This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine, Part III On Miscellaneous Topics
In many offices one finds the encouraging notice,
‘ Do it Now!’ Although this is undoubtedly good advice, it is hardly to my present point, as I contend that we can never do it any “when” else. It always is NOW and the sooner we realize this the quicker will problems and worries disappear. Sri Bhagavan has the following verse on the subject of time in his Forty Verses (verse XV)
The future and the past are only seen
With reference to the present. They in turn
Are present too. The present’s only true.
As well to search for future and for past
Outside the eternal present of the Self,
As think to count without unit One,
Which sums up the subject succinctly.
I have long been intrigued by this question of time. Some few years ago I saw Anand Coomaraswamy’s book Time and Eternity, but unfortunately neglected to take notes of the many apposite quotations contained therein on the subject. The few that do follow I have noted myself, at various times in my varied reading.
St. Augustine, that pillar of Christianity, was himself much puzzled by this question and prayed to God for enlightenment. In his book ‘Confessions’ , he has the following: ‘Neither the past nor the future, but only the present really is; the present is only a moment and time can only be measured while it is passing. Nevertheless, there really is time past and future’. We seem here to be led into contradictions. The only way we can avoid this is to say that the past and future can only be thought of as present. Past must be identified with memory, and future with expectation, memory and expectation both being present fact.
This, after all, is much the same as Bhagavan’s verse although St. Augustine is not quite certain of himself and hesitates to speak outright.
One of the last of the great western philosophers, Kant, found in time, one of the basic premises of his whole philosophy. He declared that “time is not an empirical concept derived from any experience”….. “only on the presupposition of time can we represent to ourselves a number of things as existing at one and the same time or at different times” . . . …
“Time is a necessary representation that underlies all intuition. We cannot in respect of appearances in general remove time itself, though we can quite well think time as devoid of appearances. Time is therefore given a priority“. In other words we cannot think outside time. Time is one of the modes of our minds as thinking machines. Bhagavan also asks in Forty Verses (verse XVI): “Do time and space exist apart from us?” Implying thereby, the contrary.
In our objectification of the world, we create it in terms of time and space, thus only can we see it apart from ourselves. In the ‘eternal now’ it ceases entirely to exist. We find it hard to realize this as our minds are restless machines and refuse to give up activities which necessitate time for their functioning. We are always trying to become something else, other than what we are, or rather think we are at the moment – happy and virtuous, failing to see that all becoming must change, so that
this happiness gained will change back into its opposite eventually, that is into unhappiness. It is only in ‘being’ or the ‘now’ that we can ever find rest. Plato also says that time and creation come into existence together, in fact all appearance is only in time. And Schopenhauer opines that matter is actual, (using actual in its original meaning), that is only in its functioning, which is in time, so does it exist at all?
My reading of the Hindu Scriptures is defective, though undoubtedly, they must say exactly the same repeatedly. I find I am unable to quote from them as I should to substantiate my thesis, but I know one quotation from the Vishnu Purana, which finds its place here. Parasuram says, “Time is only a form of Vishnu, for change is only possible for things which are imagined with reference to a substratum.”
But the whole picture, all our waking experiences, is only one moment in eternity. We see only a part and through continuing time, a strip. It all depends on the angle from which we look at it, as to what we see. If we look repeatedly from the same angle we see the same isolated picture or strip. The picture never changes, it is only our point of view. The prophet is able to see a larger expanse of the picture than the layman. To merge entirely in the picture is to know eternity and from that view point there is no picture as we know it, and no time.
Boethus, the old Roman statesman awaiting his death in prison also said, “Eternity is the simultaneous and complete possession of Infinite Life.” It would be hard to find it summed up better than this. For eternity is the ‘now’, it does not flow in time, there is no before or after in it, no birth and no death.
Heraclitus, the Greek famous for the aphorism: “Everything flows,” said that fire was the cause of all. By this he did not mean the physical fire, but rather the energy of the
modern scientists, though an energy that was not just material but rather spiritual. For him this central fire is eternal and never dies, “the world was, is ever, and ever shall be, an ever-living fire.” Although fire itself is everlastingly changing, this change would, like phenomena, seem to be apparent, but essentially fire remains the same fire. Change in appearance is its nature, as 1:9 Mandukyopanishad has it: ‘Others think that manifestation is for the purpose of God’s fulfilment. While still others attribute it to mere diversion. But it is the very nature of the effulgent being, for what desire is possible for him whose desire is always fulfilled?’
Substitute fire for effulgent being, which is after all a legitimate substitution, for what is fire but effulgent? And do not both of these essentially agree?
In Bergson I find the following sentence: “Pure duration is the form which our conscious states assume when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states.” This apparently goes beyond the tenets of Advaita, as he seems to be referring to the reincarnating ego in his reference to former states, nevertheless it is pregnant with meaning, for we are undoubtedly conscious when we rest in the now, although we do not individualise. Surely it is only then that we do really live!
For many of the philosophers, time was a problem, with the exception of those who considered it to be something real, although we are little interested at the moment in their conclusions as we are trying to picture the verity of the ‘eternal now’, in contrast to the unreality of time, which slips through our fingers like a running stream when the hand is plunged into the water to stay its course.
Leaving the realms of metaphysics let us glance at the hypotheses of some of the scientists. They have certainly been intrigued by the problem and well understood that it was not to be ignored. Especially since Einstein sprang on the world his theory of relativity. He himself says in one place that distance is between events and not things, which takes a matter-of-fact measurements out of the realm of every day life, where we thought they were safely enthroned and could be relied upon, into the province of time itself, where we had never thought that time had any reason to interfere.
It reminds us of Schopenhauer’s ‘matter is actual’, though one doubts if he ever really intended to imply quite as much as this. He does say, “All being in time is also non-being, for time is only that by means of which opposite determinations, can belong to the same thing. Therefore every phenomenon, which is in time again is not. For what separates its beginning from its end is only time, which is essentially a flitting, inconstant and relative thing.”
In astronomy time takes on its most intriguing aspect. We think that when we look through our telescopes into the measureless distances of the sky, we are looking at something present now. Most of what we see has either moved millions of miles away from where it appears to be or has even ceased to exist altogether. We are, in fact, looking at all sorts of things which are not there at all. And if this cannot be called maya then the term has no meaning. One of the furthest nhebulae our present telescopes can reach is 150 million light years away, an unimaginable mathematical figure. What actually does this mean? It means that the astronomer now is looking at a 150 million year past event, which is happening for him in the present. At best he is only looking at a cosmic memory. The picture does not actually exist at all.
The whole pattern of the heavens, the position of the stars is an hallucination; they have one and all moved away from the positions in which we see them now, but not proportionately, so that the actual pattern is much the same. But some have shifted vast distances and others but little in comparison. We may photograph it, plot it on our tracing board, all to no purpose. It is all a myth. Our sight and even our machines are grossly deceived as we can never know what the picture really is. Even the apparent stationary position of the stars is deceptive. They are one and all rushing about at incredible speeds. Time is playing a game with us.
Eddington pointed out that if the Universe is spherical whatever direction we may look, provided there is no obstruction, we would be able to see the back of our own heads. Well not exactly! Because time has taken over 6,000 million years to go round and our heads were not there then, we ought to be able to see what stood in that particular place then. Now let us suppose there are no obstructions and we do see some object which existed in that spot 6,000 million years ago, what actually does it signify? We see and yet we don’t see. We really see an object that is not there at all. Our head is turned by such riddles and with the poet Omar Khayam, who was himself a great astronomer, we may truly say, “Another and another cup to drown The memory of this Impertinence.”
Perhaps this same problem was too much for him also. We can hardly be surprised.
So it would seem as if science were gradually being forced to recognize that reality can alone be found in the ‘eternal now’, and that time deceives us every step we take. Each of us makes his own individual picture in terms of time and space, which spring up together with the uprising ego and with it, sinks back again. As Bhagavan says:
“The ego rising all else will arise.
On it subsiding, all will disappear.” (Forty Verses on Reality, verse 26)
Is it not also written in the book of Revelation X. 5. 6.? “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and the earth lifted up his hand to heaven and swore by him that liveth for ever and ever . . . . that there should be time no longer.”
As a method of meditation trying to rest in the ‘now’ irrespective of time is interesting and seems to me a productive sadhana. When all is at rest and the flow of outward events is allowed to go on itsway unheeded, or taken up together into the whole, a peace passing all understanding rests on one and one draws very near to a full realization of the Reality. I am not speaking here of nirvikalpa samadhi when all outward cognizance has disappeared, but rather of a preliminary condition. As for the ultimate state it matters little whether we call it the Self, Eternal Now, or pure Being. These are all names only given in objective consciousness. In pure introspection they are found to be one and the same.
For the advatin who sees and knows the One alone, such discussion may seem unproductive and for some not even interesting, But for those who are not so established, there still remain doubts and especially on the question of mortality. They fear death. They look on it as extinction. And the dogmas and creeds of various faith give them no more than encouraging words, not assurance, but in the certainty of the Eternal Now, all such doubts should be dispelled. Here, there can be no fear of death, for how can we ever escape from the present that is now. It eternally is.
And it is summed up by, I AM. Not I was or I may be at some future date, but eternally I AM.
Schopenhauer endorses this, “any form of life or reality is really only the present, neither the future nor the past. These are only in the conception . . . . No man has ever lived in the past, and none will ever live in the future. The present alone is the form of all life, and is its sure possession which can never be taken from it. The present always exists.”
But I begin to overstep the space allowed me. So I will end with one last quotation from Plato:
“Now all these portions of time, and was and shall be, are forms of time which have come to be, although we wrongly ascribe them to the eternal essence. For we say that it was and is and shall be, but in reality is alone belongs to it.”