“The knowing that knows separation is itself a projection of ‘space’. The act of attributing qualities is itself an aspect of what appears.” Tarthang Tulku, “Knowledge of Time and Space”

Of course, I, or someone else, could write a lot about this short quote. It’s complex and weighty. I hope the fact that I’m only going to give it a small space here doesn’t seem to imply that I don’t respect the writer, or the material itself. One detail of this excerpt that I do want to comment on, though, is this: the inseparability of experience and context.

The self is part of the context. There are a lot of ways to talk about this thing we call a self, from embarassing, to systematic, to celebratory. One is that it is part of a context (the “rest” of things). The self is said to be moving, not solid, composed of parts, which are, in themselves, both connected to lots of other things, and composed of parts, and shifting.

Another angle: based on who you are around, based on the elements you absorb, from media, to music, to food, and water, you change. Then there is the puzzle of genuineness. Great teachers are sometimes said to be remarkable for their real-ness, the sense that they are completely open, completely without deception, not trying to play any sorts of games. Trungpa Rinpoche has been described this way: entirely genuine. He encouraged his students to find this as well. “Become who you are,” is, or was, not sure, the slogan of the Shambhala Training Program, a contemplative education program. (Basically this means a lot weekend seminars, with sitting meditation, lectures, some other stuff, then eventually longer retreats if you’re so interested).

But the puzzle- if the self is not the bottom line, if the self is not home, how can you be genuine? I find that it’s a matter of practice. It’s a practice of refraining from taking on speech and actions that are meant to manipulate others, and being spontaneous. This tends to be a little uncomfortable to me. It’s easier to talk the way someone wants you to talk. It’s easier to pick up on those “projections” and then indulge. But then the result is not very courageous.

There’s the self in context, genuineness somehow arising as an alternative, and the context itself. That’s what I wanted to write about to begin with. I go back to thinking about the “kind of day” experience so much these days.

People experience different things differently. But in general, people often are synchronized with the day. If I had a crazy day, chances are my wife did too. Sometimes this seems to be localized- I go somewhere on a bus, and in that place, things are really busy and stressful. There is some sort of flavor to things that seems to be somewhat time or space centered.

This can get as intricate and tricky as you like. It tends to be frustrating. On a day when I’m feeling “off,” 99% of all solutions I think up for how to get back “on,” and feel together are so flavored by the context or energy of that day, they seem to backfire. This is similar, I guess, to the idea of the realms and bardos in Tibetan Buddhism. It’s like you’re trapped in a certain kind of world, and any attempt to escape is futile, because the escape plans are all inherently flawed.

That’s not a very well drawn metaphor. Anyway, this context, or universe, or cosmos, seems to interpenetrate everything, including the self and its awareness. It’s a miracle, I guess, that anyone ever wakes up or figures anything out at all. We’re lucky to have received the teachings of some brilliant people about how to solve this problem (and how to begin to see the problem, to begin with).

This connects to Tarthang Tulku’s book at this point. He writes that we need to examine lower knowledge in order to go beyond it or not be limited or stuck by it. This involves, he states, not assuming the self, mind, or body/mind thing as fundamental. We do tend to assume that, that’s body, mind, self, or some kind of physical setup is the basis, the foundation. I tend to get a little scared just thinking about this. Somehow, death pops up there. If those things aren’t ground, then what is?

Wel, we’re prodded to investigate in certain ways in this approach. This reveals, Rinpoche writes, a different kind of knowing, which he refers to knowingness. From a previous glance at my notes, I believe this relates to “second level knowledge.” Maybe it is similar to wisdom or intuition or the heart; I think it’s too soon to make that jump. But we are beginning to talk about knowingness. And Rinpoche writes that this faculty or quality, maybe, is very close to us. Critical thinking and inquiry seem to expose it, and it is “already close at hand.”

Then there is a big step next. I just thought of a quote from “Shambhala,” by Chogyam Trungpa. He writes that one can step out of the cocoon, the condition of being stuck in habit and fear, and maybe this will take just “three and a half steps.” That’s always puzzled me. Why three and a half? His language is always so precise and yet complex. I don’t know. But in any case, there’s a big step here in the TSK book: “it’s all just lower knowledge.”

This is a key step. Maybe I have emphasized that enough. It’s just that I didn’t get before even how important this is (let alone what it means).

I will have to return next time and try to go deeper into this. But for now, my understanding is that it is a way of saying that ordinary experience is that: ordinary experience. Self-involved experience, with subject and object, is lower knowledge. It’s not “just” mental stuff, but somehow this is included, along with the self.

It’s subtle, and far more subtle than my brain is at this point. But, as they say, it is close at hand, no matter how dull or confused or upset you feel. You can’t forget it, even if you’ve almost forgotten it (for many liftetimes).

Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.


About jakekarlins

Aspiring writer and artist, dharma practitioner, yogi.

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