A Buddhist Look at the Concept of Time
BUDDHISM AND OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH TIME
People have always had a vitriolic and vituperative relationship with time. Let’s look through a Buddhist's eyes at how our battle with time makes us unhappy and consider how we can look at time a different way.
In one way or another, we’re almost always thinking about time. We’re always thinking about what we have to do later today and what our schedule is for tomorrow. We’re always rushing and worrying about being on time. Our minds wander through time. This is called Not-being-In-The-Moment.
The truth is that most of our problems exist in the past or the future. We worry about something that may happen in the future. We feel guilt or anger or sadness about something that has happened in the past. And while its true that we do have bad experiences, that’s not what happens most of the time. We just dwell on those moments far too much.
We tend to look at time negatively, like an enemy. We talk about “the race against time”. We describe time like something we’re short of, as in “We’re out of time”, “There’s not enough time”, “I wish I had more time” or “Running out of time.” Or sometimes we have “too much time” and then we have to “kill time”. Time seems to always be against us. Why do we see it that way?
Thoreau said “You must live in the present and find your eternity in the moment.” We live in a time where growing financial demands and expectations cause us to look to the future more dreadfully. To the layoff which might be coming; to the money we hope to save for retirement; to the dollar tomorrow might bring. We’re dragged kicking and screaming out of the present. We don’t take the time to really savor the NOW. To relax, reflect and feel connected to ourselves.
Confucius spoke of the Lion King who took three steps and paused before striking. Between the hunt and the kill, there was a moment when the lion was in-the-moment, pausing to reflect on the experience before rushing to the conclusion. The lion wasn’t thinking about what he had to do tomorrow. His mind was totally in the moment.
Why can’t we savor the moment like the Lion King did? Why do we live in the past or the future? Why are we all too willing to be seduced away from our rightful and essential need to be ourselves in the moment? Is it possible to find happiness between ‘tick’ and ‘tock’? Between the bad memories of ‘tick’ or the dread of ‘tock’.
How many hours do we spend reliving bad experiences from yesterday or dreading the years ahead, despite the fact that we—all of us—have the instinctive knowledge that there is a better way. A way of greater sanity.
Two things that continually rob us of our happiness are negative thoughts of the past and future. Fear is only a prediction and anger is only a memory. “The greatest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor.” We can learn from the past and we can plan for the future but we must live in the present.
Some people work so hard to become successful but never take the time to enjoy the money that they struggled so many hours to earn. And what happens to the people who lose their money before they had a chance to savor having it? Too many people focus on getting something they don’t have yet take for granted what they have now. We all take the present for granted even though its all we have.
Shakyamuni Buddha was a wise man, possessed of a clarity that most of us lack. He taught people how to come to terms with the conditions they live in. He advised people to look deep within themselves and acknowledge the way in which their own actions hurt them. He knew that disregarding the precious moments that make up our lives, only diminishes us.
Buddha said “Life is ever changing, moment to moment. The only constant is change”. So if the world is constantly in flux, hurtling towards unpredictable possibilities, and since the past is irrevocably gone, then all we have for certain is NOW! So why not cherish what we have? Why not live in the moment?
It’s been said that the universe gives you what you need. Buddha might have said that we have all the time we need. We just need to learn to use it better and appreciate it more. Don’t wish it away or take it for granted. Enjoy here and enjoy now.
Shakespeare said “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself king of infinite space.” Well, we’re all bound by the constraints of time but if we learn to live in the moments, instead of the years; then we can come one step closer to that Buddha nature that lives between ‘Tick’ and ‘Tock’.