““Our space has been taken away from us. Our time has been filled with various useless tasks. Our resources and bodies have been polluted. But none of these situations can compare with having our human intelligence- our discerning capacity- channeled, locked away, shut down…” Tarthang Tulku, “Time, Space, and Knowledge”

This follows the discussion of belief systems. This is a kind of lower level critique in terms of history, and human approaches to knowledge. It’s similar to the critique of samsara on a more nuts and bolts, or psychological level. It’s pointing out the problem in a general, yet penetrating way.

There were times when this would have had more of an impact on me. Maybe the fact that I’ve “committed” to a certain path makes this kind of criticism less moving. But it does make a lot of sense, and it has its merits. Human have both created great culture and wisdom traditions, and lousy cultural slop, and confused distortions of wisdom.” Intro to TSK

(I think this goes with a podcast- I’ve never listened to this particular podcast, hope they don’t mind my borrowing the graphic…)

I actually like pop culture a lot, and wouldn’t want to set myself apart from it in some artificial way. Living in Thailand has meant that watching American TV shows and music videos has been very comforting. I’ve become a big fan of Law and Order over this year and a half (but not the new offshoots, they’ve lost their way- Law and Order is about tracking down criminals and answering legal/moral questions, not about the stories of the police/legal characters on the show… LO UK and LO LA are way off the mark for this reason… just the credits for the LA version are horrible).


So there’s a paradox- pop culture can be good or it can be lousy. That doesn’t seem like a paradox, but I think there are a few there, if you dig in.

First, I think there is TONS of wisdom in pop culture. Most pop music is about love, and if you look at the world’s religions and spiritual traditions, they are too. That’s funny. Is it the same? I don’t know.

At the same time, the existence of said wisdom is complicated by how pop culture can be unhelpful (which is true for religion and “spirituality” in lots of ways, too, I suppose). Unhelpful in that hearing a love song by Usher might make people conflate satisfaction and sexual gratification. Not that I hate Usher. He’s good. On another level, there’s the conflation of romantic love, happiness, and realization.

That might seem like a stretch, but I think it’s easy to make that argument. Happiness, is after all easily connected with realization or enlightenment, what have you. Real happiness couldn’t be satisfying bodily needs, that doesn’t seem to do it. It can’t be reaching social or societal acclaim. Plenty of famous people are unhappy. So there must be some other element to it.

The argument has its problems, obviously. In a way, it’s a pitch for religion, from the happiness angle. It’s not bad, though. If you look into a need for happiness (and this may be an especially American take on suffering and fulfillment) it reaches down to deeper fulfillment. That connects to love, and to romantic love.

Back to the initial quote, and to knowledge.

The pop culture wisdom question aside, I’m trying to write about Tarthang Tulku’s TSK vision.

In a nutshell, the quote appeals to:

1. General dissatisfaction with meaninglessness, having a life full of problems and trivialities.

2. The problems of time, space, and knowledge, in a given life.

3. The problem of knowledge, specifically, knowledge stolen, or clouded over, or obscured.

“The occult” means, in one sense, what is hidden, or shrouded in darkness. Clearly, it also refers to magic of various kinds, spells, and meditations, intiations, and so forth. You could also say, however, that what’s really occult is the way that people are cut off from their own wisdom and power and dignity.

It’s way too easy to blame this on “pop culture,” on “westernization” or “consumerism.”

It is like a kind of spell cast on people, driving them a little crazy, making them a little dull, blinding them to the sacred. I’m not saying that there is one culprit casting this spell. In a way, people cast it on themselves.

The irony from a Buddhist perspective is always that we’re so close, so I’ve heard. The wisdom is there in many many forms, even pop culture. Somehow we keep “missing the boat, over and over” as Trungpa Rinpoche said in one talk I was reading last night. At the end of this talk, I believe he said, “Good sleep! Good nightmare!”


About jakekarlins

Aspiring writer and artist, dharma practitioner, yogi.

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