The idea of levels and progression falls away. This involves realization that has ‘vast lived significance’. This is an important point. It is not too difficult to go from understanding the idea of space or emptiness, to understanding that things and even realization are empty. But the “going nowhere” “no position” kind of realization has to have lived significance.
This does not mean that realization means turning into a nice old many or a nice old lady. But it does mean that there is some change in one’s life and outlook.
That was a long one! Phew!
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.