Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Mystery of Time

Time and Space constitute the two greatest mysteries of the human mind. Deeper even than the mystery of space is that of time- so deep, in fact, that it took humanity thousands of years to become conscious of its implications. Apparently the human mind becomes first aware of space and much later of the reality of time. Even a child is more or less conscious of the reality of space, while the time-sense is practically absent and develops at a much later stage. The same happens in the development of human civilization. The discovery of space, as an element of spiritual importance, precedes a similar discovery of time. 

This can be explained by the fact that space-feeling is first and foremost connected with the movement of the body, where as time-feeling is connected with the movement of the mind.

Time is the mind's conception of motion.

Though space-feeling starts with the body, however, it does not remain at this stage, but gradually changes into a spiritual function, by creating a space conception which is independent from the body, independent of material objects, independent even of any kind of limitation: culminating in the experience of pure space or the infinity of space. Here we no longer speak of “conception,” because infinity cannot be conceived, mentally “pictured” or objectivized, it can only be experienced. Only when man has penetrated to this experience and has mentally and spiritually digested and assimilated it, can we speak of the discovery of time as a new dimension of consciousness.

In early Buddhism the experience of space was recognized as an important factor of meditation, for instance in the Four Divine States of consciousness (brahmavihara), in which the consciously created feelings of selfless love, compassion, sympathetic joy, and spiritual equanimity are projected one after another into the six directions of space, namely the four points of the compass, the zenith and the nadir. These directions had to be vividly imagined, so as to make space and its penetration by the mind a conscious experience. In a similar way, space became the main subject of contemplation in the higher or more advanced stages of meditative absorption (jhana) until consciousness completely identified itself with the infinity of consciousness, in which the mediator becomes one with the subject of his meditation.

In Mahayana Buddhism, space played an even more important part in the development of religious art and its symbolism, in which a universe with myriads of worlds and solar systems and infinite forms of life and dimensions of consciousness was conceived- leading to the creation of new systems of philosophy, metaphysical speculation and a vastly refined psychology. The concept of time, however, was merely treated as a secondary, if not negative, property of existence- namely, as that on account of which existence was illusory, a passing show of transient phenomena.

It was only with the advent of the Kalacakra School in the tenth century A.D. that religious seers and thinkers realized the profound mystery which is hidden under the conventional notion of time, namely the existence of another dimension of consciousness, the presence of which we feel darkly and imperfectly on the plane of our mundane experience. Those, however, who crossed the threshold of mundane consciousness in the advanced stages of meditation, entered into this dimension, in which what we feel as time was experienced not merely as a negative property of our fleeting existence, but as the ever present dynamic aspect of the universe and the inherent nature of life and spirit, which is beyond being and non-being, beyond origination and destruction. It is the vital breath of reality-reality, not in the sense of an abstraction, but as actuality of all levels of experience- which is revealed in the gigantic movements of the universe as much as in the emotions of the human heart and the ecstasies of the spirit. It is revealed in the cosmic dance of heavenly bodies as well as in the dance of protons and electrons, in the “harmony of the spheres” as well as in the “inner sound” of living things, in the breathing of our body as well as in the movements of our mind and the rhythm of our life.

Reality, in other words, is not stagnant existence of “something”; it is neither “thing-ness” nor a state of immovability (like that of an imaginary space), but movement of a kind which goes as much beyond our sense-perceptions, as beyond our mathematical, philosophical and metaphysical abstractions. In fact, space (except the “space” that is merely thought of) does not exist in itself, but is created by movement; and if we speak of the curvature of space, it has nothing to do with its prevailing or existing structure (like the grain in wood or the stratification of rocks), but with its antecedent, the movement that created it. The character of this movement is curved, i.e. concentric, or with a tendency to create its own center- a center which may again be moving in a bigger curve or circle, etc. 

Thus, the universe becomes a gigantic mandala or an intricate system of innumerable mandalas (which, according to the traditional Indian meaning of the word, signifies a system of symbols, based on a circular arrangement or movement, and serves to illustrate the interaction or juxtaposition of spiritual and cosmic forces.) If, instead from a spatial point of view, we regard the universe from the standpoint of audible vibration or sabda, “inner sound,” it becomes a gigantic symphony. In both cases all movements are interdependent, interrelated, each creating its own center, its own focus of power, without ever losing contact with all the other centers thus formed.

“Curvature” in this conception means a movement which recoils upon itself (and which thus possesses both constancy and change, i.e. rhythm) or at least has the tendency to lead back to its origin or starting-point, according to its inherent law. In reality, however, it can never return to the same point in space, since this movement itself moves within the frame of a greater system of relationships. Such a movement combines the principle of change and nonreversibility with a constancy of an unchangeable law, which we may call its rhythm. One might say that this movement contains an element of eternity as well as an element of transiency, which latter we feel as time.

Both time and space (No!) are the outcomes of movement, and if we speak of the “curvature of space” we should speak likewise of the “curvature of time,” because time is not a progression in a straight line- of which the beginning (the past) is lost forever and which pierces into the endless vacuum of an inexorable future- but something that recoils upon itself, something that is subject to the laws of ever-recurrent similar situations, and which thus combines change with stability. Each of these situations is enriched by new contents, while at the same time, retaining its essential character. Thus we cannot speak of a mechanical repetition of the same events, but only of an organic rebirth of its elements, on account of which even within the flux of events the stability of law is discernable. Upon the recognition of such a law which governs the elements (or the elementary forms of appearance) of all events, is the basis upon which the I-Ching or “The Book of Changes,” the oldest work of Chinese wisdom, is built.

Perhaps this work would better be called “The Book of the Principles of Transformation” because it demonstrates that change is not arbitrary or accidental but dependent on laws, according to which each thing or state of existence can only change into something already inherent in its own nature, and not into something altogether different. It also demonstrates the equally important law of periodicity, according to which change follows a cyclic movement (like the heavenly bodies, the seasons, the hours of the day, etc.), representing the eternal in time and converting time quasi into a higher space-dimension, in which things and events exist simultaneously, though imperceptible to the senses. They are in a state of potentiality, as invisible germs or elements of future events and phenomena that have not yet stepped into actual reality. 

This sameness- or as we may say just as well, this eternal presence of the “Body of the Law” (dharmakaya), which is common to all Buddhas, to all Enlightened Ones- is the source and spiritual foundation of all enlightenment and is, therefore, placed in the center of the Kalacakra-Mandala, which is the symbolical representation of the universe. Kala means “time” (also “black”), namely the invisible, incommensurable dynamic principle, inherent in all things and represented in Buddhist iconography, as a black, many-headed, many-armed, terrifying figure of simultaneously divine and demoniacal nature. It is “terrible” to the ego-bound individual, whose ego is trampled underfoot, just as are all the gods, created in the ego’s likeness, who are shown prostrate under the feet of this terrifying figure. Time is the power that governs all things and all being, a power to which even the highest gods have to submit.

Cakra means “wheel,” the focalized or concentric manifestation of the dynamic principle in space. In the ancient tradition of Yoga the Chakra signifies the spatial unfoldment of spiritual or universal power, as for instance in the chakras or psychic centers of the human body or in the case of the Cakravartin, the world-ruler who embodies the all-encompassing moral and spiritual powers. 

In one of his previous books on Buddhist Tantrisim, H.V. Guenther compares the Kalacakra symbol to the modern conception of the space-time continuum, pointing out, however, that in Buddhism it is not merely a philosophical or mathematical construction, but is based on the direct perception of inner experience, according to which time and space are inseparable aspects of reality. 

“Only in our minds we tend to separate the three dimensions of space and the one of time. We have an awareness of space and an awareness of time. But this separation is purely subjective. As a matter of fact, modern physics has shown that the time dimension can no more be detached from the space dimension than length can be detached breadth and thickness in an accurate representation of a house, a tree, or Mr X. Space has no objective reality except as an order or arrangement of things we perceive in it, and time has no independent existence from the order of events by which we measure it.” (Guenther, Yuganaddha, The Tantric View of Life, 1952)

Both space and time are two aspects of the most fundamental quality of life: movement. Here we come to the rock-bottom of direct experience, which the Buddha stressed in his emphasis upon the dynamic character of reality, in contrast to the generally prevailing notions and philosophical abstractions of a static Atmavada, in which an eternal and unchangeable ego-entity was proclaimed. (The original concept of atman was that of a universal, rhythmic force, the living breath of life- comparable to the Greek “pneuma” – that pervaded the individual as well as the universe.) 

“We ourselves create mathematical time. It is a mental construct, an abstraction indispensable to the building up of science. We conveniently compare it to a straight line, each successive instant being represented by a point. Since Galileo’s days this abstraction has been substituted for the concrete data resulting from the direct observation of things… In reducing objects to their primary qualities- that is, to what can be measured and is susceptible of mathematical treatment- Galileo deprived them of their secondary qualities, and of duration. This arbitrary simplification made possible the development of physics. At the same time it led to an unwarrantably schematic conception of the world.” (Alexis Carrel, Man the Unknown)

Indeed it led to a science which was based on a “post mortem” of our world, on the static end-results of what was once alive, a world of facts and dead matter.

“The concept of time is equivalent to the operation required to estimate duration in the objects of our universe. Duration consists of the superimposition of the different aspects of an identity. It is a kind of intrinsic movement of things… A tree grows and does not lose its identity. The human individual retains his personality throughout the flux of the organic and mental processes that make up his life. Each inanimate or living being comprises an inner motion, a succession of states, a rhythm which is his very own. Such motion is inherent time… In short, time is the specific character of things… It is truly a dimension of ourselves. 

An experience of reality (and that is all we can talk of, because “reality as such” is another abstraction) cannot be defined but only circumscribed, i.e., it cannot be approached by the straight line of two-dimensional logic, but only in a concentric way, by moving around it, approaching it not only from one side, but from all sides, without stopping at any particular point. Only in this way can we avoid a one-sided and perspectively foreshortened and distorted view, and arrive at a balanced, unprejudiced perception and knowledge. This concentric approach (which moves closer and closer around its object, in order finally- in the ideal case- to become one with it) is the exact opposite of the Western analytical and dissecting way of observation: it is the integral concentration of inner vision (dhyana).

What does time mean from the standpoint of experience? Most people would answer: duration! But duration we have, even when there is no experience of time, as in deep sleep. The experience of time, therefore, is something more than duration: it is movement. Movement of what? Either of ourselves or of something within or outside ourselves.

But now the paradox:

The less we move (inwardly or outwardly) the more we are aware of time. The more we move ourselves, the less we are aware of time. A person who is mentally and bodily inactive feels time as a burden, while one who is active hardly notices the passage of time. Those who move in perfect harmony with the innermost rhythm of their being, the pulsating rhythm of the universe within them, are timeless in the sense that they do not experience time anymore. Those who move and live in disharmony with this inner rhythm, have existence without inherent duration, i.e., merely momentary existence without direction or spiritual continuity and, therefore, without meaning. 

What we call “eternal” is not an indefinite duration of time (which is a mere thought-construction, unrelated to any experience) but the experience of timelessness.

Time cannot be reversed. Even if we go back the same way, it is not the same, because the sequence of landmarks is changed, and moreover, we see them from the opposite direction- or as in memory, with the added knowledge of previous experience. The experience of time is due to movement plus memory. Memory is comparable to the layers of year-rings in a tree. Each layer is a material addition, an addition of experience-material, which alters the value of any new experience, so that even repetition can never produce identical results. 

Life- like time- is an irreversible process, and those who speak of eternal recurrence of identical events and individuals (as Ouspensky in his book, A New Model of the Universe) mistake rhythm or periodicity for mechanical repetition. It is the most shallow view that any thinker can arrive at, and it shows the dilemma into which scientific determinism is bound to lead. It is typical of the intellect which has lost its connection with reality and which replaces life with the phantoms of empty abstraction. This kind of reasoning leads to a purely stagnant and mechanical world-view, ending in a blind alley.

Whether the universe as a whole can change or not is quite irrelevant; important alone is that there is a genuine creative advance possible for the individual and that the past that is ever growing in him as a widening horizon of experience and wisdom will continue so to grow until the individual has reached the state in which the universe becomes conscious in him as one living organism, not only as an abstract unity or a state of featureless oneness. This is the highest dimension of consciousness.

What do we understand by dimension? The capacity to extend or to move in a certain direction. If we move outward, we can only do so in three dimensions, i.e. we cannot go beyond our three-dimensional space. The movement, however, which produces and contains these dimensions is felt as time, as long as the movement is incomplete or as long as the dimensions are in the making, i.e. not conceived as a complete whole. The feeling of time is the feeling of incompleteness. For this reason there is no time in moments of higher awareness, intuitive vision or perfect realization. There is no time for the Enlightened Ones. 

This does not mean that for an Enlightened One the past has been extinguished or memory blotted out. On the contrary, the past ceases to be a quality of time and becomes a new order of space, which we may call the Fourth Dimension, in which things and events which we have experienced piecemeal can be seen simultaneously, in their entirety, and in the present. Thus the Buddha in the process of his enlightenment surveyed innumerable previous lives in ever widening vistas, until his vision encompassed the entire universe. Only if we recognize the past as “a true dimension of ourselves,” and not only as an abstract property of time, shall we be able to see ourselves in proper perspective to the universe, which is not an alien element that surrounds us mysteriously, but the very body of our past, in whose womb we dream until we awake into the freedom of enlightenment. 

That the gods of Buddhist iconography and their symbols and functions do not belong in the realm of metaphysics, but to that of psychology, has been correctly pointed out by C.G. Jung in his Commentary on the Secret of the Golden Flower. Speaking of the great Eastern philosophers, he says: “I suspect them of being symbolical psychologists, to whom no greater wrong could be done than to take them literally. If it were really metaphysics that they mean, it would be useless to try to understand them. But if it is psychology, we can not only understand them, but we can greatly profit greatly by them, for then the so-called ‘metaphysical’ comes within the range of experience. If I accept the fact that a god is absolute and beyond all human experiences, he leaves me cold. I do not affect him, nor does he affect me. But if I know that a god is a powerful impulse in my soul, at once I must concern myself with him, for then he can become important… like everything belonging to the sphere of reality.” 

Lama Anagarika Govinda, Creative Meditation and Multidimensional Consciousness, 1977

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