Daniel Goleman: What is the Buddhist understanding of Time? How can we relate our sense of the process of time to our experience of the present moment?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: In Buddhism, the concept of linear time, of time as a kind of container, is not accepted. Time itself, I think, is something quite weak. It depends on some physical basis, some specific thing. Apart from that thing it is difficult to pinpoint—to see time. Time is understood or conceived only in relation to a phenomenon or a process.

Daniel Goleman: Yet the passage of time seems very concrete—the past, the present, aging. The process of time seems very real. The Dalai Lama : This business of time is a difficult subject. There are several different explanations and theories about time; there is no one explanation in Buddhism. I feel there is a difference between time and the phenomena on which time is projected. Time can be spoken of only in relation to phenomena susceptible to change, which because they are susceptible to change are transitory and impermanent. “Impermanent” means there is a process. If there is no process of change, then one cannot conceive of time in the first place.

The question is whether it is possible to imagine an independent time which is not related to any particulars, any object that goes through change. In relation to such an object, we can talk about the past of that thing, its present state, and its future; but without relation to such particulars, it is very difficult to conceive of an instant of time totally independent of a particular basis.

– From “The Experience of Change,” Tricycle, Summer 1996

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