Last time, I took a leap at knowledgeability. I’ll know take a break from that. I don’t understand it, and I want to come back to it later, and try again. Now, as the chapter continues, Tarthang Tulku writes about knowledge more from the “lower” angle.
He brings up different conventional forms of knowledge, such as science, history, and so on. These, he writes, have a lot in common. Breakthroughs tend to only confirm the general structure of this knowledge (the implication being, I think, that breakthroughs whether spiritual, religious, or more grounded in the sciences, humanities, arts, don’t actually go beyond those structures in any meaningful way- the going beyond itself implies and carries with it the “DNA” of the original form).
There’s a fine line, here, I think. I would be a big hypocrite if I were to say that I honestly don’t think science, technology, “advances” were entirely limited or bad. I use a computer to write. I like the internet. I assume Western medical stuff will be there to save me if I happen to get badly hurt. I think and hope that it’s enough to say that TSK is highlighting the fact that advancement is not enough.
This speaks to both second and third levels: the third level in terms of the ever-presence of wisdom and awake, the second in terms of the many forms, styles, practices that can evoke this.
Next, the idea of “it’s all knowledge” is brought back in. Everything we experience is experience. That’s another way of saying it. Aside from extraordinary experiences, drug-related, spiritual, near death, everything is something you experience- you can’t get outside. Even the peak experiences where you do somehow get outside are arguably still experience. You still know them in some way, even if you are floating above your body- you’re still inside something.
Rinpoche says that this is a tautology, which is true. It is all experienced, and this gets the reader nowhere. But this critique or paradox will be expanded, he writes, in the pages to come.
Next, this part of the chapter is finished with two parts of the “only knowledge” idea- the idea that what we perceive and know is limited by the normal process of knowing (ONLY knowledge), and the idea that experience-based knowledge is circular. I think the second point is just a more sophisticated version of the first point.
The first point is that how we know things is limited. Tarthang Tulku writes about taking this limitation too seriously- that our senses, education, ideas, inspiration, and so on, don’t seem to be infinite in everyday life, but it’s possible to take this too far. Basically, I think it’s about getting discouraged or lazy about experience, blase. I guess you could go to another extreme by trying to read a million books, or become super-healthy- trying to become superhuman (which implies a kind of limitation reacted against).
The second point is that knowledge based on experience only tells us about experience. The world out there with objects is how we gather info, that’s kind of data we’re set up to receive, so we only get a certain kind of information, like setting up a surveillance camera outside of a store- it won’t record sounds, just images. And in this case, our way of knowing is so deeply ingrained, it’s not like we can just go and buy an audio recording device. Even that still happens on surveillance camera. It’s a closed loop.
That’s the idea of samsara. I think this is described as “nihilism” in Buddhism. It’s different, as I understand it, from Western forms of “nihilism.” In Buddhism, it means taking emptiness or samsara or impermanence too seriously, so that you end up getting depressed, or lazy, or aggressive. I go to this extreme pretty easily. I have recently tried to curtail this, seeing how it effects others. Impermanence and uncertainty are ever-present, but if your reactions tell people that all the time, it can be overwhelming.
Finally, Rinpoche writes that these approaches highlight the limits of conventional knowledge. TSK, he writes, both accepts these critiques, and finds ways out of them. The critiques have their strength, but the limits aren’t insurmountable in terms of knowledge. So this is working in terms of the first level- the conventional, its limitations, and possible ways to get through.
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