Levels representing the full range of human experience
What is the full spectrum of states possible for human beings? Is there a comprehensive catalog of states?
So far, the only candidate I’ve seen for a clear English description of the full range of human development, with its incredibly varied views, perspectives, and focal settings, is Tarthang Tulku’s series of books on the Time, Space, and Knowledge (TSK) vision. These books describe three main levels of human functioning: “As an organizing principle for an inquiry into time, space, and knowledge, it can help to think in terms of three different levels. The first level starts from our common, everyday views of how these facets of our being operate.” (p. xxix, Sacred Dimensions of Time and Space) The third level is an enlightened state that we might compare to the zone described in Chapter One. A second level, an intermediate level that occurs during our development from the first to the third level, is also described in the books. The following section has a summary of these three levels, drawn from the six books of the TSK series: Time, Space, and Knowledge (1977), Love of Knowledge (1987), Knowledge of Time and Space (1990), Visions of Knowledge (1993), Dynamics of Time and Space (1994), and Sacred Dimensions of Time and Space (1997).
Before we examine these levels, let’s take a look at why Tarthang Tulku describes them in terms of time, space, and knowledge. According to the author, “Time, space and knowledge are the most basic facets of human experience.” (p. xv, KTS) “We are partners with space through physical existence, partners with time through actions, and partners with knowledge through awareness. Though these three facets of being may be neither ‘absolute’ nor ‘ultimate’, they constitute the ‘stuff’ of our lives—starting points for an inquiry that can transform our being.” (pp. xx-xxi, LOK)
Focusing on time, space, and knowledge–rather than the self–affords a new approach at the outset. “Conventional knowledge today focuses on the self: what the self needs, what it understands, what it is capable of. Suppose that we shift this focus, looking in a more neutral way at how our being functions.” (p. xiv, SDTS) “When we place these three factors—space, time, and knowledge—at the center of our being, something quite remarkable happens. Knowledge comes into its own, informing experience and existence in a very powerful way.” (p. xv, SDTS) “The starting point for such transformation is to investigate time, space, and knowledge in our own experience, challenging the restrictive ways that we have learned to think of them.” (p. xvi, SDTS)
Now we examine the characteristics and limitations of level one.
Summary of level one
This is the ‘normal’ way we are and operate after our ordinary Western conditioning is complete. This level is sometimes also called the ordinary level:*
Time is divided into moments and seems to flow linearly and out of our control, from past to future, at a constant rate. Within this flow we are limited to occupying a kind of ‘moving spot’ that we call ‘the present’. We seem to ‘have’ time, yet sometimes feel like we’re running out of time, and can’t stop the relentless flow that causes us anxiety, friction, overwhelm, and pressure.
Space is seen as an indefinitely extended ‘nothing’, with distance felt between things within space. We and things feel substantial, independent, and persistent, ‘occupy’ different locations in space, have size, volume, edges, and an ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. We have a kind of private mental, or personal space, but this seems less ‘real’ than physical space. Personal space seems independent of others and other things, and yet seems to change somewhat, depending on our feelings and connections with others. Our experience of space can feel restrictive, confining, and pressured, rather than open and free.
Our knowing or ‘seeing’ is limited to a particular ‘thinker’ position or ‘point of view’, with a felt separation or ‘distance’ from what is known. Knowing and knowledge usually seem to be located primarily inside our heads and minds. An act of knowing takes some time, and involves directing knowing from its source ‘here’ toward distant objects and events. We collect experience and information by these acts of knowing, and build up models, systems, and theories. Very often our knowing and perceiving is inaccurate and biased, depending on our unresolved emotional difficulties (conditioning) and current desires and fears.
We believe we are the independently capable selves felt at the center of our lives, the selves that apparently are responsible, do the thinking, make the decisions, and sometimes have problematic conditions. We believe and feel we are the central character in the ongoing story of our lives unfolding against a backdrop of time and space.
*footnote: first level is ordinary level considered in light of further possibility
Summary of level two
‘Timing’ occurs as a succession of experiences in the same ‘spot’ or ‘field’, rather than establishing an extended `world out there’. Things, places, and processes become appreciated as being very fluid. Subject and object alike are seen as projections of the underlying energy of second-level time.
The ‘quantity’ of second-level ‘space’ is indeterminate. While objects and the observer are distinct and independent, they are also known as interdependent and co-referring. There’s an increase in personal freedom, less psychological pressure, and greater physical relaxation. All going from place to place which validates the picture of a spread out world, actually occurs as a succession of ‘timed out’ experiences in the same ‘spot’.
Knowing is not so much a possession, but a luminous, transparent `attribute’ of experience and mental activity through which ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’ jointly emerge together with dichotomies such as ‘subject’ and ‘object’, ‘observer’ and ‘observed’.
Summary of level three
Different times are not linked, in a way that irrevocably separates them, by their respective positions in an infinitely extended temporal series. The ‘series’ is a fiction. There is no ‘going’ and no separate places. It is as though all the friction in the world were removed.
While all familiar things are separate and distributed over ordinary space, delineated partly by differences in position, they are all intimately connected insofar as their Great Space dimension is considered. Space is not contrasted to objects, and `distance between’ becomes meaningless. All existence and experience is like an apparition.
We develop a mode of ‘seeing’ which is not limited to a particular position or ‘point of view’ at all, dissolves the ‘distance’ between knower and known, is not a meaning but is unlearned or nonlearned learnedness, and which is beyond the concern for ‘getting’, approaching, or defining.
This brief depiction of level three from the Time, Space, and Knowledge vision is consistent with the depiction of what is called the zone. And it’s worth noting that here also we find no complexes, personality, or identity, much less conditions like emotional upset, doubt, and separation that are common with level one.
Three ways of experiencing a feeling
To see more clearly how these three main levels of functioning are related, we can depict what happens as you change the way you relate to a particular feeling from a first-level to a third-level way. Although any feeling could be used, in this example, let’s take the example of a feeling of pain in the shoulder. The pain is presumed to be the same energy in the descriptions of all three levels–it is the way the pain energy is experienced, or the overall view of the energy, that is different.
One: At level one, our usual way of experiencing, the pain is usually labeled, often as something negative, and is experienced as located in a particular place in the body, in this case in the shoulder. You, identified as the self, are not merged with the feeling, but are related to it as a feeling that you have. Your experience of time is linear, flowing relentlessly in one direction. Space is experienced as extending in three dimensions.
Two: At level two, the feeling is not experienced as so clearly locatable as in the first way of experiencing. The feeling is in the same physical location, but one experiences the boundaries of the feeling to be more open or less definite. There may be a shifting back and forth from seeing the feeling as negative, to relating to it as simply neutral energy. One senses the surrounding space differently—not so extended, more open, less fragmented, and less container-like. Similarly, the sense of oneself as the observer of the feeling is more spacious. Rather than an intellectual way of relating to the feeling, there is a simple, nonverbal observation or sensing of it. There’s also a sense of time slowing down.
Three: At level three, there is simply the pure energy of the feeling, with no labeling, and no identification of location in the body. There is no feeling of oneself as an observer separate from the feeling. Awareness is merged with the feeling-energy, which is not experienced as negative. There is no sense of time passing, and no experience of space as a container for things and events. Space is simply nonextended openness that accompanies and permeates the feeling.