Time and Spiritual Life
(Continued from previous issue)
pass through three states of consciousness daily: waking, dream, and deep
sleep. How do we experience time in these states?
We have five windows through which to experience the
external world in the waking state: ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose.
These sense organs are ever ready to come into contact with their
respective sense objects. We gain perceptual experiences from these
contacts that leave lasting impressions in our mind.
The evanescence of the external world brings out
vividly the hand of time. Months and seasons continually change. Where
there was once a body of water now there is a mountain. Where a famous
edifice once proudly stood, there is a deep lake with the building
submerged in its waters. On the personal level, comparing photographs
taken of us in babyhood, youth, middle age, and so on we are impressed by
the changes time has wrought on our body over the years. But
interestingly, our “I” has always remained the same.
In the waking state our thinking, feeling, and willing
influence our actions and determine the direction of our life. When we
have nothing worthwhile to do, we feel bored. When we have to do something
very unpleasant and not in tune with our nature, time hangs heavy for us
and the miserable experience seems to last forever. On the contrary, when
we do something we like, literally time flies.
Again, time slips away from us when we allow the mind
to drift. Suppose we sit and brood at 8 am, deciding what to do next: have
breakfast, watch TV, read the newspaper, take a shower, or what? After
some thirty minutes we realize that we have been wasting time. The mind
has taken us for a ride, making us idle away those thirty minutes. If only
we had managed our time well with a planned daily routine, the mind would
not have had a chance to hoodwink us into doing nothing but think about
what we could be doing.
According to Vedanta, dreams are caused by impressions
accumulated in our mind in the waking state, not only in this life but
also in earlier lives. Dream thoughts and actions do not leave impressions
in the mind. Reactions to them in the waking state, however, will. The
notion of time—and space—we have in the dream state is different from that
in the waking state. We cover unbelievable distances and traverse years
into the past and future in a dream that lasts maybe for a few minutes
according to our reckoning in the waking state. But the “I” that has dream
experiences is the very same “I” that has waking experiences.
The body and the mind are both inactive in deep sleep,
and the world does not exist for the person who is sleeping. In the
absence of any object to experience, his “I” also is apparently
non-existent. When he awakes from deep sleep, he describes his sleep
experience as “I slept happily and did not know anything then.” Being
detached from our body and mind in deep sleep, we escape the miseries
arising out of them: physical pain, stress, tension—to name a few. Time
does not exist in deep sleep. On waking up, we remember who we are and go
about our daily activities. That raises an important question: is there
any continuity at all from the time we pass into deep sleep until the time
we wake up?
(To be continued)
Meditation & Its Practices