The Unreality of Time, Space, Duration and Extension

by Aik Theng Chong, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 17, 2011

Singapore -- The Buddhist Theory of Universal Flux explained the world process represented as a motion that is discontinuous, although a compact one.

It is consist of an infinite number of discrete moments following one another almost without intervals. There is no matter at all, just flashes of energy following one another and producing the illusion of stabilized phenomena.

This Universal Momentariness also implies that every duration in time is consist of point-instants following one another, every extension in space is also consists of these point instants arising in close proximity to each other and simultaneously and every motion consists of these point-instants arising in close proximity and in succession.

It is just like a roll of negatives in our cinemas of old, where when set in motion at a certain speed, eventually products the stability of the pictures we see on the screen. There is therefore no Time, no Space and no Motion over and above the point instants of which these imagined entities are constructed by our imagination.

When we look at the Indian Realist interpretation, Time is a substance, eternal and all pervading. Its existence is inferred from the fact on the sequence of events occurring between phenomena. Space is likewise a substance which is eternal and all embracing. It is inferred from the fact that all extended body processes impenetrability and they are beside each other in space. According to them, different times are parts of one and the same time.

When Time and Space are represented as divided in many spaces and different times, it is a metaphor. The objects situated in them, but not Space and Time itself, are divided. They are not general concepts but proper names. They are representation produced by a single object only. To the Realist, Time and Space are two all embracing receptacles contain each of them the entire Universe.

The Buddhist denies the separate reality of these two realities. Real is a thing possessing a separate efficiency of its own. The receptacles of the things have no separate efficiency. Time and Space cannot be separate from the things that exist in them. They are not separate entities.

Every point instants may be viewed as a particle of Time, as a particle of Space and as a sensible quality, but this is only a difference of our mental attitude toward that point-instants. The point instant itself, the ultimate reality cut loose from all imagination is without quality, timeless and indivisible. Only subtle time, the moment, the point instant of efficiency is considered as real.

The notion of substantial Space and Time were not highlighted as it can be deducted by reasoning and where its empirical original is impossible to conceive, but they can be destroyed dialectically on the score that the notions of duration and extension contain
contradictions and cannot be accepted as objectively real.

If we look at reality as a point instant of efficiency, and if we are to said that it possesses extension and duration we will be landed in a contradiction, as each real point instant cannot exist at the same time in many places, neither can the same reality be real at different times. To the realists, empirical things have a limited real duration. They are produced by the creative power of nature or by human will or by the will of God.

For the Buddhist, if a thing exists at moment A, it cannot also exist at some moment B, for to exist at moment A means not to have any real existence at moment B or at any other moment, keeping in mind the reality of a point instant of efficiency. If a thing could have any real duration through several moments, it would represent a real unity existing at once at different times.

It would be either that the enduring unity is a fiction and real is only the moments, or the moments are fiction and real is only duration. For the Buddhist the moments alone are real, duration is a fiction, for if duration is a reality, it would be a reality existing at different time at once, i.e., existing and at the same time non-existing at a given moment.

Thus Ultimate Reality for the Buddhist is timeless, space-less and motionless. But it is not timeless in the sense of eternal being, space-less not in the sense of an ubiquitous being, motionless not in the sense of an all embracing motionless whole, but timeless, space-less and motionless in the sense of having no duration, extension or movement. It is just the mathematical point instant, the moment of an action’s efficiency.