Are phenomena unmoving and timeless, and can this be supported by the EBTs?

Are phenomena as we seem to experience them actually timeless and unmoving? And is there any evidence for phenomena being described as timeless or unmoving in the EBTs?

I happened to be skimming this thread and found this very thought provoking post from Bhante Paññādhammika:

In physics, I was well acquainted with the idea that time is an illusion, but before now I only understood that in the relativistic sense. I had not heard of this experiment proving the Wheeler–DeWitt equation’s prediction is accurate, and that time is an emergent phenomenon that arises due to entanglement. I’m not accustomed to hearing this stuff discussed in a buddhist context, so I was pleasantly surprised. From wiki, Problem of time:

In 2013, at the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM) in Turin, Italy, Ekaterina Moreva, together with Giorgio Brida, Marco Gramegna, Vittorio Giovannetti, Lorenzo Maccone, and Marco Genovese performed the first experimental test of Page and Wootters’ ideas. They confirmed that time is an emergent phenomenon for internal observers but absent for external observers of the universe just as the Wheeler–DeWitt equation predicts.[10][11][12]

For some background, I’m coming from a mahayana perspective, and in the mahayana phenonema are frequently described as both “unmoving” and “timeless”, much in line with the results of this experiment and the idea that time is an emergent phenomenon or an illusion created by entanglement. Here are a few relavent quotes (I will mark mahayana passages with :lotus: and [what I think are] EBT passages with :dharmawheel:):

From Toh 124 Ratnākara - The Jewel Mine (

:lotus:All phenomena remain stable, unmoving
A state of peace that is unchanging and without harm.
Just like space, nothing can be perceived—
This point maddens unwise beings.”

From Toh 99 Niṣṭhāgatabhagavajjñānavaipulyasūtraratnānanta- The Precious Discourse on the Blessed One’s Extensive Wisdom That Leads to Infinite Certainty:

:lotus:“When you understand the identity of things,
You will forsake the self and become undaunted.
When you know phenomena to be unmoving,
You can teach that understanding to others."

And from Toh 218 Karmāvaraṇaviśuddhi - Purification of Karmic Obscurations:

:lotus:“Monk, as all phenomena are free of the three times, they are timeless.

So I did some digging in on SuttaCentral for comparable things. Let’s start with “timeless”. From SA2 17 - A deva tempts a monk and is granted an interview with the Buddha (, Bhikkhu Saṁyutta’s translation:

:dharmawheel:The monk answered: “I have gone forth at the right time, to attain the timeless.” The deva said: “What does it mean to ‘have gone forth at the right time, to attain the timeless’?” The monk replied: “The Buddha, the World-honored One, has explained how the five sensual pleasures are bound to time, the Buddhadhamma , however, is not bound to time. The five sensual pleasures bring very little pleasure, but multiply our sufferings, accumulate our worries. In the Buddhadhamma I have found certainty within this very body, with no more troubling passions. In everything we do, regardless of the time, when we sow even a little karmic seed, we will obtain the full fruit of its results.”

Now this is not exactly an assertion that phenomena are timeless. In this context, presumably this could be simply interpreted as the Buddhadhamma is timeless because it is true in any time, as the laws of karma operate the same in every time. From certain mahayana perspectives you could perhaps make an equation to dharmakāya, but even from a mahayana perspective, textually that’s probably a bit of a stretch. I tried understanding this with Chinese machine translation tools, but I got nowhere. Still, maybe I’m dismissing “attain the timeless” too quickly?

More frequently, the use of the English word “timeless” appears in the stock phrasing (here from an5.179 - Gihisutta Thanissaro):

:dharmawheel:“Furthermore, he is endowed with verified confidence in the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well-expounded by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.’ This is the second pleasant mental abiding in the here & now that he has attained, for the purification of the mind that is impure, for the cleansing of the mind that is unclean.

However, an5.179 Sujato does not use the word timeless, opting instead for a more down to earth translation:

:dharmawheel:Puna caparaṁ, sāriputta, ariyasāvako dhamme aveccappasādena samannāgato hoti: ‘svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṁ veditabbo viññūhī’ti. Ayamassa dutiyo ābhicetasiko diṭṭhadhammasukhavihāro adhigato hoti avisuddhassa cittassa visuddhiyā apariyodātassa cittassa pariyodapanāya.
:dharmawheel:Furthermore, a noble disciple has experiential confidence in the teaching: ‘The teaching is well explained by the Buddha—visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.’ This is the second blissful meditation …

This seems to be because the word translated is akāliko, defined by SC’s dictionary as: “Timeless; without interval; in this very life.” Again, this seems mostly to be referencing the Buddhadhamma’s quality of being relevant at any time, not a feature of phenomena.

Also of note but probably not relevant is the word asamaya being translated as timeless, defined by Suddhaso as “non-momentary,” “non-occasional,” or “non-temporary".

Of note is that two out of three of my mahayana examples, Toh 124 and Toh 99, don’t seem to have been translated into Chinese or have parallels according to their translators’ introductions—I am unsure if Toh 218 was—and so they may only be preserved in the Tibetan. I am unsure how common this idea is in other canons. As a counterexample, let’s look at these two passages that deal with the concepts of ‘unmoving’ and ‘timeless’ from T 232: Mahāprajñāpāramitā Mañjuśrīparivarta Sūtra (

:lotus:Mañjuśrī said, “The wisdom without fabrications is called the wisdom of non-regression. It is similar to a gold ingot before it is hammered, to know whether it is good or bad. Without being hammered, one is unable to know this. The characteristic of the wisdom of non-regression is also such as this. In the essential realm of practice, neither mindful nor suffering, without arising and without fabrication, endowed with the unmoving, with neither birth nor death, then it manifests.”

:lotus:Mañjuśrī then addressed the Buddha, saying, “Thusly, Bhagavān, have I come wishing to perceive the Tathāgata. Why? I delight in correct contemplation for the benefit of sentient beings. I contemplate the Tathāgata’s appearance of suchness and nothing else: neither moving nor acting, without birth and without death, neither existing nor void, neither here nor away, neither in the Three Times nor apart from the Three Times, neither dual nor non-dual, and neither impure nor pure. Such is the correct contemplation of the Tathāgata for the benefit of sentient beings.” The Buddha told Mañjuśrī, “If one is able to perceive the Tathāgata thusly, then the mind has nothing to grasp nor not grasp, and neither accumulates nor does not accumulate.”

Without an understanding of the original Chinese, this seems to be to be somewhere in between the way these concepts are featured in the EBTs and in the translations from the Tibetan. Like the EBTs, especially in the former example, the ‘thing’ that is unmoving seems to resemble the ‘timeless’ which was attained mentioned in SA2 17, the Buddhadhamma. Of course these are both translated from Chinese.

However, I think the timelessness of phenomena exists in the broader sense in both canons because it is included in Toh 10 Aṣṭā­daśa­sāhasrikā­prajñā­pāramitā - The Perfection of Wisdom in Eighteen Thousand Lines, which, I believe(?) is included in parallel in T06 220 Mahāprajñāpāramitā:

:lotus:“Subhūti, all phenomena have being unmoving as their way of being; they do not pass beyond that way of being. And why? Because phenomena do not move anywhere, so going and coming do not exist.”

According to the glossary, the word translated here is མི་གཡོ་བ། གཡོ་བ་མེད་པ། , from the Sanskrit aneñja, often defined as “stable” or “immovable”. However I do not know of a Chinese > English translation of the 18,000 lines to verify myself that this concept is reflected the same. Alas, even though Pali shares aneñja with Sanskrit, I can’t seem to find this word used the same way.

Now, let’s move on to “unmoving” in the EBTs, which I think is more fruitful. The only convincing instance I can find of phenomena being described as “unmoving” is in Ud 8.1 Paṭhamanibbānasuttaṁ 71 - The First Discourse about Nibbāna, (Bhikkhu Ānandajoti’s translation):

:dharmawheel:“There is that sphere, monks, where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no air, no sphere of infinite space, no sphere of infinite consciousness, no sphere of nothingness, no sphere of neither perception nor non-perception, no this world, no world beyond, neither Moon nor Sun. There, monks, I say there is surely no coming, no going, no persisting, no passing away, no rebirth It is quite without support, unmoving, without an object,—just this is the end of suffering.

Translated in Ud 8.1 Sujato as:

:dharmawheel:“Atthi, bhikkhave, tadāyatanaṁ, yattha neva pathavī, na āpo, na tejo, na vāyo, na ākāsānañcāyatanaṁ, na viññāṇañcāyatanaṁ, na ākiñcaññāyatanaṁ, na nevasaññānāsaññāyatanaṁ, nāyaṁ loko, na paraloko, na ubho candimasūriyā. Tatrāpāhaṁ, bhikkhave, neva āgatiṁ vadāmi, na gatiṁ, na ṭhitiṁ, na cutiṁ, na upapattiṁ; appatiṭṭhaṁ, appavattaṁ, anārammaṇamevetaṁ. Esevanto dukkhassā”ti."
:dharmawheel:“There is, mendicants, that dimension where there is no earth, no water, no fire, no wind; no dimension of infinite space, no dimension of infinite consciousness, no dimension of nothingness, no dimension of neither perception nor non-perception; no this world, no other world, no moon or sun. There, mendicants, I say there is no coming or going or remaining or passing away or reappearing. It is not established, does not proceed, and has no support. Just this is the end of suffering.

However, the ‘phenomena’ being discussed here is seemingly restricted to nibbāna. Admittedly, to me this still seems a fairly compelling yes, because from a mahayana perspective (at least in my limited understanding), nirvāṇa and saṃsāra do not have distinction, as seen in Toh 184 Bodhisattva­caryānirdeśa - Teaching the Practice of a Bodhisattva:

:lotus:“An infinite number of teachings are proclaimed,
Yet there is no such thing as the liberation of beings.
Understand this: there is no distinction [F.102.a]
Between nirvāṇa and saṃsāra."

The topic of nibbāna and saṃsāra having no distinction has already been discussed at length on this forum here, so let’s look at Bhante Sujato’s analysis of Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā from that thread (sorry, long chunk here; :mudra:emoji additions are my own just to break up the text):

Personally, I also think Bhante Khemarato’s comment here is insightful:

Extrapolated to the original topic (warning: pseudo-buddho-physics ahead), in the same way that saṃsāra is the heart that is fetterred, full, and nibbāna is the heart that is free, empty, phenomena when entangled would seem to have the qualities of saṃsāra, a place where time and beings appear to be, but when viewed from an unentangled perspective, time (and beings) do not appear, and so those phenomena have the qualities of nibbāna (that is to say, they are empty of qualities).

Still, this isn’t exactly an EBT answer, nor was one found in the thread as far as I can tell. Nāgārjuna’s analysis would seem to be on the side of ‘yes’, and as discussed above by Bhante Sujato, he was arguing counter to the Abhidharma’s methodology, which would probably put his analysis closer to either an EBT reading or a prajñāpāramitā one. However, scholars (and this forum) seem to have a hard time committing to categorizing Nāgārjuna (I’m sure he’d be happy about that), as noted by Bhante here:

I’m curious if anyone has stumbled across something in the EBTs since the above discussions, or if anyone with mastery over any of the languages of the source material sees anything jumping out that might be relevant, because the answer to the original question seems to hinge on whether or not Nāgārjuna’s position requires Prajñāpāramitā to support it or not.

Anyway, this is just me playing connect the dots, no original ideas here, but I thought I would post it because there seems to be a fair amount of interest in the buddhist implications of quantum physics here and it’s one of my favorite subjects. I find it personally liberative, but it may be too 'metaphysical to be overly featured in the EBTs.

As a side note, I hope it is clear from the context of my post but I am not looking for anyone in the thread to start arguing the validity of EBTs vs mahayana, or criticizing one or the other, so if your reply only contains that kind of thing please reconsider it. Also, this is my first post here, hello and thank you for making such a great resource and forum :pray:. Please let me know if this kind of content is outside the scope of discussion here and I’ll refrain from it.

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Thanks for the post. Interesting, I sort of gave up on that idea some time ago as I am not confident that the physics part of timelessness is actually the same thing as the realization of nibbana timelessness as I learn more about both.

To equate them seems like to buy into the physicalism paradigm a bit more. And also, one has to get out of the universe, without entanglement to “see” timelessness, but seeing itself depends on light moving, so in short, the timelessness in physics speculation cannot be observed. I am pretty sure some philosophers had done this reasoning many times before. How would we know if time stopped and then resumed? We wouldn’t.

Nibbana being timeless to me now sounds more like not creating a story of a self, which requires the past and future. Being without a need for self creation, self making, one is free to remain in the present moment which feels like there’s no time. The timeless now.

The no fire, water etc, unmoving part I assume would only apply to the parinnibbana part, or nibbana without remainder part. As no more rebirth, no motion towards rebirth.

Also, not being entangled in Buddhist sense means no attachments. In physics sense, it’s just coincidental naming quirk that they use the same name for different thing. Unless one day the neuropsychology research shows that quantum entanglement can be created via mental grasping, then it would be more interesting to relook at this parallel.

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Yes, it would be impossible to know/observe directly in the absolute sense, there is no way for physicists to ever observe it. As to whether or not they are at all related, I can’t say I understand either physics or nibbana enough to say; the latter I know to be beyond comprehension, and the former is at least beyond mine. Still, I’m not ready to give up equating them at least on a relative=absolute level (just as a thought experiment, not something to insist on).

I like this, but I also think analyzing the physics aspect may make it easier to stop creating a story of a self. If phenomena can be taken to be timeless, it may be easier (for some at least) to remain in that timeless now, because what use is there to tell the story of a self in a world where that self’s progress through a linear time is actually illusory?

I don’t think there is any way for beings to actually be ‘unentangled’ in the physics sense, though I do believe its possible in the Buddhist one. That said, perhaps the continuing entanglement in the physics sense would just be considered to be the remainder (a reach, I know).

In the EBTs it would seem that the Buddha gave time a rather terse treatment and I believe this is the case because, as you point out in your post, the Dhamma is a “timeless” principle. However, as you further discuss, the nature of “timelessness” must be disambiguated.

I highly, highly recommend reading Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time for an in-depth exploration of time as a phenomenological rather than scientific concept. Heidegger splits time into two: temporality and historicity. Historicity is what most people mean when they use the word “time,” referring to a series of moments that can be plotted on an axis, one after another, with all of physical existence “happening” as a series of these moments. Heidegger points out that this entire conception of time approaches the concept by attempting to keep it at arm’s length, conceiving time as if it were something we could look at from the “outside,” ignoring that all of our conceptualization about time is itself utterly, inescapably bound up within time. Heidegger’s thesis goes even further, stating that our lives are not even lived within time, but are rather of time. Opposed to historicity, Heidegger’s temporality is presented as a fundamental ontological basis for existence itself, not something existence is happening “within.” As consciousness cannot be discerned apart from its object and vice-versa, further, objects and consciousness can not be discerned apart from temporality and vice-versa. Historicity is simply one particular abstract form that the always-already-given thusness of temporality binds and penetrates. Objects have their history, histories we discover in, of, and through the first-person, fluctuating ekstasis that is temporality. Heidegger further discerns that temporality is actually equivalent to what he calls “Care”: the way in which existence is never purely a positive thing of physical particles or Platonic forms or whatever, but is rather always fully contextualized within intentionality, understanding, intuition, and attitude—a fully pragmatic “concernful being-in-the-world.” Care, as it is expounded by Heidegger, is absolutely inseparable from temporality itself.

In this way, to directly answer your question, phenomena are definitely not and can never be unmoving and timeless, because “timelessness” is not quality that can ever be discerned within the world. Temporality is a fundamental ontological basis for objects to ever be understood and discerned in the first place and thus must “have” time, (and perhaps we could equally say that time “has” them), but it is in such ontological observations that we begin moving in the direction of authentic timelessness. That temporality always-already is, is itself a “timeless” truth. Such timeless truths cannot be seen directly in the world, but can nevertheless be understood through reflection and, well, here the connection between this and the more classically Buddhist concepts of ignorance, knowledge, samsara, and nibbana starts to take shape. I could go further into the nature of temporality as Heidegger puts it but I think perhaps just giving you the tip that exploring time from a philosophical/phenomenological angle will probably be a lot more fruitful than coming at it from a scientific perspective might be enough for now :slight_smile:

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I would add to this Joan Stambaugh’s work (s) on Dogen. She’s a famous translator of Heidegger, and his connection to the Kyoto School is well known.

Lusthaus Review of Stambaugh.pdf (426.0 KB)


Quantum entanglement might have arisen for free, but also destroys itself much faster than the quantum computer builders like.

For 2 particle entanglement, there’s the monogamous criterion. As long as the other particle interacts with another one, the entanglement spreads out until it’s basically so diluted that it’s classical more or less. To create and preserve entanglement is a quantum resource which is crucial to build a workable quantum computer.

If quantum entanglement were that easy to observe, we wouldn’t think quantum to be so weird as quantum behaviour should be in our common sense already.

Of course, one can then easily see impermanence in this rapid arising and ceasing nature of quantum entanglement.

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Fascinating question, and I wish I had the time to address it in more depth. But I think you are in good hands here!

Just one point, be careful in the reading of sutta passages that appear or do not appear to be about “timelessness”. I’d be happy to address these if they were broken into smaller posts, but just one example:

The idea here is not really about a philosophical reading of time. Rather, it is about rebirth. The Buddha is turning on its head our normal assumptions. We tend to think that the pleasures of the world are things we experience here and now, while the promises of heaven are in the future, the “pie in the sky when you die”.

The Buddha is saying that the sensual pleasures are in fact bound to time, because in our pursuit of them we create kamma which binds us to future lives. The Buddha’s path, on the other hand, is not because we can see the benefits here and now, ultimately including Nibbana itself, the ending of time and rebirth.

So this is an interesting passage but only obliquely on philosophy. So when you say:

It’s not quite what this passage is saying. But there are other passages that do say this, although not quite in the same way. For example the “fixed principles of the dhamma” are true no matter whether Buddhas appear in the world or not

This is what I meant by passages that “do not appear” to be about timelessness. It’s not just the direct passages, but inferences and implications that may be quite subtle.

As for your main question,

That depends on how you define experience. My answer would be, that if “experience” is sheer sense-consciousness (paccakkha) in its most bare form, then yes, we only see what is. We do not see what is past or what is to come. Nor do we see change.

However! That idea of direct experience is an abstraction. In reality we experience the world through direct experience and inference (anumāna) working together.

I think time/reality is experienced in somewhat of a bell curve. The present isn’t just “this”, but is a smear of probability that tapers off to the past and the future. And that wave of probability is always moving. We can abstract out an idea of an ultimate slice of that reality, but we shouldn’t mistake the abstraction for the thing.

Anyway, good post!


Oh what an exciting thread!! more metaphysics and ontology!! :slight_smile: I have literally just been wathing some fascinating videos from Yale in 2015 where David Albert and Tim Maudlin each present a lecture on the direction of time and then have a conversation about their different points of view.

I don’t tink anything in it would be substantially impacted by the Wheeler-DeWitt finding, these things are often glossed as “proving” things like “time is an illusion” but more sober discussion reveals that the situation is always more complicated than that :slight_smile:

Anyway, here are the videos;

David talking more or less from the “time is an illusion” side.

Tim (on the “what could you even mean by that” side) talking about his idea for a new foundation for geometry that takes relativistic time direction seriously.

The debate between the two.



Thank you everyone for the replies, I have some reading and watching to do now it seems :pray:.

I would like to also read Dōgen, but the book review has made me scared of his translators :sweat_smile:. I have access to Rev. Hubert Nearman’s translation of Shōbōgenzō so that’s probably where I will start.

I don’t have the math or physics knowledge to really understand this subject, but isn’t this a uniquely difficult challenge because you need to keep the same particles entangled with themselves and nothing else for a long stretch? I should have said “I don’t believe it’s possible for us be in a space where new entanglements are not being created”. I’m not talking about a useful kind of entanglement, like the kind that might be used in quantum computers. This is probably showing my bias, since I’m going from my layman’s understanding of Everett/relative state, wherein something like Schrödinger’s cat, the box, and the observer are considered to be ‘entangled’. Maybe this isn’t the same thing?

Thank you for your insight on the reading, Bhante. I think I understand what you mean about kamma being bound to time/binding us to future time, and the path doing just the opposite by allowing us to cease generating kamma, and as Bhante Paññādhammika said, remain in the present moment, and end rebirth.

This is interesting. Maybe there’s not much use in that ultimate abstraction because we can’t prove even this moment, our sheer sense consciousness plus the assumptions baked into it, really exists.

Already I’m seeing the connection to the little bit of Dōgen I read, where he says humans are continually arranging bits of what they experience to fashion a ‘whole universe’, and how we have to be careful to see things as moment to moment. I think this probably goes beyond cautioning against eternalism, though certainly that’s part of it. I think he’s getting at something to do with anattā like in MN 109:

:dharmawheel:“But if it’s impermanent, suffering, and perishable, is it fit to be regarded thus: ‘This is mine, I am this, this is my self’?”

“No, sir.”

“So you should truly see any kind of form at all—past, future, or present; internal or external; coarse or fine; inferior or superior; far or near: all form—with right understanding: ‘This is not mine, I am not this, this is not my self.’

If one mistakenly perceives time as something external, something that ‘flies away’ as the translation of Dōgen I found puts it, it follows that time is flying away from something, probably something that is being grasped as a self.

So, should we turn the assumption on its head and ask ‘are phenomena simply an emergent property of time?’ This seems to be how Dōgen (and maybe Heidegger? I didn’t check him out yet) would put it. As for how to square it with the mahayana’s stable and unmoving, I am not sure. Dōgen seems to disagree, but I think it’s a matter of perspective and audience: maybe he does not want any reading of ‘unmoving’ or ‘timeless’ to cause beings to think the seeming passage of time is somehow apart from their experience.

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Oh Dogen is so popular among Western Zen practitioners that you can find complete translations all over the place. Academics are supposed to be critical. Book reviews are ways of entering into dialogue. I think Heidegger himself has discussed that although there may be touch points between his ideas and “Zen,” he doesn’t feel his work to be particularly aligned.

Moreover, East Asian Buddhism (and I am certainly most familiar with Japanese, because my undergrad was Japanese Lang & Lit ) is influenced by Taoism and NeoConfucianism (which itself was heavily influenced by Buddhism).

So … maybe various comparisons between Western philosophers and “Buddhism” is turning into a cottage industry. I have certainly read my fair share of cross-cultural philosophy.

I’ll look around. I may have a pdf of some of Stambaugh’s book. I don’t think it will break copyright to post it here, since it would be for learning purposes. If anyone objects, or if it’s against the rules of the sangha, let me know.

Meanwhile, this is online … (revised: ethical link) Moon in a dewdrop : Dōgen, 1200-1253 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive It contains his famous Being-Time.

Here’s Stambaugh’s chapter on Dogen’s concept of Buddha Nature in relation to time. It’s really short. And it goes right back to the sutta, so … I think it’s a propos.

Dogen Buddha Nature (Stambaugh).pdf (2.3 MB)

From Joan Stambaugh. (1990). Impermanence Is Buddha-Nature, Dо̄gen’s Understanding of Temporality. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.