Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 20 March 2011





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Government Gazette

The present moment is timeless

Most of us live in the past glorifying or just remembering what happened some years ago. Some of us seem to be living in the future building castles in the air. Only a very few people live in the present. To the ego the past and the future are more important than the present.

We want to keep the past alive because we think if there is no past there is no life. Those who project themselves into the future also think that everything will be all right in times to come.

So, both these categories ignore the present moment. Living in the present moment is difficult because you cannot fool yourself by daydreams and thinking of past events which cannot be relived.

Most philosophers such as J. Krishnamurti and Ekhart Tolle have emphasised that the present moment is timeless. The human mind does not want to live in a timeless present so it loves to cling to the past or the future. The attachment to the past and the future is so strong that we find it difficult to separate time and the mind easily.

Unless you train your mind to accept the present, you will always stray away from it.

If you think in a philosophical way, nothing ever happened in the past and nothing will ever happen in the future. Everything happens in the present moment. As Ekhart Tolle says, your past is a trace of a former present. On the other hand, the future is an imaginary present.

In fact, you think of the past and future when you are living in the present. If you stretch the argument a little further, nobody can think in the past or future. You can bring back past events to your memory and speculate on future events. Whether such events will take place is another matter.

As stated earlier, the present moment is timeless but it is an intensely alive state. When a moment is free of time, it is free of problems and free of thinking. From time immemorial, most spiritual leaders have emphasised the importance of the present moment over the past and the future.

For instance, the late Indian sage J. Krishnamurti says, "Time is a deceiver as it doesn't do a thing to help us bring about a change in ourselves. Time is a movement which man has divided into past, present and future and as long as he divides it, he will always be in conflict."

Although we think time is important, inanimate objects such as trees and flowers are not anxious about the past or future. They live in the present moment. Trees give us shade, fruits and timber without expecting anything in return. Flowers make us happy with their beautiful colours and fragrance not thinking of their ephemeral existence.

The great Zen master Rinzai used to ask his students, "What at this moment, is lacking?" without expecting any answer. In fact, the Zen master knew that the present moment had everything! Stowe put it succinctly, "The past, the present and the future are really one - they are TODAY."

If you go deep into the Zen tradition, you naturally come up with, "If not now, when?" Even Sufis say, "Past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire."

That is more powerful than what the Zen masters have said. All this means that we should focus our attention on the present moment which is more precious than the past that is dead and the future that is uncertain. Once the Buddha stopped on his way to admire the beauty of a flower.

Although there were many other bhikkhus following him only Ven. Kasyapa understood why the Enlightened One was looking at a flower. The Buddha knew the importance of the present moment and its relationship to the flower.

Sometimes, the belief in a future heaven on earth can lead to a present hell. Karl Marx had a dream that we could create a classless society through Communism. He did it with a good intention.

However, those who took upon themselves the task of ushering in a classless society killed more than 50 million people in the name of an imaginary classless society. The Communist leaders' dream of bringing about a heaven on earth has not been fulfilled and the countries that toyed with the novel idea are drifting away from their dream world.

The importance of the present moment can be felt immediately when you are in a critical situation. When a man meets with an accident, we rush him to the emergency ward without consulting anybody.

Similarly, when you are in love, you value every moment you spend with your loved one. During that short period, you do not encounter any problems because the present moment is timeless and not conducive to such situations. If you train yourself to live in the present moment, you will never face unhappiness and your life will begin to flow with joy and ease.

Madame Chiang Kai-Shek said, "We live in the present, we dream of the future and we learn eternal truths from the past." An inscription of an ancient sun dial says,"

"Time was is past - thou canst it not recall.
Time is thou hast - employ thy portion small.
Time future is not, and may never be.
Time present is the only time for thee!"


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