“In history’s endless variations, some eras simply seem to function better than others… There is a way to look at these different patterns objectively and without taking a position- as one would look at scenery from the window of a passing train. Yet inquiry must also be guided by a deep caring.” Tarthang Tulku, “Dynamics of Time and Space
A few tidbits of thought of this initial excerpt:
1. The mahayana Buddhist idea of the need for both wisdom and compassion seems similar to this concept of of inquiry and caring. It’s a similar approach.
Truthfully, I’m already a Buddhist, so the idea of wisdom and compassion being important is something I have faith in. Still, I can ask the question: why? Why do we need both? Why that pairing? Why not some other setup?
2. The view of history here suggests that there are patterns in history, a kind of spirit of the times, for any given time, and that we can engage with this through observation and caring. Is it possible that there are two historical extremes- on the one hand, thinking that an era is super-significant (totally degraded, or a golden age), and on the other, thinking that you’re exempt from history and larger movements (just going about your business, making ends meet and pursuing interests).
If that view has some validity, then what’s the middle way? How do you engage with your times in a way that is far-reaching? How do you work to help people without getting entirely burnt out or jaded? At the same time, how do you do this without being totally blinded by the spirit of the times? At any given time, the ideas we have, the choices we make, are informed by the others influencing us (cultural, social, spiritual, environmental, political, etc.). It seems like, in order to do good things in society, the things we do can’t be entirely limited by those influences. So how do you extricate yourself from those cultural egos?
3. On reading the quote above, I was inspired just by the thought that eras can be effective, and that I can personally have some influence on that. Whether this is a time when things get worse and worse, or start to work better- this is something I can actually play a part in.
That kind of thinking can turn into arrogance, but it doesn’t have to.
Now, to race through the end of the “TSK” book, as the end of this section approaches.
Last time, I wrote about stories, ego, and knowingness. I have been thinking about concentration as an aspect of meditation recently. This thing “concentration” is something that is developed through practice, and is similar but not entirely the same thing as the kind of concentration people ordinarily refer to (concentrating on a project, concentrating on listening to someone, concentrating at work).
I think this is an important part of meditation. I think the traditional literature backs this up 100%. At the same time, it is not the same as awareness, and not the same as knowingness.
Rinpoche writes again and again that knowingness can be found in both confusion and clarity. It’s something pretty subtle, then. Is it possibly the foundation of concentration? If concentration is something you can strengthen as a quality of mind, then is some kind of awareness or knowingness the foundation of that concentration? That would make sense, I think. This knowingness is also not changeable. It can’t be strengthened like mindfulness can be.
“Knowingness can help to maximize the love, intimacy, and fulfillment we experience in life.”
This chapter talks about knowingness, love, and contains numerous exercises. I might touch on the exercises slightly, but as usual, will avoid them for most part (since I don’t feel like I can “transmit” what they offer).
“By utilizing more knowingness, can cut directly through the undesirable situations that arise…”
Both of the latter two quotes seem to promise a lot. I find this problematic. Rinpoche may have some direct experience of this, but I do not exactly. My experience of the benefits of TSK has been subtle and indirect. I find that it helps me understand Buddhist teachings from unexpected angles, it helps me understand meditation practice, and it gives me a new way to talk about the spiritual path.
I’m not going to argue directly against the claims that knowingness can provide fulfillment or cut through problems. What I’d like to do is come back to that very soon, while at the same time, trying to look for what knowingness does, in my experience.
I guess one of my objections is that knowingness seems a little beyond those relative concerns (of love, happiness, negativity). It seems beyond duality. If that’s true, then how can it solve problems and lead to deeper happiness? I think the direction the argument could head in is to say that it (knowingness) allows you to recognize things, positive or negative, as itself, knowledge, in different forms. This in itself can lead to overcoming apparent problems and finding peace.
I think that makes a certain kind of sense, but I don’t want to put much weight behind that yet. It feels more like I’m repeating what I’ve read than actual experience. It’s always a safe bet to say “Find out.” So, I’ll leave that open, more because my own understanding is limited than out of any kind of wisdom.
“Through learning to attend more to the positive aspects of experience, we can develop some command over the structuring power of lower time. Such insight and command, however, may show us that the way we know time has subtle repercussions and poses an even more subtle challenge…”
This is a mysterious part, and one that I want to leave that way, at least partly.
Claims that a person can have influence over time, whether subjective or objective, are intriguing.
In a very general way, Rinpoche is writing about the fact that even if you can begin to work with your emotions and mind, you’re still subject to grasping at positive and pleasant conditions, and fighting off negative and “toxic” circumstances.
As a small sidebar, I have strong opinions about the use of buzzwords. In a large sense, I feel like the words and ways of structuring language communicate hosts of meaning. I feel strongly that the language of my teachers communicates a lot of good stuff. I feel that the language of most people I hear in popular culture, the media, politics, and so on, is much worse.
Without going on a big rant, or trying to organize my thoughts fully, let me say that there are some terms I come across that feel really stupid and confused. Yes, I respond to them largely on an intuitive level. If that seems crazy or arbitrary, then so be it. I buy into that kind of thing (intuition- we all have some of it, even if its sharpness is not apparent a lot of the time).
So, “toxic.” This term bothers me. It suggests that certain circumstances are in their essence bad in all ways. Obviously, it would take an enlightened person to deal well with some situations, but then that’s it. Calling something toxic is to ignore the fact that everyone has the potential to deal with great chaos and uncertainty and conflict.
In general, this kind of term, to me, speaks of fear, a rabid desire for safety, a sort of lawyering-up tendency. The West, a lot of it, has taken to a “Safety-First” attitude. Everyone’s afraid of lawsuits, so everyone abides by fear. That’s not good. We don’t need to pad everything, in my opinion. And there’s actually nothing that is inherently “toxic.” This is to say that life is actually inherently good.
Since I have had more than one cup of coffee so far, and I’m feeling the words jumping out easily today, I think I’ll stop for now, and probably come back later to write more.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.