I. Traditionally, Eternity has been understood in two ways:
- Eternity1: sempiternity, i.e., existing at each time. For example, perhaps energy/mass is eternal in this way. A sempiternal thing is in time, but has no beginning and no end in time.
- Eternity2: eternity proper, i.e., totally independent of time because a thing eternal in this sense is not in time, doesn't exemplify temporal items, and doesn't involve temporal items. For example, Augustine thought of God in this way; probably Plato thought of Forms and their relations this way.
To these two traditional notions, one might add:
- Eternity3: a thing eternal in this sense is not in time, but it depends on time because it involves temporal items.
- Eternity4: at the Awakened state in Hinduism and Buddhism, the Enlightened individual, in the samsaric sense, is beyond space-time. The Sixth Patriarch of Chinese Zen, Hui Neng, is famous for the following quote "From the first not a thing is."
A couple from Peru was visiting the ashrama of Sri Ramana Maharshi one day and he was enquiring about their day-to-day life, and their talk turned to Peru. The couple began picturing the landscape of their homeland and were describing the sea-coast and the beach of their own town. Just then Maharshi remarked: "Is not the beach of your town paved with marble slabs, and are not coconut palms planted in between? Are there not marble benches in rows facing the sea there and did you not often sit on the fifth of those with your wife?" The remarks of Sri Maharshi created astonishment in the couple. How could Sri Bhagavan, who had never been out of Tiruvannamalai since a boy, know so intimately such minute details about their own place? Sri Maharshi only smiled and said:
"It does not matter how I can tell. Enough if you know that abiding IN the SELF there is no Space-Time."(source)
A second equally interesting incident, cast in in a similar vein, and involving the Maharshi but too long to put here, can be found by going to: THE MEETING: An Untold Story of Sri Ramana
The law of Karma, or cause and effect, is so powerful that it governs everything in the universe, that is, according to Buddhism and Zen, except the one who is Enlightened. Upon Enlightenment, the round of cause and effect loses its significance, just as Samsara, or the round of birth and death, ceases with Enlightenment. Since basic nature transcends all duality and is ultimate, there is no one to receive the effect, whether it is good or bad, and no one to whom any effect can apply. Cause and effect, just like birth and death, lose their significance at the Enlightened level because at the level of basic nature there is no one to receive the effect of the Karma, whether it is good or bad. Therefore, at the extreme, when one is Enlightened, the law of Karma is not applicable. All that the Enlightened one does, says, or thinks is through free will, a manifestation of basic nature, and not the effect of past Karma. This unique explanation by Buddha of the nullification of the law of Karma is very important.
II. Some reasons for holding that God is properly eternal (eternal2):
III. Boethius: "eternity is the complete possession of an endless life enjoyed as one simultaneous whole."
- if time has a beginning, then God cannot be in time, otherwise God would have a limited existence.
- if God were in time, then we would not be free because God would foresee our actions.
- if God were in time, then God could, at least in principle, change.
Here, divine simplicity is expressed in terms of timeless eternity, in which the "simultaneous whole" of Godís existence is neither before nor after the temporal order of our world. Rather, the entirety of our temporal world is simultaneously "present" to Godís contemplation. Thus, the divine nature "must necessarily always be its whole self, unchangingly present to itself, and the infinity of changing time must be as one present before him."
This is the traditional, exalted picture of a transcendent God who exists wholly beyond the boundaries of time. Unfortunately, as we have seen, this view is hopelessly incompatible with the Bible. For how could a timeless, eternally changeless being "remember" or "regret" any of its actions? Indeed, how could such a being be said to perform any actions at all?
If the traditional view is correct, then, and God is truly timeless, what seems to follow is the impossibility of divine action in the temporal world. Surely one cannot have it both ways, and speak of a timeless God who is also a "Judge who discerns," and an auditor of prayer. How could it be possible to relate any of Godís actions (such as judging or listening to prayer) to the temporal order of our world without admitting that "we share time with God."
Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, Basinger, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
IV. Possible accounts of eternity:
- First Definition: Eternity as a non-temporal, non-successive, partless duration. Hence:
- God not in time
- no succession in God (divine simplicity)
Problem: how can duration be non-successive?
- all worldly events simultaneously present to God
Problem: since simultaneity transitive, some world-events both simultaneous and non-simultaneous.
Second Definition: Eternity as tenseless successive duration, while time is tensed. Hence:
- no past, present and future for God. In this sense Godís life ďall at onceĒ.
- succession in divine duration.
- non-simultaneous parts in divine duration
- God not in time, because time is tensed
Problem: Dates apply to God; but some dates simultaneous with, say, past events. Hence tenses apply to God.
Third Definition: Eternity as a present (tensed) instant outside time (nunc stans), while time is tensed. Hence:
- no successive parts in eternity because instants are partless.
- eternity unlimited because no instant before or after
- eternity is a permanent present, nunc stans (tensed)
Problem: ďremaining presentĒ entails presence through some instants. So, how can an instant have any permanence?
Fourth Definition: Eternity as a tenseless instant outside time and time is tenseless. Hence:
V. Objections to view that God is outside time, and hence has no temporal relation to the world.
- no successive parts in eternity
- eternity unlimited because no instant before or after
- eternity not a present instant (nunc stans).
- all moments in tenseless time exist equally for God.
- If God creates X at time t1 and Y at time t2, then God changes. But if God changes, then God is in time.
Reply: God timelessly creates X at t1 and Y at t2. Hence, God doesnít change.
- God has extrinsic denominations. Hence God changes; hence God is in time.
Reply: extrinsic denominations not real changes.
- If God isn't in time, then God doesn't know what time it is now. Hence, God is not omniscient, which cannot be.
NOTE: this objection presupposes a tensed view of time.
- Nirvikalpa Samadhi (see).
Dharmadhatu literally means "realm of dharmas," and refers to the collection of all dharmas. "Attaining Buddhahood" (Enlightenment, Awakening to the Absolute, etc.) means having transcended all and any limitations that are due to artificial concepts, subconscious activities, desires and feelings, will and attachment, time and space, etc., and having regained the original state of Dharmadhatu in harmonious oneness.
Dharmadhatu is neither limited by space nor by time. According to the correct view of Dharmadhatu all dharmas in the past, all dharmas at present and all dharmas in the future are all together in the Dharmadhatu. Ordinarily people can experience only a minute part of all dharmas at present, and therefore people sustain the view that dharmas in the past are gone and future is unpredictable. If one practices according to Buddhist teachings and thereby comes out of the bondage of the fixed view of a space-and-time framework, then it is possible to experience or witness dharmas in the past as well as dharmas in the future.
- The following regarding Eternity, by the Wanderling, is from the Addendum to ON REBIRTH: Buddhism and Reincarnation:
The key to rebirth is the return to the mix of that which you are "made" to be used again. An entity cognizant of the passage of time might extrapolate, feel, or sense a possibility of anything from the immediate to eons. To that entity, YOU for example, it could seem forever or it could be right now. However, in eternity NO time exists. In that there is no start or finish in eternity, otherwise it wouldn't be eternity, no reference points exist to measure against, hence there can be no time. With no time, immediate or eons become moot. Whether something is instantaneous or takes forever is just the same. If ALL that which you are made of reconstituted itself into an entity that is again cognizant of time would be pure happenstance. Sorry.
Nowhere in the world of things spiritual, especially so as found in eastern religious beliefs, is time, the existence of time or the non-existence of time more prevalent or delivered or experience with a higher impact than what is found in the legend and stories surrounding the mystical hermitage high in the Himalayas hidden beyond the mists of time sometimes called Shangri-La, but also know by other names such as Shambhala and Gyanganj. For an intriguing run down touching on such themes please see:
TIME TRAVEL: MEETING YOURSELF
ANALOGIES IN TIME & PLACE
TIME TRAVEL MYTHOLOGY
MAHABHARATA: INDIA, CIRCA 400BCE
THE MOBIUS STRIP
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
RESTITCHING THE HOLE IN THE FABRIC OF SPACE-TIME
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
ENLIGHTENMENT AND TIME: AN EXAMINATION OF NAGARJUNA'S CONCEPT OF TIME
WHAT THE BUDDHA SAID
THE NET OF INDRA
ALL ABOUT SAMADHI
'Philosophers and theologians have spoken of the `nunc stans', the abiding now, the instant that knows no temporal articulation, where distinctions between now, earlier and later have fallen away or have not arisen. All of us know, I believe, poignant moments that have this timeless quality: unique and matchless, complete in themselves and somehow containing all there is in experience.'
H. LOEWALD, 'Comments on Religious Experience', in Psychoanalysis and the History of the Individual, New Haven 1978
WITH THANKS TO:
EZIO VAILATI, Ph.D. (University of California at San Diego, 1985), Professor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Teaching and research interests in the history of modern philosophy, the history of modern science, and metaphysics. He also has a Personal Homepage Representative publications include "Leibniz on Reflection and its Natural Veridicality," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1987; "Leibniz on Locke on Weakness of the Will," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1990; with Paolo Mancosu, "Torricelli's Infinitely Long Solid and Its Philosophical Reception in the Seventeenth Century," Isis, 1991; "Clarke's Extended Soul," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1993; and "Leibniz and Clarke on Miracles," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1995. In addition, he has authored Leibniz and Clarke: A Study of their Correspondence (Oxford University Press: 1997) and has edited Clarke: A Demonstration of the Nature and Attributes of God (Cambridge University Press:1998). At present Professor Vailati is working on causation and divine concurrence in early modern philosophy and studying quantum mechanics.