Why time does not exist
When we ask ourselves why we think time exists, most of us would say: because we see everything changing, always. And so it is: everything in and around us is constantly changing, from beginning until the end.
The question however is: is the reason for this perpetual change to be found outside the changing subject (caused by a phenomena called time) or is all change coming from inside the changing subject itself?
I don’t think that it is hard to see that the latter is correct. That which makes things change (the cycle of life) to a flower, a human being or an animal is set by the characteristics of that particular life’s form and not by an outer cause such as time. What we call ‘time’ is just a method for measuring the ‘perpetual change’.
Because of our need to measure this perpetual change we decided to divide the ‘cyclic changes’ such as seasons and day and night, into months, twenty-four hours, minutes etc. These well-known changes are caused by the ever-moving planetary positions within our solar system and not because there exists such a thing as ‘time’.
So, there are no minutes, but we decided that after counting 60 (seconds) we say that a minute has passed. Based on minutes we calculate hours, days, months, years, centuries etc.
In this way we can count the number of heartbeats per minute, years from birth to death and we even can calculate the number of years from the Big Bang until today.
But we also say: ‘it seems as if time has stood still (in that old village), nothing has changed`.
Actually there is only NOW – in which all that is manifested appeared, changes and disappears.
Because we ourselves are part of this process of change it might be difficult for us to grasp that we ourselves too are just changing in the eternal now. If we are able to look upon ourselves from outside our moving train (witnessing our life passing by), we will probably be able to see that the now always is and that we are passing through this eternal, unmoving, NOW.
As we know, Albert Einstein became famous because of his theory of relativity. In our context it is interesting to understand that Einstein studied the method of calculating time.
He discovered: a moment in time from my position need not necessarily to be the same from your position.
I do not know whether Einstein ever stated that time does not exist at all. As for me, he had better have said so!
It may be wise and good for a better understanding to give some more examples of the methods of measuring we use daily and which are also based on non-existing principles.
Distance: a centimeter, meter, kilometer, mile, etc. do not exist but we have agreed what emptiness we bridge to call it a meter.
Weight: a gram, ounce, kilo, ton, etc. do not exist, but again, we have agreed what heaviness we will call one kilo.
These calculating methods are of course most useful and indispensable in our daily life.
Because we are not aware that time does not exist, we do not feel the need to focus on the now in which our life takes place. However, it would have been much wiser if our ancestors (and we) had done so in the past. Read on to see why…
The eternal now
The infinite space of the universe extends to `the place where we live’. Even so: who, when and where we are, we have appeared and will disappear in the immutable reality of space, the void in which all changes take place.
The Greek scholars from the past called this void: ‘Being’ or the ‘Absolute’ because it refers to that which cannot be NOT, which is absolute.
What more can be said about this absolute: it is unchangeable (but all that appears in it changes constantly), it is omnipresent (there is no place where it is not) and it is timeless (no beginning, no change, no ending).
During history there have always been people who were able to see through daily life’s reality and who discovered the absolute reality of the eternal now (they dis-covered that which was covered before).
Surprisingly this discovery of the absolute turned out to be of the utmost importance for the one who had such an experience. An intense awareness of the eternal now can be considered as an existential experience. One realizes: my existence is fundamentally connected with the eternal now, the timeless.
In our culture and ‘time’ transcendental experiences like these are quite rare and distrusted by philosophers and psychologists, but in former days such experiences were considered as being mystical or religious. It has been like this for thousands of years, in different cultures and periods of time.
It is quite remarkable that people who live from the awareness of the absolute, always are pictured with a circle (aureole) around their head. A circle has no beginning and no end and in this way symbolizes the timeless, the eternal now.
It is obvious that artists in former ages, in different cultures and different times, never could have communicated how to depict the ‘knower of the absolute’.
It is amazing that ‘they who live from the timelessness’ always are presented with the same type of symbolism. See the saints and sages in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism.
With this reference to the great world religions (in Islam picturing of holy people is not permitted) the meaning of living from the eternal (the timelessness) gets an extra dimension. It is not just that ‘someone has occasionally seen through the illusion of time’ but it looks as if the understanding of the reality of the eternal is so impressive, that it may have been the beginning of religious thinking of mankind.
The meaning of the absolute within religion
Above I said: ‘An intense awareness of the eternal now can be considered as an existential experience. One realizes: my existence is fundamentally connected with the eternal now, the timeless`.
In former cultures these mystical experiences and their possible meaning were thoroughly investigated. As a result of this all major cultures concluded (although formulated by each in its own way): living from the awareness of the timeless, the absolute, gives people insight into the meaning of life and gives them real happiness (‘liberation’).
How this conclusion is to be found in each of the great world religions (excluding Islam in this context) will be shown in following examples:
Hinduism: the essence of the oldest of the great world religions is to be found in the Upanishads (written down in the period between 800 and 300 BC). These writings contain the quintessence of an age old, from generation to generation orally passed on spiritual tradition.
The topics covered run always to: That (the timeless, the absolute) is what you are in your innermost self (the mantra Tat Tvam Asi). Or: the absolute and the visible world are connected (Sat, the absolute and Ti, all that is, are connected, Yam. This became the mantra Satyam).
And also: real happiness for a human being is not to be found in temporary (changing) things, but only in the unchangeable, the timeless absolute. Consequently people are advised to conquer their need for temporary pleasures, on behalf of the liberating insight into the reality of the relationship with the eternal now, the absolute.
The original Hindu scriptures were written in the Sanskrit language. In this language the mystical visions of people from very long ago are presented to us with a timeless relevance.
Buddhism: like all great cultures, Hinduism too went through a period of relapse after a period of strength. When realization of the mystic reality of existence threatens to be replaced by believing in a transcendental power (God), the profound meaning of a on realty (the absolute) based spirituality gets lost and confusion arises.
This has been the reason for Buddhism to manifest. About 2500 years ago Prince Gautama realized the unity of the essence of man with the timeless, the absolute, and he became the Buddha (enlightened one).
In order to avoid confusion as mentioned in Hindu culture, he did not talk about the highest state of spiritual knowledge. He just called that state ‘Nirvana’. This word literally means ‘extinction’. This refers to the bright (motionless) state of self-awareness which remains when the restless thinking (the ego) is extinguished (meaning, came to rest).
With this living from the changeable (time) has evolved into living from the unchangeable (timelessness).
Christianity: Like Hinduism (and so Buddhism) has its roots in the distant past, Christianity is rooted in the old Jewish culture. Here too people were (are) aware of the ‘bond’ between God and man (that this bond applies to the Jews exclusively must be a ‘misunderstanding’).
The culture in which Jesus appeared was spiritually of a much lower level than the Hindu culture of those days, where the unity of the human soul and the absolute was (is) the main issue of the scriptures. Obviously Jesus himself was very well aware of this unity, as his words are telling us. He had to speak in parables however, because people in his days were not ready yet to understand profound metaphysical teachings. By speaking in parables he hoped to bring people to self-knowledge and eventually to the liberating insight into man’s relationship with the absolute, which he called father or God.
The best known sayings of the ‘son of God’ are: ‘I and the father are one’ and ‘the kingdom of heaven is within you’. These are very strong expressions of his vision of the unity of man and the timeless, the absolute.
It is not so that only the ancient Hindu sages, Buddha and Jesus fathomed the ‘secret of life’. They kindled the flame of insight and many dedicated their life to it, no doubt with all experiences of hardship and fulfillment belonging to the spiritual path. Probably it also has not been so that the non-existence of time has been exclusively taught in the spiritual education of people in the past. But we can be sure that the ‘saints’ in religious cultures have seen through the illusion of time (remember the symbol of the timeless, the aureole).
All religions have developed their own basic values and formed their own traditions. It is very disappointing however to see that religions in general failed to reach their common goal: to guide people toward the liberating insight into their relationship with that which became them: the timeless absolute (God). If this had been different, the world would be in a completely different situation.
What went wrong and which are the consequences?
The catastrophe of not knowing the timeless, the absolute
It goes wrong with the passing on of spiritual knowledge, when ‘the student wants to be the master’.
In ancient India the sages tried to prevent ‘spiritual pollution’ by sharing their knowledge only with initiates. In our Christian tradition something very amazing (‘catastrophic’) happened in about the year 300. The Christian way of life became ‘institutionalized’. This means that people were supposed to no longer try to understand and to follow Jesus in their own way, but a church organization was established which controls the Christian doctrines even today.
This means that the interpretation of the message of Jesus was left in the hands of people (always men) of who Christians had to accept had a better understanding of what Jesus wanted them to understand than they themselves and that they (the church) laid down conscientiously what they should believe and what not.
Impulses from people to deepen or to renew the official Christian doctrine were (are) not appreciated and for hundreds of years people even ended up at the stake when they deviated from the official doctrine (remember for instance the Cathars, who were exterminated to the last man).
In this way the teaching of Jesus was transformed into a belief and the incentive for people to obtain wisdom themselves was put out. Even worse: actually ‘believing’ became another word for ‘hoping’… Thus Christianity gives hope in exchange for loyalty to the doctrine.
What is this? A crime against humanity or a blessing for humanity?
The consequences of the omitting of the incentive for people to realize the timeless themselves are of an importance beyond our comprehension. Where religion should touch a man in the very depth of his being (in the euphoria of experiencing unity with the radiant and inexhaustible source of life) a superficial notion of profound teachings remains.
Not only can this lead to doubt and rejection, but also our deeply hidden ethical consciousness (which wants us to act and to be in harmony with the timeless which has become us) is not or insufficiently touched. Thus superficiality instead of spirituality became the foundation of our Christian society.
The disasters which this superficiality has brought mankind are easy to define. To name just a few: from crusades, religious persecution, slavery, imperialism and world wars (including the Holocaust), we come to the scourges of our time such as unbridled capitalism (‘culture of greed’) and the exploitation of our beautiful earth (resulting in climate change and energy shortage).
At the individual level, the lack of depth of our Christian culture leads to selfishness (insufficient empathy for our neighbors), stress (focus on the result rather than the correctness of an action), blurring of moral values (anything should be possible) and confusion (‘what is the meaning of my life’).
As western civilization based on Christianity has been dominant for centuries in many parts of the world (with misplaced arrogance versus a misunderstood eastern depth) the spiritual superficiality has spread widely.
Today the by Christianity initiated estrangement from our source (started by eliminating the search for the transcendental, the eternal now) seems not to reverse anymore. Even more, in recent years, by the ever developing communication technology, a new dimension has been added. Uncritically we led the younger generation believe that they need to be ‘connected anytime and anywhere with anybody’. It is clear that in particular commercial motives are behind this. No doubt the strategy of ‘consumer control’ will be continued (via the Google-glasses, cell phones and chip), creating a kind of robotic human beings. No free will and a little pill at each sign of displeasing behavior.
How to go on
The lack of the knowledge of the transcendental reality (the timeless that has become us and the entire world) is not felt by humans as such. We blame our ‘feelings of unease’ on various visible reasons such as our job, our relationships, society, etc. If it stays like this, our fate will stay in the hands of the dominating powers in the world (politics, economics). Will thus improve our situation? If in doubt, consider the following:
Wouldn’t it be great if the entire world should understand that what we call ‘time’ actually is our own process of change? A huge cosmic process happening in the eternal now!
Wouldn’t this awaken us and make us realize that all together and inspired by the eternal now, we can take the next step in our spiritual evolution?
This really would make a difference. People should strive to adapt to life as it should be, which means taking responsibility for the earth and its inhabitants.
The insight into the illusion of time focusses us on the NOW. With this we stand at the door of mystical knowledge about our origin and destiny. Remember what Jesus said? ‘Knock and thou shalt be opened’.
Elaborate a little?
If you really understand that time does not exist and that your life takes place in the eternal now, then focus on this eternal now daily and try to hold to that for a while (‘knocking on the door’). One day the door will open and you will see: ‘It’ is the same on both sides. God is immanent as well as transcendent…
The realization of the timeless (the absolute, reality) widely, could be the axis that sets a global spiritual awakening in motion. This will bring forth the best in people and give the so badly needed ‘wisdom’ a chance to transform the world.
Thus, my advice: don’t throw your watch away, but try to live from the eternal NOW…
First published in October of 2014
About the Author
Hans Meijer (Dutch, 1944) is a mystic who became aware of his oneness with the Absolute (Non-Duality) in his twenties. The first ten years after his ‘initiation’ he did not speak about it to anybody but struggled to integrate the divine knowledge in his daily life. He started a family and became an accountant. Meanwhile he studied the oriental (and western) wisdom and met many teachers. Finally he started lecturing for small groups of people. In the eighties he developed a complete course in yoga spirituality, which he taught in the Netherlands for over twenty years. He also gave many lectures and organized yoga seminars.
Hans emphasizes that spirituality should and could be integrated in worldly life. Even stronger: the lack of spiritual knowledge in the world in general is the reason for much (if not all) misery.
In 2000 Hans ended his wordly career and retired into the French Pyrenees. There he organized workshops and wrote his book `Initiation into Reality` (see http://www.initiationintoreality.com)