Tarthang Tulku


We inhabit a time in world history when everything is in flux. We march to rhythms of complexity, acceleration, and intensification, of breakdown and dissolution. There is a strong and recurring sense that events are moving too quickly for us to stay abreast of them; that the dynamic of change is out of control, with consequences no one can predict.

Yet ours is also an era of unparalleled opportunity. The same forces of disruption that make chaos and catastrophe recurring themes of the age give us access to a remarkable range of materials and data. Knowledge of all kinds presents itself in abundance, as though some giant had scattered it carelessly here and there across the landscape. The knowledge traditions of the ages, transmitted through countless cultures and times, are being assembled and recombined into new forms. At the same time, we are busy accumulating new knowledge of our own. Though many ways of knowing have been lost and others are in jeopardy, the sheer wealth of knowledge available to us seems unique in world history. In countless domains, old mysteries are clarified, and each day brings new discoveries.

Nor is this all. In this past century, space itself has been transformed. Exploring the microcosm and the macrocosm with tools not previously available, we have discovered that space is central to all appearance, and we know now that matter as space presents it is not what we once thought it was. Distance no longer sets firm limits on what we can achieve, and barriers that formerly seemed solid have melted away. As we learn to communicate almost instantaneously and initiate changes that cut through old lines of demarcation, the accepted truths of the past seem less well-established and reality less rigid than ever before.

For anyone who recognizes the benefit that can come from expanding the scope and depth of human knowledge, the accelerating pace of change can be exhilarating. There are times when all limiting horizons vanish, and we seem poised to awaken at last the full range of our human capacities. The process of expanding knowledge stimulates a sense of openness and possibility. Our accomplishments in taming the forces of nature give us grounds for confidence that we could awaken knowledge inwardly as well.

Here is where the real potential for transformation can be activated. If we can learn to look with knowledge eyes, we will see our own limits and how we conduct them into being. We will discover how to shape human affairs in accord with a different dynamic. Space and time themselves will become differently available, restructuring the fixed identities we assign, the stories we tell, and even the ways that we take hold of experience. In bringing such possibilities to life, we can develop our natural affinity for knowledge in unexpected ways.

Human beings have always valued and relied on knowledge, yet the ways of knowing we have developed can claim only limited success in dealing with the basic dilemmas of human existence. Why should this be so? Is knowledge itself inherently limited? Or is it that we have not yet learned how to embody knowledge fully?

Knowledge is usually understood as something to possess and accumulate. But the knowledge we gather in accord with this model is neither stable nor reliable. At times it does not meet our needs; at other times it dissolves into confusion or fantasy. The knowledge we gather may lose its vitality, become rigid and unresponsive to changing circumstances, or slip unnoticed into serious error.

Suppose that instead of possessing knowledge, we could successfully embody it. Our new inseparability from knowledge might reveal the operation of a universal knowledgeability, active throughout space and time. If so, the result would be a true transformation in our being. Penetrating 'beneath' what is known, we would experience for ourselves the inner value of knowledge. Illuminated by the light of knowledge, our actions would respond appropriately to each new situation as it arose. Acting in harmony with all that appears, we would share in the beauty of unrestricted exhibition and the intimacy of full participation.

Unless we are satisfied with our current forms of knowledge and the results they lead to, we should not dismiss such possibilities as incomprehensible or mystical. Our present ways of knowing may not allow for experiencing knowledge as a natural part of being, yet there is always the chance that we could awaken new ways of understanding, more open to such experience. If we allow our present incomprehension to close off the possibilities for true knowledgeability, we will only confirm what has been predetermined. As long as the mind is able to imagine other alternatives, why settle for this choice in advance?

We all know what it is like to take not-knowing as our roommate and limitation as our silent partner. Do we have to live in this way, or could we allow for a way of being more naturally attuned to light and joy? The very idea that we could embody knowledge hints at such possibilities. Perhaps we do not have to accept frustration and dissatisfaction as the shadow at the heels of each experience. If the mind can grow more healthy than it is at present, we can become friends with knowledge and lovers of knowledge. Perhaps the Body of Knowledge can become our body.


Universal Knowledge

In assigning knowledge a place in the universe, we tend to apply one of two competing models. The first holds that knowledge arises accidentally in the course of cosmic evolution, an unexplained byproduct of forces that unfold blindly and without purpose. The second maintains that the knowledge that governs the universe is ultimately the possession of some form of absolute being, and thus inaccessible to humanity. Both views lead to the same conclusion: It is fruitless for human beings to aspire to universal knowledge.

Beyond these conceptual alternatives, experience points to a different possibility. We know that we are part of the universe; that our bodies, and minds participate in space and time, sharing intimately in the dynamic through which knowledge arises. If we explore our present presence and the dynamic of its unfolding, we may discover that knowledge is available in ways we do not now recognize.

The natural starting point for such an inquiry is the mind, for mind is the operator of knowledge as we know it. Mind is the conductor, the artist, the founding father; the healer, the seeker, the leader. Mysteriously, mind communicates with what appears in time and space. It pronounces, thinks, cognizes, fantasizes, imagines, visualizes, and projects; it conducts knowledge into being.

If we turn to investigate mind, we have the resources of mind at our disposal. Mind to mind, thought to thought, knowledge to knowledge we can question what arises. Yet if we question according to the usual patterns of inquiry, we are not likely to make much progress. Moving toward 'from' and 'to', toward getting and receiving, toward interactions between subject and object, we will be led to established conclusions and familiar ways of knowing. Mind will appear as an object of knowledge, which means that in a certain sense it will not appear at all.

An alternative methodology is available. When mind is the object of mind, awareness does not have to rely on the structure of subject knowing object. Mind can conduct awareness as awareness conducts mind. The Body of Awareness and Body of Mind can be inseparable.

Mind in partnership with mind can open the senses and consciousness to knowledge directly. Then knowledge can become our teacher and best friend, encouraging us to conduct the truth of the universe and of our own existence in new ways. The possibility offers itself for a knowing that does not follow the old ways, the 'has been taught' way of the predetermined automatic.

To put this style of inquiry into practice, we must train the mind to operate in a new way. Usually mind is in rapid motion, headed toward a goal. Guided by the model that makes knowledge into a possession, it actively shapes perception and forms thoughts to arrive at reliable information that it can use to plan and act.

When the mind functions in this way, it cannot settle down. Caught up in judgments and distinctions, it is cut off from experience in advance. A single thought or sensation arises as the carrier of knowledge, but before we can develop the knowledge it contains, the next thought or sensation has already arrived. Mind is bound to the surface of experience, and while this perspective leaves it intimately acquainted with emotionality, discrimination, and judgments, it has no way to go deeper.

Led by the disordered motion of this way of minding, we cannot stabilize our knowing or get clear on what is happening. Although we may feel that we are participating fully in our own lives, we have no real contact with the intrinsic awareness that makes the operation of mind available. Knowledge can appear only as 'knowledge of or 'knowledge about'. An uncontrollable momentum carries us from one moment to the next.

Is it possible that we could relax this ongoing momentum and learn to be at home in a minding that moves in more stable rhythms? Could we shift our focus from the content of what arises to explore the movement and rhythms of the mind, including the restless momentum through which thoughts and perceptions take form? Could we widen awareness so that it became pervasive, or expand mind and thought and feeling so that they merged with awareness? Instead of staying on the surface, could we enter the silent nucleus of experience?

Such possibilities will come alive when we truly realize that the mind is not a tool that we can operate independent of who we are. For mind to function differently, opening differently to knowledge, we must learn a different way of being. 

The starting point is to initiate a new dynamic for inquiry. Instead of chasing after the given or stepping into the established, instead of joining in or breaking away, ignoring or accepting, we can deepen awareness of who and how we are. Awareness emerges as our inner being the truth of our presence in time and space.


Inner Conducting of Knowledge

The leading model we have for conducting inquiry and developing knowledge, exemplified in science, asks us to turn outward from the position of the knower to discover the known. We start by conducting the sense faculties toward contact with what appears. Imagining images accordingly, we proceed to memorize, pronounce, and absolutely identify what has been imagined. The outcome is twofold: We make real what is known and confirm the self as knower.

Today we understand the damage caused when the outward-thrusting momentum of such knowing blinds us to the broader consequences of our conduct. Seeing this, we may be ready to turn inquiry inward, toward the knower and knowing the conductor and conducting.

This is no escapism, no denying our responsibilities in the world. Looking toward the center of the center, we can inquire into the being of our human being and the knowing of our human mind. Once the center has come into focus, we can conduct outwardly with greater success. Knowing how the mind functions, we can think through our actions ahead of time, sorting out what arises and being sensitive to the available responses. We can deal creatively with the lack of solutions we may encounter, cultivating patience and letting ourselves be guided by the truth of our situation. We can invite a different vision of what is real and what is possible.

Because we are so accustomed to conducting outwardly, there is no direct and simple way to shift to an inward conducting. Carried out in accord with prevailing models, our act of facing inward makes the inward outward. Wherever we turn, we reconstruct the structures of our conventional way of knowing. The real path inward opens differently. We transform the momentum of our knowing outward when we trace the present arising of that momentum. The dynamic that moves toward the known can also lead to the originating center of our awareness and our knowing.

As we trace this dynamic, our investigation opens in space and time. The dynamic of an outward-thrusting knowledge depends on a temporal order and a linear temporal momentum, and presupposes distance, separation, and the existence of objects in space. Our being is a space-time being, and the knowledge we activate unfolds in the dimensions of space and time in ways that are prescribed in advance.

These fundamental structures for experience can be called into question as part of our inquiry. In seeing that our being in space and time is at issue, we have already awakened the mind to knowledge. Now we can create and improve. We can develop quality and depth and accuracy; we can move toward longevity. Transforming knowledge itself, we can balance our concerns in the world with the inner conducting of our human being.


Space for Knowledge to Emerge

We live in a physical realm where space presents solid objects interacting in predictable ways. But 'underneath' that realm and coexistent with it, at the microscopic level of atoms and molecules, 'reality' is very different. If we somehow lived in that microscopic world, experiencing through its focal setting rather than our normal one, all that we accept as true would be completely transformed. What would become of the parenthood of what appears: the lineage of origination that we take for granted? What would happen to the distinction between the mental and the physical? Where in this new world would we encounter mind?

This shift may not be available to us in any conventional sense. As beings born into a world of 'objective' physical space, we have a responsibility to make sense of that world. Yet calling other possibilities to mind reminds us that reality is not fixed in its structures.

Objects disclose themselves to knowledge on the basis of specific interactions among awareness, appearance, and space, and different interactions would give a very different world. If space allowed for a different form of appearance, mind could function differently as well.

From a space perspective, the fundamental ordering principle in constructing the world is mind's partitioning of experience through categories such as 'this' and that', 'here' and 'there', and 'like' and 'dislike'. Staying with this perspective allows us to open up substance.

We can clarify the structuring principles that guide conventional knowledge not only partitions and positions, but also dialogues, images, feeling tones, qualities, and identities. We can see how thoughts interact with the senses and discover the energy that surrounds each field of feeling. The mass and solidity of what appears as well as the gravitational force they exert become newly questionable.


Time and the Knowledge Dynamic

Like space, time appears in our ordinary understanding as something external to our own being, a force bearing down on us with a momentum whose pace and power we cannot affect. Yet we know that this is a one-sided view. Our lives are also inseparable from time, for the reality we experience is simply time's unfolding. Time is our silent partner, like the breath or the beating of our heart. Quietly it supports our activity and maintains our experience. Whether our lives are successful and fulfilling, whether they are vital and vibrant depends on the play and power of time in our lives.

At present, we leave time in the background, imagining that if we do what is important to us, time will prove flexible enough to accommodate new possibilities. But we see the shortcomings of this view in the way our lives unfold. No matter how great our commitment and conviction, we cannot sustain the momentum of our actions for more than a few hours or days or months. We may start with clarity and vision, but our thoughts, our energy, our emotions, our intelligence shift from day to day and hour to hour, even from moment to moment toward emotionality and lack of concentration, toward distraction and confusion.

Inquiry into temporal patterns invites a knowledge that can transform these patterns. Why does time unfold from past to present to future? Why does it present experience in such predictable and repetitive ways? Why do we find that we cannot act in accord with our own convictions and values? It is easy enough to offer explanations: our psychology, our conditioning, our physical being. But explanations mirror the temporal structures of the conduct they attempt to explain: They track one level of sequencing with another.

What if we could trace time's conducting differently, looking directly to the dynamic of its presencing? Could we challenge 'presenting' itself, responding 'before' the presentation hardened into 'the way things are'? What if such a hardening never occurred at all? 

The possibility that time could present differently transforms difficulties and obstacles, dissatisfaction and even helplessness into indications that time is presenting in a specific way. We can explore inwardly how this happens. Perhaps the frictions that seem inherent in time's linear unfolding trace to the fact that time itself is being ignored or forgotten lost in the press of events and the surface display of appearance. In that case, we have a choice: We can try to cultivate the inward knowledge that will let us 'recover' time. If we recall time to its place at the center of our being, its forgotten nature may disclose new possibilities for being and knowing.

There are situations when we seem to engage time directly. When we care deeply about what is happening to us or others, the quality of time itself appears to shift, and the range of experiences we encounter may shift, with it. There are times of faith or devotion, times of miracles and times when the heart opens, moments of beauty and unexpected epiphanies of perfection.

The conventional view would speak of such times as signals of a change in our subjective experience. But this explanation is based on the unexamined view that 'objective' time presents events in a way that is fixed and inalterable. If we conduct knowledge inward, that view can be challenged. 

As soon as time becomes a subject for inward inquiry, its power shines forth within the structures of the ordinary. Time can be gentle as well as wrathful; it can resolve and solve, teach and advise, give patience and friendship. Above all, it can present appearance in all its aliveness, rich with an inherent knowledgeability. 

At present, we struggle mightily to turn away from time or put it at a distance; to ignore its operation in our lives, deny its power, and maintain unaltered our present positions. But having turned away, we can also turn back: We can acknowledge time and welcome its active presence in our lives. Almost at once there may be a sense of release: the first indication of a knowledge more attuned to time's dynamic.


Problematics of Knowledge

In our present way of knowing, thoughts chase after thoughts like dice being tossed about in a tumbler. Bound to words and language, we let each word pronounce its specific meanings, then carry those meanings forward in stories that sponsor and conduct specific ways to be and to behave. Bound to identity and substance as space exhibits them, we move within fixed structures. Bound to sequences that unfold in linear time, our choices are restricted. 

On the surface our experience may seem interesting enough, but when we conduct knowledge inward, we soon see that the patterns that space and time at present allow only confirm our limits. Dedicated to conventional ways of knowing, we may perfect a specific livelihood. We may follow the model flawlessly true professionals. Yet invariably we conduct problems and shortages forward into being as well. Insisting on the right and the true, we establish the wrong and the false. Even if our own lives unfold in ways we find satisfying, we are sowing the seeds for competition and conflict on a broader scale. Simply in supporting one model over another, we foster a system in which some individuals are inevitably more successful in communicating the prevailing knowledge forward than others.

Acting out such patterns guarantees that knowledge is lacking; that we live with incompleteness. At every level, the large and powerful manipulate the small and weak, while those in the middle struggle to improve their position. Standards have been set, and now there is competition and struggle and anxiety; there is preaching and posturing. Either we are not where we want to be, or we must fight to preserve what we have. Whatever we own or possess, it is not enough. We are caught in "should be . . . could be . . . want to be . . . ought to be . . . must be." In countless ways we promote obligation.

These ways of being do not take real responsibility for knowledge. Instead of conducting on our own, exploring our own being in time and space, we join a team. It may be the science team, the religion team, the samsara team, the nirvana team, the nation team, the 'worthwhile cause' team. In each case, we take the presupposed as our starting point.

The results of this approach are not all bad: Though we make many mistakes and at times seem to act almost blindly, our mistakes themselves serve as our teachers, and we progress at many levels. Yet much effort is wasted with no results. It is difficult to achieve all that we want or to know what must be known. The form is not right: Somehow space and time and knowledge are fundamentally at odds. 

Today we can no longer afford this hit or miss approach. We need to find ways to open knowledge more directly: to preserve and promote and increase knowledge. We need to transform the relationship of human beings to knowledge for our own sake and for the sake of others.

When we awaken the mind and thoughts and senses to knowledge, we discover for ourselves that knowledge is the healer of all ills. Now we can conduct the knowledge we need to benefit ourselves and society; to put an end to bias and discrimination, decay and decline. Beyond the standard data of the senses and the standard interpretations, we can plant new seeds in new soil, yielding new fruit.

What are we actually looking for, and how shall we proceed? At the outset our aims will seem uncertain, and the formulations through which we attempt to draw closer to knowledge may well sound like mystifications. Yet this is no reason to doubt the inward path of knowledge. After all, there are forms of knowledge we take for granted now that would have seemed mysterious five hundred years ago, and the vocabulary we use for knowledge now would have led to blank incomprehension just a few short decades back. Surely five hundred years from now the same cycle will have repeated itself, for space and time allow no shortage of alternatives.

Since this is so, why not accept the challenge now, in this moment in space and time? Why not allow the Body of Knowledge to emerge? Whatever goals we have set for ourselves, we are acting out limits that frustrate our efforts. Our lives are short, and it seems misguided to postpone or ignore our responsibility to develop our own nature.


Activating Knowledge

Although we may long for knowledge that could transform our lives, we presently have no reliable way to activate it. Perhaps lightning will strike; perhaps our ways of using the mind will be transformed once and for all. In the meantime, we must carry on the burden of our not-knowing. Because the Body of Knowledge does not connect directly to what we presently know, we are left with no path and no choice.

Knowledge eyes see matters very differently. The moment we are ready to conduct inquiry toward the ways of knowing we now take for granted, a deeper knowledgeability takes form. 

At the beginning, it is simply a matter of being interested in how our own lives unfold. Observing the operation of 'from' and 'to', we would like to understand their workings; opening space between space, we would like to inhabit it. If we notice how our conduct is shaped by comings and goings and beginnings and endings, we are drawn to investigating their arising and passing away. We wish to know how we participate in our own lives and how our participation can be more wholehearted.

This inward way of knowing replaces the negativity and confusion of not-knowing with the positive wholeness of knowledge. If we wish to make a difference, we can do so; if we wish for a different way of being, knowledge can make that available as well. We have embodied suffering long enough; now we have the chance to embody well-being and inner peace. Knowing our not-knowing, we need not know more. Right now, we can set forth on a journey of fulfillment in time and space.

The more we understand knowledge, the more we can combat the dullness and darkness of neurosis and confusion. We can move with new intelligence toward change and transformation. Facing squarely the limits we experience, we can fuel our inquiry with the powerful frustration and longing we feel or the hidden potential we sense is available.

Like others before us who have discovered the path of knowledge, we can go beyond the present level of consciousness. Then knowledge itself can take responsibility for knowledge. The light of knowledge can illuminate our lives and transform the society in which we live; it can extend out into the world at large. Different beings can manifest the qualities of knowledge in different ways, each contributing to the whole. We can imagine the possibility of an enlightened society: a society in which knowledge transforms the whole.

The moment we resolve to invite knowledge into our lives, we have already activated it. Do we wish to live a life rich with fulfillment? To liberate ourselves and others from suffering? To experience greater joy and well-being? Each heartfelt "Yes!" is also a yes to knowledge. Once we realize that we are free to choose, yes builds on yes, and knowledge develops through its own dynamic.

The knowledge dynamic conducts thoughts newly and opens new dimensions of the mind. Thought itself becomes a form of appreciation: an expression of gratitude for all the knowledge produced until now. As an invitation to knowledge, thought preserves forward what is thought into the ongoing presentation of knowledgeability. As we see how awareness transforms our lives, thought becomes a gateway to greater awareness, and our resolve to awaken knowledge intensifies.

Once thoughts begin to merge with the Body of Knowledge, the confusion and difficulties we experience move naturally toward resolution. It is like opening a window onto another realm, letting in new light and breathing new air. New opportunities conduct new knowledge. The shape and form of what appears becomes inseparable from the shape and form of mind: The Body of Mind takes form, and understanding takes on new depth.

Knowledge as we know it today accumulates and proliferates endlessly, threatening to bury us beneath mountains of data. 

Yet how much of this knowledge contributes to awareness or encourages transformation? We cannot continue to accumulate knowledge to no purpose in this way, filling every available dimension of space in a process that stretches out to the end of time.

Proceeding in this linear fashion, we will never find the time to develop the awareness we need or discover the space to implement what we already know. 

When we know how to look, the alternative is already available. Instead of focusing on this and that, we need a knowledge that will appreciate the whole; instead of specific thoughts, we need to investigate the pervasive patterns of the thinking mind. A universal history can point toward a universal knowledge.

Can we guarantee that this way of knowing will work that we will be successful? The record of the past and our daily experience offer the beginnings of an answer. We can guarantee that knowledge is valuable. We can be confident in our capacity to grow more knowledgeable. We can find evidence that others have found ways to express and embody knowledge fruitfully. And we can be certain that great and unexplored possibilities for knowledge are available.

Knowledge is not someone else's possession; it is not subject to ownership or to being concealed or lost. Once we are in touch with knowledge we realize that we can access it at any time, for we are naturally a part of the Body of Knowledge. Whatever our present experience, we can be certain that we can overcome suffering, confusion, struggle, frustration, and aggravation; that we can penetrate directly to the other side of what we now take for granted.

In the wholesomeness of knowledge, we can be self-sufficient. We can engage beauty and bring benefits to others. Conducting the space and time of knowledge and the Body of Awareness, we can participate fully in the conducting through which knowledge gives shape and form. We can join in the magic and know that it is so.


Transforming Limitations

Through careful analysis, fearless speculation, and creative imagination, we can awaken our natural affinity for knowledge. We can enter a magical universe where the future is now, the impossible is always available, and one point is all points.

This book reveals space as the source of appearance and offers the dynamic of time as the hidden source of meaning. With images and ideas of startling originality and inspiring beauty, it challenges our persistent attempts to be the owners of knowledge, and invites us instead to join in the play of knowledge that informs all appearance. When we engage this potential, we can build a bridge to the other side of reality, beyond concepts and constructs our long forgotten home.

Trained in Tibet as a young man, Tarthang Tulku has lived in the West for over twenty years. A dynamic thinker of remarkable range, he has explored the Time, Space and Knowledge vision in a series of acclaimed works that have been translated into six languages. This new book marks a turning point in the transmission of the vision: a fundamental presentation of reality that we cannot afford to ignore.


Dharma Publishing