Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 19: The Reign of Relativity > Chapter 4: Time, Space, Causality

Time, Space, Causality

The three thought-forms of space, time, and cause necessarily dominate the universal experience of mankind. They are the relations wherein we experience that aggregate of objects which makes the world of Nature. They are not open to choice or rejection by anyone but are forced on all alike and felt by fool and philosopher.

The time-space-causality reference is an essential part of human nature, a governing law of human thinking. These three hold good solely within such thinking and can have no possible or proper application outside it. Man does not consciously or arbitrarily impose them upon his thought; it is beyond his individual power to reject them.

Living in time and space as we do, we perforce live always in the fragmentary and imperfect, never in the whole, the perfect. Only if, at rare moments, we are granted a mystical experience and transcend the time-space world, do we know the beauty and sublimity of being liberated from a mere segment of experience into the wholeness of Life itself.

We are forced by our mental and physical constitution to submit to time with its succession of moments and to space with its extension of points. But mystics know that both can be transcended in certain experiences, and a freedom attained which is ordinarily never felt even to be possible.

We know that each object in the universe, as certainly each living creature, and the entire universe itself, must have had a commencement in time as well as a source in space.

Through the limitations set up by time, space, and sensation, the perceptions of forms and the experience of events by the personal ego become possible. That is, its own existence becomes possible. Therefore any change in these limitations would bring about a change in its existence. The world which it knows here would vanish and another would take its place.

Our thinking process is bound by time and space relations, but there is something in us which is not. Ordinarily, we have no awareness of it, although it never leaves us.

Knowledge of the world is only possible because the world is cut up into spaced and timed fragments, which are simultaneously thrown into the relation of cause and effect.

When the personal ego is withdrawn from consciousness, its time-and-space perceptions are withdrawn alongside of it.

Space and time constitute the world-cross on which we are crucified until a Deliverer comes to show us how to rescue ourselves.

The mind must locate its objects in space and time or it could not have any objects at all.

Everything that is manifested must be manifested in some space-time world--that is, it must have a shape and it must be subject to "Before" and "After."

We are given forms embodied in space and minds working in time whereby we may come to decipher meanings in life and the world, develop awareness of the Infinite Being that is behind both, and know our true self.

So long as man's awareness is trapped in space and time, so long will he be unable to know the reality that transcends them.

Their relative and mental nature

Just as there are different heard sounds, seen objects, and felt things, so there are different kinds of experience and different levels of space and time.

There is, however, no single frame of time in which thoughts can be molded. For time, as we have seen, is a variable because it is an idea; it offers an unlimited variety of ways in which events might arrange themselves. There are a number of different frames and one of them is used for waking sensations while another is for dream perceptions. For the experience of a clock hour spent suffering the pangs of acute toothache will be much longer than the hour spent with a sweetheart. Time is ultimately mental.

Materialism is compelled to hold that there is only one uniform time. Mentalism holds that there are different kinds of time, not only for different kinds of beings but even for one and the same being.

The most valuable metaphysical fruit of the quantum theory is its finding that the processes of the universe which occur in space and time, emanate from what is fundamentally not in space and time.

Nothing in the universe is permanent: all things are time-bound. No form is continuous: all forms are broken down in the end.

Time is an efficient undertaker and puts all things, neatly coffined, well away in their appropriate cemeteries in the end.

Time, first ignored, then a friend, is lastly an enemy.

Who is to say how many events can happen within one second? Even waking experience offers conflicting testimony on this point, as the drowning man who sees his life pass in backward review well knows. And dream experience, too, often crowds a whole drama into a few minutes.

Sometimes under abnormal conditions a man's sense of time may travel backwards and relive events in reverse (as when drowning) or travel forwards and live in events which come to pass later (as when dreaming).

Daily we return to activity and nightly to repose, while time is measured by a metal pointer circling around a graduated dial.

Who does not know the healing powers of time, which ends the memory of sorrow and the feeling of pain?

We humans find it normal to experience in the way we do astronomical time and geometrical space, but it would be foolish to expect that other inhabitants of other worlds could do the same.

Einstein proved by purely scientific and mathematical methods the relativity of time and space, but the Jain masters of India knew it without such helps--and this teaching was imparted three thousand years ago.

We shall understand the movements of time better if we understand that it is neither a straight line nor a round circle. It is a beginningless endless spiral.

The mathematical frontier of the present moment has only an illusory and not a real existence.

The theoretical significance of time is unaltered, although invention has altered its practical significance for human life through the departments of travel and communication.

Einstein has taken two fundamental human experiences--time and space--and proved them to be relative variables dependent on man himself, while he has dispossessed them of any other than a mathematical reality.

It is only custom and familiarity that make a particular kind of time seem real to us and all other kinds seem fantastic. But to creatures with different sets of perceptions from ours, our human-experienced time would seem quite fantastic and theirs quite normal.

The alternation of day and night--that is, time--depends on the daily turning of our earth; but to a man standing on another planet and observing ours, the same suggestion of a particular time-order would arise.

Time is a form (one of many) taken by consciousness. All measurements of it, whether taken on precise instruments in the laboratory or felt by the nerves of the physical body, are relative, because they are dependent on bases which are themselves forms of the mind.

Whether we gain it from the mystic experience or from the deepest reflection, we shall come to see that time is the great deluder of men. The past which has gone, the future which has yet to be, and the present which is in flux are not what they seem.

Just as there is no particular point in a circle which is the true beginning or true end of it, so there is in reality no point in time which is the true past or true future.

Time obliterates memories, cancels hates, annuls loves, diminishes or destroys both passions and illusions. Yet the most singular change is what it does to the sense of reality. More and more, material life seems like the stuff of dreams.

In some dreams time shrinks a whole day into a mere half hour or, in others, it expands a single minute into several hours. This is what happens to the mind under the influence of certain drugs: nay, even still more fantastic disproportions between waking time and sleeping time have been brought about.

Our attitude towards time, our sense of its quick or slow, short or long passage, depends on the feelings with which it is filled.

Time is purely relative to the standpoint, to the position taken up. But this is the superficial view. When we enquire deeper, we find that our notion of time varies also according to the mental (and not merely physical) position which we adopt. Thus a lover will find one hour passing like a few minutes when in the presence of his beloved, whereas his impatient, waiting rival will feel that every minute is counting its full weight! This reveals that time is ultimately mental, an idea in the mind. It comes and goes; it is illusory.

If, in the dimension of space, only a single page parts this chapter from the previous one, in the dimension of time several months lie between them.

Let us reflect upon this mystery of space. It is the one element which has no opposite. Even shape and form of every kind are included within space and do not constitute its antithesis.

What does the word "space" stand for? Does it represent the image of something actually known? Does it represent the imagined concept of something not actually known?

To say that the World-Mind is diffused throughout all space would be true but would also be untrue if the statement were left there. For all space is itself a state in the World-Mind.

The point will be clearer to non-metaphysical readers if you always couple Time with Place rather than with Space.

Height, length, and breadth equals space. This continues into the fourth dimension, Time; hence the space-time continuum.

This would necessarily make space prior in existence to all things, that is, the world itself. But if space really has such an absolute existence, it would itself need a location wherein it must be put.

We are geared by nature to a particular set of space-perceptions. We are not free to measure experience just as we please.

Ultimately the spatial outlook is a part of the dream just as the time-sense is. When you awake from the dream, even space--the sense of here and there--is divorced from reality. However, it is our best symbol of the Mind.

We hardly realize the immense emptiness of universal space. The suns and planets and stars are mere tiny points of light and heat and matter surrounded by so many million miles of the great void that, relatively speaking, they are of ludicrous unimportance.

Space is as illusory as Time. Both are mental creations.

The student has moved in thought from the circumference to the centre, from all things in the universe to their source in the self. The universe is something which, spiritually, exists within himself. He and the world are verily inseparable. Space is only an idea.

If the investigation of time made in depth by intelligence shows the real essence of it to be an eternal Now, so a similar investigation of space shows its real essence to be an eternal Here. Both these results are also to be reached in actual experience sharply and clearly in meditation in depth. But where are they? The answer is given briefly and precisely by mentalism: they are in consciousness.

Time is not quite what it appears to be if carefully analysed. It will be found on the one hand to be a mental experience and on the other to exist only in the present.

As we try to think away all the objects which space contains, we must not forget to think away the light with which we unconsciously fill all space. We shall find if we succeed in this admittedly difficult exercise, that space itself will then disappear. Thus the common belief in space as a kind of vast vessel containing everything, as depending on and being determined by the distances between two or more objects and the relative positions occupied by these objects, is hardly a correct one. Both "inside" and "outside" are merely relative terms. All this again is because, as mentalism declares, space is really the idea which we subconsciously impose on. Hence, when for a few brief moments the mind transcends its creations and returns to itself in mystical abstraction, we lose the feeling of the "outsideness" of things and the world fades into being our own unreal dream. This happens because, as mentalism has already taught us, space is needed by the mind to contain its images, to measure its forms, and therefore mind accordingly makes it. Now the same considerations apply to time, for if we think away all the objects which have their life in the past present or future, there will be no time left to flow onwards. There will be no independent thing called time. Nevertheless, the mind is not left in a wholly negative state after this is done. Whatever we may possibly experience or know in the external world must necessarily be experienced or known under the forms of space and time; to be at all, they have to be as they are. But these forms are variable and changeable, relative and dependent. Therefore these events or things are not themselves eternal and enduring realities. Space and time are ways in which we experience existence; they are not things in themselves.

The relativity theory brings space and time together as having no existence independent of each other. Mentalism explains why this is so. They are both inherent in one and the same thing--imagination; they are two ways in which the creative aspect of mind functions simultaneously.

Just as there is really no such thing as "matter," so there are no such things as substance and time. These are abstract concepts, useful for certain purposes, but imaginary, just mental constructs.

Time slips away all the time! Amid its inexorable movement one thing remains unmoving--the sense of "I."

It is not a human feat to put a beginning to the cosmos, or to time which is connected with it, for then the human entity would need to be existing individually and consciously before both.

Although you will probably feel, like nearly everyone else, outside the experience of time and apart from it, you will in reality be inside it. For it will be deep in your consciousness and involved in the making of its shape.

We get all our experience in the form of space relations, time relations, and cause relations. It has already been shown that all this experience is, however, the fruit of mind's working. The mind makes its own times and its own spaces as the forms furnished to thought.

The mind makes a space relation with its objects and a time relation with its events. These relations may alter to every imaginable extent; hence they are only relative ones.

We have now to ask, "How do we come to look upon the snake as real? What persuades us to take such illusions on their face value?" When we examine the position of perception--upon which they are based and within whose sphere they appear objectively--we find that we always see the world in clothes of four dimensions, three of space and one of time. Kant has laboriously demonstrated how the mind superimposes these two characteristics on its vision of the world; that is to say, they lie within the mind and not outside it. It is therefore perfectly possible for mental constructions to be extended in space and occur in time, thus assuming all the characteristics of conventional reality, and still remain nothing more than mental workings after all. Buddha's ultra-keen insight noted this illusoriness of the spatial relation and so he likened the world to a bubble.

Planets may revolve and clocks may tick but in the end our experience of time depends upon our consciousness of it.

We have never experienced a time which is independent of space. The two are interdependent.

If for the human mind there can be no visible beginning in time of the universal order and, equally, no ending of it, if this is the meaning of eternity, then we must remember that for the most brilliant intelligences of our race and the deepest mystical seers, time itself is in the mind.

Where is the present when you try to catch hold of it? What indeed is time itself? All three tenses, all time, are mental states.

Do we move along in time or does time move in us?

Time cannot be separated from the experience of it.

Although there are nostalgic interludes when those unexpected memories become utterly vivid, the truth that "time is in the mind," once quoted to me by Wei Wu Wei as we parted, also returns often enough.

Ljudevit Vulicevic, Yugoslavian nineteenth-century writer: "We divide time into epochs, centuries, years, and give names to these fanciful divisions, regarding them as something real in themselves and outside our consciousness. Time is nothing in itself. It is not a reality but a thought, an idea in man."

The world seems hung in space and strung through time. What is the responsible factor in this illusion? It is mind.

Now if it is impossible to get at all the causes it is equally impossible to get at all the effects. We shall never comprehend in its fullness any structure in the universe, any event in history, any purpose in human consciousness or consequence of human action.

From "Greek Doctrine of Non-Causality," by Mary M. Patrick in Aryan Path: "There was a man in Alexandria named Aenesidemus, in the first century b.c., who formed a bridge between the old and the new Pyrrhonism. He was originally an academic sceptic. But when the Academy renounced its sceptical standpoint he turned to Pyrrhonism, then becoming very strong, especially in Alexandria. He may be called the prophet of later scepticism, and we find the sources of his authority in the teachings of the Academy, in early Pyrrhonism, and in the Empiric School of Medicine which had its seat in Alexandria. It is to Aenesidemus that we owe much of our knowledge of scepticism for he was a voluminous writer. He formulated the `Ten Tropes of (Epliche)' or `suspension of judgement' some of which date back to Pyrrho himself. His greatest work however was `The Eight Arguments Against Causality' which have quite a modern ring. He taught that while there is a logical connection between cause and effect in nature as we know it, the idea of causality is after all only a physical conception, for science reveals no final truth and no cause in itself."

Notes on Causality/Non-causality:

All our thinking is shaped into the mold of causality and this not by our own choice but by Nature's.

Nothing can enter experience which is not thrown by the mind into a causal form. The mind being capable only of experiencing in this way is incapable of grasping the essentially real in experience.

All that we know of Nature is our own mental experience of it; and all that we know of causality in Nature is likewise only the way in which that mental experience arranges itself.

The causal habit, like that of time and space, is one of the cardinal habits of thinking and one of the fixed forms of awareness. It is our lack of comprehension of the way in which the mind works, the relation between consciousness, ego, and mind, which makes it inevitable for us to fall victim to these three great illusions of the race.

The bias towards belief in causality is so universally ingrained in mankind that religious teachers had to explain the world in causal terms first. But the Vedantists used such causal explanations as steps to mount up towards non-causality. They taught that the world is a creation and its creator the pure spirit Brahman, and then led the pupil to enquire into the nature of Brahman, gradually showing him that Brahman is one, indivisible and partless. Such a partless being cannot change or produce change, therefore there can be no creation, that is, the truth of non-causality. In this way the pupil was led from religion to philosophy.

Creation as an act is different from creation as a fact. Advaita challenges the reality of the first but admits the second in the sense that it does not deny the existence of the world. But the question "How did God create the world?" does not admit of a simple accurate answer. In the first place it is oversimple and therefore inadequate; secondly it is mis-stated and omits at least two other questions the answers to which are prerequisite to an answer to the question in its present form. The infinite principle of Mind does not will or create the Universe, but within its seeming darkness there arises a point of light which becomes the centre of a potential universe. A first beginning of the Universe has never happened, because the Universe is a manifestation of Mind, the reality which, existing in timeless duration as it does, has never had a beginning itself.

Causality functions in the ordinary world. To doubt that would be to doubt all human experience. But when we enquire into its ultimate abstraction we find causality contradicts itself, it is relative and an appearance. At the same time we see that the causal thought-form must be added to the percepts of space and time to bring experience into ordered relationship during the manifestation of the universe, and lapse when the mind sinks again into consciousness.

Even so supreme a teacher as the Buddha had to confess, "Unknowable is the beginning of beings."

What it is in Mind that impels it to make these myriad appearances as ideas we do not and cannot know. The question itself is based on belief in causation, which is another idea, and is therefore invalid because it is without meaning to Mind.

One valid application of the tenet of non-causality is this--when water is converted into steam we cannot say steam is a new creation, for it is still nothing but water albeit its expression has changed.

The world being but an expression of the Overself is not a new creation, for fundamentally no new thing has come into being. The world is but a changed expression of Overself, and as cause implies effect, that is, duality, and as there is no duality, so there is no causal relation behind the universe. From the empiric standpoint--that is, disregarding fundamentals and looking at secondary elements only--within the universe causality clearly reigns. V.S.I.'s [V. Subramanya Iyer--editor's addition] application of non-causality to the interrelations within the world is illegitimate.

If causality were not a practical working truth we should plant grass seed in the hope of getting grapefruit.

We must get our minds quite clear about this position. It is all a matter of standpoint. From a practical standpoint the world is composed of many entities affecting and inter-reacting with each other in a causal manner. From the ultimate standpoint the world is Mind-essence, and this being the only existence cannot change its nature and come into a second birth; it cannot fall into the duality of cause and effect. But the Mind's finite productions, ideas, can do so.

Therefore it is admitted that causality fully reigns in the realm of ordinary experience. But when we seek to understand Mind in itself we seek to transcend ordinary experience. Mind in itself is not subject to causality.

The question of causality depends, like the question of the universe, on the particular point of view which we take up. It is real when considered as pertaining to two things, just as a dream table and chairs are real when considered by the dreamer himself. It is fictitious when we look not at the multiplicity of things but at the essence wherefrom they are derived, just as the dream table and chairs are fictitious when looked at from the broader point of view of the man who has awakened with the dawn.

Whereas experience presupposes the relation of causality, reality itself stands out of all relations. Causality is a condition of knowing and thus confines us to the familiar world. The category of causality is inapplicable to Brahman.

If there is one rigid law in nature it would seem to be none other than the law of causality, for how can the chain of causation ever be broken?

The reticence of the Buddha in discussing problems concerning the First Cause is made explicable by his knowledge of non-causality.

Sub-atomic science--indeterminacy, Heisenberg's Quantum Theory; Super-atomic science--Einstein's relativity; milliards of galaxies which made the universe.

Sub-atomic physics reveals that the ultramicroscopic electrons and protons are disobedient to the law which science took as the best established of all laws--that of cause and effect. This revealment may even bring the theoretical search for reality into a cul-de-sac. What was once a philosophical tenet may become a scientific one too. What was once the consequence of man's keenest reflection may become the consequence of his ascertainment of facts.

Scholars often use the words cause and effect with less warrant than truth demands. The phrase is profusely sprinkled over lecture and book until we accept their statement as unquestioningly as we accept today's sunrise. But it behooves the few who would root up the reason for all things to look a little closer into this usage. When we do this, those smooth and finished doctrines which have held us captive so long may be compelled to open their doors and set us free. We may discover, as did David Hume, that whether in the behaviour of matter or of mind, much that we accept as causal is nothing of the kind, it is merely consecutive.

Hume said that a thing or self was only a bundle of relations, being nothing in itself.

It is very easy to fall into what may be called the fallacy of the single cause, as when Hitler--conveniently overlooking himself and those like him--asserted that the Jews were the cause of Germany's worst troubles. The truth is that most problems are many sided, and behind the simplest effects there lie usually a combination of causes.

Causality is a misapprehension from the philosophical standpoint, but quite correct from the physical and practical.

In the last reckoning life is really a process whereby the individual becomes conscious of his own true identity. The spiritual nature of man does not exist potentially, but actually. The discovery of his own identity is simply man's destruction of the hypnotic illusions of Ego, Time, Space, Matter, and Cause--his moment of release from untruth.

The Overself is not subject to causality, but the ideas which appear to arise in it are. This is where students become confused.

We must not ascribe activity to the Overself. This does not mean that it is wrapped in everlasting slumber. The possibility of all activity is derived from it. It is the life behind the Cosmic Mind's own life.

The very idea of a First Cause of the universe is a false one. For a "first" involves the denial of any historic past, a "cause" involves the existence of a "before" and an "after"--that is, of time. But time is infinite and "first" denies it. So a "First Cause" is a contradictory idea.

If there were no infinite power there would be no finite things.

To say that one event "causes" another is really and only to say that, under certain conditions, the second event always follows the first one.

Wherever there is change there must be cause also. When, however, we discover on deeper enquiry that the change is illusory, the cause also becomes illusory. Thus the philosophic work reveals itself as a work of disillusionment.

The consequence of disbelief in causality inevitably must be disbelief in the theological assertion that God is the creator of the universe.

And what is here true of a part is likewise true of the whole, for the principle of unconscious mind gives birth not only to the aggregate of ideas which constitute a human personality but also to the aggregate of ideas which constitute an entire universe. The unconscious is therefore the region of all causes, of all possibilities.

The concept of evolutionary progress is entirely based on the notion that one thing can produce another--that is, of cause and effect. Such a concept is essential to practical life and to the practice of science; it must be closely enquired into, however, when we wish to know the final truth of things and not merely their appearance. When such enquiry is made, it will be found that the notion of causality is an a priori one, that it inheres in the framework of human thinking and thus prejudices the issue. The study of Kant, Max Planck, and others will show that this idea may be approached from another angle. Evolution as a theory rises and falls with causality; the destruction of the latter destroys the former. Consequently, from the viewpoint of ultimate truth, which is our concern, we may say that evolution is unproved and we must disregard it. The seeker after truth cannot concern himself with theories and fancies. He must deal in proved facts.

Perpetuity, eternity, and now

Do not confuse infinite time, which is duration, with timelessness, which is eternity. The first is just the lengthening of the ego's past, present, and future; the second is their dissolution in ecstatic smiling ego-free being.

When in deep sleep we have absolutely no sense of Time's existence at all. We are then in eternity! When we become thoroughly convinced of the illusoriness of time, and make this conviction a settled attitude, eternity reveals itself even during the waking state. This is life in the Overself. This is not the same as totalizing the past present and future; all those belong to illusion. This realization gives perfect peace.

The concept of time's eternity and space's infinity is not intelligible to a finite intellect.

The idea of Eternity, which is a prolongation of time, is not the same as the idea of the Eternal Now, which is a cancellation of time.

So long as we think of eternity as being a long-drawn waiting period stretching through millions of years, so long will we fail to understand the true meaning of Spirit, and hence the true meaning of spirituality.

There is a difference between eternity and timelessness. It is one of kind, not merely of extent. Too many people fail to perceive this and so slur the one into the other.

Neither intellect nor common sense can understand the mystic's experience of timelessness, although both can hold some sort of vague concept of eternity, which is not the same.

The Eternal is that which is changelessly the same, but the Perpetual is that which is ever-changing.

Memories of past events added to anticipations of future ones stretch out our notion of time like a piece of elastic. But that does not give us infinite eternal being; it merely gives added burdens which the mind must carry.

In Arabic the syllable "La" is negative. Hence Allah=the no-beginning.

A vague, dreamlike, shapeless, shadowy, and selfless future seems unappetizing. But the Real is not of this kind at all, not a part of past or future. It is not in time; it is in the Mind.

The totalization of past, present, and future does not constitute eternity; accumulated experience does not confer eternal consciousness, but merely prepares the requisite condition for its reception.

Duration, which is the passage of time without end, is not the same as Timelessness. Yet this is the kind of survival which those who ordinarily talk of belief in immortality usually mean. They want the ego to go on endlessly, to endure forever, even if they want only the better side of the ego to continue. They want this spurious self to be perpetuated and ignore the real being whose shadow it is.

The English novelist Graham Greene says that he several times had dreams of happenings which later were realized. What does this mean? Its simplest meaning must obviously be that the present and the future are already joined together. The second meaning must be that since the present quickly becomes the past, the past and the future are also joined together. The total meaning must be that time is a single unbroken line. In metaphysics this can be called eternal duration, and in metempsychosis this explains how actions done now are echoed back in a later birth. For us humans, mentalism puts past, present, and future within the mind and their separateness from each other within illusion. From this illusion we can be set free only by experiencing and knowing the timeless, which must not be confused with eternal duration. The timeless transcends the past, present, and future. What we experience now in the present is abstracted from the whole of experience, the totality, but the abstraction is illusory. The reality which we give to the present and deny to past and future is again within us, within the mind, but it is within the deepest layer of the mind and that deepest layer is connected with timelessness, for that is the reality in us.

Thoughts and time come up together and thus humans are kept captive by the sequence Past, Present, and Future. They believe from this experience that this is the only form taken by consciousness. But another kind of experience is possible. Whether by yoga or by philosophical thinking, stillness supervenes and time rests.

No other moments are so worth living for as when one experiences the meaning of timelessness.

In timelessness there is no past to remember, no future to foresee, no sense of one moment succeeding another which is the present. In timelessness we experience only being, whereas in time we experience what the metaphysicians and the Buddhists call becoming. Whereas our experience is in fragments, whether it be now or later or in the past, in being experience attains wholeness, totality.

Eternity contains, undivided, the past present and future. How it can do so is a mystery which human perception and human understanding may not ordinarily grasp. The unaided intellect is powerless to solve it. But there is, potentially, a fourth-dimensional intuitive faculty which can succeed where the others fail.

The feeling until now was one of living in time. Imperceptibly or suddenly this goes and he finds himself in a timeless condition, with the tick-tock of thoughts following one another absolutely stilled. It is temporary but it is also glorious.

The mystery of the atom has resolved itself into the mystery of light, which is now the greatest mystery of physics. Einstein demonstrated the dependence of time upon the position and speed of motion of an observer. He showed, too, the amazing consequence of placing the latter in a stream of light wherein if he moved with the same velocity as light, the observer would then possess no sense of the passage of time. If this happened, what sort of a sense would he possess? Einstein could not tell us, but the mystic who has conquered mind can. He will possess the sense of eternity. He will live in the eternal, in the Kingdom of Heaven.

When time is abolished, history is annulled. The man who emerges into this kind of consciousness finds the peace of eventless existence.

So long as the mental faculty operates in time, so long must it fail to cross the limits into timelessness.

When one experience is different from another, when consciousness flows through a series of changing episodes, successive thoughts, and varying pictures, our life is then within time. But when experience is continuously one and the same, when consciousness knows no past behind it and no future ahead of it, our life is then set free in eternity, the feeling of movement vanishes.

All that had happened in time and everyone that he had met in place, all events and persons that were external to him, ceased gently to exist. He found himself stranded on the shore of eternity--a happy and exalting experience.

Some find themselves fascinated by the prospect of infinitude in space providing the contrast to our narrowly limited condition, and by the thought of infinity beyond time, that is, timelessness liberating us from the momentary and transitory existence that is our human lot.

The emotions of the ego bind us to experiences in time. The stillness of the Overself is the truth that sets us free in timelessness.

The Overself is not in time and consequently has no history. It is, with no beginning and with no end. The intellect which flits from past to future, from one chronological event to another, finds such ideas strange, hard to comprehend, and puzzling.

Acts which are done in time cannot of themselves disclose the Timeless which transcends them, which ever was and ever shall be.

The events of time are continuous but the experience of timelessness is not. It simply is.

The sun and the clock make time move for us, but the mind can beat it into utter stillness.

Buddha: "He who conquers time is the greatest victor."

If in meditation he feels as if he had always been sitting there, it means he touched eternity, timelessness.

Caught inexorably in timeless being but knowing of the capture only after returning and lost to the world--what is this mystery of time?

When time stops, he feels that he has found his higher Self, that the ordinary everyday self is a shallow one. The other never changes, whereas the lower one changes during the years and with moods during the day.

We should look neither in the past nor in the present for what is to be found only in the Timeless.

The meaning of eternity reveals itself when the stillness suspends time.

We are always in the Timeless but the individuality may pass in and out of time.

The "now" of what has become the past, the "now" of what is to be the future, and the "now" of what is the present are all contained within time. The "now" of the World-Mind holds all these three together, simultaneously. But the "now" of divine Mind is not in time at all, but rather transcends it.

The eternal Now is not to be confused with the temporal Present. In the latter, "I " am the chief actor. In the former, "I" am acted upon. In the latter, the "I" stands in its own light and complains of the darkness. In the former, the "I" gets out of the way and that which is, is revealed.

That there is an insight where all times lie side by side--the past, the present, the future--the twentieth century b.c. and the twentieth century a.d., may seem impossible to the ordinary mind.

The fourth dimension is in everything existing in the three-dimensional space and at the same time exists in its own dimension. Now in the fourth is the same as here in the third dimensional world.

If reason, properly and metaphysically applied, tells us that time is not really real, experience tells us that the present moment holds the reality.

The Now which is existence in time is not the same as the NOW which is essence in timelessness.

The "now" of the ego and the "Now" of the enlightened man are two different things. For the latter's is the Eternal Now whereas the former's is fugitive and passing.

There is no moment in time which may not be opened out into the eternal Now.

Eternity is hidden in every moment; that which historically was and shall be is screened by the Now, which is infinitely timeless and timelessly infinite.

To live in the eternal NOW is to escape the traps of time, whether time past or time to come. It is the open door to Reality.

Whether in imaginative recollection of the past or in creative anticipation of the future, that which can transcend both--the Ever-peaceful Now--is grandly superior.

There is no feeling of succession of one instant by another--that is, of time--in this awareness of what IS.

To have mastered this knowledge, to have grasped the secret behind time, is to lift him out of the past, the future, and the fleeting present. With him is a benign companion, the ever-tranquil eternal Now.

Why does the actual present seem so much more real than the shadowy past or the distant future, although the first was not less real then, nor will the second be less when it is fulfilled? It is because consciousness, by means of which we know the present, in its final nature exists in a timeless NOW.

Time can be measured on a clock but the Infinite is measureless and unapproachable. Thought can push out to greater and greater magnitudes but still remain time-bound. The Eternal Now if it exists belongs to metaphysical and mystical worlds.

All time is in the Now. It is the circle of eternity which closes on itself.

"Moment to moment" simply means the eternal now.

The present, despite its constant changes of form, is always with us. Why? Because our innermost real being, without those changes, is always with us.

According to the ultimate standpoint of the relativity doctrine of the hidden teaching, past present and future are simultaneous and not continuous as is popularly believed. Consequently there is no fixed time between two events in a man's life or between epochs in a planet's life.

The concept of simultaneity defies our comprehension when applied to the World-Mind's holding of the World-Idea. How could our extremely limited finite intelligence do any justice to it? How could it take in all aspects of all things and of all happenings at once? It might be expanded beyond its present limits under special conditions but still come nowhere near such superhuman feats.

If our own consciousness seems bound by time to this brief life in the body, the glorious experience of the Eternal Now is the best witness to the existence of timelessness.

We live inside time; yet real life is outside time.

There is the real present but there is also the illusory present. To live in the past is to die, to live in the future is to dream, but to live in the real present is to be awake, enlightened.

Eternity is in this imperturbable Now, the All is in this Here.

There is really no progress from materiality to spirituality. There can be no shifting of the mind through time in the hope of finding eternity en route. The present moment is also the eternal now and, when properly understood, never changes.

An alert comprehension of the true meaning and precise inward significance of the present moment is the same as a comprehension of eternity, for the present slips and merges into eternity as the raindrop slips and merges into the ocean. Thus the transient is not only an inlet to the everlasting, but is in reality. Nothing begins, nothing ends.

This is the Timeless Now: the contemporary of all possible moments in past present and future. It is pure spirit. It is the true self behind and beyond man.

Time concepts, be they of the past or of the future, seem vague and hazy as they recoil into this Eternal Now. Is there then no sense of time left at all? In the practical mood, there is.

This basic Consciousness was never really in "before" or in "after." It was even then where it is now.

The present moment holds all past, all future within itself. The immediate experience contains the ultimate one, too.

The past can be known in the individual finite consciousness only as a present idea, but it is otherwise with the infinite mind. Yet when you say that all time is present time, that past present and future are coexistent, you can say this only at the price of eliminating all the sense-experience content of time. But as soon as you can do this, then the whole meaning of temporal existence changes completely and neither past nor future events can come into visibility of any kind. For everything that is individual and finite dies and disappears in the new temporal form.

Living with time

You can begin the quest by trying to get rid of your idea of time. This will be your honourable diploma, this will be your certified matriculation, when you succeed in turning time's illusion into the reality hidden behind it, into the Ever-Presence.

Time is woven inextricably into all our thinking and the only way to escape its domination is to escape the bondage of thought.

Metaphysics tells him that he has all the time there is. Misery prods him into doing something to get relief, and doing it quickly. This is a paradox.

We may live in the mere succession of events and so remain victims of time, or we may, while still noting them, raise our consciousness out of such involvement to a level so high as to become a mere spectator of them.

If he could bring himself to extend toward the future that same calmer attitude which he extends toward the past, he would be better able to avoid mistakes.

Science has immeasurably extended the time-scale which governs the human outlook on the life of the race and planet. The few thousand years of the biblical view have grown to millions of years, which science assigns to the past and future ages of man and his home. The sense of urgency will gradually be displaced as the implications of this view penetrate educated thinking.

Do what we will, we do not seem able to dispute the fact of the irresistible onward movement of time. It is therefore beyond the ordinary capacity of the human mind to accept the concept of a static time, of a dimension of existence wherein there is no passage of hours and years. Such a thing is as inconceivable as it is incomprehensible. Yet such is the surprising elasticity and adaptability of the mind that if only we frequently put the whole problem of time up for consideration and familiarize ourselves with the evidence for this concept, we shall eventually begin to experience strange flashes.

What every human being may bring within his own personal experience is the "stuff" out of which both past and future are made, the mind-essence from which their successive thought-structures are born; he may know the One, even if he may not know the many.

When we begin to understand the true nature of time we perforce revise our attitude towards it. We learn never to be in a hurry, to work without haste, and to build slowly but surely like corals.

His work is to keep still even though time is rushing by; the more it hurries the more firmly he is to remain outside the rushing current, implacably set in timelessness.

Time seems to ebb; he rests in the eternal Now, all haste gone, all urgent pressures stilled. He feels there is enough time to do all that has to be done, however slowly he moves to and through it.

Our best time occurs when we forget the passing of time. Here, for those who can appreciate it, is a clue to the nature of real happiness.

This indifference to the events of time will eat away his passion for activity, as the Ganges waters are eating away the walls of the great houses which rise from the riverside at Benares. The author of Om, that novel of Buddhistic mysticism, Talbot Mundy, perceptively wrote, "The consciousness of Wisdom is quiet, and in no haste."

A stateliness and stability inheres in the realization that time is illusory. It is as though a myriad worlds pass by, a million years are lived.

The man of forty years ago is now a stranger to me. What can I do but disapprove of a number of his bygone actions? Indeed they are unbelievable. Yet he too was myself at that time.

Where is the human being who is not really affected by the past, present, and future? It is easy to make the claim in talk or print, but even if this were granted, the effect of mass history (for example, a world war) must shape personal life even for the reputed "spiritually self-realized souls."

How infinitesimal is the period of a human lifetime against the background of Time itself!

If man is inwardly already godlike, pure Spirit, only the development and evolution which are gained from experience--that is, time--can bring him to conscious realization of the fact.

He reacts to reminders of a distant, unpleasant, or pleasant past as if it were emanating from some stranger.

Each past experience as it happened did so in the present. It was happening NOW. The same will be exactly true of each future one. This seems simple and true, yet it is really the result of a profounder analysis than people usually make of their human situation. Then if both past and future are not different from the present, we are always in the NOW. This is what is meant by timeless existence, by the illusory nature of time.

It is our innate inertia which keeps us set in habitual outlooks and thus keeps us victims of our own past experience. We copy again every day what we did before, what we thought and felt before. We live in both the conscious and the subconscious memories, desires, fears which time has accumulated for us, and that the ego has created to bind us to itself. We are ruled by compulsions, fixations, and neuroses--some of them not even known--that freeze us, preventing further real advancement. We rarely enter the day to gain really fresh experience, think really new thoughts, or assume really different attitudes. We are prisoners of time. This is because we are so ego-bound. The compulsion which makes us conform ourselves to dead yesterday's ideas and practices, concepts and habits, is an unreal one, an illusory one. In letting ourselves become victims of the past by letting it swallow up the present, we lose the tremendous meaning and tremendous opportunity which the present contains. Whereas the Overself speaks to us from tomorrow's intuitive understanding, the ego speaks to us through memory. Its past enslaves us, preventing a new and higher way of viewing life from being born.

But it is possible to arouse ourselves and to begin viewing life as it unfolds in the Eternal Present, the Now, with wholly fresh eyes. Every morning is like a new reincarnation into this world. It is a fresh chance to be ourselves, not merely echoes of our own past ideological fixations. Let us take it then for what it is and live each moment anew.

When a master mystic like Jesus tells men to refrain from being anxious about the morrow and to let today's evil be sufficient for today, he speaks out of his own consciousness of living in this Eternal Now. Consequently, he spoke not of periods involving twelve or twenty-four hours, but of pinpoints of a moment. He told them to live timelessly, to let the dead past bury itself. He is indeed a Christian, a Christ-self man, who lives cleanly and completely in the present--free, uncontrolled, and unconditioned by what he was, believed, or desired yesterday.

During the night when Gautama entered Buddhahood and the great revelation of the Good Law was made to him, he discovered that existence was from moment to moment, discontinuous. The Hindu sages deny this and assert it is continuous in the Self. The pity of it is that both are right. For what happens in every interval between two moments? We then live solely and exclusively in the Self, the Absolute, delivered from Relativity and Finitude.

Many "still" photographs make up a cinema film. The break between every pair of pictures is not reported to the conscious mind because fast movement outruns attention. The symbolism is interesting: see The Wisdom of the Overself, Chapter 14, seventh meditation, for a more detailed explanation. Whoever attempts this exercise should practise it with the eyes only slightly open.

Then why did not the Buddha finish his announcement and give the entire truth? For the same reason he carefully kept quiet on several other points which could disturb men dependent on religion--on its representatives and rites, its customs and dogmas, and especially its past--to the point of enslavement. He likened the human predicament to being in a burning house and directed attention to the urgent need, which was to get out now and thus get saved. Here is a key word: the Present, manipulated rightly, can open the practitioner's mind. Then the Timeless itself may take him out of time (he, the personal self, cannot do it), out of the now into the Eternal NOW. If it is no easily successful way there is always the long detour of other ways found by men.

We are victims of both the concept "time" and the feeling "time." They keep us captive to a limitation which is only one side of existence: there is another side wherein we could claim our freedom. But that would require a power to concentrate which cuts through the mesmeric suggestion holding us down and penetrates into the real Now. This is not a new dimension so much as it is above all dimensions. It is not a leaving-off of time so much as a discovery of the source from which time itself--chopped up and measurable as it is--is projected. That source is infinite being: it is measureless.

Not only will all men be saved in the course of time and series of reincarnations, but they are already saved in the timeless Now.

The magic word which gives this power is NOW. In its realization the eternal triumphs not only over the past and the future, but also over the present with its dismal circumstances. In pronouncing this word, life will no longer be a mere echo of what went on before, with the appalling consequences which lie visibly all around us, but a manifestation of something entirely new, something creative, as spirit is creative.

By suppressing the time-conscious element of his attention, he may unfold the timeless element of it.

Those moments when his mind is at its highest level and his character at its best also withdraw him from being embedded in the limited personal identity and focalized in its narrowness. It is this concentration--necessary though it be to pursue his individual life--which becomes so excessive and so exclusive that it screens off the so-called material world until it seems to be the only and real world. It is this too which keeps him in passing Time, in the fleeting Present, and hides the Eternal Present from him.

The Now is forever ours, forever with us, but it must be recognized, understood, accepted for the reality that it is, and not as the present time which it is not.

How much that seemed, say forty-five years ago, so important or so exciting, now in retrospect seems so trivial and flat and ordinary! It is said that time and circumstance have made this change of attitude, but why and how? The answer must be because we really live in the unchanging NOW--whether as worldling in spiritual ignorance, and hence only on the surface of self, things, and events, or as sage in spiritual knowledge in their inmost being.

To be free is to live, as far as possible, unconditioned by the past and unburdened by its memories. Equally is it to reject the future, to be without its anticipations, its hopes and its fears. But all this is only possible if one lives in the timeless Present, or what Krishnamurti calls "from moment to moment" and Eckhart "the eternal Now."

Living in the present moment means living according to truth and principle (but not according to hard rigid dogma) flexibly applied in the particular way required by the immediate situation in which you are. Such a way of living leaves you free, not ruled tyrannically by imposed regulations which may not at all suit the particular case.

The illumined mind must live in the eternal Now, which is not the same as the temporal Present. Because it is beyond the reach of events the Now is saturated with Peace. Because it is forever drifting on the surface of events the Present is agitated with change. Each of us can learn to live in the happy presence of this peace if he will prepare the way by (stoically) disciplining the thoughts he brings into every moment. He alone is responsible for them, he alone must have the hardihood to reject every one that reduces his stature to the little, time-bound, desire-filled ego.

The space in which the process of thinking takes place, is time. It could not exist without the dimension of time. If thought is ever transcended, time is transcended along with it. Such an achievement throws the mind into the pure present, the eternal now, "the presence of God" of all mystics.

In contemplating deeply Nature's beauty around one, as some of us have done, it is possible to slip into a stillness where we realize that there never was a past but always the NOW--the ever-present timeless Consciousness--all peace, all harmony; that there is no past--just the eternal. Where are the shadows of negativity then? They are non-existent! This can happen if we forget the self, with its narrowed viewpoint, and surrender to the impersonal. In that brief experience there is no conflict to trouble the mind.

When his consciousness comes to maturity, it comes out of the prison which time is. The past cannot now hold him there. The future can only be this new timelessness, so that he "takes no thought for the morrow."

The kind of eternal life which philosophy seeks involves a change of quality rather than of dimension. It seeks a better life rather than a longer one. Incidentally, it gets both.

Remembrance of the past, and especially attachment to it, supports the ego, maintains and preserves it. The quester must hold his memories loosely for, after all, this present life is only one of a string which in itself is only a dream.

Memories keep a man fastened to the old ways of life, however stupid they have proved themselves to be and however worthless their values have shown themselves. There is no way out of them except to put the destructive ones, the limiting ones, the useless ones, and the obstructive ones to the stake, burn them, and be done with them--and be done with them ash and all.

Attitudes and habits formed in earlier years or picked up from one's social heritage belong to the past and often hinder this living in the NOW. To become independent of them at any moment, if needful, without destroying their admitted usefulness at other times, is an art to be achieved.

A silly yet serious error made by beginners, intermediates, and proficients alike is to declare that because they live in the eternal "Now" they need not concern themselves with the future. They live, and want to live, only one day at a time. Consequently they throw prudence to the winds and forethought to the dogs. Such a course invites trouble and may even end in disaster, although it is true that both may be mitigated if they have honestly surrendered the ego to some extent. The mitigation will depend on, and be in one way proportionate to, the extent. In that case, what they refuse to do for themselves may be done by the Overself. But where there is only verbal surrender, or imaginary surrender, they will have to take the consequences of their shiftlessness.

Recollections of the desired or feared past snare you still further in the ego. Anticipation of a desired or feared future do the same. But by letting both go, living in the eternal Now, you weaken the ego.

The ever-moving nature of time is not allowed to oppress him into forgetfulness of the ever-present background of timelessness.

It is the way of those who withdraw from time's tyranny to cease looking forward to the future or backward to the past. They live from day to day--nay, from moment to moment. For theirs is a divine care-less-ness.

If he will take up, and hold firmly to, this standpoint of the Eternal Now, how many matters that trouble, afflict, and depress his mind would cease to do so! How trivial and transitory they would seem then!

To free himself from the bondage of time, he must free himself from the claims, the demands, the relationships, and the grievances of the past. He need do this only inwardly and mentally, of course. He is to come to the beginning of each single day as a new beginning, not letting the familiar, the routine, the habitual, the environmental, impose its old ties upon his thought, his faith, or his imagination.

This life, which is for most people an uneasy balance between hopes and fears, can be confronted in a different, more satisfactory way: and that is by a shift to the ever-present Mind behind the present moment.

All that memory belongs to time gone: it has served to make the present. Now must he travel on, must look for new developments, must liberate mind and heart from ways which no longer help, must create and invent what is now needed.

He begins to live as if he has enough time to do everything; more particularly he is not too busy to attend to spiritual concerns.

What we recollect of the past and what we expect of the future do not exist. But what we experience now does exist. It stands out uniquely from all this series of events in time. We can deal with it and in doing so we may affect the future.

This feeling of being in a dimension outside time confers a sense of being really alive. The past fades away and no longer hangs heavily over him. To help the birth of this new awareness Jesus advised: "Let the dead bury their dead." [Luke 9:60]

There are moments when he pauses during a walk and lets time drift away to the void.

We cannot renounce the world, much less the ego, unless we renounce also our own past memories which build it; they must go, the dead outgrown personality left to bury the dead pictures of bygone experiences. So doing we claim freedom, the possibility to lead a new, perhaps better life, even the possibility of being open to the grace of being born again.

The idea of the everlasting Now is a fascinating one, but it is something more than an idea alone, it is also a Reality. Whoever keeps on reflecting upon it with intense concentration and wholehearted absorption will discover its Reality, for he will dispel the illusion which time casts upon the mind.

A little enquiry shows that we never actually experience a past or a future, because we continually live in a now. This is all we experience, whether we are a child in age or an elderly person. This now is really out of time and it is certainly out of the past, because the moment you attempt to grasp the past it is not there, there is only the now. The same applies to the future. In that sense, existence in time is illusory. In the higher mystic experience there is complete stillness and no movements of the mind in thought, and there is also a lapse of the feeling of time and an entry into a purely timeless condition. This condition is a true condition for happiness, for it confers an indescribable peace of mind which is the only kind of happiness we can expect to experience on this earth.

Living in the eternal Now does not mean living a whole lifetime all at once; the finite human being could not do it.

A man must choose: does he wish to live in the moving instant or in the fixed eternal? Waiting for what the subsequent years will bring him, whether he waits in joy or in anxiety, is to be imprisoned by time. But remaining in the place where time pauses, the mind is to be kept serenely unrippled. He is to apply this attitude of detachment not only to objects but also to thoughts, not only to present possessions but also to past memories.

This does not mean that he is impervious to all the correction taught by experience, but that he accepts only those which truth bids him accept.

The page is closed; the more you try to return to it, the more you suffer. The old threads cannot be picked up again. Let them go. Accept the responsibility of the present, be willing to look at, and for, the new.

Memory of the past warps his attitude, anticipation of the future distorts it. He is unable to bring a genuinely straight mind to his problems.

We are so enmeshed in the past, in its obsessive memories, tendencies, and drives, that we tend to repeat and perpetuate its errors and stupidities.

Present time never stands still, it is always moving away. That is one reason why we are enjoined to "Be still," if we would know we are like God at base. In the mind's deep stillness we live neither in past memories nor future fears and hopes, nor in the moving present, but only in an emptiness which is the everlasting Now. Here alone we can remain in unbroken peace, paid for by being devoid of expectations and free from desires, cut off from attachments and above the day's agitations or oscillations.

Must we reject time and history in order to live in the eternal Now? Must we pretend in order to acquire the consciousness of Overself that this human drama is not being acted out by the "I"?

It takes no account of the years, rejects all sense of pressure from moving clockhands; time comes to a standstill. This is peace, this is detachment, call it what you like.

Every man is a victim of his own past until he awakens to this recognition--that at his best level he is divine in a timeless way, that there he may rise above this past and free himself from it.

To let go of his past is to let go of memories, with their various identities he has assumed.

We must look for eternity in the present moment now, and not in some far off afterlife. We must seek for infinity here, in this place, and not in a psychic world beyond the physical body.

He lives, as I once wrote, on the pinpoint of a moment. He has no clear idea of his next move forward and less of his probable position in the future generally.

We must refuse to chain ourselves either to the past or to the future by refusing to chain our thoughts to them. That is to say, we must learn to let them come to rest in the timeless Void.

The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.