Meaning Sits at the Back of the Bus

Knowledge is understood to apply only in the objective realm; in the subjective realm of desires and feelings, knowledge has no role to play. Since issues of value and meaning fit into the subjective realm, they recede from view as possible subjects of knowledge or topics of public discourse. In such circumstances, what is meaningless comes to the fore by default.” Love of Knowledge, Tarthang Tulku, Dharma Publishing, 1987, page 33.

I’ve been reading Love of Knowledge, Chapter 5, which explores how our society’s emphasis on “objective knowledge” (identifying and manipulating objects in the external world) leaves unexamined the subject that is doing the identifying and manipulating. Scientific investigation even strives to keep its methods “objective”–and thus unsullied by the vagaries of emotion and bias which characterize the subjective realm. As a result, the self—whose desires and aversions drive decisions about what to manufacture, who to elect, and where and when to drop bombs—is not an object that can be investigated by this model for knowing.

This insures that the wants of the self—which, when unexamined, drift toward emotionality and meaningless activity—rise unimpeded to the surface.

The emergence of Trump and Cruz on the political circuit provides a particularly stark manifestation of this dynamic. Fed by the frustrations of people whose desire-driven interests are not being served by the society in which they are obliged to live, belligerent posturing takes center stage. In a world where our knowing is split between unexamined emotions experienced by the self, on the one hand, and efforts to manipulate the objects of an external realm in order to fulfill the self’s desires, on the other, no wonder the meaningless rises to the fore. The self who knows does not know itself.

This unavailability for rational, intelligent critique of the views we hold insures that our beliefs cannot be reconciled with the situations in which we live. The prevailing model for what is knowable (technological, scientific, objective) has the limitation that it leaves in the hands of the self—who’s arbitrary desires and fears are not a subject for objective inquiry—all decisions about how such knowledge will be used.

Yet, if you are like me, you consider yourself capable, for the most part, of making decisions based on a balanced knowledge that is relevant both to our interests and to the world in which we attempt to satisfy them. We may wish we understood ourselves better, but it doesn’t leap to mind that “what we know” excludes our own observing self. After all, we live with, in, and for this private self. How could we not know its true interests? Others may not be aware; but surely anyone who aspires to greater self-knowledge–spiritually, psychologically, meditatively, sociologically—can learn to harmonize inner and outer perspectives?

Then why do I wake up each morning wondering who I am, afraid to sit still in the silence lest I disappear?

2 comments to “Meaning Sits at the Back of the Bus”
  1. So, maybe a question to ask to the side of Who-I-Am? Is how is it I am? What process (mechanisms) lead to a me? Do I stand as the singularly abiding result of that process? Just how does I go about aming in the next step? Is the initial assumption of the horizontal only one possibility? Why not consider verticality?
    I mean there are at least 360 degrees available. Get high? Get low? Now, come on, get real. Now how exactly does that work? Just where in the spectrum is light withheld? Sweet light and the dear dark. Sing a song of Longchenpa and we break out in laughter. Does TSK sing too? For sure. And a one and a two and a…

  2. Your invocation of the name of Longchenpa brings to mind the title of the English translation of his trilogy: “Kindly Bent to Ease Us”. If I could bring into this hesitant “I am” the spirit of his vision of a greater whole–reaching down, like the branches of a willow in the scorching midday sun, to ease and refresh the wayfarer pausing by a running stream–then I would gladly sing out “bring on the next step”, as I eat my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

    Or perhaps, if I were a tap-dancing millipede, with 360 joyous feet clicking away in shiny black shoes, I would fully appreciate the process of living. But, to tell the truth, your comment goes beyond my capacity to embody it . . .

    Thanks for deepening the inquiry into a process that leads to “me’ . . .

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