Analytical Observations Concerning Time


I do not know whether advances in the accuracy of mathematical instruments have allowed scientists to calculate the duration of the time-lag between the perception of a supposed object and its completed conception and recognition by memory as whatever such object may be said to be. Each element in that process, whether visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, or tactile, is well-known, complicated, indeed elaborate, involving chemical changes in more than one set of cells, apart from the transmission of nerve-impulses, so that the final interpretation can only be a mnemonic structure in the psyche.

However considerable it may be, the importance of such duration is not of metaphysical interest, but merely the obvious fact that it must 'exist' and must, relatively speaking, be considerable. It must therefore follow from this that if duration has objective existence whatever we psychically regard as 'present' or 'the present' must necessarily be well and truly in the past by the time we have become aware of its recognition as what we are conditioned by memory to think that it is.

What conclusions should we draw from this?

1. That what we regard as 'the present' is in fact 'the past' when we know it.
2. There is, therefore, no 'present' that we can cognise as such:
3. In fact we are actually 'living' in 'the future' which we can never know as such until it is factually in 'the past'.

Should this be difficult to envisage, and since only the general circumstance is in question, the duration of the time-lag is unimportant, so that in order to envisage it easily we have only to imagine its duration, not as being too brief to be recognised by our senses but as lasting, let us say, for a familiar period such as ten minutes. So regarded, the situation should readily appear evident.

It seems to follow that our 'present', having passed, must be purely conceptual as a presence, in fact just a notion in mind, and can have no factual existence whatever: we can know no actual present.

It follows, also, that since in the hypothesis of objective duration we are already living in the 'future,' without being aware of it, nothing we imagine that we do in the already passed 'present' could have any effect whatever on the 'future' in which we are already living, since whatever we think we are doing in this passed 'present' must necessarily be 'done' in the unalterable past when we do it! If it be the result of conceptions themselves resulting from already past conditions, whatever we think we do volitionally can no longer affect anything.

It may now be evident that analysis reveals that the notion of an objective 'time', of duration as an existence independent of this which is conceiving it as such, makes nonsense of what we recognise as 'living'? If the perfect subjectivity of the notion of 'time' needed demonstration does not analysis readily reveal that so it must be?

Therefore is it not clear that we neither live in a 'past' nor in a 'future', and that our 'present' is an image in mind like that of the Equator? 'Time' is nothing objective to which we are subjected, but a measurement of our phenomenal extension in 'space', integrated with the sensorial experience of what ultimately we are.


It is by means of apparent extension in 'space' and a fourth directional measurement of that, experienced as duration, that 'we' are able to experience phenomenally what noumenally we are.

As long as we objectify our spatial and temporal measurements, regarding them as independent of ourselves, it should be evident that we could never recognise ourselves noumenally, since it is that spatio-temporal framework, supposedly external to ourselves, which - subjected to that objective servitude - psychically holds us in captivity. It is in fact to the concepts of spatial and temporal extension that what noumenally we are appears to be bound phenomenally - for it is on space-time that all phenomenality depends. This 'bondage' is conceptual, due to the objectivisation of what is subjective, thereby obscuring our noumenality.

Whether the required adjustment be difficult or easy, it must be evident that this is the essential reorientation necessary for release from what undoubtedly constitutes 'samsara' as opposed to 'nirvana', which - as we are taught - are not fundamentally either separate or different.

In what, then, does such reorientation consist, what is required in order to bring it about? The answer to this question seems to be that essentially we must cease to regard what conceptually we know as 'space' and 'time' as objective to what is conceiving them. That is to say that we are required to recognise that they are an aspect of ourselves, inseparable from whatever we are, and integral in our phenomenal manifestation. 'Space-time' must cease to be a concept of something external on which our appearance depends, and instead must be apperceived as not anything cognisable but as an aspect of what is cognising.

What is cognising? We are; nothing could there be to cognise, and what is cognising could not be a 'thing', i.e. an object of cognition. What we think of as 'space-time' is incognisable: it is a theoretical proposition, an hypothesis like the 'aether', psychically projected.

'Space-time' is a conception of what is so conceiving it in 'space-time', and as such it could not have any kind of factuality. As an element of phenomenalisation, of the elaboration of our objective universe in mind, it is what we are - phenomenalising what we are, as are all our sensorial perceptions. It is not something we perceive but an element of what is perceiving. 'Space-time' is nothing but we who are conceiving it.


All sensorial experience is experience of what we are, and cognition is our sixth sense. The sutras teach that sensorial experience, correctly understood, can lead directly to re-cognition of our noumenality and the Bodhisativas Avalokitesvara and Manjusri lauded the auditory sense as the simplest way and that which they themselves had employed. The Buddha acquiesced but emphasised that all the senses are equal in that respect and that, whichever was applied, all conformed as one in anuttara samyak sambhodi. Such, therefore, was the teaching accepted as that of the Buddha by the great Masters of Ch'an at the highest period of its development.

But what experience is or could be more constant than that of space-time, and what experience could lead more directly back to its noumenal source and origin?

If we apprehend space-time as being non-objective, as a phenomenal functioning of our noumenal integrality, can it fail to dis-appear as an object in mind? In so-doing can its phenomenal disappearance leave our phenomenal identity intact? That must be forever impossible. Wherever 'it' goes 'we' go with it - for whatever 'we' are it is. Objective extinction must comport subjective extinction, for no object can subsist without a subject, nor any subject without an object. Together their presence comports our presence as phenomenality, and together their absence must comport our phenomenal absence as noumenality. The presence of space-time is called 'samsara', its absence is called 'nirvana', and these are names for the positivity and negativity whose mutual negation is the only possible relative indication of what we could be.

Release from subjection to the concept of 'time' - of duration in spatial extension - is the ultimate release, and it must be total. As such it is inevitably the most direct, for it is im-mediate. All other approaches are indirect, for they are via some medium by means of which the bonds which bind us to duration are broken, whereas phenomenal - which is temporal - experience experienced as duration, but apperceived as experience of what we are as I, must annihilate instantly all objective experience of temporality.


The apparent 'present' is each moment of awareness, resulting in mnemonic activity: it occurs in mind only. By the time cognition has occurred it belongs to the state termed the 'past'.

The 'past' is mnemonic: it exists only in mind. It has passed and, temporally, is regarded as immutable although its mnemonic record varies and deteriorates.

The 'future' is the suppositious state in which events must be assumed to have occurred, if occurrence has taken place, such events being subsequently cognised as being in the 'present' although they must then necessarily have been in the 'past'.

Any movement that may have occurred can only have been mnemonic. Mind may have functioned in a manner that appears as sequence, but there has been no evidence of action exterior to the perceiving mind, or as having objective existence.


Therefore it would seem that no evidence can be adduced for the factual existence of the so-called 'passage of time', so that the notions of 'future', 'present', and 'past' are conceptual only, and should be recognised as a product of the process of relativity whereby the conceptual universe becomes apparent.

As such, 'time' may also be regarded as a measurement of the three dimensions of volume by means of which the appearance of form can occur extended in what is termed 'space', for without such measurement there could be no sequence in perception, and without sequential duration no object could appear to be perceived.

Perceiving is thus revealed as an apparently functional aspect of What-we-are as sentient beings. This - incidentally - is what the T'ang-dynasty Masters explained to us, using the Chinese equivalent of the Sanscrit term 'prajna'. This word represented to them an immanent or functional aspect of THIS or I, the symbol for which in Sanscrit was 'Dhyana' or 'Butatathata'. The Taoists, at the time of Guatama the Buddha, referred to these two aspects of the process of sentient manifestation as Tao and Te, and this mode of apprehension became the in-forming element of the Supreme Vehicle later represented by Ch'an.

Note: Buddhistically speaking, need it be pointed out that all experience - pain and pleasure, the famous 'suffering' (dukha) and its counterpart - could only be experienced in the sequence of duration, in the 'horizontal' sequence of a 'time'-dimension, and that without sequence, in the 'vertical' dimension which cuts the horizontal in every split-second (ksana) of the former, there could not be duration, so that equanimity alone can subsist therein intemporally?

The sequential direction of measurement must constitute samsaric or split-mind, whereas the measurement at right-angles thereto represents nirvanic or whole mind. Therefore when subjective intemporality (nirvana) replaces objective temporality (samsara) the latter having been found to have no factuality, equanimity (an end to 'suffering' and its counterpart) alone can obtain.

It may also be pointed out that, since we are demonstrably what 'Time' subjectively is, metaphysically whatever we may be must necessarily be intemporal.

* * *

All objectivisation is seeing things in a time-sequence. Every such act, therefore, is a phantasy, a composition in temporality, an image of the non-existent.
That surely is why the bound objectivise and those who objectivise are bound. That also is why those who are free do not objectivise, and why those who do not are free.

(© T.J. Gray, 1968)

* * * * *