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Sense and nonsense of time

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My father asked me a question when I was little: what is the fastest thing in the world? Like any other kid, I tossed up a rocket, and he responded in the negative, and affirmed that the fastest thing is the mind. The notion that the movement of thought is the fastest, astonished me.

There is no doubt that the analysis of time is a complicated thing; I am here merely drawing attention to facts and fictions that are combined to portray an impression of time. For example, the time taken by a train to get to a city is derived from events which are in time. This is physical time (kalika) that is measured by the clock. ‘Going to a city’ by mind does not involve physical events in between, so, it must be psychologically derived by past experiences.

Use of physical time in day-to-day life makes sense, but the use of psychological time to become something (by desire) that is not present here and now does not make much sense. We appear to do just that by mixing up psychological time with physical time to cause all sorts of stress and anxiety. Do we think around existence in psychological or physical time? Does neither time exist?

Kalavadins, a group of eternalists in contemporary of the Buddha, claimed that time is an absolute reality and strictly distinct. Even for Isaac Newton in 17th century, time was absolute and universal. Albert Einstein in 1905 disputed Newtonian time by the theory of Relativity in which he specified that time is not independent of the universe, but elastic and relative to the motion of an observer. For Einstein, the passing of time was an illusion. Moreover, he wrote that “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion”.

Two millenniums before western philosophers, the Buddhist thought expounded by answering to Kalavadins that time has no objective reality and has no existence outside the world of phenomena (dhammas). In other words, time does not exist in real sense—avijjamana pannatti—like dhammas that arise and cease through causes and conditions. The theory of causality (an equivalent term for Paticcasamuppada) categorised that past, present and future are a concept of time and the Buddha advised us not to entertain views around the past and the future. The mind is designed to operate in the present because everything we experience is a product of six internal bases and six corresponding sense objects.

If we cannot talk about time without causally produced events, thinking about future is nothing but extrapolating the past or present with imaginary or predicted causes and conditions. As such any notion of deterministic future cannot stand in the Buddhist thought. For this reason, I think the Buddha never talked about the future in absolute accuracy, apart from a few exceptions, for example heinous crimes in which effect will be without intervals (anantarrika-kamma).

To replace the belief of absolute time, the Abhidhamma had invented a few entities in various scales such as khana (moment), santati (continuum or moving now) and addhan (duration). Any attempt to extend these entities into samsaric cycle, phenomenal integration by an observer—a self—is necessary to place them in temporal scale. All these entities, as far as I see, should be understood in relation to phenomena. A phenomenon is not a function of time and self, but vice versa. Without such a consideration, these entities sound more metaphysical than empirical and may well fall into the line of Kalavadines.

For example, if ‘khana’ is defined as a moment in physical time, it should have a duration. Any division of the duration should have characteristics of the whole duration. If ‘khana’ represents the entirety of its divisions—many consciousnesses as advocated by the Abhidhamma—to cognise what ‘khana’ is, one needs to go into all divisions at once, which is impossible. If we were to say it does not have a duration, several moments have no duration either. Therefore, ‘khana’ cannot be understood in terms of physical time. The exact nature of santati—continuum—is also debatable and cannot be grasped easily by us, due to the fact that phenomenal overlaps between successive santati are needed for ‘moving now’. It is nevertheless accepted in the commentarial tradition and recognised as perceptible time.

Since time is a conceptual construct that cannot be distinct outside of phenomena and their observers, I think ‘samaya’—confluence of conditions (paccaya samaggi)—is the most sensible way to put time into psychological perspective, in which no chronological sequence can be recognised. Samaya has widely been used in the early Buddhist literature, for examples, “ekam samayan” (at one time) in the Sutta Pitakaya, “tena samayena” (at that time) in the Vinaya Pitakaya and “yasmin samaye” (at which time) in the Abhidhamma Pitakaya.

Life is nothing more than the confluence of conditions one after the other. Attachment to time by always attempting to become ‘something’ in the future seems a major issue for us not being able to realise the Dhamma. In this life, we are fulfilling our time (‘kalam karoti’) in both physical and psychological senses, and before fulfilling our time (‘kalakiriya’), eradicating our attachment to time is necessary to put an end to becoming (bhava).

DR KEMACHANDRA

 

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Opinion

Remember Thalidomide!

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An unscrupulous politician (who shall remain unnamed in this article), is engaged in an opportunistic push to pressurize medical researchers and doctors in the United States, to produce an ‘instant’ vaccine to immunize people against the COVID-19 Virus. American medical experts such as Dr Anthony Gaucci are resisting, insisting that proper and thorough tests should be done first, and safety, NOT urgency, should be the priority.

They have forgotten Thalidomide.

In the 1960’s, a German pharmaceutical company sold a drug known as Thalidomide, as a treatment for pregnant women. It was supposed to be a medication for conditions ranging from ‘morning sickness’ to sleeping difficulties. (The company had been established as a soap maker after World War II, its leading Chemist being a known Nazi war criminal –according to Wikipedia).

It had been introduced to the market as a sedative and medication for morning sickness, without being tested on pregnant women. For women in 46 countries, where it was used, it became “the biggest man‐made medical disaster ever,” with over 10,000 children born with a range of severe deformities. Of the total number of people affected by the use of thalidomide during the mother’s pregnancy approximately 40 percent died .(Source-Wikipedia, and New York Times). Those who survived had limb, eye, urinary tract, and heart defects. “The most common form of birth defects from thalidomide is shortened limbs”.

In 1962, Food and Drug Administration pharmacologist Frances Oldham Kelsey received the President’s Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, for blocking the sale of Thalidomide in the United States. Later, the Thalidomide debacle led to greater drug regulation in many countries.

But not before the manufacturer was forced to pay compensation in the UK, the USA, Canada , France and Germany. But the number of countries where it was sold by that unscrupulous pharmaceutical company, was 46. It is very likely that Thalidomide victims in the Third World countries received no help at all!

Thalidomide is an example of why , where medicine is involved, caution and circumspection must take precedence over urgency. Under political pressure from an electioneering President in the United States, If a vaccine appears, ostensibly as a miracle cure for Covid 19, “Let the buyer beware! ” – especially if sold by Western Multinational Pharmaceutical companies to the Third World.

Remember Thalidomide!

JAYMAN

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Opinion

Plea for SL pensioners abroad

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Since New Zealand has no Sri Lankan embassy, the Sri Lankan embassy in Australia at Canberra, always sent my pension directly each month to the local ANZ bank. No commission was deducted either in Sri Lanka or the ANZ local bank at that time. I only had to send a life certificate, properly signed and certified once every three months, to the Canberra office. They made the necessary arrangements with the Sri Lankan Pensions Department. 

In 2015 things changed. Our pensions were unceremoniously stopped. I was asked to open an account in a Sri Lankan bank (four bank branches were chosen by the Yahapalana government) although I was living in New Zealand.  I was compelled to open this Sri Lankan bank account only in my name – no joint names were allowed, and it had no ATM facilities. I was asked to send the life certificates and money transfer form, each month to this Sri Lankan bank. For each transaction, the Sri Lankan bank deducts a commission, and when it arrives in New Zealand, the local ANZ bank takes NZ $15 also. I hardly had anything to my hand because I am an old pensioner who retired when government salaries were very low. Then I began to withdraw my pension every 3 months because I would then be able to save on the commissions from both banks. 

On top of this, I had to send 3 forms properly filled to the IRD (Sri Lanka) and only then would the IRD authorise the Sri Lankan bank to release my pension. This is pure harassment to old pensioners. The earlier system of receiving our pensions from the embassy existed even during the time of the war. My plea is to revert back to this. Then, us poor pensioners will receive our full pensions at the end of each month, with NO deduction from either bank.

Dealing with the Sri Lankan banks is very stressful. The bank into which my pension goes, only accepts forms posted from New Zealand with the New Zealand postal stamp. If it is lost in the post, when there are postal strikes in Sri Lanka, I have to send all documents all over again, which has happened many times to me. 

Please help the overseas senior pensioners and let us return back to the embassy system. 

PEARL S DASSANAYAKE 

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Opinion

Justice in the Street

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Justice in the street is not a given. Dignity, too, through justice, is not where it might be, in the air or on the ground. This comment arises from the article by Tassie Seneviratne (TS) in The Sunday Times 20th Sept 2020 over a person sworn in as an MP, despite a criminal conviction record.

Oath of public office: The swearing in and the oath administered, and witnessed, raise questions as to its validity in law and on its effect on Justice and Dignity of public office. Mainly, the question is the purpose whether it has serious intention of the oath, not reduced to a plain utterance. Even the oath of office, as for justice and dignity ,is now in effect empty. Oath without dignity does not bind. Killing is not a disqualification for public office as legislators. It is contemptible to even think of such disqualification to hold public office in the Police, the Public Service, and the Judiciary. Even a questionable reputation of a remote distant relation of a candidate to public office was unacceptable to hold office. Promotions in public service depended much on the reputation of the aspirant, apart from some conviction. The reason is that their social background was important to swear an oath, in law and in society. It is impossible to think of killers, bribe takers and wastrels, in our public and police service, to pledge their word, since they cannot discharge their functions with such a murky character background. Only the clear could take their oath. With MPP there is little let or hindrance to take oath from unclear social background. Oath of public office is therefore not easily administered.

Oath of public office and the Law. It is even said the oath can be sworn as a ghost may swear. The effect of law on the oath of office is now, perhaps, only little beyond nominal. Legality and morality are also at odds with justice on the streets, as one sees. But sight again is only as one sees. Many have seen it one way and are shocked. To many others as they see, it is business as usual with some profit thrown in, in the while. Legal arguments are a waste of time if the return is good. Moral public concerns are still trying their utmost best, in Parliament and outside, even with less profit and takings. This is however the drama unfolding to hold the public in the pay off.

Many questions yet arise which reflect on administer of the oath and the validity of its attestation. These may be legal issues which may be explained away in various ways; that the words and the action are separate and hardly related to each other. These arguments will soon be forgotten. Where the law which is for justice does not help, one may then look to religion, at least for the reason that the oath is vowed with a religious intonation.

Oath of public office and Religion. Oath is subscribed to solemnly with a religious intonation. Religion too may then lend its claims and enter the fray but, apparently, does not help dignity of office. Many an oath is administered in the cloak of religion that is yet not worth the breath exhaled. Such is also the matter of everyday life experience of oath taking in medicine, in ethics, in many other professions, even law, and now in Parliament. Yet religion is spread through far and wide for other good effect in this country. Somehow religion barely matters to push dignity. Religious preaching is not at a loss, not less, though its effect is doubtful. If religion speaks to promote dignity in public life, the reality in Parliament and outside, may do much to help dignity in public office. The fault is still not with religion, but with those who may use religion otherwise. Public life nonetheless goes on, that even religious places may, perhaps, have uses that serve them better.

Oath of public office with conviction and with previous conviction. Into this void of a legal and religious effect of the oath, comes a social video, just at this time. Bribery and corruption took place there, the video said, before the very eyes of the dignitaries in those identical precincts dedicated to law and justice. In another sense, the market place has come into Hulftsdorf with transactions in and around the very pillars of justice. They were all involved, leaving no exception. They all are those who had subscribed to a solemn oath for justice and dignity with conviction, with no previous conviction. For every turn then of the administration in the law offices, taking extracts, moving files, and in the myriad interactions among these who alone are admitted to these premises, the exchanges are transactions, the video said. These are reduced to commodities for exchange at a price. The video says this clear and loud in the presence of police and other dignitaries who held a stoic face.

Oath of public office in the market. A market place, as described, in these hallowed precincts, is therefore yet another exercise to deal with. A form of market society has perhaps taken hold where much is up for buy and sale exchange, notwithstanding oath of public office. This scene in the area of the halls of justice, around the pillars of justice, is not easily countenanced with. The wigs, the robes, the pinstripes, the khaki, the flowing white banian, the variety, they did not cover that within. And all this is but some distance away from the Pettah market. Many would shoot the messenger who brought it to the public eye, the video compeer, as the only means they can think of to contend with reality.

Sworn to public office. Law does not help. Religion probably has other purposes. Can the public service, the public office, then steer through this morass? That has been the recurring problem diagnosed variously as problems of life; of a structural, of a systemic nature, of that between those in the public service and those who consider themselves beyond those niceties, the MPP, none of them resolved.

The public service, the police and many others, have therefore only to depend on themselves, as best or otherwise as they may. The issue with them still remains one of Justice, Public good and Morality. Dignity of public office goes with it. With it, dignity governs the conduct of public officers. This is the continuing problem for Public officers who occupy public office. Public servants have even to discharge their duties in courts where his duty makes a high call on his dignity. As a witness in court, the public servant’s dignity comes to the fore in the reception of his evidence. The public servant’s dignity then stands on its own. MPP have their speeches in Parliament untested in any manner. They are delivered with some narcissi glee and glow.

MPP as Legislators hardly consider themselves to thus hold public office. Such constraints and niceties do not stay them. Inappropriate dress offends MPP dignity. Conviction for murder does not offend MPP sense of dignity. So there is confusion along the way, when dignity is, when dignity is not. The confusion is quite useful to some that there is space for manoeuvre to confuse many, of the validity of the oath, of their attire and much else, against dignity of public office. For much flows from dignity than from law and religion, and much else, now shows. Dignity of public office yet stands though it can be bulldozed away as one incident showed. The mangrove incident at Negombo showed the clash of the two interests and of the dignity of their respective offices. The dignity and the career of the public officer with the mangrove were razed away. The politician got his promotion.

Bribery and corruption are collectively the malady in the absence of justice and dignity. Waste and defalcation all follow in its train. In fact a series of other forms of misdemeanour have been vindicated in the political life of many in Parliament. None of the MPP stood up to protest their innocence or be exposed, when so challenged in Parliament. Dignity can wait the MPP said. But none of this rubbed on the body of the legislator. In Parliament all is different. Questionable conduct is even a proud distinction; it is a qualification. This apparently is the reason that none of the MPP who were dared to, did stand up and risk their conduct being exposed in Parliament. They only kept their seats wearing only a sheepish grin in contempt of the accusers. Speeches in Parliament are not restrained by oath or fraught by problematic social background, MPP are spared quandary.

Oath of public office then and now. Could an article, as this, have been written 50, 40, 30 years ago, then? Politicians, Judges, Lawyers, Police and Prison Commissioners, University dons, Election Commissioner (singular) Public servants, then, all were of repute and dignity. Do names need to be mentioned? What then and whence was the difference? Many reasons, now, are ascribed for the breakdown. The replacement of social values by market values in about 2008/09 with the financial crisis is given as the breaking point. That breakdown was ,however, coming, in slow change, before the crisis. Social institutions, political and religious organisations, law associations and traditions and much else, none excepted, were caught in the throes of this silent revolution. Money now mattered. None are clear. This opinion cannot be dismissed.

A matter of regret, then, is that much that is awry including law and order can be accounted so for this collapse. The dysfunction of law and order process has quite well set in now. Much of the malfunction though freely termed ‘laws delay’ is now, as in a market society, described even as a way of life! If one applies this same analysis around that is equally applicable to all.

Justice and dignity are yet in the street, not in the Hall.

 

Frank de Silva

Narahenpita.

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