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E=MC² is a formula we are probably all familiar with. This is Einstein’s ‘simple’ equation to explain the basics of the physical universe, his Special Relativity theory. It is composed of just 4 characters and one of those characters brings with it Time.

This Time is in the form of speed, the speed of an object, the rate of physical change.

The ‘C’ represents something very fast, the speed of Light, which is then squared.

We may not know much about this theory, but we still can draw from this simple equation that Time is very important, it is part of what holds our concrete universe together and also the key to its destruction, as this formulae led eventually in the scientific world to the manufacture of the Atom Bomb.

So Time is of great importance in many ways, but I would like to just pick out one aspect. That is the rate of change. Why is a rapid change different to a slow and gradual change? Even when the outcome maybe the same?

This variation in tempo happens in many areas of our world, and we respond differently. Sometimes we can accept or would welcome rapid change, such as when we are waiting in queue. Sometimes we would like things to slowdown, such as when we are enjoying a quiet moment.

Sometimes the rate of change is within our control and sometimes it is outside of our control.

The Early Buddhists had a large, i.e. long or cosmic sense of time. They talked in terms of ‘world-Systems’ and aeons. The time that it takes for a universe to appear and then disappear. Time enough for the teachings of a Buddha to completely disappear, even the thought of ‘Buddha’ to be totally forgotten.

This long time span is talked about in a way that is maybe easier for us to think about; the amount of time it would take for a mountain to be worn away if it was brushed with a soft cloth once a year.

In our modern scientific cosmology it could be the time between ‘Big Bangs’, that’s over 100 billion years, which is a bit more difficult to get your head around.

This early Buddhist view of the Universe is cyclic and never ending. So although the current Buddha will be forgotten, another Buddha will arise once that has happened.

But we have another way of looking at time. We have our own personal view or perception of time, and this changes as we change, moment to moment.

We can use the Buddhist idea of the Five Niyamas to understand our relationship to time. I started this article talking about atomic time, or clock time. We can equate this form of time with the First Niyama, Utu Niyama or the in-organic form of conditionality. We can also relate different categories of Time to the other four Niyamas.

But as time is limited, both yours and mine, I will only look at time in relation to the Karma Niyama.

From the name you can probably guess that this Niyama is tangled up with how we create our karma, that is the conscious decisions about how we lead our life and the consequences that come about because of the decisions and actions we take in this life.

Lets start by looking at all the time that we appear to have available to us. This is from the moment we are born to the moment we die. Sometime this particular period can seem like forever, especially when we are at the start of the time period when we are young, and sometimes it can seem that there is very little time left.

But all of this particular time is important to us as Buddhists. It is the time period in which we can become Enlightened. It is the Time when we can, should we choose to do so, work on ourselves and make good progress on our spiritual path.

Some of you reading this will also realise that this period is the first of the Six Bardos. The Six Bardos is a Spiritual Death contemplation and meditation practice that comes from Padmasambhava, and is associated with the so called ‘Tibetan Book of the Dead’. This practice is often categorised as an Insight Practice and is one of such meditations that we can practice as an Order Member. Learning this contemplation is also an important step in the training to become an Order Member.

The last line in the section describing the first Bardo makes it clear that time is precious:

Once that the human form has been attained,
May there be no time in which to idle it away.”

It would definitely take me a long time to talk about all that might happen in a human life span. So I would just like to mention only a few of special ways in which we may perceive time. Where our perception of time is dependant on the current experience and how we react to that current experience.

The first of these perceptions of time is during meditation.

Meditation has its own place in the Six Bardos, it is the third Bardo. During Meditation, Time can take on very strange properties. Sometimes time can stretch out such that our mind can hardly bear it, it is just torture. We just long for the bell to go and the meditation to be over. Our mind seems to lock up with boredom and our consciousness is just one of Dukkha. But this is such a great Time for learning about the nature of our own current consciousness. It craves stimulation, it seeks time wasting activities so that it doesn’t have to look at itself, it doesn’t want to delve deep into the nature of this thing that we call consciousness.

The opposite can also happen, and it sometimes seems like only a moment ago that we began our meditation and much has happened, we have worked through our hindrances, set our minds firmly on the breath and counting, and stayed focused. We appear to have stepped outside of Time, and entered a different form of Time, the Time of Samadhi.

But the most important time is yet to come, the Time when we ‘Just Sit’ after our meditation. It doesn’t matter whether it appeared to be a good or bad meditation. This the time when the our mind assesses and comes to terms with what has just happened. The meditation experience becomes part of our consciousness, the lessons learnt become part of who we are, become part of the new person that gets up from the cushion. A level of integration just happens.

The next perception of time, is that in every moment we experience. This is the time it takes to move from one experience to another. Sometime this can be slow and controlled but often it can be quick and definitely out of our control. This is the Time that passes as we move between what we might call emotional reactions; moving quickly along a well worn trail, such as from annoyance, to upset, to dislike, to hate, to anger, and maybe even ending in aggression, harm or violence. But we must be aware that it is not just anger that can quickly takeover our Time. It could be grief, a sense of loss, a sense of injustice, or desolation, the list can seem endless. These can all take over and drive our misuse of Time.

This switching between emotional reactions can often seem like too fast a time for us to intervene, to be able to close down this chain of emotions before it gets ‘out-of-hand’. But, however quick it is, it still does take time. We must remind ourselves of the ‘Gap’, that small, but very important piece of Time between Basic-Feeling (Vedana) and Craving (Tanha). The key to finding and staying in this Gap, and not speed onto and along our usual habitual pathway, is our awareness. We need to be aware of our basic-feelings, feelings of pleasant or painful (and Neutral). We need to be aware which of these Vedanas are present in our current experience and what is it that they are driving us to do. We need to take time-out, to use a basket ball term. We need to take back our Time in this situation, and use that Time to decide wisely what is our next step.

My third and final perception of time is relevant to what is happening this month to some members of our Sangha.

This month Jamie and Nick are becoming Order Members. There are a number of special Times in the journey to being an Order Member, I have only time to choose one. So I will look at a special Time that you may not have known even existed. This is the time between the Private Ordination and the Public Ordination. In the Private Ordination you receive your new name and become an Order Member, But you do not become a member of the Triratna Order. Your progress upon your spiritual journey has been recognised and witnessed by your Private Preceptor. Now you must sit in this Bardo, this Time of uncertainty. This is the time when you must realise and answer this question: if you were the only Order Member in the world, would you be able to, and want to, carry on teaching the Dharma?

This is a very serious question for anyone considering the path towards ordination. If the Triratna Order didn’t exist then would you be able to recreate, and start again?

This time between Private and Public ordinations, this Bardo, draws for comparison on the time that the Buddha spent after his Enlightenment deciding what to do next. He had realised the true nature of Existence, but what he didn’t know was whether he could teach or communicate that experience to another being. He realised that it would be difficult and possibly too difficult for him to do. But after wrestling with these thoughts he saw that: ‘There are beings with little dust in their eyes who are falling away because they do not hear the Dhamma’.

He also brought to mind that well know allusion of lotus’ rising out of the mud and eventually blossoming. These stories around the Buddha’s Enlightenment are from the Ariyapariyesana Sutta.

In a similar way, becoming an Order Member can seem a daunting prospect, as you will be called upon to teach the Dharma to many different people. Such as people that may come along to a newcomers class or even to teach a study group, they are all interested in the Dharma. These activities and more, can be seen as all part of why Order Members have taken Ordination, for the benefit of all beings.

Lets do hope that they decide to come back to the Buddhist Centre and help us out in our goal of spreading the Dharma to all those in Ipswich that wish to hear.

In the meantime, until their return, there will be a lot of good events to productively spend your time engaging with at the Buddhist Centre.

This month we also have an online celebration. This is our world-wide festival of Triratna Day, when we celebrate the founding of Triratna. More details and timings of events for the day can be found here:

But I would like to finish with a couple of poems that relate to our personal use of time. The first poem many of us will know and is worth remembering. This is only the first line of the complete poem called ‘Leisure’. It is worth seeking out and reading the rest of the poem.

What is this life, if full of care, We have no time to stop and stare.”

– William Henry Davies (1871-1940)

But I thought it only fitting to give the last word to the Buddha. So the second poem is by the Buddha, here he tells his followers how to spend a perfect day.

It is worth considering how even our use of Daily, everyday Time is different from the Buddha’s. He used a Lunar calendar whereas we use a solar calender. So when we say Day the Buddha would say Night. Time can be confusing…

This poem is an extract from the Bhaddedkaratta Sutta (MN 131). This rather beautiful translation is by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

An Auspicious Day

You shouldn’t chase after the past
 or place expectations on the future.
What is past
          is left behind.
The future
          is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
 you clearly see right there,
          right there.
Not taken in,
 that’s how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing
what should be done     today,
for — who knows? — tomorrow
There is no bargaining
with Mortality and his mighty horde.

Whoever lives thus ardently,
          both day & night,
has truly had an auspicious day:
so says the Peaceful Sage.