“The knowledge you seek is above thought, beneath thought, around thought, and about thought.” Tarthang Tulku, “Dynamics of Time and Space”
So, just a little about knowledge. I think this gives some hints (not that I know the answers, but that I see hints as to what Tarthang Tulku develops in what he calls “Time Space Knowledge vision”). The hints?
– curiosity and looking (where is this kind of knowledge? if it’s “around” thoughts, then where is it, and what is it like?)
– kinds of knowledge (if you look at your thoughts and experiences, different kinds of knowing seem to exist)
– the play of language (I don’t think it’s coincidental that TSK uses such playful, even disorienting language. This has something to do with the way mind reacts to language, I think, and the way language informs experiences of knowledge, time, and space).
Now let me try to race through the first TSK book. My hope is to be able to cover the rest of the knowledge section in the next few posts, then maybe some final thoughts and questions.
Last time, I wrote some about moment to moment awareness, and awareness of changes in time and space. Rinpoche writes that mindfulness can lead to greater awareness of the working of time and space. It can allow people to really take care of themselves, dealing with their thoughts in an appropriate way.
I find this point really interesting. I went by the instruction to label thoughts as “thinking,” even off the cushion. No one told me to do it twenty four hours a day, but since I’m the kind of person who goes overboard, I tried to work mindfulness into my daily life. So I ended up using this instruction as I went through my day, labeling thoughts as they came up. Part of this instruction is the idea that people get caught up in daydreams, memories, hopes, and so on, but can experience life more directly by moving attention back to the senses (using this ‘labeling’ process) .
This is a very good teaching (and not my own invention), and one that’s taught widely in Buddhism. I was recently reading book called “The Words of My Perfect Teacher.” The idea of trying to think nice things about people, about not just seeing thoughts as insubstantial, but trying to think well, and kindly, comes up numerous times.
This surprised me a little, and made me think. My point is that it can be good to just view thoughts as simple phenomena, no big deal, but it can be good to try to think certain kinds of thoughts too. So how do you decide? Is there a balance? I don’t know. I find that labeling can work to bring me out of a daydream or swampy cycle of mental chatter, but I find that it feels very good to not just let myself think mean things about people, to even censor myself somewhat.
So- labeling as thinking vs. cultivating virtue. Back to the TSK text.
“Second by second, mindfulness (knowingness) must be maintained.”
I had to read this four or five times before it actually caught my attention. At least in TSK, knowingness and mindfulness are equated. I’m not going to draw out the possible differences or implications of this connection, but it is unusual.
Actually, mindfulness is a really interesting term the way it is normally taught. What does it mean? It’s not just putting your mind on some object. There’s a whole array of feelings and experiences that tend to go along with it. This makes me wonder, as I’ve been wondering recently, if it’s fair to present Buddhist meditation as something accessible to people of all faiths (in that even the simplest technique tends to be associated with many teachings and experiences, which are not necessarily “secular” or in line with theistic or nonBuddhist teachings).
At the same time, TSK is not Buddhism. It is interesting that knowingness and mindfulness are equated here. Quickly, I think that this means that mindfulness, at least in TSK, means conscious direction of the mind in some way that naturally opens the mind to certain experiences of deeper knowledge or insight. At the same time, knowingness is not centralized or personalized, so it’s not “the mindfulness of a person,” it’s just mindfulness, or knowingness. That’s the “quality” sense that I get: the mind opening that happens is not a person’s mind opening, but a quality of space, a quality of things as they are. It’s like the shine on a lightbulb lighting up- it’s a quality of the lightbulb.
Rinpoche then writes that we have a choice as to whether we apply this mindfulness or not, and Time and Space offer great possibilities in either the direction of joy or suffering. It can go far either way. So the consequences of using our minds are far reaching.
“We can engage in openminded and rational vision.”
Rinpoche writes that, since there is a continuum between lower and higher knowledge, it is very possible to bridge them. He suggests that this process can happen in a variety of ways (of looking at lower knowledge). Personally, rationality doesn’t excite me these days (as much as feeling, and perception). But I do use it plenty, so it would be dishonest to say I don’t go by it. I do make plans and try to figure things out with reason.
Obviously, reason and questioning are a big part of TSK. So that happens with the “path of knowledge.” At the end of the chapter, Rinpoche describes the functioning of science, religion, and metaphysics and theology. With all due respect, I don’t fully understand or find this part very compelling. So I’m going to write very briefly about it.
Science is described as a cone. It can describe things at a very small level, or a very large level. However, it doesn’t describe things beyond this (beyond observable phenomena?). Religion can describe things beyond this level, including creativity and transcendence. However it is limited too. The limitation, Rinpoche seems to be saying, is that this transcendence is excluded from the everyday realm of thinking.
However, theology and metaphysics allow transcendence through thought processes. Or, at least, thought processes are not excluded from the process of transcending lower knowledge.
I have a lot of questions and objections to this, but I don’t think it’s worth going into them. Why? Because I want to get through the section with an overall understanding, and I don’t want to get into the game of agreeing partly, or qualifying, or saying “I agree with the theory, but certain parts…” Of course, I neither understand nor agree with TSK 100%. Maybe that means my writing about it is weak. I don’t know.
I don’t need to integrate science and religion. I love reaping the benefits of science, and I also think its discoveries often lead to unintended bad consequences. Perhaps TSK has some keys to solving this issue, or to finding a way for people to integrate their understanding of science and their faith. Part of it, for me, is just the hugeness of that project. It seems too big.
However, I do think integrating “transcendence,” or let’s say living wisdom, into thought processes and the use of these in life is a necessary thing (and not at all problematic for people of theistic faith, or no faith).
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.