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A Buddhist Look at the Concept of Time

Updated on August 23, 2011


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’.


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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for such a very, very interesting read.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Thanks for the kind words, HH.

    • Singular Investor profile image

      Singular Investor 6 years ago from Oxford

      Excellent hub - I particularly like the Buddha's quote "there is the unborn, the uncreated, the unoriginated for if there was not the unborn, the uncreated, the unoriginated there would be no escape from the born, the created, the originated" - time is indeed just a concept. Some interesting hubs you've got here :-)

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 6 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Thanks, Singular Investor, for the thoughtful response and the interesting quote from the Buddha. I appreciate the input.

    • profile image

      10800 6 years ago

      The message the Buddha delivers on time, in my opinion, refers only to a process that is a means to an end and not the end itself. Living in the moment allows the individual to see the spaces in between the spaces.

      What does seeing between the spaces mean exactly? In a single day, according to Buddhism, there are 29.5 billion instances of arising and ceasing. With in a single moment of thought there are 81,000 instances of arising and ceasing. If the individual can focus on the moments and be mindful then it begins a study of ones self and thereby increases the practitioners wisdom. For example, walking down a road we see a car moving past us at 45mph; we may not be able to know how many people are in the car, exactly what type of car it is, what the people are doing in the car, whether they are male or female ect. If we can view the car in moments of time then we are able to extract much more information from it. If we are mindful of the moments and “live” in that moment then we can begin to learn about the things that are currently unaware to us.

      Time of course is a product of the Buddha nature as are all other phenomena. Consider for a moment that the universe is infinite and that our brains are incapable of perceiving infinity because our brains are only able to comprehend a finite amount of information. So instead of viewing the entire picture we are only able to see tiny pieces of the picture at any given moment. This of course gives rise to the notion of time; and existence for that matter. But our perceptual reality is not that of true reality.

      Time therefore is an illusion created by our delude thinking and by being mindful of the moments we can see the spaces in between and come to understand things previously unaware to us. So the Buddhist relationship with time is that time is, ultimately, an illusion. The only idea we have of time is superficially constructed by our finite brain perceiving an ultimate reality of infinity.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Your hub seems to say, savoy the moment,it is all we have. I can agree with that. I know sometimes I am thinking of work when I am at home, other times I am thinking of home when I am at work. This is foolish of me.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi ruffridyer; It's so easy to get caught up in worry and in thoughtss of the future. I worry about my money problems all the time. But worry is never helpful and we don't know what will happen tomorrow. All we can control is now! As the saying goes, "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That's why it's called the present."

      Thanks for reading and commenting;


    • cblack profile image

      cblack 5 years ago from a beach somewhere

      Thanks for the great hub. Buddhism has always been fascinating to me. You should check out Ekhart Tolle. His books are great and relate to a lot of the same subjects of time and the power of NOW.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi cblack; Glad you liked the hub. Thanks for the recommendations for Ekhart Tolle. I'll look into his work.


    • Brad2001 profile image

      Bradley Kaye 4 years ago from Lewiston, New York

      As a philosopher, I am reminded of Martin Heidegger's Being and Time. This hub seems prescient to the attempts that some philosophers make in attributing eastern ideas to Heidegger's thought process. Literally 'being-on-time' as the reification of temporality, which is a fabrication of an inauthentic mindset. Truth is that time can never 'be' because it is not an object at all, but rather, an experience OF being. Time changes as our experience of it changes. When we are bored time goes slowly, when we are excited it seems that our experience of time speeds up. Its a matter of perspective. Thanks for this hub! I enjoyed it immensely!

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Brad2001.

      Thanks for the thoughtful and intelligent response.


    • Shadow Jamesclow profile image

      James 4 years ago from Shadow Street

      Voted up, thanks I learned additional details about Buddhism. Buddhism interests me as it is like science. Time and space(motion) are relative to each other according to Einstein.

    • Robwrite profile image

      Rob 4 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

      Hi Shadow. Buddhism does have elements in common with quantum physics. It's sort of a mid-ground between pure religion and scientific theory.

      Thanks for reading,


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