Hi all. Recently I’ve been listening to a series of lectures by physicist Sean Carroll on big ideas in physics. One of them was on the idea of time and he mentioned how he’s in favor of the “eternalist” (or block time) theory of time. This is similar to the Sarvastivada theory of “all exists” in Buddhism (vaguely anyways, since modern views are based on physics) and is opposed to the Theravada perspective which is more of a kind of presentism (only the present moment exists).
Anyways it got me thinking about how time is understood in the EBTs and if there is any indication of what the Buddha’s view of time was from the early discourses particularly on the relationship between past present and future. I can’t really recall any passages that have to do with time as a concept. It seems then that a theory of time is not that important to the Buddha Dhamma of the EBTs and it does not really matter what ends up being true. This has been my view for some time now.
And yet it seems like this was a major debate in classical Indian Buddhism and the various schools thought that this issue did matter in some way. Perhaps it mattered to them because the concept of time is related to change, and if time exists in a specific way, then this sheds some light on what change is and thus on anicca. Also, time is an important part of our experience of the world and thus of our experience of suffering. We always suffer in time, the aggregates are always in time and thus it seems like having some idea of what time is allows us to see a new dimension of the Dhamma. So maybe this is is why later Buddhists discussed this issue with such intensity.
Of course, it may still be tangential to actual right view, but I am not sure if it is that insignificant anymore. Or at least, I have now begun to think that perhaps it does matter or it would be useful to think about.
Anyways, what are your thoughts on the issue of theories of time vis a vis the EBTs? Does it matter or is it a waste of time after all? What do you think the Buddha’s view in time would be from the available evidence in the EBTs? Are there any useful passages to look at?