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Circular time

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  • Circular time

    Dear Bhante,
    I have seen a couple of talks by Ajahn Brahm in which he says that just like 3-D space is curved (so that, to use an image that I think goes back to Einstein, if we had a strong enough telescope allowing us to see far enough, we would see... the back of our own head) also time si curved, so that we go round and round in samsara. Some philosophers like Nietzsche had also suggested this idea (the Eternal recurrance of the same).
    However, if we take this idea seriously, it would mean that if enough time elapses, the world would come back to the same state as now, so that this very moment would repeat itself again and again (just like in space if you travel far enough you come back to the point where you started from). So my question is: how is this teaching compatible with the idea of parinibbana, according to which an arahant would cease to be after death and never be reborn? If time is circular, wouldn't this imply that the arahant will also exist again in the future if we go ahead far enough? And if so, wouldn't this mean that he/she has ceased to exist, and then somehow come into being again?
    I really cannot reconcile the idea of circular time with that of arahants reaching parinibbana and 'disappearing' for ever, so I would be grateful for your help in understanding this.
    With metta

  • #2
    Dear Stefano,

    Nice to hear from you again.

    I decided to ask Ajahn Brahm directly, since you are referring to his talk. This is what he has to say:

    Space and time are part of Kama Loka. Parinibbana occurs in Rupa Loka, from the fourth Jhana. If one does not know the escape from Kama Loka, then one may very well go around and around in the loop of time. That is my answer.

    With Mega Metta, Ajahn Brahm
    I hope this helps.

    With metta from Oz.


    • #3
      Good reason to abstain from living la vida loka. Ha!


      • #4
        Made me laugh out Loud Jerrod - thanks!!


        • #5
          Dear Stephano and Bhante, Thank you for this question and answer. Can it be known what is the escape from Rupa Loka to Arupa Loka? Do the same principles apply as now? it must be difficult to generate enough stimulus if there are no longer the 5 senses involved. Is it possible for the mind alone to generate unwholesome conditions?

          With gratitude



          • #6
            The Buddha rarely of ever spoke about such things and so I've never given it any thought, therefore I don't know.

            Metta, Sunyo


            • #7
              Hi Mara,

              Samyutta Nikaya 47:10 The Nun’s Residence this is a good teaching regarding becoming caught up in directed thought and evaluation. In particular the 6th paragraph which begins, “And further he remains focused . . ."


              • #8
                Thank-you Venerable Sunyo and Ed.

                With Metta



                • #9
                  Dear all, thank you for these replies and comments. One of the reasons I thought it would be interesting to ask the question is that Ajahn Brahm once brought up the discussion of circular time when he was teaching dependent origination in a Sutta Cass and we asked him about the origin of avijja. He said if I recall correctly that there was no origin, avijja had always been there - and that's where he made the example of circular time as opposed to linear time, since the latter has a beginning, which is to analogous to asking for a first origin or cause of things.
                  So whilst I agree with Ed of course that thought should not be there within the space meditation, it seems to me that thinking about the Dhamma outside meditation can be useful, as shown by the many Sutta Classes the monks give and by the dialogues/exchanges they have with academics like Richard Gombrich, who seems to consider the Buddha's thinking very important since the title of his book is 'What the Buddha thought'.
                  Anyway, I thought I'd share these reflections, which of course are conditioned by my background, as I must admit that I have a PhD (i.e. Permanent Head Damage in Ajahn Brahm's definition - though I'm sure he can't be completely right on that one, since everything is impermanent after all ).



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