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Happiness and the Art of Being

CHAPTER 7

The Illusion of Time and Space

Contents

Though in chapter three, while discussing the formation and dissolution of each of our consecutive thoughts, we said that each individual thought rises and subsides in an infinitely small period of time, this is not the entire truth, because time is itself an illusion created by the rising and subsiding of our thoughts.

Just as we imagine the physical dimension of space in order to create in our mind a conceptual image of a universe consisting of separate objects of diverse forms, so we imagine the physical and psychological dimension of time in order not only to create in our mind a conceptual image of events and changes constantly occurring within that universe, but also more importantly to create the illusion that the thoughts we think and the consequent experiences we undergo are formed and dissolved in a consecutive manner. Without first imagining the basic dimensions of time and space, we cannot form any image or thought in our mind, and hence these dimensions are inherent in each and every thought that we think.

We think that we perceive time and space outside ourself, and that we are just limited creatures who exist for a very short period within the vast duration of time and who occupy a very small part of the vast expanse of space. This perception, however, is just an illusion, because like every other perception, we experience the perception of time and space only within ourself, in our own mind or consciousness.

Though time and space appear to exist outside us, we have no way of knowing that they actually do exist outside of or independent of ourself, because all that we know or can ever know of time and space is only the images of them that we have formed within our own mind by our power of imagination. Therefore, like everything that we perceive within time and space, time and space themselves are merely mental images, conceptions or thoughts.

The conceptual dimensions of time and space are centred respectively around the notions of the present moment, ‘now’, and the present place, ‘here’.

The concepts of past and future exist only with reference to the concept of the present moment, which is the central point in time. What was once present is now past, and what will once be present is now future. Both the past and the future are the present when they occur. But more importantly, the past and the future are both concepts that exist only in the present moment. Therefore, relatively speaking, the present is the only point in time that is real. Though all that passes by it is constantly changing, the present moment itself always remains without undergoing any change, and hence it is the static gateway through which we may pass from the illusion of ever-changing time to the reality of our ever-unchanging being.

As Sri Ramana says in verse 15 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu:

The past and future stand [only by] clinging to the present. While occurring, they too are only the present. The present [is] the only one [point in time that truly exists]. [Therefore] trying to know the past and future without knowing the truth of the present [is like] trying to count without [knowing the fundamental number, the unit] one [of which all other numbers are merely multiples or fractions].

The third sentence of this verse, ‘nihaṙvu oṉḏṟē’, which literally means ‘present [is] one’, with a stress (the terminating letter ē) added to the word oṉḏṟu or ‘one’ implying ‘only one’, can be interpreted in various ways. It can be taken to mean, ‘The present is the only one time’, ‘Only the present truly exists’, or ‘All these three times are only the one present’. However, in effect all these three interpretations mean the same thing.

Since while occurring each moment in time is the present, all moments in time, whether past, present or future, are only the present moment. The present is therefore the only moment in time that truly exists. Hence the three divisions of time, past, present and future, are truly not three, but only one – the one ever-present present moment.

In the kaliveṇbā version of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana added two extra words before the initial word of this verse, nihaṙviṉai or ‘the present’, namely nitamum maṉṉum, which mean ‘which always endures’. Thus he further emphasised the fact that the present moment is ever present, that all times are the present while they occur, and that the present is therefore the only time that actually exists – the only time that we ever experience directly and actually. All other times, both past and future, are just thoughts that occur in this present moment.

If we wish to estimate the value of something in a particular currency, we must first know the value of a single unit of that currency. Without knowing the value of the unit ‘one’, we cannot know the value of any other number. Similarly, we cannot know the truth of the past or the future if we do not know the truth of the present, because the present moment is the one basic unit of time – the sole substance of which all time is formed.

Just as the present moment, ‘now’, is the central point in the conceptual dimension of time, so the present place, ‘here’, is the central point in the conceptual dimension of space. Every point in space that we perceive or think of exists only with reference to this present place, the point in space at which we now feel ourself to be.

What determines which point in space and which point in time are experienced as being present? What we experience as the present place, ‘here’, and the present moment, ‘now’, is that point in space and time in which we feel ourself to be present. The presence of our consciousness of being, ‘I am’, is therefore what makes us feel that this place in space is present ‘here’, and that this point in time is present ‘now’.

All definitions of time and place are relative to this fundamental time ‘now’ and this fundamental place ‘here’. The past is the past because it is prior to this present moment, which we call ‘now’, and the future is the future because it is subsequent to this present moment. Similarly, all definitions of place such as ‘near’ or ‘far’, ‘there’ or ‘elsewhere’, are relative only to this present place, which we call ‘here’. Therefore, since the definition of ‘now’ and ‘here’ is that these are the points in time and space in which we always experience ourself to be, all time and space ultimately exists only with reference to our essential, fundamental and ever-present consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.

Because we feel this particular body to be ourself, we feel that the point in space where this body now exists is ‘here’. Thus our mind, the limited consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’, always feels itself to be here and now, in the present place and present moment. Since this limited consciousness ‘I am this body’, which is the knowing subject or first person, is always experienced as the central point in space, it is not only the ‘first person’ but also the ‘first place’. That is, the first or fundamental place, the central point in space, which we call ‘here’, is only our own mind, the consciousness that we always feel to be the first person, ‘I’. Every other place or point in space exists only with reference to this fundamental place, the ever-present first person.

Because we identify ourself with a particular body, we feel that we move about in space, whereas in fact space moves about in us. That is, because we are not this material body but only consciousness, all space exists only within us, and hence all movement in space occurs only within us. Wherever we appear to go, the present place ‘here’ goes with us. When we seem to move from one place to another, that other place becomes ‘here’, that is, it moves into and becomes the central place in our consciousness.

Thus, just as the present moment, ‘now’, is the static and unchanging moment through which all moments in time pass, so the present place, ‘here’, is the static and unchanging place through which, near which or far from which all places in space move. Therefore, just as the present moment is the static gateway through which we may pass from the illusion of experiencing ever-changing time to the reality of our ever-unchanging being, so the present place is the static gateway through which we may pass from the illusion of being a body that moves about in space to the reality of our ever-unmoving being.

Just as the first person, our consciousness ‘I’, is the primary or fundamental place, the central point in the space of our mind, so the second person, ‘you’, and the third person, the aggregate of ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘that’ and everything else that is other than ‘I’ or ‘you’, may be considered to be respectively the secondary and tertiary places or areas within our mental space. Therefore, what we call the ‘three persons’ in English grammar are known as the ‘three places’ in Tamil grammar. That is, in most languages the subject and all the objects known by it are grouped into three categories, but whereas in English and many other languages these three categories are called the ‘three persons’, in Tamil they are called the ‘three places’.

This spatial conception of these three categories is based upon the fact that we experience each of them as occupying a different ‘place’ or point either in physical space or in our conceptual space. The first person, which in grammatical terms is the person who speaks or writes as ‘I’, is always experienced as being here, in the present place. The second person, which in grammatical terms is any person or thing that is spoken or written to as ‘you’, is experienced as being physically or conceptually nearby, in a place that is close to the first person. And the third person, which in grammatical terms is any person or thing that is spoken or written about as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘these’, ‘those’, ‘they’ or ‘them’, is experienced as being physically or conceptually elsewhere, in a place that is other than that occupied by the first and second persons.

This spatial conception of these ‘three persons’, particularly that of the ‘first person’, is philosophically very significant, and is potentially very helpful to us in our understanding of the practice of self-investigation. In his teachings, therefore, Sri Ramana frequently used the Tamil equivalents of the English terms ‘first person’, ‘second person’ and ‘third person’.

Since he used these terms in place of the usual philosophical terms ‘subject’ and ‘object’, he in effect divided all the objects known by us into two distinct groups. That is, he used the Tamil equivalent of the term ‘second person’ to denote all those mental objects or images that we recognise as being thoughts that exist only within our own mind, and the Tamil equivalent of the term ‘third person’ to denote all those mental objects or images that we imagine we are perceiving outside ourself through one or more of our five senses.

Whereas the ‘second person’ objects are those objects or thoughts that we recognise as existing only within the space of our own mind, the ‘third person’ objects are those objects or thoughts that we imagine we are perceiving in physical space, outside our mind. Thus the second person objects are those objects that we recognise as existing only within the field of our mental conception, while the third person objects are those objects that we imagine to exist outside the field of our mental conception, in the seemingly separate field of our sense perception.

This definition of the terms ‘second person’ and ‘third person’ differs from the normal definition of them, because Sri Ramana did not use them in their usual grammatical sense, but in a more abstract philosophical sense. The philosophical meaning that he gave to these terms does not correspond exactly to their usual grammatical meaning because, whereas the former is concerned with knowledge or experience, the latter is concerned only with language, either spoken or written.

That is, though we usually understand the term ‘second person’ to mean only ‘you’, the person, people, thing or things spoken or written to, and the term ‘third person’ to mean the person, people, thing or things spoken or written about, this definition of these terms is applicable only to the act of communicating through speech or writing. If we extend the use of these terms to apply to the act of knowing, we must form a new definition of them. In reference to the act of knowing, the term ‘second person’ means whatever we know most directly or immediately, while the term ‘third person’ means whatever we know more indirectly or mediately.

Compared to the objects that we perceive through the media of our five senses, the thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind are known by us more directly or immediately, and hence they are our ‘second person’ thoughts or objects. Since the objects that we think we perceive outside ourself are known by us not only through the primary medium of our mind but also through the secondary media of our five senses, they are a comparatively indirect or more mediate form of knowledge, and hence they are our ‘third person’ thoughts or objects.

Though in Tamil these ‘three persons’ are collectively called the ‘three places’ or mū-v-iḍam, individually they are not called the ‘first place’, ‘second place’ and ‘third place’, but are called respectively the ‘self-ness place’, the ‘place standing in front’ and the ‘place that has spread out’. The actual term used in Tamil to denote the first person is taṉmai-y-iḍam, or more commonly just taṉmai, which etymologically means ‘self-ness’ or ‘selfhood’, and which therefore denotes our sense of ‘self’, the subject or first thought ‘I’. The Tamil term for the second person is muṉṉilai, which etymologically means ‘what stands in front’, and which therefore from a philosophical viewpoint denotes our most intimate thoughts, those mental objects or images that figuratively speaking stand immediately in front of our mind’s eye, and that we therefore recognise as being thoughts that exist only within our own mind. And the Tamil term for the third person is paḍarkkai, which etymologically means ‘what spreads out, ramifies, becomes diffused, expands or pervades’, and which therefore from a philosophical viewpoint denotes those thoughts that have spread out or expanded through the channel of our five senses, and that have thereby been projected as the objects of this material world, which we seem to perceive through those five senses, and which we therefore imagine to be objects existing outside ourself.

The space of our mind is thus divided into three distinct parts, areas or fields, which we can picture as three concentric circles. The most intimate part of our mind, the innermost of these three circles, which is also their central point, is our first person thought ‘I’, our limited individual consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’, ‘I am such-and-such a person’. The next most interior or intimate part of our mind, the field or circle that most closely surrounds our first person thought ‘I’, is all our second person thoughts, the objects that we recognise as existing only within our own mind, and that we therefore consider to be the field of our mental conception. The most exterior part of our mind, the outermost field or circle surrounding our first person thought ‘I’, is all our third person thoughts, the objects that we imagine we perceive in an external physical space, and that we therefore mistake as existing outside our mind. Thus the entire external universe and the physical space in which we imagine it to be contained is just the outermost part of the space that is our own mind, the part of that space which we consider to be the field of our sense perception.

Though in our imagination we make a distinction between the thoughts that we recognise as existing within ourself and the material objects that we imagine we perceive outside ourself, this distinction is actually false, because both are in fact only thoughts that we form within our own mind by our power of imagination. Whereas we recognise some of our thoughts to be only images that we form in our mind, we wrongly imagine certain of our thoughts to be objects that actually exist outside us, and that are therefore distinct from our thoughts and our thinking mind. In fact, however, even the objects that we think we perceive outside ourself are only our own thoughts – images that we have formed within our own mind.

Nevertheless, though this distinction between our second person thoughts and our third person thoughts is illusory, in our mind it appears to be quite real. So long as we imagine that we are perceiving objects outside ourself, we will continue to imagine that there is a real distinction between those objects and the thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind. Therefore this seeming distinction between our second person objects, the thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind, and our third person objects, the objects that we think we perceive outside ourself, will continue to appear to be real so long as our thinking mind appears to be real.

Because it appears to us to be real, Sri Ramana allows for this seeming distinction between the second person and third person objects, but he does so only to make clear to us that the term ‘objects’ includes not only all the material objects we think we perceive outside ourself, but also all the thoughts that we recognise as existing only within our own mind. Even our most intimate thoughts or feelings are only objects known by us, and are accordingly distinct from us.

Therefore, when Sri Ramana advises us to withdraw our attention from all the ‘second persons’ and ‘third persons’ and to focus it instead on the ‘first person’, what he wants us to understand is that we should withdraw our attention from all objects – both those that we recognise as being merely our own thoughts or feelings, and those that we mistake to be objects existing outside ourself – and fix it only upon our sense of self, ‘I’, which we always experience as being here and now, in this precise present point in space and time. In other words, in order to know our real self, we should withdraw our attention from all our thoughts – both our second person thoughts, which we recognise as being thoughts, and our third person thoughts, which we imagine to be material objects existing outside ourself – and should instead focus it wholly and exclusively upon our ever-present self-consciousness, our fundamental consciousness of our own essential being, ‘I am’.

Since all objects are only thoughts that we form within our own mind, they depend for their seeming existence upon our mind, the subject or first person, which thinks and knows them. Therefore in verse 14 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:

If the first person exists, the second and third persons will [also seem to] exist. If, by our investigating the truth of the first person, the first person ceases to exist, the second and third persons will [also] come to an end, [and the reality of] the first person, which [always] shines as one [the one non-dual absolute reality, which alone remains after the dissolution of these three false persons], will be [then discovered to be] our [true] state, [our real] self.

In the kaliveṇbā version of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana added four extra words before the initial word of this verse, taṉmai or ‘first person’, namely uḍal nāṉ eṉṉum a-t, which together with taṉmai mean ‘that first person, which is called “I am [this] body”’. Thus he defined the first person as being our dēhātma buddhi, our root thought or primal imagination ‘I am this body’, which is the distorted and spurious form of consciousness that rises as our mind from our real non-dual self-consciousness, ‘I am’.

In the second sentence of this verse, the words that I have translated as ‘the truth of the first person’ are taṉmaiyin uṇmaiyai, in which the word uṇmai or ‘truth’ etymologically means ‘be’-ness or ‘am’-ness. Hence the ‘truth of the first person’ is the essential being or ‘am’-ness of our mind or individual sense of self, which we experience as ‘I am this body’. Whereas our mind is an objectified form of consciousness – a form of consciousness that imagines itself to be an object, this body – its truth or ‘am’-ness is its true and essential non-objective self-consciousness, ‘I am’, which is the sole reality underlying its false appearance.

Our individual ‘selfhood’ or taṉmai, which is the adjunct-mixed consciousness that feels ‘I am this body’, appears to exist only because we have failed to investigate or scrutinise the underlying truth or ‘am’-ness of it closely. If we scrutinise this false first person consciousness closely in order to know its underlying truth or reality, we will discover it to be nothing other than our non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, which is our real and essential self, our true state of mere being.

When we thus discover that our real ‘selfhood’ is merely our non-dual self-consciousness ‘I am’, we will thereby discover that our false individual ‘selfhood’, which is our distorted and dualistic consciousness ‘I am this body’, and which by thus identifying itself with a physical body has limited itself within the bounds of time and space, is a mere apparition that has never truly existed. Just as the illusory snake, which we imagined that we saw lying on the ground, disappears as soon as we see that it is nothing but a rope, so the illusory first person will disappear as soon as we discover that it is nothing but our real non-dual self-conscious being, ‘I am’. When this illusory first person, our false individual ‘selfhood’, thus disappears, all the second and third person objects or thoughts, which were created and known only by this false first person, will disappear along with it.

Thus by scrutinising the present place, ‘here’, which is the precise point in space in which the false first person ‘I’ appears to exist, and which is the central point from which it conceives all thoughts and perceives physical space and all the objects contained within that space, we will discover that it is merely an unreal conception, a thought created by our own power of imagination. When we thus discover that this central point from which we seem to perceive the physical space around us is merely an imaginary apparition, an illusion of something that never truly existed, we will discover that what we mistake to be physical space is likewise just an imaginary apparition.

The sole truth or reality underlying not only the present place, ‘here’, but also all the other places in physical space that we perceive from this central point, is our fundamental and ever-present consciousness of being, ‘I am’. In reality, therefore, the present place, ‘here’, is not a point in physical space, but is only our own self-conscious being. Our ever-present consciousness of being, which is the reality underlying our experience of being always in the present place, ‘here’, is what Sri Ramana means in the above verse by the words ‘the truth of the first person’.

What exactly do we mean when we speak of scrutinising the present place, ‘here’? The precise point in space that we feel to be ‘here’ is that point in which we feel ourself to be – that point at which we seem to experience our consciousness of being, ‘I am’. Therefore, in order to scrutinise the precise present place, ‘here’, we must withdraw our attention from all other places – that is, from all other thoughts and objects – and focus it wholly and exclusively upon our fundamental and essential consciousness of being, ‘I am’, which alone is always present ‘here’ and ‘now’.

Thus our experience of always being ‘here’, at this precise present point in space, serves as a valuable clue in our investigation of our consciousness of being, ‘I am’, just as the scent of his master serves as a valuable clue in a dog’s search for him. Similarly, our experience of always being ‘now’, at this precise present point in time, serves as another equally valuable clue in our investigation of our consciousness of being.

Either of these two clues, if followed correctly and diligently, will unfailingly lead us to experience the absolute reality that underlies yet transcends all time and space, because the reality underlying what we now experience as the relative ‘here’ and ‘now’, the ‘here’ and ‘now’ that appear to exist in space and time, is the absolute ‘here’ and ‘now’, the eternally omnipresent fullness of being, which is our own real self, our fundamental and essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Therefore, we should investigate and know the truth of either the present place, ‘here’, or the present time, ‘now’.

Time is a constant flow from past to future. The present is that precise moment in time when the past ends and the future begins. With the passing of every moment, the present moment becomes part of the past, and a new moment, which was part of the future, becomes the present. If we break time down into its smallest fractions or moments, the duration of each such moment will be infinitesimal. Such infinitesimal moments pass so rapidly that the very instant each one appears it also disappears. A moment that is the immediate future moment at one instant, becomes the immediate past moment the next instant.

However, even to speak of a moment or instant of time is potentially misleading, because time is actually a continuous flow that does not consist of any entirely discrete or clearly definable units called moments. A moment is just a conceptual fraction of time, a fraction whose duration is arbitrary. The most infinitesimal moment is a point in time whose duration is zero, and the precise present moment is such a durationless point, because it is the immeasurably thin borderline or boundary that separates the past from the future. The very instant the past ends, the future begins. Therefore the borderline or interface between the past and the future is an infinitely fine point, a point that has no duration or extent.

All that exists between the past and the future is pure being. In the immeasurably brief instant between the past and the future, time stands still, and all happening ceases. Time requires some extent or duration in which to move, so in the infinitely small instant between the past and the future, time cannot move, and nothing else can happen. Therefore all we can experience in that infinitely small instant, in the precise present moment, is our own self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

If we scrutinise the present moment minutely in order to discern exactly which instant in time is present, we will not be able to discover any discernible instant in time that can be called the precise present moment, ‘now’. To discern the precise present instant in time, we must set aside both the past and the future. The moment immediately preceding the present moment is past, and the moment immediately following it is future. If we try to set aside even the most immediate, subtle and minute past and future moments, and to discern what exists between them, all we will find is our own unmoving and unchanging being – our ever-present self-consciousness, ‘I am’.

Being unmoving and unchanging, our self-conscious being is timeless. Therefore, the precise present moment, the infinitesimal instant between the past and the future, is a timeless moment – a moment that exists beyond the dimension of time.

Thus our experience that the present moment is a point in time is an illusion, just as our experience that the present place is a point in space is an illusion. As we saw above, if we set aside all thoughts of any place other than this precise present place, ‘here’, and keenly scrutinise only this precise present place in order to discover what the truth or reality of it is, we will discover that it is truly not a point in physical space, but is just our own self-conscious being. Similarly, if we set aside all thoughts of any moment other than this precise present moment, ‘now’, and keenly scrutinise only this precise present moment in order to discover what the truth or reality of it is, we will discover that it is truly not a point in the passage of time, but is just our own self-conscious being. When we thus discover that there is no such thing as a precise present point in time, and that our experience of the present moment in time is therefore merely an illusion, an imaginary apparition, we will discover that the passage of time, which we always experience only in this illusory present moment, is likewise merely an imaginary apparition.

Since all points in time and all points in space are experienced only in this present point in time and this present point in space, they depend for their seeming existence upon these present points, the ever-present ‘now’ and ‘here’, which in reality are nothing but the presence of our ever-present consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. Therefore, our ever-present self-conscious being, ‘I am’, is the sole substance or reality not only of this present moment, ‘now’, and this present place, ‘here’, but also of the entire appearance of time and space.

Thus these two clues, the clue of the precise present place, ‘here’, and the clue of the precise present moment, ‘now’, both point to the same reality, our ever-present self-conscious being, ‘I am’, which is not limited either by time or by space. At certain times we may find it more helpful to follow the clue of ‘here’, at other times we may find it more helpful to follow the clue of ‘now’, and at other times we may find it more helpful to follow both of them simultaneously, but whichever of them we choose to follow, our attention should be focused wholly and exclusively upon our fundamental and ever-present consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’.

When we investigate our non-dual consciousness of our own being, which we always experience as being ‘here’ and ‘now’, we will discover that time and space are both unreal imaginations, and that our non-dual self-conscious being is the only reality, the only thing that truly exists. Therefore in verse 16 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana says:

When [we] investigate [that is, when we scrutinise ourself], except ‘we’ [our essential self or fundamental consciousness of being], where is time [and] where is place? If we are [a] body, we shall be ensnared in time and place. [But] are we [a] body? We are one [at each moment in time], now, then and always, one [at each] place [in space], here, there and everywhere. Therefore we, the timeless and placeless ‘we’, [alone] exist.

The superficial meaning implied by the rhetorical question ‘Except “we”, where is time and where is place?’ is that time and space do not exist besides, apart from, or as other than us. However, its deeper meaning is that we alone exist, and time and space are completely non-existent, a fact that is reiterated in the last sentence of this verse.

In the kaliveṇbā version of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu Sri Ramana added three extra words before the initial word of this verse, nām or ‘we’, namely uṇara niṉḏṟa poruḷ, which literally mean ‘the reality that stood to know’, but which are a poetic way of saying ‘the reality that exists knowingly’, or more precisely ‘the reality that exists and knows [its own existence]’. By placing these words before nām he defined exactly what he meant by it in this context. That is, when he asked, ‘Except “we”, where is time and where is place?’, by the term ‘we’ he did not mean our object-knowing mind but only our real self – our essential and ever-existing self-conscious being, which we always experience as ‘I am’.

Time and space are known only by our mind, and hence they depend upon it for their seeming existence. They are not known by our essential consciousness of being, which knows only itself, and hence they are not known by us in sleep, in which we experience only our own self-conscious being. However, though they are not known by our essential self-consciousness, they could not be known independent of it, because it is the sole reality that underlies and supports the appearance of the false object-knowing form of consciousness that we call our mind, in whose imagination alone they exist.

We are able to imagine ourself to be this mind, which experiences itself as a body that exists in time and space, only because we know ourself as ‘I am’. However, whereas our mind and the time and space known by it are transitory appearances, we are the reality that always exists and knows its own existence. Since our self-conscious existence or being exists independent of time and space, it is the absolute reality – the only reality that truly exists. Hence Sri Ramana asks, ‘Except “we”, where is time and where is place?’, implying thereby that we alone truly exist, and that time and space are mere appearances – mental images that have no real existence of their own.

Time and space appear to exist only because we imagine ourself to be a finite body. In truth, however, we are not any finite body, because though in our present waking state we imagine ourself to be this body, in dream we imagine ourself to be some other body, and in sleep we do not imagine ourself to be any body at all. When we imagine ourself to be a particular body, as in waking and dream, we experience both time and space, but when we do not imagine ourself to be any body, as in sleep, we do not experience either time or space.

However, whether or not we imagine ourself to be a body, we always remain the same one unchanging consciousness of being, ‘I am’. In all times, in all places and in all states of consciousness, we are always in essence only this single, non-dual consciousness of our own being. Therefore Sri Ramana says in this verse, ‘We are one [at each moment in time], now, then and always, one [at each] place [in space], here, there and everywhere’.

Since time and space, and everything else other than our essential consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, appear and disappear, they are not real, but are merely illusory figments of our imagination. In reality, therefore, we not only transcend time and space, but are in essence absolutely devoid of time and space. We – this timeless and spaceless ‘we’, who are nothing other than absolute non-dual self-conscious being – alone exist.

In verse 13 of Upadēśa Taṉippākkaḷ, which is the original form in which he composed the above verse, Sri Ramana says:

Except ‘we’, where is time? If, having not investigated [or scrutinised] ourself, we think that we are [a] body, time will devour us. [But] are we [a] body? We are always one, [in] present, past and future times. Therefore we, the ‘we’ who has devoured time, [alone] exist.

We imagine that we are a physical body only because we ignore or fail to pay due attention to our true and essential self-conscious being, and since the body that we imagine to be ourself is confined within the limits of time and space, we are thereby in effect swallowed by time. However, if we investigate ourself by keenly attending to our own essential self-conscious being, we will discover that we are not this finite body but are only the one infinite and therefore timeless reality, and thereby we will in effect swallow the illusion of time.

Since we are the one infinite reality, which exists in all times and all places, and since nothing can exist apart from or other than the infinite, we alone truly exist. Therefore the body that we imagine to be ourself, and the time and space in which this body is confined, are all mere apparitions, and in reality do not exist at all. This is the clear meaning of the last line of verse 16 of Uḷḷadu Nāṟpadu, which I have translated as, ‘we, the timeless and placeless “we”, [alone] exist’, but which could also be translated as, ‘we [alone] exist; time and place do not exist, [but only] we’.

The only way for us to experience this truth that we alone exist, devoid of all time and space, is for us to scrutinise our own consciousness of being, which always exists here and now, in this precise present point in space and time. So long as we continue to attend to or think of anything in time or space other than the precise present moment and the precise present place, we will continue to perpetuate the illusion of time and space – the illusion of ourself being a body, an object confined within the limits of time and space. But if we attend only to either the precise present moment or the precise present place, which are actually one and the same point, we will find in them no time or space, no duration or extent, and therefore no thought of any kind, but only our own absolutely non-dual consciousness of being, ‘I am’, which underlies yet transcends all time, all space and all forms of thought.

If we wish to locate either the precise present moment in time, the exact ‘now’, or the precise present place in space, the exact ‘here’, we have to look within ourself, to the very centre or core of our being, because only there can we find the infinitely minute and subtle interior point that always makes us feel that we are ‘here’ and ‘now’, no matter at which exterior point in time and space we happen to experience ourself as being.

When we look within ourself, focusing our entire attention on the innermost core of our being, our thinking mind will come to a standstill, and thus all our thoughts will cease. Our thoughts all occur within the flow of time, and within the multidimensional space of our mind. If we did not experience the one-dimensional flow of time, the constant flow of our mind from past to future, we could not form any thought. Similarly, if we did not experience our mind as a multidimensional space in which thoughts of diverse kinds rise and subside, there would be no space in which we could form any thought.

However, in the precise present moment there is no movement or flow, and in the precise present place there is no space. The precise present moment is a point in time that has no dimensions, no duration, and the precise present place is a point in space that has no dimensions, no extent. Therefore, in neither the precise present moment nor the precise present place can any thought be formed.

A dimension is a particular way of measuring or defining the extent of something, so anything that can be measured in any way, anything that has any definable extent, has dimension. Time is one-dimensional, because it is a unidirectional flow from past to future. Physical space is three-dimensional, because it has height, breadth and depth. The space of our mind is multidimensional, because not only does it contain the one-dimensional flow of time and the three-dimensional physical space, but it also has many other dimensions of its own, such as its five forms of sense knowledge, its various forms of conceptual knowledge, and its various forms of emotion.

Moreover, the space of our mind contains dimensions within dimensions. For example, the dimension of taste has six basic sub-dimensions, namely sweetness, sourness, saltiness, pungency, bitterness and astringency, the dimension of sight has various sub-dimensions such as colour, shape and distance, and each dimension of conceptual knowledge, such as abstract mathematical thought, has many sub-dimensions. All the many ways in which our mind can measure or define the extent of whatever it knows or experiences – the objects of its sense perception, its concepts, its emotions, and so on – are dimensions of its space.

All things that have dimension extend within that dimension. The extent to which any particular thing extends within any particular dimension is the measurement of that thing within that dimension. Except our fundamental consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, everything that is known by our mind extends in one or more of the many dimensions that are experienced by it. All forms of objective knowledge extend in one or more dimensions.

Whereas everything else that we experience in time and space extends either in time or in space, or in both, the only things in time and space that do not extend in either of them are the precise present moment, ‘now’, and the precise present place, ‘here’. The precise present moment has no definable or measurable duration, and the precise present place has no definable or measurable extent. If a thing extends in some dimension, it is confined within that extent, but if it does not extend in any dimension, it is not confined or limited in any way. Therefore, since they do not extend in any dimension, the precise present place and the precise present moment are free of all limitations, and hence they are the absolute ‘here’ and ‘now’.

Since they are each an infinitely small point, we may imagine that the precise present moment and the precise present place are therefore limited. However, since they do not exist at only one particular point in time or space, they are not actually limited in any way. Though the precise present moment appears to be an infinitesimal point in time, it is nevertheless not limited or restricted to any one particular point in time, because every point in time is experienced as the present moment while it is occurring. Similarly, though the precise present place appears to be an infinitesimal point in space, it is nevertheless not limited or restricted to any one particular point in space, because many points in space are experienced as the present place at one time or another. Since the precise present moment exists at every point in time, and the precise present place exists at different points in space at different points in time, neither of them can be defined or delimited as existing at only one point. As soon as we attempt to define their location in time or space, time will have moved on and our definition will have become invalid.

Though the precise present moment and the precise present place appear to exist within the dimensions of time and space, at no time can their exact location within those dimensions be defined or cognised, because in truth they exist beyond the limitations of time and space. If we wish to discover their exact location, we cannot do so by looking outwards, towards the objective dimensions of time and space, but only by looking within ourself, towards the innermost depth of our being, towards the core of our consciousness, towards the precise point within us where we feel ‘I am’, ‘I am here and now’.

The precise present moment and the precise present place cannot be located at any exact point in the objective dimensions of time and space because they are not objective points, but are subjective experiences. Therefore, though they appear to touch the objective dimensions of time and space, their existence is not limited or restricted to any fixed or clearly discernible point within those dimensions. Because they are the point at which we experience our timeless and placeless consciousness of being, ‘I am’, appearing to exist within the imaginary dimensions of time and space, they are the point at which the eternal meets the temporal, the infinite meets the finite, and the absolute meets the relative.

Though time is always moving on, and with each passing moment a new point in time becomes the present moment, and a new point in space becomes the present place, the precise present moment and the precise present place do not themselves move or undergo any actual change. Except these two precise points, everything in time and space is constantly moving and undergoing change. The precise present moment remains unmoving and unchanged through all time, and the precise present place remains unmoving and unchanged, no matter at which point in space it may be experienced.

Though all moments in time seem to flow through the present moment, in the precise present moment no flowing or movement of any kind actually takes place, because movement requires a dimension in which to move. Similarly, though many places in space seem to move into and thereby to become the present place, in the precise present place no movement, becoming or change of any kind actually takes place, because change requires a dimension in which to occur.

A thing can be said to change only if it can first be defined in some way, because only a definable or definite thing can undergo a definable or definite change. Consequently, since a definition is a form of measurement or appraisal that can be made only with reference to some dimension, a point with no dimension cannot be defined or delimited in any way, and hence it cannot undergo any definable change.

Therefore, being completely devoid of dimension, extension, limitation, definition, change and movement, the precise present point in time and the precise present point in space are absolute. Though everything else exists relative only to them, the precise present moment and the precise present place are not relative to anything else, because they exist independently, and remain unaffected by the flow of time or any movement that takes place in space.

The ‘here’ and ‘now’ that appear to extend in space or time – that appear to be measurable and definable – are only the relative ‘here’ and ‘now’. Our conception of what constitutes the present moment, ‘now’, and the present place, ‘here’, is not fixed, but varies according to the context. For example, when we say ‘now’, we may mean this very second, this minute, or a larger period of present time such as today, or we may extend its meaning even further to mean nowadays, during this period in our lives or in history. Similarly, when we say ‘here’, we may mean this exact part of space that is now occupied by our body, or any particular point within our body, or any point that is close to our body, or we may extend its meaning further to mean the room, the house, the town or even the country in which we are now living. All such uses of these words ‘here’ and ‘now’ are relative. Any relative form of ‘now’ extends in time, and any relative form of ‘here’ extends in space, and hence they can be measured.

However, the precise present moment and the precise present place are points in time and space that have no extent, and that therefore cannot be measured. As we saw above, the precise present moment is the immeasurably fine boundary or interface between the past and the future. Where the past ends, the future begins, so the interface between them is an infinitely fine point that has no measurement or extent. Similarly, the precise present place is the immeasurably fine point that exists in the very centre of our perception of space.

Since they are both infinitely fine and subtle, and therefore not limited within any dimension, the precise present moment and the precise present place are not relative, but are the absolute ‘here’ and ‘now’. Since movement and change cannot occur within an infinitely fine and therefore dimensionless point, and since the formation of thought involves movement and change, no thought can be formed within either the precise present moment or the precise present place, and hence the precise present point in time and space is the exclusive abode of our own self-conscious being, ‘I am’.

Though we talk of the precise present moment and the precise present place as if they were two different things, they appear to be different only from the limited viewpoint of our finite mind. The difference between them is therefore merely conceptual. In reality they are one and the same.

The precise present moment and the precise present place are the single point at which time and space meet and become one. This single point, at which all dimensions meet, is itself devoid of any dimension. Though the dimensions that meet and become one in it are all relative, this single, non-dual and dimensionless point is itself devoid of all forms of relativity. All that is contained within it is our mere consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’. But even to say this is not entirely correct. It does not merely contain our essential consciousness of our own being, it is synonymous with it. Our essential non-dual consciousness of our own being, ‘I am’, is itself the absolute ‘here’ and ‘now’, the precise present place and the precise present moment.

Because this absolute point has no dimensions, it cannot be measured in any way. It is therefore not only infinitely minute, but also infinitely vast. That is, because it is absolute, it is free of all limitations, and hence it is not limited as being merely the minutest, but is also the largest, the infinite whole that contains everything. It is both that which is contained within everything, and that within which everything is contained.

Everything, all time and all space, and all that is contained within time and space, is only a form of knowledge, a conception or a perception, and hence it is all contained within consciousness. And since no form of knowledge can exist without consciousness underlying it, consciousness not only contains everything, but is also contained within everything.

In fact, consciousness is the one fundamental substance of which all things are made. Therefore, since all forms of knowledge are in essence only our own consciousness, since our own consciousness is essentially self-conscious – that is, it is in essence just our consciousness of our own being – and since our consciousness of our own being is the absolute point that we experience as being the precise present place, ‘here’, and the precise present moment, ‘now’, this absolute point contains everything and is contained within everything.

In order to be contained within everything, this absolute point must be infinitely small, and in order to contain everything, it must be infinitely large. As that which is infinitely small, it contains nothing but our own essential self-conscious being, ‘I am’, but as that which is infinitely large, it contains everything, the totality of all our knowledge, both our true knowledge and our false knowledge. All that is known is ultimately known only in the precise present moment, ‘now’, and the precise present place, ‘here’ – in the absolute present, which is our own ever-present self-conscious being, ‘I am’, and which is the only point in time and space that truly exists.

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