one stepping stone after another
water flowing in between…
both still, both moving
Haiku #12 04/11/21
After the previous Buddhism 101 Article about the Three Marks of Existence, namely Impermanence, Suffering and Insubstantiality, it occurred to me that maybe nothing else needs to be examined or rather this blog need make no attempt to provide some sort of organized introductory course about Buddhadharma. This is because, like all aspects of its teachings, if you penetrate into any single one you get them all. Dharma is holographic that way like everyday reality. In any case, this piece is about Time.
Time is something we experience – or at least deduce. We know that today came after yesterday and tomorrow will come after today. We all know this. Our cognitive faculties create this narrative through which we journey 24/7 our entire lives. But what do we know exactly? For example, even though we experience it every day, does that make Time a thing? You would think so, especially since we can measure it – seemingly – with clocks; but can we touch it, hold it, see it? No. Also, consider that differently configured clocks will measure different units of time.
Time is a construct. Measured clock time is a physical construct derived from various machines or watching planetary movements – like a sun dial’s shadow or the change in position of the sun between sunrise and sunset. Personally experienced time is a subjective experience but not anything tangible.
This can easily be proven in a slightly sneaky way but here goes: take a unit of measured time like one day. Now divide in half = 12 hours and then we keep going: 6 hours = 3 hours = 1.5 hours = 45 mins = 22.5 mins = 11.25 mins = 5.625 mins = 2.8125 = 1.40625 = .703125 = .3515625 = 0.17578125 = 0.087890625 = 0.043945312 = 0.021972656 = 0.010986328 = 0.005493164 …..
Do you see what is happening? Any unit of measurement in time (or distance in space for that matter) is infinitely sub-divisible. You can never find the ultimate particle or moment, the building block of all other particles or moments. Why? Because they are concepts not actual phenomena.
Or looking at it from another angle:
We all experience time in terms of past, present and future. There is the present; before the present was the past; after the present will be the future. But the past and future are, similarly, constructs because they never actually happen; the only time that actually happens is the present. The past happened before the present and the future hasn’t happened yet but neither are actually happening now which is the only time anything happens – seemingly. But as we have seen, there is no definable present moment rather the present is continuously flowing like a river. Something which is continuously flowing is continuously changing which of course is taking us back yet again to the Three Marks, in this case #1, usually called ‘impermanence’ though one can also think of it as ‘continual flux’ or ‘constant flow.’ If there is no single moment per se but only continuous flow then time per se does not exist it is only deduced afterwards by our cognitive narrative faculties. Thus Time is a fiction since only the present occurs but cannot truly be said to exist.
Put another way, the present is the ongoing state of timelessness in which we all dwell. Which is why ‘being in the present’ so often feels ‘timeless’ or ‘primordial.’ Being in the present is stepping out of the construct of past, present and future into timelessness. ‘Being in the moment’ means that you step outside the world of identifiable moments and now swim in the current where all moments are no moments because all moments are continuous without beginning or end.
If there is no beginning or end there is no past or future.
If there is no past or future then there is no present, only ‘nowness’ which is a quality not a thing and earlier in this blog qualities have been described as being akin to ‘the gods.’
And to quote a text called “Learning from Lyme Liturgy” written a few years ago to help get through an intense encounter with chronic illness:
All of us unknown strangers known as ‘me’
We find ourselves in a desert, empty horizon stretched out in all directions;
Here there is no time or place…
A present moment sandwiched between infinitely sub-divisible past and future moments
We cannot find one or measure one: there is no such thing.
Any object or place exists only in relation to other objects and places
All spinning and swirling in space: there is no ‘where’ there.
Without place, no thing, without thing, no place;
A definable object in a definable location,
We cannot find one or measure one: there is no such thing.
As with object and place, self and other are not two:
There is no time, no duration, no place, no thing, no self, no other, no ‘me,’ no ‘you’
Only eternity permeating non-existing past and future moments,
Only infinity accommodating any and all non-existing places,
Only ever-changing feelings: hot to cold, pleasure to pain, love to estrangement and so on.
Truly Impermanence, Insubstantiality and Suffering are
The perpetual and only partners in this great Dance of Life,
This so-called Reality no more than Dream,
This so-called ‘Me’ no more than an imagined projection within that dream,
Our fleeting lives the imprint of a bird in the sky.
As dream-beings, any seeming progress or obstacle such as
Success, failure, praise, blame, loss, gain, pain, pleasure,
Habitual patterns, negative attitudes and conflicting emotions,
Chronic illness pain like fatigue, physical and cognitive impairment and so forth
– or being suddenly sucked down into a nightmare quicksand of insomnia-induced despair –
All such endless journeying through painful hells and pleasurable heavens,
All such appearances being impermanent, insubstantial: how can we be bound to them?
This seemingly solid outer realm, like the living inner dreamscapes we call music,
Neither does nor does not exist, nor does any disease nor its pains, symptoms or pathogens;
No matter what seemingly happens, through living and dying, sickness and health,
Our basic nature, like the Sun behind clouds, remains unchanged.
Or, to make Haiku out of prose:
Time is a fiction
The present moment is a dream
Birth, death and phenomena are illusory