Advaita Vision

Advaita for the 21st Century

Critical analysis of vedAnta paribhAShA Part III
Dr. K. Sadananda

Part III - Analysis of Time and Space

Here VP follows the mImAMsaka view of cognition of time. DA states that even though time is formless (also includes colorless, tasteless, soundless, etc – i.e. essentially beyond the field of five senses), it is perceived by the senses. This means that perception of 'this is a jar' entails 'I see a jar NOW', since 'is' denotes the present tense. [VP does not discuss the perception of space here. To include space, cognition should be 'I see a jar, NOW and HERE'.] VP states that according to the tenets of Vedanta, when there is continuous cognition of the same object, there is actually a sequence of successive cognitions of the object (no reference is given for this and I am not sure if this assumption is required – it seems like the digitization of an analogue signal). Each cognition depends on the present perception and not on the previous one. Hence, in the cognition 'I see the jar, NOW', the entailment of the present tense is not violated for the case of continuous cognitions of the same object. (i.e. The above conclusion can be arrived at without the need for ‘digitization’ of the continuous cognition).

From my understanding, the mImAMsaka view of time is not appropriate as a pramANa lakShaNa (defining pointer) for advaita. We can state some objections and discuss the time aspects later. It must be conceded that we have now the benefit of modern science, to which DA did not have access in his lifetime. Hence these objections are intended to arrive at correct definitions rather than as a criticism of VP.

1. In the cognition 'This is a jar', the ‘is’ denotes the existence aspect, which is beyond time, since existence can never cease to exist.

2. If 'is' denotes the present tense 'Now', the 'now' is also beyond the time concept, since ‘is’ is always 'now'. To define time we need two sequential cognitions involving 'now' and 'then' - 'then' involving memory.

3. At any moment, the senses can perceive only things progressing in NOW. Hence, the VP account of the tenets of Vedanta in terms of digitization of the continuous signal, although not necessary, can still be applicable not for defining time but for validating perception at any time.

4. Time cannot be perceived by the sense organs, since their fields of operation are fixed and do not include the past or the future. Senses operate only in 'NOW', which is beyond time. Therefore, the mImAMsaka view that sense organs do perceive time is fundamentally incorrect. The mind, in conjunction with memory, is required in order to define time, based on two sequential perceptions. The gap between two sequential perceptions by the same pramAtRRi (knower) is the time gap. If each perception is related to a vRRitti or thought in the mind, then two sequential thoughts are required to measure the gap.

When there are no thoughts in the mind, as in the deep sleep state, then there is no concept of time. In addition, if the mind does not look back but moves continuously on a single intense experience, I do not 'feel' time, since I am all the time in the 'now' state, throughout that continuous experience. (I recognize that we have a problem with words here. ‘Continuous’ is a concept of time – but, for the one who is riding on 'now', even the continuity is not recognized since the past is not recognized without bringing in memory). I ride on 'now' when I am fully engaged in some serious action or enjoying some happy hours, and lose track of time (the ‘track’ can only be followed with the memory). Such experiences, where one loses track of time, show that it is not just the sequence of thoughts alone that defines the time. The mind has to track back through previous and current thoughts or experiences in order to arrive at time. Since only past and present are experienced, mind can measure time with reference to these two. Future, of course, is never experienced. Sometimes one feels that time flies fast while at other times, particularly when one is suffering, time moves slowly, even though chronologically there is no change in pace. The implication is that cognition of time is not direct and immediate like perception. It is a mental projection.

We conclude, therefore, that time is not measured by the senses, as is assumed by the mImAMsaka-s , but by the mind. Inherently, it is subjective. This is the reason why I can have a transcendental experience when I am always in the ‘now’, since 'I am' is neither past nor future but is a continuous presence in the present. THE PRESENT ALONE IS ETERNAL. The present can be thought of as a thin line where the past meets the future. The gap can be made as small as possible – second, micro-second, nano-second – until no gap is left. When in the true present, there is really no time either – what is there is only NOW. There is, of course, also my presence since I am the one who is dividing these seconds. Hence, ‘present’ is just the presence of myself. That is the transcendental state since time is not there.

One can choose to define time by taking a discrete objectifiable process, such as the earth rotating around the sun, as a measure of time that everybody can agree by convention. But this is our subjective notion – there is no objective time apart from this. Even so-called objective events have to be measured or recorded by the mind. Experiments involving isolation of an individual for days in a tunnel, where no objectifiable reference is available, showed that a person loses the sense of chronological time. He comes to rely on his biological mechanisms to determine time. Due to the phase lag between the two, he slowly shifts from day to night and night to day, subjectively deciding when to sleep and when to get up, since there is no objectifiable reference for him.

We can formally define time as the gap between two sequential experiences. This is better than Einstein's definition where time is defined as two sequential events measured by an observer who does not change with the event. The ‘observer observing an event’ is actually an experience of the observer. When we introduce experience we are bringing subjectivity into the definition. When we have one single experience, as in the deep sleep state, we have no measure of time. Some philosophers assume that the sAkShi measures time in deep sleep state. From the advaita point of view, the sAkShi is pure sAkShi – self-illuminating consciousness – and is not involved in any activity. It does not do the job of illuminating anything, but things get illumined in its presence. It is like the Sun, which does not actively illumine any object, but objects are incidentally illumined in its light.

The conclusion we can draw from this analysis is that the time is measured by the mind by considering a past event and a present event as two sequential experiences. A continuous flow of vRRitti-s or thoughts does not itself guaranty the cognition of time. In a continuous flow of thoughts, the mind may be ‘riding on now'. 'Now' is beyond the time concept – the mind has to stop and look back in order to note the time.

Cognition of Space is a little tricky, since we have stereographic vision and stereo sound as a result of nature having provided us with two eyes and two ears that are separated. Even the sense of touch can feel spatial distribution if the sense signals come from spatially separated parts of the body. Simultaneous perception of spatially distributed objects provides the perception of space too. . Simultaneous perception of spatially distributed objects provides the perception of space too. It is again mental cognition and not direct sense perception. Each sense organ input is mono or unidirectional. Of course, beyond the sense and mind perceptions, Vedanta provides an independent means of knowledge in terms of the creation of space as the first of the five primordial elements. There is no mention of the creation of time, as far as I know. The fact remains that time is not measured by the senses, but is projected by the mind with the help of the memory. It is subjective.

Proceed to the next essay.

Other Essays in this Section (Perception):
01. Introduction Part 1. 28. Perception at the Individual Level.
02. Introduction Part 2. 29. Perception at the Cosmic Level.
03. Analysis of Time and Space. 30. Summary so far.
04. Knowledge is Continuous. 31. vAchArambhanaNaM.
05. Whatever you perceive is Brahman! 32. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.1.
06. Attributes and Substantive. 33. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.2.
07. Mechanics of Perception. 34. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.3.
08. Some Objections. 35. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.4.
09. Internal Perceptions. 36. Re-examination of the Perceptual Process Pt.5.
10. The Criteria for Cognition. 37. Nature of ‘ego’ and Self-realization.
11. Unity of limiting consciousness for perception. 38. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 1.
12. Internal Perceptions (cont.) 39. Erroneous Perceptions Pt. 2.
13. Some Clarifications Regarding Internal Perception. 40. Analysis of Error - Part 1: khyAti vAda-s.
14. Some Clarifications Regarding Character. 41. Analysis of error - Part 2: vedAnta paribhAshA analysis.
15. Question related to jAti [species]. 42. Analysis of error - Part 3: naiyAyika objection.
16. Relation between an attribute and its substantive. 43. Creation as Transformation.
17. brahman is the changeless substantive. 44. Questions on ‘Creation as Transformation’.
18. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 1). 45. Ontological Status of 'This'.
19. Perceptuality of Objects: Definition vindicated (part 2). 46. Two Layers of Ignorance.
20. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 1). 47. Conclusion of silver-nacre analysis.
21. Questions related to Perceptuality (part 2). 48. Perception in Dream.
22. Mind as Subject. 49. Negating false perception.
23. Self-realization. 50. Counterpositive.
24. Application to Illusions. 51. Summary of Mechanism of Perceptual Knowledge.
25. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 1). 52. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 1.
26. Determinate and indeterminate perceptions (part 2). 53. vyAvahArika vs. prAtibhAsika Pt. 2.
27. The position of vishiShTAdvaita.  
The next section in this series continues with the pramANa of anumAna (inference).

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