“The ’cause and sequence’ orientation of many scientific models of the world and its origin often reinforce our tendency to conceptually locate ourselves in a spatially and temporally extended environment. This type of pictures prevents us from fully appreciating the immediacy of Great Space.” Tarthang Tulku, “Time, Space, and Knowledge”
This quote tells us a lot about what this chapter addresses: problems inherent in “source from” models. Rinpoche spends some time also discussing this in the context of religion: the idea of a divine origin or originator of existence. This is paired with the idea of no origin, just a process: the idea that there is no scientific or religious source for reality at some point in time or space, just an ongoing flow or process of sorts, with no start or endpoint.
What is the problem with these approaches. Since I’ve jumped in so quickly, let me backpedal a little; the problem is, supposedly, with:
1. Source from models: divine being, or beings, or some other divine influence, OR some sort of scientific alternative. The latter, science, is just briefly touched on in the book, but it is there, and is suggested, as well, by the religious angle. The religious view of origination implies a scientific alternative, at least to me, a “modern” American.
2. Cause and effect: this can also have religious or scientific implications, or some mix of both. It is also very familiar to Buddhists, where it is traditionally explained in teachings on “karma.”
These are explained as problematic because they take us away from “immediacy,” the immediacy of Great Space. They are also time, in a sense: for the most part, first level time. These models are valuable, but not transcendent, or awakening.
This is reminiscent of teachings on “presence,” or being mindful, or being “here.” I think these teachings are often very powerful. Rinpoche does, however, question this as well:
“Great Space is not a separate thing or cause… locating it and its potency-as-ground in the familiar ‘here’ is also incorrect… ‘Here’ is, both logically and phenomenologically, completely tied up with ‘befores’, ‘not yets’ and ‘elsewheres’. ‘Here’ is a distracting bystander in a world of outside-standers.”
Basically, here becomes concept. It becomes too familiar. If here is unfamiliar, it may be a step in the right direction. I don’t want to wade too deep into this particular water, since my understanding isn’t good enough there. But I think you get the idea- being here, or present, can be awakening, or it can become pretty easily not real enough, not that different from being alseep, or not present. Part of the argument Rinpoche makes is also that here-ness also relates by its nature to other points, other concepts. It can become conceptual in a way that’s not helpful.
In this quote, the idea of Great Space as potent ground of reality is worth noting as well. This goes along with immediacy, one of its qualities. Great Space is described as the ground of what is present reality. It allows. It is immediate. Ironically, this sounds very very much like when people talk about presence.
It is also described as infinite. Rinpoche writes that “here” is appropriate, in a sense, but can “tone down” the infinite quality of Space. Presence is not meant to be overly familiar or toned down. It is described as potent.
Next, there is a discussion of the benefits of religion, and a very brief discussion of the possible mutual benefit of science and religion.
The argument for the former is that religion provides some structure in which focal setting can be opened. The goal, for the time being, seems to be opening to Great Space. Religion allows for this by various techniques, according to Rinpoche. I wouldn’t be as bold as he, to suggest that Great Space underlies all religious practice or study. But he does make a strong argument:
1. Religions provide ways to renounce or let go of a limited and self-based orientation.
2. By letting people relax this, they tend to become more open to space.
What is problematic for me is the final step, where the various kinds of transcendence offered by religion are equated with Great Space. Transcendence is there in both cases, but whether they are the same is an arguable point, I think. They are similar, but not neccessarily the same.
This is the space chunk of the book, though. Perhaps an extremely broad view of things is appropriate. Next, Rinpoche writes that science and religion can be seen as complementary. This is because both involve a search for knowledge, which he connects to a shift in focal settings. He does not go into great detail there, but suggests that science could indirectly benefit religious growth or practice. If you buy the idea that becoming more open or flexible aids spiritual stuff, then I think this works well. Learning about scientific advances and ideas can amaze you, and open your mind. These days I’m not very science-minded, but I have experienced this. It can be connected to the idea of wonder, or awe.
The title of this post is “the grotesque.” Without knowing a lot about it, grotesques are part of a style used in late Medieval art. They remind me of the drala principle: of art, the natural realm, and of spirits. They remind me of sacred world. They also look really remarkable.
Next, in the book, Tarthang Tulku writes about what I’ve called, in my notes, “a more thorough letting go.” Basically, by trying to open a focal setting, or let go of a kind of restriction on space, we’re subtly reinforcing it. Rinpoche writes about this happening in the context of religious devotion as well: the self is surrendered to something else, which can tend to promote a kind of solidity (of the “something else”).
So we’re looking for immediacy, as in the lively and odd grotesques: the spirit world alive in the plants and trees around us, or in the computers and buildings around us. The approach of TSK involves not just “opening,” but different kinds of opening that allow for a letting go not just of “restriction,” lack of freedom, but the foundation of that as well. The quest is nondual, so opening and experiencing that is even slightly dualistic is an issue.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.