Thursday, April 1, 2010

About Time

In the New Testament, there are some verses that actually have some curious time dynamics. My favorite is when Jesus talks about prayer, "Ask anything in my name (the consciousness of love, present tense), believe you have received it (past tense), and it shall be given to you (future tense)." The usual experience of the time flow is past to present to future, with the events of the past being causal forces in shaping all the futures that emerge. Yet when there is some awakening, then the present becomes the causal force, the past becomes the trail left behind our present activity, and the future is a reflection of our present intentions merging together within a dreamtime consensus (regulated and organized by universal law). To be alive in the present moment shifts our experience of time.

Einstein showed how the experience of time was relative to the observer of the flow of events and his or her own inertial frame of reference (the motion of the observer relative to what is observed and its own motion). Deeper than this, whether or not we are awake within our bodies, alive to the way sensations are pulsing through our sensory organs and neural networks, and even whether we are simply watching or participating within the arising events, determines how we are experiencing time. Many experience time as if watching a river from on top of mountain, while others experience the future as if lashed to the front of a train with events coming at them. In Buddhism, awareness of change, of events arising, abiding, changing, and dissolving, gives a certain feeling of time, and is integral to flowing in intuitive wisdom and being within meditation. Buddha wanted people to not get enmeshed in the cause and effect chains that bind us to the wheel of repetitive sorrow and yet he did want people to "enter the living stream" of meditation and flow within intuitive wisdom.

When I was being a security guard on the graveyard shift for two years and seven months, I had time to deeply study meditation. I read many books and then did very long stretches of meditation. I did need to keep my eyes open and be alert to my world. I had visualized a white light bubble surrounding the place that I was meant to guard and invoked protection. Curiously, nothing at all happened on my shift, whereas the other security guard would often report strange things happening. When it was time to leave this job, I unvisualized the bubble, like a spider taking its web with itself to its next location, and within two weeks strange things would happen on all the shifts. I was mainly studying the teachings of Jiddu Krishnamurti and falling deeper into silence.

I remember writing in my journal a few notes from the deepest time period. I just wrote "nonclinging, nonresistance!" and then later on "nonclinging, nonresistance!!!". Meditation came back to not setting up resistance to the flow of phenomena. Inside it felt like everything was unfolding without pressure. There was no pressure resisting anything that was arising and no pressure holding on to anything that was dissolving. When my mind entered this space, a flow of images and feelings arose. There was a feeling of everything being meaningful and then passing away to allow for something else to arise. I called this space "the flowing space". The mind felt like it was simply healing itself, like a slow steady river flowing home to the ocean. The movement was natural, effortless, spontaneous, and simple. This movement, too, had "no self" or "self consciousness". There was no "I" referencing or interacting with the experience. I saw that the usual "I" that we invoke is a pattern of clinging and resistance to everything, defining itself energetically by what it pushed away and by what it resisted. This sense of self was a straining which is at the heart of all sorrow. It subtly freezes us in time, makes events more solid than usual, and visualizes the very walls that must be torn down to gain liberation. It reminded me of why the Buddha said, "Unless the teaching of no self is understood, there is no end to sorrow." This was the most subtle level where sorrow is maintained. The illusory and transitory self is the most subtle level where sorrow is held within our experience. When this mental construct is released, not held on to, seen to be composed of transitory thoughts, emotions, and sensations that are only connected by our identification with them, then a feeling of self dissolves, like a long fever fading in a cool mountain lake.

I think that in the maturing of our consciousness, we pass through an ego construction phase. Our brains needed to learn how to manipulate symbols, build tools, and extrapolate into the future what might happen. We needed to learn how to symbolize the interactions between self and other, get a sense of ourselves as personalities, and even try to improve them through refining our social skills and learning communication protocols. We tend to identify ourselves with our mental concept of who we think we are. We take in information about who we are from parents, teachers, strangers, and peers. We become a product of the endless reflections we absorb from life. We identify with some of these reflections and alienate other reflections. Later on we call those we agree with us friends and those who disagree with us enemies. Even later on, our process tends to become more complex, where we have reflections of our reflections, arguments between different sides of ourselves, and ambivolent responses to friends and enemies. At this point, we are may realize that we do not need to process more opinions and reflections, where ever they came from, but need to realize that we do not know who and what we are, and then directly look within with an innocent childlike curiousity. There is a need to let go of the need to "conceptualize self" at all. Terms like "We are Buddha Nature" and "one with God", become useless to this inquiry. They keep us stuck in thought, because even spiritual thought is still thought.

When Emperor Wu asks Bodhidharma, "What is the highest meaning of the holy truths?" Bodhidharma responds, "Empty, without holiness." Bodhdharma saw that Emperor Wu was attached to holiness and that it was still a mental idea. Even though Emperor Wu was doing tons of good works and mounting up much good karma for himself, there was a subtle trace of ego greed driving this process. Emperor Wu was shocked at the answer that Bodhidharma gave and said, "Then who is standing before me?" He wanted to know why he should listen to Bodhidharma if he was not some kind of holy man. There are many people on many spiritual paths who really do not always stay in a state of listening, but filter out who to listen to from who to not listen to based on a judgment of who is in front of them. Bodhidharma responds by saying, "I do not know." He says this for two reasons. One is that he literally does not know how Emperor Wu sees him. It is easy, when you reach telepathic maturity, to see what kind of thoughts a person is living by. Bodhidharma could see how Emperor Wu was wrapped into being holy. But it is more subtle to see how a person is seeing. People are usually in a constant state of identifying and alienating parts of their experience. It looks like a tension and a straining to one who is aware. It is hard to get too much about the subtle depths when there is a traffic of endless reactions and dramas going on inside.

Although this is the first koan in the Blue Cliff Record, a Zen meditation training manual, this koan, like almost all of them, are not really puzzles. Bodhidharma is simply pointing to our Bodhi mind, simply, honestly, and directly, apart from all the sutras of Buddhism. Bodhidharma, in his own deep process, also does not know who he is. The conceptual knowing, which is not real knowing, has fallen away, and there is no new concept to self symbolize what has happened. There is also no temptation to do this. This effort and drive to self symbolize, which has been driving human evolution, has ended. It is important to let go of the need to do this and just stay in the emptiness. This is a vulnerable state, because we are becoming very telepathic during this time. The thoughts of others have more impact than usual. All their projections of who they think we are do not have the shield of our dogmatic self concept to ward them off. We can retraumatized by their thoughts activating samskaras within us. We eventually learn to just let their own conceptual grasping and conceptual resistance not affect us. We do not know how anyone sees anything. Bodhidharma stays in this self agnosticism. Eventually a deeper self recognition dawns, within the pressureless space of meditation. It is awareness knowing itself, beyond the mediation of thought and symbolization. It cannot be forced by the mind. The conceptual thinking function has no place here. We can travel very far with the conceptual mind and by the conceptual mind, but it must bow to this higher process. It takes a very mature mind to do this. It must be a mind which is functioning high enough and well enough to feel its limit. When thought is transcended, we reach "no thought enlightenment", and then later on take back the body and mind, and use it more fully and freely than ever before. The thought function becomes a creative power within the expanse of awareness.

Bodhidharma is gently staying in his process. He uses few words. He gives Emperor Wu only seven words total, and then moves on. Emperor Wu is disturbed by Bodhidharma's words, but later on gets a glimmer of what Bodhidharma is saying and why. He tries to get Bodhidharma back so that he can talk to him more. But his minister advises him not to do this. The disturbance is the lesson. It is "confusing the confusion" so that it can be illuminated and transcended. More words do not help. The disturbance is the gate to enter into and sink into. It creates a mind gap to move into the silence through. Bodhidharma is staying in the serenely peaceful night before the arising of the Great Affirmation. He needs to not get entangled in the human world and yet he needs also to not resist it either. Whether Emperor Wu realizes it or not, he got Abhisheka, initiation, attunement, and empowerment.


  1. Oh , nice to see something regarding time. Was expecting something else , the general law of time is very good. What is the relation between a state of being and time function ? Just wanted to ask.

    As we know most of the people live in a physiological time , for example when watching a good movie , time passes quickly and while waiting for someone it get stretched. So if we say that the above two example of time when we experience it differently here can we say that the one who feels the time , it has more to do with the state of being rather then the actual event ? I remember the classic example , in Mahabharata war when Lord Krishan was teaching Arjun in the battle field ..... i read it somewhere that it happen in fraction of second , although the teaching is HUGE !

  2. Dear Attila, thank you for your post. I do think that time and being are related. One way of describing this is with a variable speed strobe light. Imagine it is set for 24 flashes per a second. We would be seeing events at the same pulse rate as an old movie. If you look carefully, concentrating attention, you can see that the moving picture is really a series of stills. What this means is that the flash rate of consciousness is pulsing faster than the flash rate of the movie. For instance, if I am pulsing at 72 fps then the movie would go three times slower for me. If I was pulsing at 8 fps, then the movie would be moving three times as fast. If I pulsed at 24,000 fps, then time would almost seem to standstill. One of my spiritual teachers had an experience in a shopping mall where everyone seemed to standstill. There is a NT verse where it said that "Jesus passed through their midst" and he felt that something similar happened to the master who had altered his fps to escape a crowd. I had an experience where the stars moved so fast that they became comets crossing the sky. I felt a kind of crystal clarity in my mind with no thoughts flowing inside, there was just a pure looking. To me, time is relative to the observer and the inertial frame of reference (speed, moment, and direction) and also what is observed and its inertial frame of reference. My sense is that time is both subjective and objective simulataneously and always interdependent on all the factors involved in shaping that moment. I remember, too, when I was channeling a being named Etabah and was recording it on a tape recorder. When we played back what Etabah said, everything that was said was very slow, like the words were stretched. The tape recorder was not broken nor was the tape. Only the words that happened during the channeling were time stretched. Time during the channeling felt "normal" speed, but apparently time was passing differently in a measurable way. I think that time is more alive and variable than a metronome or a march. The example you gave is a good one. Dogen Zenji said that everything was a "flashing in the void". The Buddhists sometimes have talked about life being a chain of "ksanas" (thought instants) one succeeding the other, like small deaths and rebirths. I have also had a lot of precognitive dreams where in some sense the future was remembered. I got bold enough to start changing the outcomes after a while. I would probably not be alive if I did not. In one dream, I went down a steep hill and crashed into a red car that stopped very abruptly. I noticed that car and was ready, when the hill dove down and the car stopped abruptly, I hit the break on time and did not collide. It seemed that the red car also had a short notice to stop before the car in front of it. I had already slowed down because of the dream and was prepared. I also saw that I had dreamed playing a certain Chess game. When I noticed that a certain game was the game in the dream, I wrote down how the game was going to end on a paper, folded it, and placed it under the Chess board, and showed the paper after the game was done. There is a lot to the nature of time that deserves more than I can cram into this comment box. There are Sufi vibrational ratios that relate to different levels of being and each level of being higher is governed by less laws (and having therefore more freedom). Time is experienced differently at each level of being. Most levels of time have the three dimensions mentioned, one part always feels the same (and therefore can notice change against the backdrop of sameness), another part is always changing, and the third part has a directionality which represents growth of some kind (which is not merely change since change is bidirectional and growth is unidirectional like a flower blooming and never going back to being a bud).


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