[Advaita-l] perception of time

kuntimaddi sadananda kuntimaddisada at yahoo.com
Wed Jul 12 10:58:33 EDT 2017

PraNAms to all.
There was some discussion on the perception based on Vedanta Paribhasha (VP). There is a question of the perception of time and continuous perception. Several years ago (around 2010) I was studying VP and posted series of articles on 'How Knowledge Takes Place'. Shree Dennis Waite had edited the writings.  The discussion of time and the perception of time came at that time, and the writing below was my understanding of the perception of time.
I am aware that the traditionalists may not appreciate it but the question of time is important even from a scientific point. The fourth dimension represented by time is generally designated by square root i - meaning it is imaginary. Creation does not mention about time - even though in the sequential creation - akaasha ..vaayuH ..etc time may be implied. On the simultaneous creation as in the dream case - sequence is not involved - although subsequent dream involves time as recognized by the dream subject. However, the dream time scale differs from the waker's time scale, implying futher that it is subjective or more accurately inference by the mind.
Anyway, I am posting here my old post, which was based on my understanding at that time, with one leg on Science and one leg in Vedanta. The topic is open for discussion in terms of how we really perceive time. -----------------------
Cognition of time: Here VP follows the Meemaansaka’s view of cognition of time.  DA states   that even though time is formless (also includes colorless, tasteless, soundless, etc - essentially beyond the field of five senses), it is perceived by the senses, in the sense that perception of ‘this is a jar’ involves ‘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 tenants 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, also not sure if this assumption is required –looks like digitization of an analog signal). Each cognition depends on the present perception and not on the previous one. Hence in the cognition, ‘I see the jar, NOW’ involving the perception of the present tense is not violated for the case of continuous cognitions of the same object. (The above conclusion can be arrived at without the need of digitization of the continuous cognition).


>From my understanding, Meemamsaka’s view of time is not appropriate as pramaaNa Lakshana for Advaita. We can state few objections and discuss the time aspects later. I must say that we have now the benefit of modern science which DA did not have access at his time. Hence these objections are intended to arrive at correct definitions rather than any criticism of VP.


1. In the cognition ‘This is a jar’, the is-ness 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 it ever remains ‘now’. To define time we need two sequential cognitions involving ‘now’ and ‘then’ – ‘then’ involving memory.

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

4. Time cannot be perceived by the sense organs, as their fields of operation is fixed and they do not include the past or the future as senses operate only in ‘NOW’, which is beyond time. Therefore Meemaansaka’s view that sense organs perceive the time is fundamentally not correct. Mind with memory is required to define time, based on two sequential perceptions.  The gap between the two sequential perceptions by the same pramaata (knower) is the time gap. If each perception is related to vRitti or thought in the mind, two sequential thoughts are required to measure the gap. When there are no thoughts in the mind as in 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 ‘now’ state, in that continuous experience. (I recognize that we have a problem with words here. Continuous is a concept of time –but the one who is riding on ‘now’ even the continuity is also 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 loose track of time (track can be followed only with the memory). These experiences, where one loses the track of time, show that it is not just the sequence of thoughts alone that defines the time.  The mind has to track back previous and the current thoughts or experiences to arrive at time.  Since only past and present are experienced, the mind can measure the time with reference to these two.  Future, of course, is never experienced.  Sometimes one feels that time flies fast while other times, particularly when one is suffering, time moves slow, even though chronologically there is no change in pace. The implication is cognition of time is not direct and immediate like perception. It is a mental projection.


We conclude, therefore, that time is not measured by senses as assumed by Meemansakas, but by the mind.  Inherently, it is subjective.  This is the reason why I can have a transcendental experience when I am always in Now –since ‘I am’ is neither past nor future but is a continuous presence in the present. PRESENT ALONE IS ETERNAL.  The present can be thought of a thin line where the past meets the future.  The gap can be made as small as possible – second – microsecond- nano second .. till no gap is left, where in the true present there is really no time either – what is there is only NOW. There is, of course, 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 make an objective definition for a time by taking a discrete objectifiable process, such as earth rotating around itself or around the sun, as a measure of time that everybody can agree by convention. We are making a subjective notion to objectifiable measure by convention, as chronological time. There is no objective time otherwise.  Even the 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 to compare with showed that a person looses the chronological time. He slowly relays 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, and subjectively determines when to sleep and when to get up, since there is no objectifiable reference for him.


We can formally define time as a 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.  Observer observing an event is actually experienced by the observer – His mind should observe the events. When we bring experience we are introducing subjectivity in the definition.  When we have one single experience as in deep sleep state, we have no measure of time. Some philosophers assume that saakshii measures the time in deep sleep state. From the Advaita point, saakshii is pure saakshii, self-illuminating consciousness and is not involved in any activity. It does not do the job of even illuminating anything, but things get illumined in its presence. It is like the Sun who does not really illumine any object, but objects get illumined in its light. 

The conclusion we can draw from this analysis is that the time is measured by the mind by bringing past event and present event as two sequential experiences.  The continuous flow of vRittis or thoughts itself does not guaranty the cognition of time. In the continuous flow of thoughts, Mind may be riding at any instance on ‘now’.  ‘Now’ is beyond the time concept. The mind has to stop and look back to note the time.  Cognition of Space is little tricky since we have a stereographic vision and stereo sound provided by nature by having two eyes and two ears that are separated. Even the sense of touch can feel the spatial distribution if the sense signals come from spatially separated different parts of the body. Simultaneous perception of spatially distributed objects provides the perception of space too. It is again mental cognition and not directly by senses. 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 creation of space as first of the five primordial elements that are created. There is no mention of the creation of time, as for as I know. The fact remains that time is not measured by senses, and is projected by the mind requiring the memory. It is subjective. 
Hari Om!Sadananda-

More information about the Advaita-l mailing list