““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? ” Intro to TSK
from the poetry of Buddhadasa Bhikku:
“Dharma wishes for the new year
May this New Year be better than the old year.
May we be able to plant all year long, more than last year,
Both bigger plants and more than ever before.
There are more bad people, though.
That means next year will be worse than this year.
Some years there’s no goodness because people are led astray.
When they are awake may they do the right thing
Not bad things, based on their understanding.
May good remain, and may it all improve.
Let’s be cheerful.
Life itself comes from the Buddha’s teachings:
Purity, intelligence, mercy and tolerance
Are all there.
The New Year will be better than the old for us.”
At this point, it’s just past the Western New Year, and approaching Chinese and Tibetan New Years. It’s honestly pretty hard for me to not think, over and over, “if there are so many ‘New Years’, how real can any of it be?'”
But then, I am falling in love with holiday themselves, the religious and celebration aspects of them, and the feeling of having a life organized around a religious calendar. There again, the ordering of chaos seems a little desperate. This is known as doubt. One interesting thing about that it is that it doesn’t exactly prevent you from doing stuff, or buying in (at least partly) to various belief systems and practices. It does create some problems too, though.
Enough of that introspective stuff, though. The Tarthang Tulku quote was about history, and changes in periods of time. He also writes (perhaps in other places) about how knowledge changes over time. Rinpoche writes about this in interesting ways. To summarize, bluntly, though: knowledge, ways of knowing, gathering and evaluating knowledge change over time, as eras and “spirits of times” evolve, change, and die.
Rinpoche also makes the claim that certain eras seem to function better than others. That’s worth rolling over in the mind, I’d say. He doesn’t say that certain times DO function better, but that they seem to. So,
1. Certain times do function better. What this means, functioning well, is up to you.
2. There is the appearance of functioning well, maybe defined by historical sources, understanding, bias. All times are more or less the same at a root level, but they appear different and to have different levels of smoothness.
3. Both- some times do function better than others, but appearances and views of history also color this drastically and make it hard to see this clearly.
I think Rinpoche may be saying something more like three. He writes that there is a way to view this objectively, but that a sense of caring also needs to be brought it. Maybe without this caring, the objectivity becomes too cold. Maybe the caring informs the objectivity, actually giving it a direction. Hot and cold are something I think about a lot these days. They relate to emotions, energy, and are (I think) important to Eastern medical theory (Chinese and Tibetan).
My first thought on rereading my writing about wisdom and compassion was that they’re just aspects of one thing. I don’t know if this is backed up by Buddhist theory. But that was my idea, and I like it. They’re both aspects of some other cultivatable thing, which involves communicating with the world, maybe with history, knowledge.