Characterizations of TSK
"As I became more familiar with Western concepts, particularly with those found in the sciences, I saw the possibility of a visionary medium through which a common ground could be found in the pursuits of knowledge carried out by the various sciences and religions. Such a ground could serve to increase each group's appreciation for the other, and could thus even facilitate the quest for knowledge itself. This presentation . . . does not belong under the heading of any specific philosophy or religion. It may, however, help to clarify some of the issues of traditional meditative disciplines." --Tarthang Tulku, p. xxxi, Time, Space, and Knowledge
Time, Space, and Knowledge: A New Vision of Reality is a triple-faceted visionary insight into the heart of reality. This vision clarifies the ideas and concerns of Western thought--philosophic, psychological, and scientific; it integrates the essence of these systems into a comprehensive perspective on the nature of existence. Time, Space, and Knowledge provides a common ground for an appreciation and exchange of ideas, thus facilitating the quest for knowledge and truth.
"I have often been asked how TSK could be classifled as a field of study. The question has no easy answer. It is not philosophy or psychology and not religion. Perhaps it could be seen as an adventure of the mind, with the potential to branch out in many directions. For someone knowledgeable in a particular field, TSK may be able to inspire new ideas related to that discipline. For others, TSK may stimulate clarity and a sense of value.
My own view is that TSK should not be considered its own discipline, at least in the sense that it conflicts with other approaches to knowledge. I see no contradiction between TSK and my own Buddhist background, just as I see no conflict between TSK and any other tradition of knowledge." (Tarthang Tulku, p. xvi, Dynamics of Time and Space)
"The ongoing inquiry that the new vision invited was not religious or philosophical; in fact, it fit into no established categories at all. Yet it definitely offered glimpses of a different way to experience, not based on our usual role as 'bystander' or commentator on our own lives. As the vision began to emerge and take form, I saw that it could open into what was virtually another way of dealing with reality." (p. xiii, Dynamics of Time and Space)
"Each reader is free to decide how best to interpret this text. There may be fruitful parallels to science, psychology, Buddhism, or numerous other traditions of knowledge. Any of these approaches seems fine to me. I do not consider that there is only one right way to understand or respond to the material." (pp. xxi-xxii, Dynamics of Time and Space)
"TSK follows no model or doctrine. All knowledge can be a part of the vision. . . . I saw an opportunity for a fresh start: a way of investigating that could develop on its own, without relying on any dogma or views." (p. xviii-xiv, Dynamics of Time and Space)
"The TSK vision does not emphasize rituals or beliefs, nor does it deal directly with virtue, morality, or merit. It does not impose rules or expect conformity to a set of beliefs; instead, it sets in motion a course of inquiry that allows knowledge itself to come to the fore, disclosing itself within appearance so that all beings may benefit. . . .
TSK does not aim to overthrow old values, nor does it maintain that there is no basis for making distinctions. KnowIedge itself has virtue, and the TSK vision proclaims this virtue and seeks to activate it through inquiry.
The reason that TSK does not attempt to set in place any specific set of teachings is simple. Theories and explanations can be useful, even indispensable tools in the course of inquiry, but the fixed juxtapositions they give rise to work at cross purposes to the TSK vision. What is the point of erecting a superstructure of rules and principles on a reality that already expresses the fullness of time, space, and knowledge? How can such distinctions be of benefit when appearance is all-embracing? Since beauty, quality, and value are inherent in the presentations of time and space, why make special efforts to bring them into being? Since nothing is missing, why look for something to fix or complete?" (pp. xi-xii, Visions of Knowledge)
Toward a Secular Morality
The Time, Space, and Knowledge (TSK) vision seems to offer a great deal toward developing and actualizing a natural, shared morality. Expressed in six volumes authored by Tarthang Tulku from 1977 (Time, Space, and Knowledge) to 1997 (Sacred Dimensions of Time and Space), the vision provides a comprehensive forum for interdisciplinary studies, including a comparison of the values, assumptions, principles, and methods of business, education, psychology, and spiritual and religious disciplines.
Using the principles, and three levels of statements of the vision, it has been possible to derive a detailed description of the cross-cultural core ‘zone’ of peak performance and realization, including its secular values or attributes, as well as two other levels of experience, providing a broad spectrum from greed to goodness to Godness within which different values systems can be compared. These valued facets of enlightened experience are described with detail and precision that is far more granular and operationally useful than typical one-word value descriptions.
General guidelines have been derived to support decision-making in any situation: a counterproductive (or detrimental, vs. beneficial) act (whether ‘inward’ or ‘outward’, presuming that these can be distinguished) is (1) a ‘movement’ that darkens, clouds, or scatters rather than brightens/clarifies/focuses/coheres the energy in a moment-world-view, or (2) that divides or increases the separations within awareness or a focal setting or frame of mind rather than further illuminating awareness or dissolving boundaries within awareness.
In a business environment, unlike most other value systems, all this supports the possibility of truly continuous improvement of well-being and productivity for any mission, and during any work process, and even when switching between tasks.
TSK in an Evolutionary Context
Following are some notes about important patterns at this time in history, why TSK is important, how it's related to other disciplines, and who we in the TSK Association are.
"Peter Berger, an American sociologist . . . argues that the key feature of the 20th Century has been growing acceptance that self realization of the individual is a greater goal than loyalty to any group like the family, religion, race, ruling dynasty or nation." p. 174, Rao, Humanising Management
Greater attention to self realization or self-actualization has gradually brought in its wake less reliance on all the older, more traditional values, realities, customs, institutions, theories, truths, beliefs, practices, and approaches. Time seems to be challenging us as individuals to recognize our limitations, to open up these traditional attachments, and discover new levels of realization. So much for old family values, filial piety, religious values, and nationalism!
And over the past seventy or so years there's less reliance on an external or physical focus: Mahatma Gandhi: “As human beings our greatness lies not so much in remaking the world – which is the myth of atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”
Faith in the ability of the 'sacred cow' of science and technology to solve our problems has waned. Some problems can't be solved by technological knowledge, and applied technology often has unintended side effects such as pollution and global warming.
Although science may be the predominant modern belief system, scientists still haven't agreed on a single vision of reality: "Science is predicated on the concept that science is arriving at truth - at a unique truth. . . . . In a way, science has become the religion of the modern age. It plays the role which religion used to play of giving us truth; hence different scientists cannot come together any more than different religions can, once they have different notions of truth." --David Bohm, On Dialogue
"Any society’s knowledge system, modern science included, is based on some ontological and epistemological assumptions. The issue is, how are these established and how is their adequacy evaluated? . . . What emerged in the seventeenth century was a science based on a profound division between mind and the nature it contemplates, so that an “ontological gulf” exists between consciousness and its object." (Willis Harman, Global Mind Change, pp. 102-3)
“The future of humanity may depend on the way the two most powerful forces in history—science and religion—forge a relationship with each other. For 400 years that relationship has been strained. Initially, the church had the power. Now that science holds the cards, a misreading of the so-called scientific world view limits our understanding of what it means to be human.” Huston Smith
What if, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, we make a grand hypothesis, try for an all-encompassing view that takes all appearance into account? But what if we aim for something that has got not just predictive, technological usefulness, but also relevance for the quality of our lives?
The TSK vision suggests something much more radical: rather than limiting ourselves to known human experience, leaving human consciousness at the center a la Descartes (who helped start the scientific revolution), as the cause of all, what if we challenge that too and just see what happens?
While the world is becoming effectively 'closer knit', more accessible and interdependent in various ways, we are shedding our former reliance on structures of authority, status, and law and regulation based on precedent, sovereignty of governments, separate states, and the global presence of huge corporations. International disagreement abounds; competition is rampant in political, economic, social, and military fields.
In earlier decades systems of psychology presumed that all of us had certain needs for food, security, approval, esteem. Motivation techniques pivoted around 'satisfying' these lower 'needs', a never-ending project; lower level needs are never satisfied for long. We may find that most of these 'needs' may not persist at higher levels of development.
Psychologist Maslow said that of our needs, only the need for self-actualization persistently and consistently motivates us. Maslow's work on peak experience studied highly functioning people, and helped shake up the support for the theories and practices of traditional psychologies, and helped introduce transpersonal psychology.
Spiritual disciplines 'imported' from the East changed the emphasis in re-focusing our attention from external towards an inner internal: The Buddha, p. 18, Humanising Management: "It is wrong to think that misfortunes come from the East or from the West. They originate within from one's own mind. Therefore, it is foolish to guard against misfortunes from the external world and leave the inner mind uncontrolled."
There is current growing acceptance that by developing ourselves we will not only avoid misfortunes from the external world, but also facilitate our material and bottom-line goals. We might call this movement and approach managing by values, as is now done in the business world.
How can we improve our productivity and performance at work? Improvements by corporations and governments certainly still play a role. However, this time in history seems to be strongly challenging us as individuals to recognize our limitations and discover new levels of involvement.
About managers: "Will they ever give up the notion that they are there primarily to make a profit? If they could, this would be a real transformation of mankind. I think that many business executives in certain companies are feeling unhappy and really want to do something - not merely to save the company." (Bohm, On Dialogue)
The approach of focusing on values is sound, more reliable for all purposes than focusing on results, which clearly has side-effects. SF Hotel CEO Chip Conley: "I came to realize that creating peak experiences for our employees, customers, and investors fostered peak performance for our company."
Not only is there growing acceptance that self-realization is the greatest goal, but some say that the optimal way to develop our organizations and societies, and to progress toward other, material and bottom-line goals is to focus on facilitating values development and self-realization.
Optimists say the flux [and chaos?] in the current lifestyle is but the passing out of old outmoded values that have not worked and the introduction of new values yet to be born. These old values may in some large part be over-valued dependencies on, and attachments to, partner, spouse, family, company or organization, religion, race, and nation while excluding similar experiential structures that compete for our attention.
Maiida Palmer asked whether something different might be introduced, whether any practice could go beyond traditional beliefs and values: Is it possible to introduce a system of values based on knowledge of the nature of the human person — one that each individual can understand to be natural and effective, and not just a system that is believed, or seems to be true?
The Dalai Lama saw the value in developing a secular morality: “In the West, religions have lost their dominance. . . . I believe deeply that we must find . . . a new spirituality. . . . This new concept ought to be elaborated alongside the religions . . . . We need a new concept, a lay spirituality. . . . It could lead us to set up what we are all looking for, a secular morality. . . .” (p. 16, p. 104, Violence & Compassion)
Bill Clinton once said, "As we become ever more diverse, we must work harder to unite our common values and our common humanity." (p. 147, Humanising Management)
Can we now go beyond different groups' beliefs, principles, injunctions, traditions, and practices? Can we find sufficiently deep values that actually, naturally will unite us?
How are we to improve our qualities of being human? Is there an overall picture, approach? We could use a vision of our potential, and an effective method for progress.
TSK provides a new vision, with 'values' that can be empirically derived from elements of most cultures and times. Within the TSK texts, paradoxical, shared, naturally inherent, core 'values' or quality-facets are described. These can be described as twelve dimensions, as whole ranges or spectra of values such as creativity, or as three levels of time, space, and knowledge. ( In the 2007 Pfeiffer Annual, Stephen Randall)
With its comprehensive view, TSK can help in the development of a secular morality that can serve as a meeting ground for tolerance of others and their values, but perhaps go even further, and be seen as a genuine shared set of values that arise directly from human being, not tolerated, coexisting, but naturally arisen and developed cooperatively.
Using the principles, and three levels of statements of the vision, it has been possible to derive a detailed description of the cross-cultural core ‘zone’ of peak performance and realization, including its secular values or attributes, as well as two other levels of experience, providing a broad spectrum within which different values systems can be compared. These valued facets of enlightened experience are described with detail and precision that is far more granular and operationally useful than typical one-word value descriptions.
P. xiii, A New Way of Being: "Tarthang Tulku reflects on the potential applicability o f TSK to our times. He identifies two sides in the modern way of thinking, but chooses neither: As a secular way of thinking increasingly calls into question the belief systems that once governed this society, there have been two major responses. One response (prevalent in certain religious groups) is to withdraw from contact with those outside the circle of believers. But there are also those thinkers and practitioners who attempt to bring their own beliefs into harmony with the views and beliefs of the society they inhabit. On the one hand, the dividing lines or edges between competing sets of beliefs become more sharply defined; on the other hand, more and more people move into the great open spaces between these narrow enclaves, attempting to shape beliefs and values that could be considered universal. TSK could be seen as a teaching for these open spaces. It insists on no moral principles, founds no temples, initiates no priests, and relies on nothing remotely resembling prayer or worship."
Traditional virtues and values--such as honesty, cooperation, dedication, etc.--which are probably relevant primarily at levels one and two, are not what define the zone of third level. Secular and valued facets of third level can be described in paradoxical statements such as the following derived from the vision:
• While someone thinking or communicating about a task may conventionally refer to the commonsensical physical world and its familiar things, events, and activities, the person could nevertheless simultaneously experience the world, objects, and events as ethereal and insubstantial, dreamlike, like 'transparencies', as though nothing at all is really happening.
• While objects and people exist and interact, they can seem ethereal and insubstantial.
• When events occur, it can seem dreamlike, as though nothing at all is really happening.
• Geographical coordinates and points, and “here” and “there” can mark positions; however, there are no felt spatial divisions or extension—everything is the same space, “here.”
What is the core of this vision? Are there irreducible, core aspects of experience that both carry inherent fulfillment and facilitate optimal productivity no matter what we’re doing? These core aspects can collectively be defined as the 'zone' of peak performance.
We might say that zone experiences can be characterized by flow, glow, and zero: qualities of unobstructed flow (time dimension), luminous presence and positionless knowing (identity/knowing dimension), and complete and dimensionless openness (space dimension), with varying proportions of these qualities in different experiences. ( In the 2009 paper, "What's the Zone of Peak Performance," Stephen Randall)
From TSK's descriptions we can also conclude that third level has no felt structures: "As the vision unfolds . . . Each point opens up, becoming a zero point. We could say that the vision is ultimately 'pointless' . . . ." p. xii, VOK Public education (and business, time and stress management, and moral codes) don’t often even recognize structures or distinguish limiting structures from conventional designations.
Space projects Space into Space, in an exhibition that ripples outward. In itself, the exhibition is simple; in fact, since it has no identity, nothing could be simpler. . . . Space projects Space into Space. There are no fixed points and no fixed identity, but quality and character remain. (p. 242, KTS)
Trungpa corroborates in The Myth of Freedom, pp. 14-15: "The whole idea is that we must drop all reference points, all concepts of what is or what should be. Then it is possible to experience the uniqueness and vividness of phenomena directly."
How do we 'get to the vision?' Inquiry eventually, directly, and effectively transparentizes or dissolves all structures, limitations, and fixed dynamics. Inquiry is a valued means of discovery, or dis-covery. Apparently 'simply' challenging all 'real', substantial, and existential structures, limitations, and dynamics, 'simply' clearing the clouds is sufficient, and simultaneously shows the sunlight.
With TSK, Tarthang Tulku promotes the previously underrated value of the process or method of inquiry, of clear seeing, sensing, and exploring, going into all apparently fixed, or ‘real’, or 'true' reference points, beliefs, and assumptions, in an open, nonskeptical, yet challenging dis-covery process.
TSK brings about transformation during inquiry by focusing on and opening up (habitual) structures of experience, differentiating those from conventional communication and use of language. Public education (and business, time and stress management, and moral codes) don’t often even recognize structures or distinguish limiting structures from conventional languaging, let alone offer any methods for transforming the structures.
What’s different that TSK has to offer? Why is it a NEW vision of reality?
The concept of structure of experience is unusual: A structure is an aspect of experience whose qualities can be seen to have existed, or to have had some sense of independent reality, over a period of clock time.
Also uncommon are the concepts of bystander and outside-stander.
And the concepts of focal setting, read-out, pointing, and logos.
The field communique seems quite novel, perhaps similar to Buddhism's interdependent origination.
Here are the structuring processes and the structures I’ve identified so far. The ‘processes’ below attempt to list structures and entities in a sequence paralleling the field communique’s ‘process’ from 3rd level toward 1st level:
With its comprehensive view, TSK can serve as a forum for interdisciplinary studies. Expressed in six volumes authored by Tarthang Tulku from 1977 (Time, Space, and Knowledge: A New Vision of Reality) to 1997 (Sacred Dimensions of Time and Space), the vision provides a comprehensive forum for interdisciplinary studies, including a comparison of the values, assumptions, principles, and methods of business, education, psychology, and spiritual and religious disciplines. "It may be possible to unify fields of learning that are now separate, and to bring together concerns that now seem opposed." —Tarthang Tulku
Dialogue, as discussed by David Bohm, Christopher Phillips, and Willis Harman, is very similar to TSK inquiry.
"I think this new approach [dialogue] could open the way to changing the whole world situation - ecologically, and in other ways." (Bohm) "Just as there is a view of what inquiry is, there can also be a 'vision of dialogue'." (p. 31, OD)
" . . . If each one of us can give full attention to what is actually 'blocking' communication while he is also attending properly to the content of what is communicated, then we may be able to create something new between us, something of very great significance for bringing to an end the at present insoluble problems of the individual and of society."
The object of a dialogue is not to analyze things, or to win an argument, or to exchange opinions. Rather, it is to suspend your opinions and to look at the opinions - to listen to everybody's opinions, to suspend them, and to see what all that means. If we can see what all of our opinions mean, then we are sharing a common content, even if we don't agree entirely. It may turn out that the opinions are not really very important - they are all assumptions. And if we can see them all, we may then move more creatively in a different direction. We can just simply share the appreciation of the meanings; and out of this whole thing, truth [or meaning] emerges unannounced - not that we have chosen it. (p. 26)
Just as with the TSK vision, with dialogue "you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned directly with truth - it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning." (37, OD) "Science is predicated on the concept that science is arriving at truth - at a unique truth. The idea of dialogue is thereby in some way foreign to the current structure of science, as it is with religion. In a way, science has become the religion of the modern age. It plays the role which religion used to play of giving us truth; hence different scientists cannot come together any more than different religions can, once they have different notions of truth." (p. 37-8, OD)
I think roles and purposes need not obstruct progress. There can be a 'reason for dialogue', as per p. 32, OD: I am saying that this is a reason for dialogue. We really do need to have it. The reason can help persevere.
Conviction and persuasion are not called for in a dialogue. The word "convince" means to win, and the word "persuade" is similar. It's based on the same root as are "suave" and sweet." People sometimes try to persuade by sweet talk or to convince by strong talk. Both come to the same thing, though, and neither of them is relevant. There's no point in being persuaded or convinced. That's not really coherent or rational. If something is right, you don't need to be persuaded. If somebody has persuade you, then there is probably some doubt about it. (p. 27, OD)
People will come to a group with different interests and assumptions. In the beginning they may have negotiation, which is a very preliminary stage of dialogue. In other words, if people have different approaches, they have to negotiate somehow. However, that is not the end of dialogue; it is the beginning. Negotiation involves finding a common way of proceeding. Now, if you only negotiate, you don't get very far - although some questions do have to be negotiated. A great deal of what nowadays is typically considered to be dialogue tends to focus on negotiation; but as we said, that is a preliminary stage. People are generally not ready to go into the deeper issues when they first have what they consider to be a dialogue. They negotiate, and that's about as far as they get. Negotiation is trading off, adjusting to each other and saying, "Okay, I see your point. I see that that is important to you. Let's find a way that would satisfy both of us. I will give in a little on this, and you give in a little on that. And then we will work something out." Now, that's not really a close relationship, but it begins to make it possible to get going. (p. 18, OD)
Discussion is almost like a ping-pong game, where people are batting the ideas back and forth and the object of the game is to win or to get points for yourself. Possibly you will take up somebody else's ideas to back up your own - you may agree with some and disagree with others but the basic point is to win the game. That's very frequently the case in a discussion. In a dialogue, however, nobody is trying to win. Everybody wins if anybody wins. There is a different sort of spirit to it. In a dialogue, there is no attempt to gain points, or to make your particular view prevail. Rather, whenever any mistake is discovered on the part of anybody, everybody gains. It's a situation called win-win, whereas the other game is win-lose - if I win, you lose. But a dialogue is something more of a common participation, in which we are not playing a game against each other, but with each other. In a dialogue, everybody wins. Clearly, a lot of what is called "dialogue" is not dialogue in the way that I am using the word. For example, people at the United Nations have been having what are often considered to be dialogues, but these are very limited. They are more like discussions - or perhaps trade-offs or negotiations - than dialogues. The people who take part are not really open to questioning their fundamental assumptions. They are trading off minor points, like negotiating whether we have more or fewer nuclear weapons. But the whole question of two different systems is not being seriously discussed. It's taken for granted that you can't talk about that - that nothing will ever change that. Consequently their discussions are not serious, not deeply serious, A great deal of what we call "discussion" is not deeply serious, in the sense that there are all sorts of things which are held to be non-negotiable and not touchable, and people don't even want to talk about them. That is part of our trouble. (p. 7, OD)
Dialogue holds obvious value for both private and public discourse and policy, and might help break through the strong current defensiveness of political parties.
"There may be no pat political answer to the world's problems. However, the important point is not the answer -- just as in a dialogue, the important point is not the particular opinions - but rather the softening up, the opening up of the mind, and looking at all the opinions. If there is some sort of spread of that attitude, I think it can slow down the destruction." (OD)
On the promise and benefit of dialogue, "I am saying that a genuine culture could arise in which opinions and assumptions are not defended incoherently. And that kind of culture is necessary for the society to work, and ultimately for the society to survive. Such a group [like TSKA and similar groups?] might be the germ or the microcosm of the larger culture, which would then spread in many ways - not only by creating new groups, but also by people communicating the notion of what it means. Also, one can see that it is possible that this spirit of the dialogue can work even in smaller groups, or one-on-one, or within the individual. If the individual can hold all of the meanIngs together in his own mind, he has the attitude of the dialogue. He could carry that out and perhaps communicate it, both verbally and non-verbally, to other people. In principle, this could spread. Many people are interested in dialogue now. We find it growing. The time seems to be ripe for this notion, and it could perhaps spread in many different areas. I think that something like this is necessary for society to function properly and for society to survive." (1996, OD)