Time is one of the most complex things to understand. It is fairly simple to understand it intellectually, but to see the meaning of it, to understand the nature of time, the significance of time, the depth of time, we must not only understand chronological time by the watch in our pocket or on our wrist, but also we must understand and observe the psychological thing which creates time as yesterday, today and tomorrow. Time is a movement, a total thing, and if we break it up into yesterday, today and tomorrow we are caught in the bondage of time. Then we develop theories of gradualism, or of immediacy, the ‘now’. There is the gradual theory, that gradually human beings will become more benevolent, more kind, more this and more that. We see the utter hopelessness of dependence upon a future life, the future being the tomorrow, upon the gain that will take place in a few months, years or centuries. That again is a fragmentation of time. In all that we are caught, and therefore we do not understand the extraordinary movement of time without fragmentation. There is actually only time by the watch and no other time. That train goes by precisely at this time every day, and if you would catch it you must be at the station at the time it leaves. Otherwise you will miss it. Chronological time has to be observed exactly. The observation of time by the watch is not a contradiction, is not a fragmentation of that other time.

Time which is not of the watch is invented by memory, by experience or by the centre that says, “I will be something”. There is the question of death and its postponement by avoiding it, pushing it away. Thought makes for the fragmentation of time which, except chronological time, does not actually exist. We do not understand that extraordinary movement of time in which there is no fragmentation, because we are always thinking of what I was, what I am and what I will be. All that is the fragmentation of psychological time, and you cannot do anything about it, except listen. You cannot say, “I will get rid of time and live in the present because it is only the present that matters”. Actually, what does ‘the present’ mean? The present is only the result of the past, but there is an actual present if there is no fragmentation of time. I hope you see the beauty of this.

Time for us becomes of enormous importance, not chronological time, not going to the office every day, taking the train, the bus, keeping an appointment. All that is very trivial. We have to do it, but what is important is psychological time, which we break up into yesterday, today and tomorrow. We are always living in the past. ‘Now’ is the past, because the ‘now’ is the continuation of memory, the recognition of what has been, which cannot be altered, and what is going on at the present time. Either we live in the memory of youth, in the remembrance of things that have been, or we live in the image of tomorrow. We live lives of gradual decay, of gradual withering. With the coming on of senility, the brain cells become weaker and weaker, lose all their energy, vitality and force. Therein lies the great sorrow. As we grow older, memory disappears and we become senile, which is the repetition of what has been. That is how we are living. Though we are very active, we are senile. In the present, in the moment of action we are always living in the past, with its influence, its pressures, its strain, its vitality. All the knowledge which we have acquired and stored up through enormous struggle, through time, is knowledge of the past. Knowledge can never be of the present. From that past knowledge we act, and that action is what we call ‘the present’. That action is always engendering decay.

We are acting in the image, in the symbol, in the idea of the past; and that is the fragmentation of life. We invent philosophies, theories of the present; we live only in the present and make the best of it. Nothing else matters. Such living in the present is a despair, because time which has been divided into the past, the present and the future only brings about despair. Knowing despair, we say, “It doesn’t matter; let’s try and live in the now, in the present, because everything is meaningless. All action, all life, all existence, all relationship, everything must end in the division of time and therefore in despair, in decay, in trouble”. Please do listen, because we can’t do anything about it. That is the beauty of what will take place if we do nothing but listen. This doesn’t mean that we are going to accept what is being said; there is neither acceptance nor denial. It is stupid for anyone to say, “I am living in the present”. It doesn’t mean a thing. It is equally stupid to say, “I deny the past”. We can deny the past, but we are the result of the past. Our whole functioning is from the past. Our beliefs, our dogmas, our symbols, the particular line we are trying to follow, whatever it is, is still the result of the past, which is time. We have broken up time into the past, the present and the future. This naturally breeds fear, fear of life which is not of time, and the movement of time which is not broken up into yesterday, today and tomorrow. That movement of time can be perceived totally only when there is no fragmentation, when there is no centre from which we look at life.

Eighth Public Talk in Saanen, Switzerland, 26 July 1966