Dorjebo was a taxi driver I met when I rode his cab in Ulsan, South Korea. I was struck by something in his composure and noticed the meditation beads hanging from his rearview mirror. We began to talk and our talks continued on other days over many cups of sake. ‘Dorjebo’ was a name he acquired during travels in Tibet and Japan. His English was not perfect but I think I got his drift. Seon is the korean word for meditation or zen.
Dorjebo: In common thinking we assume we will still be alive a moment from now, but in seon we see that we don’t live after any moment but now. In common thinking we assume we were alive just a moment ago, but in seon we see that we don’t live before the moment we are living now. This is the first and last and only moment we can live: seeing this we naturally practice the Way. Forgetting this (as we all do) we fail to practice the Way, regardless of how outwardly enlightened our useless thoughts and deeds may appear to be.
Then what, I ask, is the past?
This is a very old moment, says Dorjebo, 13 billion years, they say, maybe older. And where are those thirteen billion years? Nowhere. Yet their traces are engraved in the three dimensions of space. Every object has only three dimensions. But the wrinkles in a hand tell us that it was once larger. The visible hand is said to be the surface of a 4-D continuum of hands that no longer exist. Where is the hand of the infant you, of the adolescent you, the young adult you? Where is that whole continuum of your past selves? It no longer exists but its former existence can be mentally reconstructed from the memory of space, the traces left in the world and in your brain.
Why do we perceive the world as moving thru time? I ask.
Everything’s in motion, says Dorjebo, and when something moves from A to B we visualize the object’s path thru space as being also it’s path thru time. We measure these movements with a clock and derive the length of the path in seconds or years but altho the path of an object’s motion thru space may be real and tho its movement may be timed with a clock, the path we draw thru time is only an imaginary line in an imaginary medium. We imagine that all these imaginary pathways are tributaries of one long line, the path of the universe thru absolute time.
All of these movements and transformations are simultaneous. They are all happening at the same time because there is only one time in which things can happen—now. At the same time they leave traces in their environment, altering the immediate memory of space. The perceived flow of time is really the flow of forms from potential future configurations of the present thru this vivid phase of actual things that are decaying into disappearing remnants and memories that also disappear. Forms are like waves that emerge in the substance of space and pass thru the three phases of potentiality, actuality and memory.
What is the substance of space?
The forms which interexist and the forms which separate them. Any substance examined turns out to be just forms within forms that are empty of any permanent self-nature.
What about the immutable laws of nature?
There may be things that don’t change for the life of the universe but when space and time disappear there will be no nature and no laws.
Why does the memory of space change?
Think of memory as a layered pearl. The top outer layer is immediate
memory. Below that is ‘recent’ memory and way down at the bottom are the ‘oldest’ memories. As immediate memory changes new memories displace recent
memories which then displace older memories. So the whole continuum of memory is constantly changing and the imprint of the nonexistent past is more and more weakly preserved as it gets pushed further down. As memories descend they find less and less energy to bind them and become progressively less coherent. In the human brain, and possibly in space at large, functionally significant memories are preserved at all levels but at the lowest layer insignificant memories are simply digested to provide energy to the layer above. So the entire record of our nonexistent past is not preserved in every detail and probably the universe does not preserve every detail of its nonexistent past either.
But what of the future? I ask. We say the future does not yet exist, so there can obviously be no record of the future.
He adjusts his seat and says: Human beings talk about the immediate future and the near and distant future. Obviously the immediate potential present is already here in a sense, at least in the sense of probability. I think the future is about the shifting calculus of probabilities of change in the composition of immediate space. Just as immediate memories displace older memories, the immediate potential present displaces older versions of the potential present.
So there’s no need to speak of a ‘future’?
No it gets replaced by the potential present, which is like a mirror image of memory and like memory it already exists in the depth of present space. At the lowest energetic levels, where memories are fading and incoherent, they recombine to shape very weak configurations of potential reality. When a rising configuration of the possible present reaches nearly 100% probability of forming part of the immediate present it’s commonly called the immediate future and it’s inseparable from the descending immediate past. It’s like the top of a wave where water is neither
rising nor falling and we might as well call it the immediate present. A coalition of configurations cooperate and compete for survival on the vivid crest of the actual and the forms of the immediate potential displace the forms of the actual into remnants and records.
But what is gained from seeing things in this way? It seems so grand to be travelling down the river of Cosmic Time but in your view we’re just stuck in the present.
That’s like saying your heart is stuck in your chest, says Dorjebo. It could be transplanted into another chest but there are no past or future times into which you could be transplanted.
This view leaves us with the simplicity of space as maintainer, destroyer and creator: like the Hindu Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, I say. This is like saying that the universe is God.
Emptiness precedes its metaphors.
Talking of space as having both a memory and something like an imagination
that’s close to saying that the universe is something like a mind.
Or that the mind is something like space, he says. That’s what you gain:
your original mind, a mind like space.
In memory of dharma brother Paul Warwick
and all the rooms in which he continues to breathe.