Back Home Next

Time and Eternity

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment;
That this huge stage presenteth nought but Shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and checked even by the self-same sky:
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay,
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful time debateth with decay
To change your day of youth to sullied night,

And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

William Shakespeare, Sonnets

Time passes and eternity remains the same. Eternity is not the infinite extension of time, it is the moment. The moment includes all of time. There has never been a time that was not in the moment. Nor will there be. But there is a connection between time and eternity.

If something persists in time, it partakes of eternity. The longer it exists in time, the more it impresses itself upon eternity. That which continues longest in time is most eternal.

Some things are forgotten and brought back—they may or may not be eternal —the eternal must persevere during time. Is an Egyptian grocery receipt eternal? Are the Nag Hammadi gospels eternal? Is one more "eternal" than the other?

With a title like "Time and Eternity", it might seem that this essay is purely speculative, of the same nature as that word play that passes for philosophy in our time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Further, it could seem that although a discussion of time might possibly have some practical value, a discussion of eternity certainly will not. In fact, it is the contemplation of things eternal that has the most value, and our misdirected association with things temporal that has the least. This is not to endorse some sort of non-involvement with the issues of our day; it is rather to see them for what they are and so bring a long history of human experience to bear on our actions.

In human affairs, there is a direct relation between the apparently opposed concepts of time and eternity. Eternity, which is sometimes confused with infinite extension of time, is actually not extension at all, but rather the moment, the eternal now. Eternity is always here now, while time is never here now, but always in the future, or in the past.

So the fact that they stand in definite relation to each other is surprising. In an obvious way, they are related in the sense that eternity divides time in two, that is, it separates the past from the future. But that is largely theoretical for us, because our consciousness is rarely so refined as to experience eternity—instead we reflect on the past or anticipate the future.

But time and eternity also relate in a not-so-obvious way, and it is one full of significance. This form of relationship between time and eternity is that the deeper the experience of eternity is, the longer lasting the effects of that experience are in time. We can know this both personally and impersonally—personally in the sense that any experience of eternity can have an enormous impact in our life, and impersonally in the sense that we can study history and recognize long-term effects of the experience of eternity in others. The more profound the experience of eternity, the more it is felt over time.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of personal experience, let's focus on the idea that history is a record of the relative survival of that which approaches the eternal as opposed to that which does not.

I think that one way to realize this indubitably, is to see the effect such experiences have had over thousands of years. The teaching of the Buddha. The teaching of Jesus...

Thinking about the Egyptian grocery receipt, it would seem that the price of bread or the price of a cosmetic may still have some interest. But the thing only has interest because it was so long forgotten, that is, we didn't know the price of bread in such and such a Pharaoh's reign. That grocery receipt wasn't intentionally preserved for millennia, handed down generation to generation, as things of eternal value tend to be. In fact, the only reason that grocery receipt is of value is because what it represents is eternal — feeding, living...

The Nag Hammadi manuscripts present a more difficult assessment, because they too were lost for centuries. However we know that the manuscripts were not just forgotten, but apparently deliberately hid—for a later time, because it was thought they would still be of value.

Magnetic Center and the Fourth Way

This brings us to the subject of magnetic center. Magnetic center, properly an aspect of personality in the intellectual part of the emotional center, is the very tool we use to distinguish time from eternity—until we come to school that is, and learn to also detect intellectually and practically what we had previously only intuited.

Magnetic center is a difficult topic. In my case, it was one of the first fourth way ideas I recognized, and long seemed straightforward, obvious, and esoteric. But I have come to see something more involved here, in that there is a difficulty, if not impossibility, of distinguishing magnetic center from something more. Or is it that some people "fall back" to magnetic center after having gone further with it?

My first shocking encounter with this phenomena happened long ago, on a bus to Madison, Wisconsin with three or four of us headed for a meeting of the Gurdjieff group connected with Willem Nyland. I had heart-to-heart talks with two of these older students I so respected, no doubt "bleeding my heart out" to them, and they opening up to me. I was astounded to find the one only wished to learn about the fourth way to bring something back to the Hare Krishna movement to which he belonged, and the other wished to bring something to his Catholic Christianity. I realized they didn't really understand what they had touched, and their results could be no more than their expectations.

This is why fourth way school may use such difficult methods, such as being unpleasant, or expensive, apparently naiive, non-exotic, and so on, whatever. You have to see it and want it through all that; and after all that, I still believe that the greatest of teachers will have with them people that think they get it but don't, or that will lose it first chance they get, the first time the spotlight is off of them...

The fourth way will not go away. Its modern expression is the most powerful force in modern thought in the sense that the most powerful elements in human thought are those that most partake of eternity and therefore have the most effect in time. The teaching unfolds, in ways we cannot imagine, among people we will never know, but "even we here", do our part, make a contribution with every real effort.

Seems that eternity is truth, time illusory. Or, to be less formatory, eternity is more real than time, it precedes it in the ray of creation. When we move toward truth, we move toward eternity, and vice versa. The truth is eternal. Eternity is the truth. Time passes. Be here now.

Back Home Next

All pages © Copyright John Raithel