The illusion of time
Time is an illusion. It’s a very elaborate magic trick (Maya). Time appears to be flowing from past to present to future, but in reality, this is not the case. Modern Physics, Advaita Vedanta and (most importantly) your own experience proves time is an illusion. So how to understand the illusion of time? It’s actually surprisingly simple, just look at your own experience of time…
Question: Have I ever experienced the past?
Answer: No. What you experience is a memory of the past. And that memory of the past is experienced when? Now! In the present moment. Memory is just a thought (vrtti) in your mind, And when do you perceive your thought in your mind? Right now. So your memories of the past are actually experienced in the present, never in the past. Past is just a concept in your mind.
Question: But what about the experiences I actually had in the past. For example, I experienced my 15th birthday many years ago in the past. Therefore, I have experienced the past, right?
Answer: Not true. At the time of your 15th Birthday, when did you actually have that experience? Was it in the past? No, of course not. It was in the present, at that time. Therefore, even my experiences ‘in’ the past, all took place in the present at the time they occurred. And any memories of those experiences are also experienced in the present alone. Therefore you have never ever actually experienced the past in reality. All you have ever experienced is the present moment. Nothing more, nothing less. And this interestingly, has this experience of the present ever changed from being a baby tor right now? No, it is a changeless experience of the present.
Question: Have I ever experienced the future?
Answer: No, obviously you have not experienced the future, because it is in the future! By definition, future is that which has not been experienced yet. And by the time the future ‘comes into’ my experience, it is no longer the future – it is the present. Therefore no one has ever experienced the future. Only the present is experienced.
Question: So what do I experience?
Answer: You have only ever experienced 1 time from the first day of your birth up until now. And you will continue to experience that same 1 time always. What is that? The present moment. All experience occurs in the present, right now. Just sit for a few minutes and think about this, contemplate on what is being said here. Ask yourself right now – when am I having this experience of reading these words? Now. And the next experience in 10mins? Now. And the next one? Now. And the experience I had last week missing my train at the station? That was ‘now’ also, at that ‘time’.
What does this mean? Everything is now. Nothing exists other than ‘now’.There is no experiential evidence to establish the past or the future. In fact, even modern physicists support the Vedantic conclusion that there is no tangible, perceptual evidence to establish the existence of a past or future. The present moment is the only thing we can ever establish as real. What does that make time? An illusion, a cosmic and very brilliant trick of Maya and the mind. But it is possible to see through the trick in the manner described. As the Albert Einstein said: “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”. (For those interested in the modern physics view on the illusion of time, there is a nice beginners video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPXnUxhrTO4 )
What is this ‘now’-ness? Me. I am the experiencer of everything right now. I am the conscious being in which all time is experienced. In fact that now-ness and this consciousness (Atma) that I am are one and the same thing. All time exists within the present, and the present moment resolves into me (consciousness) alone. All time exists within myself, the conscious being. Time is a false superimposition upon the present moment consciousness. I, Atma, am free from time. I am birthless and deathless. In Sanskrit we say Atma is ‘Nitya’ (Now-ness, beyond time). Therefore meditate on the present moment and discover your true timeless Self.