“Wealth is intrinsic to our being.” Tarthang Tulku, Time Space and Knowledge
So this is more or less the first post on the knowledge section. Please indulge my attempts at nondualistic language: sometimes this is effective, often it’s confusing or less than precise. But it’s a neccessary part of any experiential approach to wisdom teachings, whether Buddhist, Christian, whatever.
The above quote connects, as I see it, to a few things.
1. Richness as realization/the experience of the fullness of life (esp. on “the path”).
2. Richness teachings in spiritual teachings, and “magnetizing” material teachings in general. These pop up today in certain forms, and have since forever, I think.
So, as usual, I’m going to talk about something I know little about. That’s ok with me. In Buddhism, the idea of “richness” is connected often with teachings on experiencing the senses and life more fully, a “rich experience” of life. This is not neccessarily one that involves a lot of money or goods.
This runs alongside, usually, teachings on actually getting or “magnetizing” wealth, possessions, and so on.
The latter teachings were popular, at least last I heard, in a lot of big Christian churches in the US. I think infamously, many televangelists, not so recently would say something to the effect of “Send me some money, and ths will ensure that you have good things coming into your life”(meaning money, health, etc. so… give me money so you’ll get money, a little like ‘the more you spend the more you save’).
I have respect for Christians, and people from many religious and spiritual backgrounds. I’m not bashing Christians. I’m not even criticising teachings on magnetizing stuff necessarily. I might be able to do so more realistically if I actually knew something about all of that.
I think one interesting thing is that since shamans and medicine men and so forth mediated certain elements of community life, this sort of thing has been happening. This means, among other things, that people have a need to use spiritual technologies to mediate the world, including food, wealth, companionship, fame, and sensual attachments, all those.
This, of course, connects to spiritual materialism. Is there a way to try to get stuff you want via spiritual practice and not have it degrade automatically into some kind of materialism?
I live in Thailand currently. Belief in magic and blessings of various kinds is commonplace, in my experience. Lots of people wear necklaces with amulets on them, and have little statues in their cars, buses, homes. Generally, I think, the idea is to magnetize good stuff, and push away bad stuff. Personally, I feel that many of these objects have some energy to them, some feeling. They’re not just dead objects (if such a thing exists really).
But then there are two problems: is this materialistic, using the spirit as a way to get things that are crass, or, to put it another way, using spirit to get things which are essentially problematic (and not really helping with spiritual stuff anyway, not really helping with the human condition). The second: if this is valid, then the rich have more access to spiritual technology. They can buy the nicest gold statues and amulets. In Western countries, they can go to the nice long retreats with great teachers. If you sense some bitterness there, you’re correct.
I guess, having brough up all of that, I have to offer some kind of answer, or approach to an answer. Here goes. For me, ritual is an essential part of life. Spiritual apparatus like incense is something I like. I do use material things in my practice. It is possible to do so without spending an arm and a leg. Maybe generosity and going past habitual patterns are enough antidotes to deal with the inherent problems of this area.
There are ways, in my experience, to practice and receive teachings without being really rich, but spending some money, time, and energy, add to the experience.
I think that if wealth teachings are done skillfully, they undercut the problems of this area, and connect to profound subject matter. For Buddhists, this involves mind, emptiness, all that heavy stuff. On a basic level, people do need some stable basis in order to have enough time and energy and calm to actually practice enough, and in “good” environments.
I didn’t set out trying to write about wealth and spiritual materialism, but that’s how my mind works. It’s fun, sometimes, to follow the associations and see what pans out. But let me try to sneak in some actual commentary.
In the knowledge section, we begin with problems and promises. Knowledge is conventionally problematic in that it’s limited, involving meanings, connections, definitions, oppositions. Any selected idea brings with it a whole landscape of other ideas. It’s like inviting a friend over and having them show up with a lot of other friends. In terms of knowledge, the fact that this ALWAYS happens, and the fact that there are lots and lots of friends makes it both limiting and claustrophobic.
The promise is, like seeing that samara exists, or that there is a lack of space, that there are other forms of knowledge. Knowledge can work in unconventional ways.
The title of the first chapter in this section is “The Possibility of Knowledge as Commanding Insight.” So there’s an idea of the direction we’re headed in with knowledge. What is commanding insight? I can’t say that I know really. In my experience, insight is often hard to discern, as it’s so mixed in my with noisy mind. This kind of insight is described as “commanding,” as well, so it has along with it a sense of strength, chutzpah, maybe “gallantry.” I often remember one teacher’s wise response to a comment I made that “Intuition is very powerful if it comes from a quiet mind.” Something like that. My memory is often shabby.
“Great Knowledge apprehends only Space and Time. But this does not mean that the Great Knowledge perspective involves an ignorance of our lives and needs. From a transitional point of view, it could be said that Great Knowledge freely lends itself to our purposes. We draw entirely on the clarity and ‘perfect knowingness’ of Great Knowledge in order to play in our own way…”
So, unlike other systems, TSK limits or contains things by defining knowledge in terms of time and space. From now on, I’m going to use “knowledge” and “wisdom” as interchangeable, since they seem mostly this way in the text.
Again, with this quote, the idea of spiritual realization or enlightenment and meeting basic needs are connected. Rinpoche writes that in spite of time and space being the focus, we still meet our earthy basic needs. What those are defined as I guess is pretty personal, at least in TSK. Other paths have traditional ways of narrowing in on what one needs to survive and live well, I think. So, again, this could be seen as a “wealth teaching.”
And Rinpoche writes that we can use wisdom for our purposes. We can use it to play. I think this area becomes dangerous, but is also where the rubber meets the road. If anyone wants to be a practitioner, a lot of it involves applying teachings in terms of using wisdom for our purposes. At the same time, the specter of materialism lurks, beckoning constantly. Even vigorous practice and prayer aren’t enough to destroy it.
In my experience, one of the best antidotes for materialism is the fact that lineages, teachers, traditions have their own karma, and seduce and enrage you in their various more or less incredible ways. In spite of thinking that we, as practitioners, have a say over where we’re going, how much say is an interesting question. You can step into the boat, but then getting carried away is traditionally part of the process. Even stepping into the boat is not entirely a matter of “personal choice.”
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.