Monday, April 14, 2008

The Results of Time

In "Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson," Gurdjieff indicates that the reason the universe was created was because time -- which he calls "the merciless heropass"--was eroding the place of existence of His Endlessness.

Put in other terms, the universe was created out of an effort to understand and counteract time. From this point of view, we might suppose that the arising of consciousness itself took place in order to perceive and work with time.

Physics claims that time, in some senses, does not exist, and Gurdjieff found agreement with this. He explained that time is, put in plain terms, nothing more than the results of all the interactions of everything everywhere. As such, time falls into a category perhaps better described as "cause and effect," which, as regular readers of this blog may know, Dogen placed a good deal of emphasis on. The universe is formed of, and founded on, cause and effect.

Or, if you will, the results of time.

I bring this subject up because the essential element of what is called "sleep" is a failure to perceive time accurately.

When we are asleep, we are unaware of time; time ceases to exist. Moments of awakening are a shock simply because we see that before they take place, we do not see ourselves as existing within time (or at all,) and while they take place, we see that we are existing within time.

So we might argue that the proposition of being awake is the difference between knowing we live within time and knowing we do not. There are hints in this direction contained in Gurdjieff's admonitions. After analyzing mankind's foibles for over a thousand pages in "Beelzebub," his final word on the matter is that the only thing which might help man to develop is a constant sense of his own mortality -- that is, that he lives within time, that his time is limited, and that he will die. The awareness of time thus becomes critical in the question of inner work.

I don't think that we can divorce the question of time and how we perceive it from any moment of our work. Either we live within time in the context of consciousness, or there is no consciousness, and there is no time.

The entire process of consciousness itself exists strictly to examine the nature of time. If you look at every enterprise that man engages in, it is about time in one way or another. All of the scientific disciplines are about time. Evolutionary biology is about how life experiences time and changes over time. Physics is the study of mass, and motion through time. Geology and paleontology, we hardly need mention, History, psychology, sociology: all work within the question of time. Every single discipline is built upon the examination of time.

It even comes down to our ordinary activity. Everything we do is done within the context of time. When people buy television sets, they are doing so so that they can use their time in a particular way. Time is so tangible it has a commodity in today's world. Everything seems to be speeding up: we talk about wasting time, using time, taking time, and not having time.

We are so immersed in the process of space and time that we take them for granted, instead of seeing that we are born here specifically to perceive and understand time within the context of the space we occupy.

I understand here that many will feel I am stating the obvious, but it is not obvious at all. The perception of time within the organism is not a given. Time becomes quite different when there is an organic connection, when sensation is available. Time perceived within the context of a moment of greater awareness is very different than time perceived when there is little or no awareness.

It is possible, it occurred to me this morning, that our very existence itself is predicated upon a universal effort to understand time. I'm suggesting that because the universe was created specifically to counteract the force of time, it would appear that the study of the force of time is essential. This is a work in progress; as we see in "Beelzebub," unforeseen consequences flowed from the creation of the universe, ultimately resulting in the need for the holy planet purgatory. This suggests that although His Endlessness studied time sufficiently to discover a mechanism to counteract its maleficent effects, even He was unable to understand the consequences of time in enough depth or detail to foresee some of the eventualities that arose.

The question of time is also related to the question about struggle and relationship. We might say that the universe was created as a struggle against time; on the other hand, we might also say that the relationship between time and the universe is intimate, because the universe exists within time and depends on time in order to defeat the actions of time.

This paradoxical situation would have delighted any Zen master.

I'll leave you to ponder this more on your own.

May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.


  1. And yet, when some reach a new, higher state of consciousness the experience afterwards is described by the ordinary consciousness as "timeless." How does this reconcile with your post?

  2. Good question.

    In the post I pointed out that Dogen, Gurdjieff, and modern physics all suggest that there is no actual "thing" called "time," as we generally refer to it, but, rather, "cause and effect."

    So, we might say, to fully experience existence within cause and effect would be to experience "without time."

    Forked tongue firmly in place and wagging, I'd tend to be a bit wary of anything as explained by the "ordinary consciousness." There is a universal tendency in spiritual work to claim that higher experiences are wordless... and then sling words about them in ten directions.

  3. There is not such thing as "Time"; nor "space". They are the Supreme Subjective, and are a part of "maya" (Sanskrit: illusion) and "Lila" (Sanskrit: the "play" of God).

    Physics and Astrophysics are a dog chasing it's own tail. There is only "Here", and "Now."

    Shanti, shanti, shanti...



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