“Physical objects are themselves just ‘knowledge’ in this ‘lower knowledge’ sense, without that being a reduction of them to a subjectivism.” – Tarthang Tulku, “Time, Space, and Knowledge”

This picks up right from where I left off last time. The view being worked with here is, I think, one that incorporates both subjectivity and a critique of the subject/self.

Let’s, at this point, assume that the construct of the self is at least a little problematic, or complex beyond normal considerations, beyond the “I” we usually refer to easily in conversation or thought.

At the same time, the self’s assumptions, habits, opinions, memories and so on do color experience. There’s no way, as far as I know, to just separate out the world from the experiencing self.

So, the idea of things as knowledge, or the world as knowledge, is based on that: we only experience the known, so every experience is a form of knowledge. Rinpoche does go on to say that this is a constricted form of knowledge. The implied constipation metaphor is interesting, and something Trungpa Rinpoche used occasionally too. Now why is the “it’s all knowledge” idea so lacking in freedom? It seems pretty good to me, with some interesting possibilities if it can be applied and incorporated in daily life. Is it just that the self has such a central role in this view?

From this point, Tarthang Tulku goes on to say that, since we can say that the world is knowledge, or even a meaning, we can challenge everything. The idea, I think, is that all knowledge can be questioned, examined, all experience can be treated with the same kind of curiosity. This goes from physical objects, to the movements of bodies, to basic beliefs and assumptions.

Of course, “question everything” is not new at all: philosophers have said and attempted it, and it can seem like a cliche (which is no fault of said philosophers). I think it might be a particularly American mode, but I’m not sure. I would have to know more about Europe and Europeans to say for sure. But the idea of questioning and deciding for oneself seems pretty American to me.

So it’s not new or specific to TSK. It may or may not be easy for Americans in particular. But the idea is that TSK uses this examination in a way that is distinctive, and with a pretty specific goal as well.

The way that TSK uses this questioning involves, obviously, looking at time, space, and knowledge. This in itself is unusual. These parts of life are basic, but not usually brought together or considered in this way. At the same time, although they’re basic, the TSK understanding of what these terms mean is not conventional. Higher level time, for instance, seems a lot like space. It is talked about as the counterpart of space, which at the same time does not do or create. It is very spacey. As you can see from this example, where “Great Time” is defined in a way that is counter to conventional ideas of time, the very language of TSK changes the process of questioning.

“However creative, lively, and inventive our realm may generally seem, it is revealed- when seen as lower knowledge- as very tediously repetitive and deadening. It is basically functioning on the level of a recording machine… superficial responses laboriously and mechanically attributed to a knowing subject.”

So the subject appears to be the issue with lower knowledge, even when everything is knowledge. This is a difficult perspective, and one I’ll have to play with a bit before I start to get it. Basically, I see it as viewing conventional experience as overall problematic (because the self is inextricable), but at the same time, entirely knowledge (which is the ray of hope in this case, I think). Not surprisingly, I think that gets drawn out, the idea of everything as knowledge (while, of course, the self gets pulled apart, deconstructed, taken down).

The logic itself is really interesting. It would take someone smarter than me to explain clearly what is happening with that logic. Basically, lower knowledge twists conventional experience into complete knowledge, while at the same time, doubling back in terms of the self. It’s sort of like saying that everything is wisdom, not just ideas, but physical objects (but at the same time, self that looms over experience shadows that wisdom). Is the obvious “move” to declare the self itself knowledge, thus canceling it out in some way? Will it just come back in another form, making this maneuver a waste of time?

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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