The Theosophical Forum – April 1944

TIME — WHAT IS IT? — J. W. A. Croiset van Uchelen

"The Present," we read in The Secret Doctrine, "is the Child of the past; the future, the begotten of the present. And yet, O present moment! Knowest thou not that thou hast no parent, nor canst thou have a child; that thou art ever begetting but thyself? Before thou hast even begun to say "I am the progeny of the departed moment, the child of the past," thou hast become that past itself. Before thou utterest the last syllable, behold! Thou art no more the present, but verily the future. Thus, are the past, the present and the future, the ever-living trinity in One — the Mahamaya of the Absolute IS." (Vol. II, p. 446)

How often do we stop to consider the significance of this statement declaring the illusion of time? Many striking examples may illustrate the phantasmal nature of time. Imagine an observer with unlimited vision on a far distant star. Based on the speed with which light travels, this observer, let us say, would see the earth as it was at the time of the Egyptians. Then imagine this observer traveling towards the earth at a speed which, within one hour, would bring him to within a distance from where he would see the earth as it was eight minutes ago. This would be a distance of a hundred million miles, or from here to the sun. Thus, in the space of one hour, the entire history of the world from the time of the Egyptians up to the present would have unrolled before the vision of this observer. It makes little difference whether we imagine this moment to be an hour, or a second; beginning and end may coalesce but still enclose everything intermediate.

Analogically does not the panorama of an entire life unroll before the vision of the dying in but a fragment of time? Time is but a man-made mode of measuring. And in physics it has been found that methods may be greatly simplified if phenomena are referred to a set of four co-ordinates, three of space and one of time; four dimensions equipotent and inter-changeable. Time then becomes space, and space a mathematical abstraction where relationships may exist by virtue of the mind. The past is a dream of memory, the future a vision of a dream, while the present, declares The Secret Doctrine "is only a mathematical dividing line." This makes the present a laya-center of which we seemingly dispose. Paradoxically, however, the Now is eternal and ever present. We cannot contact the external world except in the present and it is only in the present that we actually have experience. The past re-collected, the future envisioned, are focussed in the Now. Therefore the present alone is ever existent, the eternal Now in which both past and future are absorbed. Then what is it that gives time its sense of reality? Is not this sense of necessity the result from the incessant movement of mind? For the sense of time and of motion are inseparable. Perhaps we might say that the intellect works like some machine which constantly dissevers our awareness into an unending series of separate thoughts and sensations. Or again as The Secret Doctrine says:

The sensation we have of the actuality of the division of "time" . . . comes from the blurring of that momentary glimpse ... of things that our senses give us. (Vol. I, p. 37)

Thus the intellect splits up, as it were, our interior sense of being, into comparatively minute measurements of years, months, days, etc. Therefore whatever the brain-mind comprehends, is grasped under this limitation and through this instrumentality of time. It is this which renders us prisoners of time, where in reality we are children of Eternity! For in reality, the disintegrated fragments must be wholly contained within the Self.

All sages and seers have stressed the illusory aspect of time. The Initiate in the Book of the Dead affirmed: "I am yesterday, today and tomorrow." "There shall be time no longer," the descending Angel in the tenth book of Revelation declares. And St. Augustine in his Confessions postulates that creation began not in time, but with time.

When time turns inward, like the snake upon itself, it becomes eternity. This is an ancient symbol. Is it not that when consciousness shall have turned backward upon itself, the divine, we shall have conquered the illusion of time?

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