Illusions of Time and Space

By W. Q. Judge

Of all the illusions that beset us, in this world of Maya, perhaps the deadliest are those to which, for lack of better, we give the names of "Time" and "Space": and quite naturally -- since they are prime factors in our every action here below; each undertaking is prefaced by the question -- uttered or unexpressed -- How long? how far? what duration, or extent, intervenes between us and the fulfilment of our desire? Yet that they are illusions, the wise of all ages bear witness: we read in the Bible that "a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day"; the Mohammedan legend tells us of the devotee at the well, met by an Angel, who rapt him into Paradise, where he dwelt for seventy thousand years in bliss, the while a drop of water was falling from his cruse to the ground; and Emerson expresses the same truth in the language of our time -- "The Soul . . . abolishes Time and Space. . . . Time and space are but inverse measures of the force of the soul. The spirit sports with time -- can crowd eternity into an hour, or stretch an hour to Eternity."

And we realize this ourselves, to some extent, though perhaps unconsciously: yet often we are so engrossed either by our own thoughts -- pleasurable or the reverse -- or by the conversation of others -- that we become entirely oblivious of the flight of time, or the distance over which we have passed, while so occupied.

Even more is this the case when we are asleep: in dreams we revisit the scenes, and live over again the days, of our childhood -- commune with friends long since passed away, or visit the ends of the earth, with no feelings of surprise or incongruity: yet an hour later, on awakening to what, in our blindness, we call "the realities of life," we bind on again the chains that Veda, Bible, and Koran -- Prophet, Priest, and Sage, concur in assuring us we shall, in due course, know to be as unreal as the mirage of the desert.

Pending this perfect enlightenment, it may not be wholly unprofitable to try if we cannot get a partial conception of this great truth -- even if it should be merely from an intellectual standpoint.

Let us consider the habitual performance of a purely mechanical, or automatic action -- such as the daily journey of a commuter on the railway: every day, at the same hour, he enters the same car -- probably takes the same seat -- and meets the same fellow-passengers: they converse on substantially the same topics: at the same stage the conductor takes up his ticket, and the engineer -- alas! -- blows the same fiendish and superfluous whistle. Now it does not require a very vivid imagination on the part of our commuter, to so blend the reminiscences of yesterday and the anticipation of tomorrow, with the experiences of today, that all then may seem synchronous. If it is objected that this illustration is faulty, in that it ignores the element of uncertainty inherent in all human affairs, it might fairly be replied that it only does so to the extent of adopting that working hypothesis that is universally accepted in daily affairs, and without which, no one would look beyond the needs of the present moment. Yet possibly a happier illustration may be found: suppose that I wish to revisit a familiar but far distant place -- as, for instance, Damascus: now, if I go there in my physical body, days and weeks must elapse, before I can reach the immemorial city -- sunset and moon-rise, day and night -- with all the incidents of sleep and waking, pleasure and discomfort, possibly the alterations of sickness and health -- all these must be gone through with, and not by one second can the appointed time be shortened: yet if I go simply in memory and imagination, I have but to will -- and instantly, without an appreciable interval, I wander again past mosque and minaret, amid rose-leaf and almond-bloom that perfume the gardens of the "Eye of the East."

So, too, with the kindred illusion of Space. Thousands of leagues of sea and land must be traversed by "this prison of the senses, sorrow-fraught"; whether in the steamer battling with the Atlantic surfs, or the express shooting through the vineyards of fair France -- or the carriage toiling up the cedar-clad slopes of Lebanon -- every inch of the weary way must be consecutively passed over, and not by one hair's breadth can it be avoided. Yet, going without the encumbrance of the flesh, even as I had no sensation of Time, so I have no perception of distance, between the swirl of the tide of the Hudson, and the plash of the fountains of Abana and Pharpar.

Experiences like these are so familiar, and so apparently meaningless, that some may attach little importance to them, or even be disposed to ignore them altogether. Yet probably this would not prove wise. It may well be that, in Occultism, as in Physical Science, great truths lie just before us -- stare us in the face, as it were: and when they are at last discovered, it is not by elaborate research, but by the application of the most familiar methods.

Again -- it was because he had been faithful over a few things, that the good servant was promoted to be ruler over many things. What right have we to expect to attain to higher knowledge, or claim to be entrusted with greater powers, until we have proven ourselves worthy of such preferment by thoroughly using, and profiting by, such as we now have?

From The Theosophical Path, January 1912, pp. 1-3.