After having made contact with Jack Petranker, author and teacher of TSK, I was told very kindly that I could send along a letter and writing sample to Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, for his consideration. This is exciting and definitely scary. It’s confusing as well- being on the verge of some possible success, always an oddly uncomfortable feeling for me, and interacting with a renowned teacher in the Tibetan tradition. In the Tibetan tradition, I believe there are certain protocols for how to approach teachers about various things. But in the West, and in terms of publishing something, this becomes somewhat less clear.
Anyway, thinking of sending some writing and a sort of description of the potential book got me thinking. What was I going to say? After some thought, the idea of a TSK commentary that leaves out so much of an essential section, the space section, makes little sense. As I reread the space chapters, so much is based on exercises. Actually the whole first TSK book is really an experiential journey of both contemplation and meditative exercises, so to just comment on one element of it is a little strange, arbitrary.
My doing this project was somewhat arbitrary, or auspiciously coincidental, maybe. But in terms of a finished “product,” what I’m writing now doesn’t make total sense.
So I’ll keep going, talking to myself more or less, but then change course, recycling some material, but aiming at an intro to TSK, based on my scattered and limited knowledge. Trying to write a commentary has been enlivening and in some ways enlightening, but has also revealed my limitations and the project’s own limitations. But then, that’s part of the beauty of TSK: it highlights limitation and then offers ways to wend through it, like escaping a labyrinth.
So, let me try two things today, after that start: finishing space, and beginning knowledge.
Last time I wrote about misconceptions about space. Nearing the end of the space portion, Rinpoche brings in Time. Space and Time are introduced as living partners, or lovers, maybe. While Space is described as allowing, making room for, Time is described as energetic, “dynamic,” vital. Since I’ve been researching and fiddling around with deities and gods in Buddhism and various traditions, this brings gods to mind for me: a god that is feminine and allowing, and a god that is masculine and active.
Whether this is conditioned by my upbringing and culture is not even worth debating. Whether this conditioned perspective is valid is, I guess. In my short research mostly on Wikipedia, I was struck by how different cultures often do things differently. I tend to associate the sun with the masculine side of things, and the moon with the feminine. At the same time, in some Polish beliefs, this is reversed. This is surprising and interesting, but I have to go with my understanding. Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to make room for the complexity of others’ cosmologies and beliefs by understanding the sources of the differences, the evolution and meaning of the differences. This is to say that these “mythologies” are mandalas. My understanding is a mandala. If someday, I can understand why other cultures do things so differently, and the implications of this, that would be another lovely mandala.
Getting back to the book, Time is described as the fulfillment of Space. Time is not just active, it completes the allowing of space. Time is how things happen.
There are many directions to take this.
One is in terms of masculine and feminine principle. Trungpa Rinpoche describes the masculine principle as makeup, as in cosmetics: makeup on space. It complements it, brings it out, highlights certain qualities of space itself. Once again, space is in the forefront, essential. The masculine is not exactly equal. It keeps going back to space. And space is not said to be makeup on time. I could see someone making an argument for the latter, for equality of these elements. Personally, my attachment to the space-as-essential form is not entirely rational. It does seem to be traditional, and an important aspect of both TSK and Tibetan Buddhism (especially some forms of it, especially those influenced by the Nyingma school).
Well, it looks like I won’t get away with jumping to knowledge this time. Let me try to get done with space, though.
Rinpoche goes on to discuss a problem of time: meanings and existants. These things are part and parcel of conventional life, and useful, but also “obscuring”- covering up the open and flowing nature of reality. This is, of course, tied in with communication, including but not limited to, I think, language. So this communication breakdown, or communication construction is being worked through, to Space, through time (in terms of the issues of limitation in regards to meaning, and existant things).
The latter sentence was not easy, and uncomfortable close to New Age jargon. But I think the idea is clear enough. We’re approaching again the idea of lower level time (but including space, especially in terms of existants).
Rinpoche makes a good point to illustrate this. We tend to think dualistically, in terms of good/bad, life/death. We think that we want to get or acheive goodness, or life, but just being in this struggle is very limiting. He describes the alternative as working with Great Knowledge to know Great Time.
In this section, nonexistence and nonlocation are referred to again, and in a very positive light (dualisitically speaking). This is worth noting. This is, I think, an advanced teaching or concept, presented along with many other ideas, on the sly. If you were to realize nonexistence and nonlocation fully, you’d be doing pretty splendidly, I think.
“We do not notice that all defining surfaces are still incandescent and malleable.”
This comes in a discussion of meaning and limitation. Clearly, meaning is somewhat limiting. It narrows down, and cuts off the edges of things. The above description makes me think of glass, melted, shiny, still flexible as it’s formed. This also refers to exercises that work in terms of “shining outlines.” I can’t offer anything in regards to the latter, except that it implies a way of seeing things as less than totally solid, a way of experiencing energy, and connects to the idea of “light,” which is not talked about too much in TSK, but is there, and important.
So I guess I could offer something. Pretty good. But again, Rinpoche is talking about solidity or flow of meaning. I think this is not as difficult as he implies here, especially for a certain kind of person, maybe someone with a “quick wit,” or a mind for language. Then, the problem becomes how certain meanings get ignored as solid, while others can be played with.
This is the area of habitual patterns. My point is that, for someone like me, it is possible to pay lip service to flexibility of meanings on one level, but at a deeper level ignore certain assumptions and problems. The best I have by way of solution/excuse is practice- it’s somewhat nondual, and touches sometimes on deeper levels of mind, body, and meaning.
Because I want to finally get through the space part, and move on to the next part, I’ll offer a sloppy summary of points made, with some minimal commentary.
1. “Meanings can be communicative,” be are also grating. There’s something restrictive and even harsh about meaning.
2. There is a kind of understanding beyond self and its meanings, but this is not separate from that, and is not marked by being different from self and meaning.
3. “We need to cultivate a balance between” Great Space/Time and lower space/time. Perhaps this is one element of Great Knowledge. Interesting that we’re not throwing away the lower stuff, but balancing it with the “greats.”
4.Nonexistence and nonlocation=nonmoments, the destruction of linear time
5. Great Time and lower time are not opposed or separate, as with Great and lower Space. Great Time is also not distributed or altered, as with Great Space.
6. The magical nature of things is pointed to- nonexistence, not going anywhere, lead to a sense of magic somehow. We’ve tamed the magic, Rinpoche says, or we have been tamed, and are somehow an aspect of this magical world.
7. “This play of space and time is not out there, seen by you here. It simply is, and carries a knowing dimension with it. You do not have to assert yourself as the knower.” This speaks for itself, beyond my possible attempts at interpretation.
Finally, there is some discussion of the three levels of space. The section ends on the discussion of level three. It’s really fascinating that level three is “space,” but it also seems to describe a kind of understanding or wisdom. At level three, self-centeredness falls away, we’re told. Somehow, these levels are both descriptions of reality, and of how reality is lived and participated in by people.
This post has been so much longer than I’d hoped. I’m reminded once again of the brilliance of the book’s author, the weight and depth of the material, and how much it can be unfolded. Next time, I will finally begin to write about knowledge, with the author’s description of both the promises of Great Knowledge, and the problems of lower knowledge.
The lower/great distinction might have gone past familiar at this point, and become irritating. It’s interesting, though: all three elements, Time, Space, and Knowledge, seem to be just sides of one shape or being, working in terms of confusion and realization, samsara and nirvana.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.