I have to ask myself why I imagine I can write a book about the TSK vision—introduced to the world with the publication in 1977 of Tarthang Tulku’s “Time, Space, Knowledge: A New Vision of Reality” and continuing up to the present through more than a dozen TSK books.
What is my motivation for writing my own TSK book? Who do I imagine could be interested? How can I possibly add anything worthwhile to the impressive shelf of books that already exists?
As for my personal motivation: I would like to share my appreciation for TSK with others, since I believe that the TSK vision penetrates to the heart of the accelerating panic, helplessness and despair that has come to roost in our society. Also I miss the engagement I felt working on my three previous books. And, as a distractible consumer of today’s superficial and technological forms of understanding, perhaps I can give a field report on the consequences of our society’s narrow approach to knowledge.
As for who might be interested in yet another spiritual journey memoir, perhaps people who are already familiar with the TSK vision will find here a supportive report from the field. And I would like to think that others who are new to the TSK vision, but tired of the hit-and-miss slot machine of happiness in this world, will be tempted to take a look at the root TSK texts and the path of transformation they offer.
Anything I write will be on the periphery of the mandala created in northern California, which has published dozens of books that have made Tibetan Buddhism and the TSK vision available to western society. That’s actually the point of this endeavor. I don’t think anyone has attempted to write a book with the purpose of sharing their personal indebtedness to the TSK vision, as viewed through the lens of an ordinary human life—lived out here in the fragmented, polarized realm into which our planet, like a lost child of the cosmos, is slipping. (There are six TSK books written by Tarthang Tulku and eight TSK Perspective books that include essays by students—such as my “From Zero to One”–all under the umbrella of Dharma Publishing editors).
And how can I possibly add to a body of writing that examines the limitations of modern life, explores the nature of the human mind, and reveals opportunities for fulfillment that await just beneath the surface of our ordinary lives?
It is clear, as I embark on this adventure, that if I don’t find a way to engage a fresh way of viewing our shared dilemmas, then whatever I write will remain a lifeless repetition of thoughts already thought and conclusions already reached. Since this vision has been expressed better elsewhere, the potential benefit of my exploration will be if it reaches people who are not aware that a liberating way of looking at our lives is available.
I expect we are all familiar with the polite, reserved smiles that come to the faces of anyone with whom we share our pet theories and favorite beliefs—unless we’re preaching to a choir who already agree with us. So why would I consider doing it?
One reason that I’m thinking of writing another book is an uninspired one: I have four years of weekly blogs that directly or indirectly express my appreciation for the TSK vision. And they feel ready for a narrative arc to connect them into a coherent whole.
However there is a viewpoint encountered in the TSK vision which gives me pause. The idea of organizing and combining already written fragments into a narrative structure is just the kind of stirring together of past-centered concepts that we constantly do as individuals and as a society; it’s the very process that has produced a world in which we feel powerless and unimportant. (We identify projects and carry them out using tools that are guaranteed to maintain the very limitations we seek to escape.) So a book that merely combines past-centered material is unlikely to leave room for the present and the future to join together in the uncreated potential of a greater time.
There’s an anecdote about a man who passes three brick-layers and asks each what they are doing. One replies “I’m laying bricks”; another “I’m making a wall”; and the third “I’m building a cathedral”. We too work with the bricks we have, and are free to lay one on top of another or to join in building a cathedral of life on Earth.
Starting with what we have already done may not be so bad. When I wrote those weekly blogs, there was always a stream of daily life out of which they emerged, and to which the post attempted to give expression. Alongside the thoughts and feelings swimming around in my mind that day, I would often be reading one of the TSK books. Typically, there would be a moment when what I was reading would penetrate the ground swell of my moody feelings and wandering thoughts. And I would lay the book aside to scribble something that spanned the gap between the universal (the cathedral I found in the TSK book) and the unique (my meandering individuality making its way on Planet Earth).
I expect that anyone who touches base with their own ground of being—through writing in a journal, expressing devotion through prayer and appreciation, or just leaving time and space for quiet reflection, does something similar.
As a working method, I hope that by revisiting old fragments engendered in the continuously replenished meeting ground of daily life—where bubbles keep popping to the surface–something of the paradoxical dilemma in which we live will be reflected.
As for the nature of the TSK vision, and its openness to the essence of life, George Santayana expressed it well in the Preface to his “Skepticism and Animal Faith”:
“Here is one more system of philosophy. If the reader is tempted to smile, I can assure him that I smile with him…I am merely trying to express for the reader the principles to which he appeals when he smiles . . . I do not ask anyone to think in my terms if he prefers others. Let him clean better, if he can, the windows of his soul, that the variety and beauty of the prospect may spread more brightly before him.”