O changeless in me,
From thou emerges the time,
And in thou does it dissolve.

What is time?

There is a simple story. A man from a rural area comes down to a big city. He wants to know the time and he doesn’t have a watch. Uninitiated in English, he asks a gentelman in his broken language, ‘What is Time?’ The gentleman turns around and apologises, ‘Sorry, I am a physicist. You need to ask a philosopher.’

Let physics measure time and leave the rest to philosophy.

How do we move in time?

Our general notion is that we move in time facing the future with our back towards the past. However, the correct way of looking at it is that we move in time facing the past with our back towards the future.

An analogy will be of a train. Our general notion is that we move in time as we if are sitting in a train with our face in the direction of train movement. One by one, things approach us and go past us. However, the correct way to look at our movement in time is to imagine that we sit in the train with our face in the direction opposite to movement of the train. We don’t know what’s approaching us from behind. One by one things come from our behind.

So, the events in our life come from behind and move in front. We don’t see them coming, we see them happening and then drifting away in the distant horizon.

Does Time Exist?

We all exist at a point of time. The entire universe exists at a point of time. If we consider that time is a straight line, we all exist at one point of it and that point keeps moving on the line.

This is an important consideration that the entire universe exists only at a point of time.

So, time is apparently a straight line on which only one point exists. By definition, a line requires two points (at the least). But because time is only one point (which is also referred to as NOW), it is not a straight line. So, time is apparently a straight line but really only a point.

How long is this point? I read somewhere that some physicists wanted to find out if time was continuous or discreet. They could go upto 1 Femtosecond (1 femtosecond is to 1 second what 1 second is to 32 million years). Even at 1 Femtosecond, time was found to be continuous. So, this point of time (or NOW) is astonishingly small. In measuring the length of NOW, we are limited by the granularity that we can measure upto and not by the length of NOW.

Moreover, a point, by definition, has zero radius. That also means that time does not exist. Time is a point, a point has 0 radius and exists only as a concept and not as a reality. Hence, time also exists only as a concept and not as a reality.

But we know that time exist!

Yes, we know that time exists. And we know that it exists in a straight line. So, where are the other points apart from NOW?

The other points of this straight line are supplied by the mind from the memory. We remember that there was a NOW and there is a NOW and when you connect the old NOW with the latest NOW, you get a straight line. In fact, you can also connect old NOW1 with old NOW2 and again get a straight line.

Very well. We have come quite far now. We have entered the domain of philosophy.

Time exists but only in the mind.

Time is change OR change is time?

In normal course of life, we see everything outside our mind and mind to be only a perceiver of what exists outside. But to understand the real nature of time, I urge you to shut yourself from the outside world and look completely at your mind. The conclusion I am leading you to is bold. But that is the nature of the enquiry. A bold enquiry is likely to lead one to a bold conclusion. Please be mentally prepared for anything.

We know that the entire world (as we know it) exists in our mind. If I take away the mind from you, the world will not exist for you. It’s an insensible statement as I can’t take away the mind from you but anyways. When you are in deep sleep, your mind is switched off and the world does not exist for you (oh, it does but it kind of does not exist).

So, the entire world exists in our mind which makes it neccessary to go to our mind to see how time comes into the picture.

There are two peculiar things about our mind. I have the conciousness which makes me aware of the NOW. My conciousness tells me that I am experiencing some event.

I am standing on a platform. A train approaches the platform, stops there for a while, and then leaves. My mind has kept the memory for the same. Memory of an event is nothing but non-abandonment of the impression that a particular event made on my mind.

I see the platform empty. I see the train coming. I see the train stopping. I see the passengers boarding the train. I see the train leaving. While all this is going on outside, what is happening to my mind? Observing all these events is modifying my mind (or in other words, it is changing the state of my mind). And these modifications of my mind leave an impression in the form of memory.

So, I have two things to deal with here (which form the time), one is the memory and the other is conciousness of NOW. Memory is non-abandonment of the impressions that past experiences have left on my mind. And conciousness of NOW is unexplainable. It’s just a feeling that I am. Something that gives me constancy while all this time is apparently flying away.

For a moment, forget that there is something called time. Let’s assume that there is nothing called time and it is all a misconception.

Your first discomfort will be at the fact that you know there are some memories that your mind has. How can those memories be explained if there was nothing called time? you know that things are changing in front of your eyes. How can that be explained if there was no time?

Even if I lock you up in a room with all white walls with uniform and constant light around you. You remain locked in that room for 3 days and nothing changes in the room for those 3 days. Let’s say your body was made numb and you didn’t even move your body at all. You will still swear by time because you’ll say that several thoughts crossed your mind and you remember that fact and hence there is time. You can even tell me that approximately 3 days have passed since the time you got locked up in the room.

Last one was an important example. You didn’t see any change happening outside your mind. The memories are of the changes of state of your mind. Even if things change outside your mind, what is recorded in your mind is the pattern of changes in the state of your mind.

In order to rationalize the changes in the state of our mind, we human beings develop the notion of time. If we didn’t have the notion of time, how would our rational mind explain all these changes in the states of our mind?

Now, let’s say while I kept you locked in the room for 3 days, I also made sure that you are in coma (or some such similar state). In that case, when you come out of coma, you’ll have no sense how much time has passed in between. Because the state of your mind didn’t change and it was completely switched off, you’ll not know that time passed while you were lying on a bed. This is not an uncommon situation. Many times, people will fall unconcious and they wouldn’t know how long they remained unconcious.

So, when the state of your mind doesn’t change, the time doesn’t move for you OR your mind doesn’t need the notion of time OR you exist outside time.

It leads us to a very important conclusion. Time does not create change, change creates time. It is not time that causes changes. It is the change that gives birth to notion of time.

And what is a change but the modification of our mind. A tree grows outside my house. I see it growing everyday. The tree is outside my mind but the experience is inside my mind. In fact, the tree is not at all outside my mind; it is pretty much there in mind only. Because if the tree wasn’t there in my mind, how would I know that there is a tree?

NOW Is Beyond Time

I don’t want to leave you hanging in the air without completing the story about where does time come from and where does change come from. If you are uninitiated in the theory of non-dualism, you might feel lost here. From my side, I’ll make a sincere attempt to keep things simple.

If I am moving at speed x in direction y and a ball is moving parellel to me with speed x in direction y, I would perceive the ball to be motionless.

Similarly, in order to perceive the movement of mind, this movement must be against a background that has not movement. This changeless background is provided by the Self. Not myself but but the Self. The Self is eternal and changeless.

The movement of mind proves that it is backed by the Self that provides a changeless background. This Self is called Brahman in Vedas.

While you are reading this, your mind is moving from word to word, from line to line. Its state is constantly changing. However, at the same time, you still know (for sure) that it is your mind whose state is changing. There is something that gives you constancy. There is something that tells you you are.

Usually, I would associate myself with my body or the tendencies of my mind. But if I stop saying that I am this body, or I am this mind or in general if I stop saying I am this or I am that, the only thing I would remain is ‘I am’.

This feeling of ‘I am’ is the only constant thing about me and you. This feeling of ‘I am’ is the constant background on which mind operates. This feeling of ‘I am’ is the feeling of NOW.

The feeling of NOW is the only constant thing about your whole existence.

We have a tendency to look at NOW as something variable. We see NOW as that point of time which is constantly shifting its location on the hypothetical line of time.

But come to think of it, that NOW is the only constant thing we have got.

You are travelling in a train and looking at the land. You get misled to believe that train is stationary and the earth is moving. Step out of the train and you’ll realize that not only the train is moving on the land but also, the land is beyond train. Land encompasses the entire run of train.

NOW is the land and our mind is the train. We identify ourselves with the mind and hence feel that NOW is constantly moving. Stop identifying with the mind (I know it’s not easy even to conceive as an option), and you would see that NOW is constant and beyond time.

NOW encompasses time.

O changeless in me,
From thou emerges the time,
And in thou does it dissolve.