“Like a magnet, ‘lower knowledge’ tends to bind us to a certain range of obscuring and polluting phenomena. It creates a kind of local gravitational field…” Tarthang Tulku, “Time, Space, and Knowledge”
This quote follows a paragraph in which Rinpoche writes about the truths lower knowledge provides. We’re sometimes told that truth will help us, but we also have some apprehension about this. Maybe it won’t.
Then, there’s the idea of lower knowledge holding us to certain “polluted” situations, like a magnet or field of gravity. I want to steer this away from any kind of New Age concept of thinking/manifesting, or somesuch. I do think this corresponds to some ideas about spirits, deities, and so in, in Tibetan Buddhism (and probably other traditions with spirit practices, which is to say, most).
Is the ghost being offered some water, tea, or a cookie a real ghost, some psychological force appearing in the world as the practitioner experiences, or some combination of both? I’d say the latter.
I live in Thailand right now. There’s a whole range of traditional practices relating to ghosts, spirits, nagas, and so on. I don’t know most of it. I do know my wife believes in certain days for getting haircuts, and that putting cut hair at the trunk of a tree is auspicious. If I sound skeptical, I am, although the irony of me having my own luck-related or spirit related practices is real. How many people who claim to be rational, to go by science, will avoid walking under a ladder? Maybe this just means that cultural norms are hard to escape, and complicated. Maybe it means that rationality and science haven’t conquered in the way some people think they have.
Rationality was never that much fun anyway on its own (which isn’t to say that good medical care shouldn’t be available to everybody).
Another take: lower knowledge can make it hard to live an inspired, uplifted life. That’s my experience. There’s so much going on beneath the surface, with the body, the mind, with energy and spirits. Lower knowledge can block this out. I don’t want to say that Tarthang Tulku or TSK in general is anti-science (maybe I am, in some ways, but the ideas in this series of books are not; at most there’s a critical eye cast toward science as the end-all be-all). I just included a semicolon inside of parantheses. Can I do that? Hmm.
Well, I’m trying to write a lot today, as it’s a “day off.” But it seems like I’m tired, and this post will, as a result, be pretty unfocused. Oh well. Better to cut if short, soon, though, before the rambling becomes really obnoxious.
Whew. I just hit command z, and lost a giant chunk. This day is really an off one for me. I don’t know whether to keep pushing on and write more or take a nap. Not a bad dilemma, but still….
A tad more commenting, then that’s it.
“Dangerous side effects of our knowledge continually show up.”
This is a theme in TSK, and a good one. It happens to me in two ways:
1. Actions: I think of something I want to do, be it go to the mall, or write a book. The process of doing these things inevitably involves lots of little sidetracks that are more or less frustrating. Aside from the importance of a good work ethic, and the need for coffee filters gotten at the mall, this is a problem. Actions have infinite consequences and play out in so many ways, and it’s really hard to know what to do about all of them
2. Thoughts- this is almost the same. With thoughts, like actions, they spin off into various surprising and interesting and frightening realms. I have one idea I think is brilliant, and five minutes later, it has brought me to a memory I’ve rehashed a billion times, or a thought that is really trivial. Even seemingly “higher” thoughts tend to get pulled down- this is the gravity/magnet effect of lower knowledge.
This magnetic problem happens with spiritual questing too- a feeling of relief, understanding, or even breakthrough is usually followed by a let down, and a return, more or less, to the way things were. That might be both the problem and positive side of faith- you need it to keep working on, but it tends to imply as well that things aren’t progressing or working the way they should.
This is not the only way, though, Rinpoche writes. I agree. It’s interesting that this particular section involves time as well as knowledge: the consequences of lower knowledge playing out in time, the problem of an inability to break through those cycles of lower time.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.