The King of DelusionsPosted: August 16, 2012
I remember it as vividly as if it had happened just recently. One fine day I was walking in the streets unperturbed and without haste when suddenly time ‘stopped’. In a flash of graceful insight, I realized that time was a mere concept, an illusion fed by our social and biological conditioning.
In this post I will try to explain in words what exactly had become clear to me in that instant and the impact such an insight can have.
First of all let’s define time. Time measures a sequence of causes and effects in the interval between two ‘events’. For example, a year is defined as a sequence of occurrences within one interval of the earth leaving and returning to the same position in reference to the sun.
Now, I want you to consider the possibility that the universe is timeless, that is, eternal. What if there was neither a beginning nor an end to it? Yes, there may have been a ‘Big Bang’ that created this particular manifestation of the universe but there must be something that caused it. According to reputable modern-day scientists and ancient Eastern cosmology the universe has expanded and collapsed infinite times before and will go on doing so endlessly. Because there never was a first ‘Bang’, we can’t tell in which ‘Bang-and-Bust’ cycle we are currently in. Since there is no reference ‘Bang’ we could use to tell cycles apart, every cycle is the same cycle in different shape and form. Each cycle is just the furthermost in an endless series of cycles. If we assume an eternal universe, the time must always be the same: ‘now’. Far out, isn’t it? Eternity kills time.
Since there is no time (in eternity), none of this, not your life nor anything else, is actually ever ‘happening’. All that is ‘happening’, is change in this one, endless moment. Again, a ‘happening’/ ‘event’ is something which could be marked on a linear timescale. But without a beginning nor an end, such a scale couldn’t exist. All that has ever ‘happened’ and ever will ‘happen’, is ‘happening’ in this same endless instant. This moment is not a passing phase. There is no progression from one moment to the next. Yesterday, today and tomorrow ‘happen’ in this very same moment, this ‘now’.
Let’s make an example: raise your arm. We could say that time elapsed between these two distinct states of your arm. First the arm was down then there was a smooth sequence of movements of the arm going up and finally the arm was up. Between ‘arm down’ and ‘arm up’ a few measures of time (e.g. seconds) passed. However, from the perspective of eternity all that ‘happened’ was that the timeless, static ‘Now’ (aka Brahman, Tao, Godhead, Void, etc.) simply changed its appearance from one state or ‘configuration’ to another. That’s it. Forms, time and space are all superimposed on an infinite, static context of potentiality. Just like a movie screen can endlessly display things in all imaginable variations, the ‘Now’ can forever assume any imaginable sequence of forms. The famous 3rd Patriarch of Zen, Seng Ts’an, was pointing to this realization when he wrote: “Consider motion in stillness and stillness in motion [then] both movement and stillness disappear”. Motion is in fact embedded in the static stillness of the eternal ‘Now’. As much as the static moves, motion is static. Or in Taoist terms: there is inaction underlying every action (wei wu wei).
Why is the illusion of time an important insight?
Time is the cause of all kinds of suffering. Which is why I like to call it the ‘King of Delusions’. Time creates the notion of finiteness, coming and going, past and future. Such ideas give rise to regret and anxiety, striving and struggle, fear and desire. Realizing that all that ever ‘happened’ and will ever ‘happen’, births, deaths, achievements, successes, failures, etc., are but different ‘modes’ of the very same eternal and infinite primordial ground, stops the minds tendencies to dwell in the murky bondage of the ‘not-HereNow’ of time and space.
When (the illusion of) time is completely seen through we fully realize our essential, eternal nature. We know that ‘we’ never move nor age. ‘We’ are never affected by anything. ‘We’ are never not here. The manifestations ‘we’ can give rise to appear and disappear, but, in the end, they are just actualizations of ‘our’ potential. Because, in essence, ‘we’ are the infinite, all penetrating and everlasting sea of pixels manifesting as the images ‘we’ create. All ‘we’ ever ultimately do is playing an endless game with ourselves without any particular purpose or meaning, just for the sake of playing it.
Once the mind realizes beyond doubt that the eternal ‘Now’ is all there ever is, it strays no more but stays right here, and our very own kingdom of heaven becomes finally fully ours to enjoy.
“The Way is beyond language, for in it there is no yesterday, no tomorrow, no today.”
The Chromatics – Tick of the Clock