“As a way of comprehending something of the flavor of knowingness’, consider whether you have ever been listening to music or to someone speak when, alongside the ‘subject receiving input from object’ aspect, there emerged an elusive (but penetrating) understanding, significance, or clarity. Perhaps this significance was not about anything, not even content related in any obvious way to the information being received.” Tarthang Tulku, “Time, Space, and Knowledge”

This excerpt brings back the idea of knowingness. I don’t have much to say about the idea of meaning without significance other than that I think it is something worth considering. It’s a landmark for me, a question I keep bubbling on the back burner. This idea also connects to the power of meaning and the ways that language works. I guess I’d say that language occurs on different levels, from superficial to deep (and at a deeper level, it seems to become less fixed or solid, less like words and sentences, to the point that calling this energy or action ‘language’ becomes a little deceptive).

So a bit about knowingness as well, before I comment more on the text.


1. Seems similar to wisdom. I have to note, however, that the term “wisdom” is used in the Buddhist tradition, and others, but not so much in TSK. It’s not my goal to say that TSK is Buddhism somehow, but to use my understanding of Buddhism to explain TSK (while preserving the latter’s unique characteristics as much as I can).

2. Wisdom goes along with knowingness, but also Great Knowledge. There is a difference between these things, although I’m not clear on exactly what it is.

3. The “ness” ending suggests that it is a quality of something, or that it involves a quality. To me, this implies that knowledge here is not a solid thing, like a list of facts, or a book, but a kind of experience or perspective. At the same time, it is not the knowingness of the self, or even of the universe necessarily (although this is a nice possibility), but knowingness of something undefined, or maybe without a thing generating it.

4. From previous notes and my current understanding, this is associated with the second level of knowledge. So, when we talk about lower knowledge, and how it works, this is first level in most ways. Knowingness has to do more with the second level. If that sounds very careful and qualified, then it’s because I’m trying to be accurate, and the system of levels is neither absolute, or simple. For example, first level knowledge is often talked about in terms of the pervasiveness of higher knowledge, even in that lower knowledge. That’s the continuum of knowledge idea that I mentioned last time. Somehow the energy or action or quality of knowing can act as a bridge from very solid conceptual worlds to higher realms.

All right. Enough about knowingness for now. In summary, it is somewhat like wisdom, the “quality” aspect is highlighted and holds some intriguing possibilites, and this term is associated with the second level. Now, back to the book.

Rinpoche writes about not “bottoming out,” which I take to mean resting on the assumption of things and thingness. Our search for meaning won’t give us  satisfaction as long as we keep looking at things in this way. He calls it a riddle, the riddle we’re constantly trying to solve, or are constantly involved in.

“It is possible to open in a new way.”

Tarthang Tulku writes that we can explore new areas because it is all knowledge. Again, this is the idea that all experience is knowledge. Since we’re involved, it’s knowledge. If we don’t experience it, it’s not knowledge. I think he suggests, at this point, though, that there are some “neutral” or “vacant” areas that we’re purposely unaware of, or ignoring. We can’t handle these, he says, but only in the sense of the self not being able to. Higher knowledge can handle these “dead spots.” So the “not-knowing” process has to do with fear, chaos, hurt, I think, and this connects to the self as well. The idea here is that somehow there is some part of our being that can deal with the murky and dangerous parts.

“In view of the great possibilities which knowledge is offering, the trend to freeze knowingness seems particularly destructive.”

So that term is back. Right before this quote, Rinpoche referred to the lower knowledge tendency to “freeze” knowledge into solid things, “knowables.”

As much as you think about interdependence and impermanence, it’s very hard to to stop thinking that things are independent entities. It’s even harder to stop behaving as if they are.

A part of this process is the imaginary vision of what it would be like to be insightful, wise, or enlightened. I would guess everyone who meditates or studies philosophy struggles with this to some degree. I have various ideas about what it should be like to experience looking at a plant (not as a solid thing, but living, interconnected, and so forth). But those measurements and concepts are really distractions, and end up getting in the way of the directness of experience.

I don’t think this is freezing per se, but it’s related. Freezing is conceptualization, in all its variations, I think. I’m surprised when my wife does something she hasn’t done before because I have concepts built up about who she is, and what kind of things she does. When things change I’m surprised. In one sense, this could be seen as “thawing,” a positive reminder of the way things work. Of course, it’s often unsettling. At least for me, at this point.

“Because the world itself is a term ranging over incomplete encounters with Space and Time, what we lock up and ignore through such encounters, Time  will unravel and present to our attention.”

I want to end with this brilliant quote. There’s so much to think about there: the power of time as a living thing, the unraveling process of things we’ve tried to avoid or “locked up,” the world as a term that means certain things. So it seems like even if we freeze things into solid knowns and unknowns, there is a tendency of something to counteract this, remind us of things that need our attention.

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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