“Alive to the luminous potential of knowledge, we can question ourselves as actors in the dynamic flow of history.” Tarthang Tulku, “Love of Knowledge”
Well, I don’t feel especially lively or luminous today, and I’m dreading the need to wrap up the knowledge section in this post. I’ve gone through the “Knowledge” chapter of “Time, Space, and Knowledge,” and now need to go through the final chapters (of the book itself and the knowledge part). Here goes.
Las time, I ended by relating material on the knowledge meditations. These can, we’re told, lead to a kind of open ended awareness. On a very basic level, this is based on the idea that practices can change one’s experience, or mind, or awareness, or whatever you’d like to call it. At the same time, Rinpoche’s description supply us with an intriguing picture of what can happen in meditation. Of course, you could have a glimpse of something like this at first, and then meditate for five years without another “breakthrough.” There are, of course, no guarantees.
Rinpoche talks about finding the clarity of knowingness in ordinary objects and experiences. This is important to note, even if I feel like this level of experience is way beyond what I can do now. Not only is knowingness a quality of awareness that is not centralized, and is linked, as a concept, to the idea that everything we experience is experience (it’s all knowledge, this idea), but knowingness is also some sort of energy that can be opened to or found in the most ordinary things.
In the next few pages, Tarthang Tulku writes about three levels of working with knowledge. In the first level, we are influenced or suffused with Great Knowledge, but aren’t aware of it. On the second level, we begin to see things differently. This kind of experience sounds like a kind of spiritual awakening- not a final one, but one in which life changes signficantly. Finally, everything is seen as the play of Time and Space.
Rinpoche writes about the finite and the infinite here. It’s worth saying that this a concern throughout the book (and not in most Buddhist texts or teachings; it’s more of a Christian or Western philosophical concern).
In regards to this, I think you could say that the infinite is present as much at all levels, but one’s awareness of it is nil at the first level, occurs in glimpses at the second level, and is mixed in with a lot of concepts, and entirely present at the third level. When Rinpoche talks about this third level of experience, he always seems to write about a kind of open and expansive understanding. At the same time, this level is the realization of nonduality, I think. So it gets complicated- one’s realization of Time and Space at the highest level is not better than at the first level.
And here, the final realization is very similar sounding to Buddhist descriptions- one realizes that everything was ok to begin with, and the journey didn’t even have to be made (and yet, somehow, we’re encouraged to make it- it’s an odd twist).
“When totality is understood in a truly liberating (rather than freezing way), we have attained the third level.”
How do you know if you’re liberated? That’s a good question. I think it’s very possible to mistake having no discipline or occasionally doing what you feel like for some kind of freedom. I know this sounds a little judgemental, but I think it’s valid. I think freedom needs to be measured against the strength of habitual patterns, so, flexibility, courage, and suffering. If you can’t be courageous, you’re not free. If you’re courageous yet aggressive, that’s also a problem. Finally, suffering is the foundation. If you’re not aware of the fact that you’re suffering, then freedom is impossible. You’ll just fool yourself. Without acknowledging suffering, or in TSK terms, restriction, there’s no sense of a map of what to be free from. It’s like running around inside a giant hornet’s nest. You have to know that that’s where you are before you can begin to fight the hornets, and maybe climb out of the nest.
“…everyone participates equally in the Body of Knowledge.”
Rinpoche defines everything as knowledge, Great Knowledge, then calling this a “communion,” which is the Body of Knowledge.
That’s a lot of “knowledges” being thrown around. Let me try to interpret a bit. If everything is knowledge, then this includes everyone and everything. Somehow, in spite of not knowing it, we’re all in contact with this side of reality. This is a kind of communion. This is referred to as the Body of Knowledge.
The next paragraph is wonderful. There’s a description of our apparently separate bodies, how we interact, and our “hunger,” which is fed with emotions, thoughts, and various things. Rinpoche goes on to say that there is an “uncontrived intimacy” that can be reached in terms of the Body of Knowledge. This intimacy is another way of describing interconnectedness, or interdependence. Touching in with this can nourish, we’re told, allowing us to become self-sufficient.
“The mind is gradually opened until it loses its defining edges.”
This is a beautiful description of the path, not only in TSK, but in Buddhism, and I’d guess many traditions.
This comes in the midst of a description of the second and third levels of experience, and the Body of Knowledge. In terms of the second level, which in my opinion is easily enough reachable, various practices and lines of thought can lead to experiences of things being themselves (different than “normal”).
“In being as they are, they ‘are not’.”
Rinpoche writes that, if things really did exist as they seem to at the first level, there’d be no chance to experience them as anything else. But they are, in fact, else, they’re completely else. That’s the third level, which peeks through in various ways at the second level. Somehow, at the third level, you go past the fireworks available at the second level, and see that it was all there to begin with, even in confusion and negative situations.
“an unlearned wisdom emerges, and authentic ecstasy flourishes. This ecstasy is not a conditioned or emotional response…”
So back to suffering. There has to be some problem to solve. In terms of knowledge, one end of the spectrum is confusion and addiction, and the other is “unlearned wisdom” and “ecstasy.” This is the end of the chapter. There’s one more to go.
“Living the Time-Space-Knowledge vision, discovering more of the resource which these three represent, we can find the way to our Being.”
So, this term, Being, an important one in this teaching, shows up in the final chapter. Time, Space, and Knowledge, Rinpoche writes are facets of the unity of Being. We’ve been exploring them to know Being.
It seems like it’s possible to take any one of the three elements as all of reality (it’s all knowledge), but the view of being unifies the three in a way. They are all aspects of Being. This is problematic in some ways, mostly, for me, in that I don’t understand how this term fits into the setup of time space and knowledge. At the same time, it’s a helpful term, I think. It should be obvious by now that the levels of time, space, and knowledge, have a lot of similarities and connections. Being explains this. The three parts can be seen as separate and distinctive, but also expressions of a kind of greater unity, which is Being.
This is a point at which TSK brings together Buddhist thought and theistic thought. Being sounds a lot like God.
Rinpoche writes about defining Being. He writes mostly that it can’t be said to be thing, a thing that is “no thing,” or a whole. This the point where I tend to think that what is being said is that language just can’t cope- language just can’t help with understanding this kind of reality. The fact that language reaches a wall or breaking point is fine, actually. It just means that we use language to communicate and work with ideas, and then at a certain point it becomes limited, or its limitations become clearer.
“All appearance is sheer art, beautiful beyond all enduring…”
Being and human being are inseparable, according to the author of this work. Seeing that Being is something special, maybe that there’s just a lot more to life than dead objects and goals, we’re not being called to serve a higher being or cause or tradition. (This is TSK; personally, I do feel called to serve a tradition. I respect this idea, although I don’t espouse it.) One is called to realize, I think, to realize the connection of being a human, and contacting the rest of Being.
This part of the chapter consist of inspiring descriptions of what it means to become more awake. Beauty, aliveness, and wealth are mentioned. I’m sorry if my description sounds jaded or dull. I do find it inspiring, although whether you do or not is up to you. I’m trying to get the end of the book, and do some other writing I’ve been planning. And I feel sick and a little disoriented as a result.
Anyway, the inspirational section is worth checking out. I can’t convey it right now. At the end of the book, the idea that “one point is all points” is fleshed out. Basically, this is a way of talking about interconnectedness, and “one world,” as it’s put in the book. This has implications for how we view reality, how we treat each other, and ethical and even political behavior. The latter is not explored much in this TSK book, although they do show up throughout the series.
“The ‘personal territory’ model must be recognized as an essentially destructive fiction…”
This follows a brief discussion of compassion as appreciation of the value of all moments (and things, I’d think) as the expression of Being. This is an interesting idea, and one I have to come back to. It is, as Rinpoche writes, a different understanding of compassion.
As the book draws to a close, it opens outwards, looking to what it means to live in society, have things, work with our territory, and be political creatures.
“From the restless selfishness of ordinary being, to a vigorous and responsible entry into the sphere of humanity, and then on to an entry into Being itself, the path of Space-Time-Knowledge unfolds… and unfolds.”
And thus the book ends. I apologize for having rushed through the final sections so quickly, and not having given these parts enough space or consideration.
So that’s it for this part. I plan to go back and write one section of commentary on my commentary- asking questions, tying up loose ends, making connections. Auspiciously, the final quote here indicates the direction- on. There’s no end to knowledge and exploration.
But that’s too easy. Let me make this more practical. I have written a little about a book by a brilliant teacher, and, in writing, have at least deepened my own understanding a little bit. I’m grateful for this chance, and the chance to keep going and exploring the magic of TSK.
Quotes used with permission from Dharma Publishing. Books available from Dharma Publishing.