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The Yoga of Time Travel
How the Mind Can Defeat Time
By Fred Alan Wolf
Theosophical Publishing HouseCopyright © 2004 Fred Alan Wolf
All rights reserved.
The ANCIENT ART of TIME CHEATING
The Supreme Lord said: "Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds; even without you, will all the people here, all the fighters who took positions on opposite sides, be engaged in destroying.
—Bhagavad Gita 11.32
Yoga practitioners have known about time travel since ancient times, and many still practice it today. Yoga is a system of practice that is part art, part philosophy, and part science. It is a hands-on method for ennobling one's life, finding purpose in it, and going beyond the everyday illusions that inundate us all. According to traditional Indian philosophy, the yoga system is divided into two principal parts—hatha yoga and raja yoga—with many minor divisions within each.1 Hatha yoga deals principally with physiology, with a view to establishing health and training the mind and body. Raja yoga is a means to control the mind itself by following a rigorous method laid down by adepts long ago. The word yoga shows up in several contexts in Hindu thought and has a number of meanings. Yoga is the name of one of the six original systems of Hindu philosophy, which provides the philosophical basis for yoga as presented by the ancient sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. In the Sutras, Patanjali sets forth ashtanga yoga (literally, the eight-limbed practice), which is now generally referred to as raja yoga. Again, the most famous Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, talks about karma yoga, bhakti yoga, and jnana yoga—three pathways for attaining enlightenment. The Gita also speaks of kriya yoga, as do the Yoga Sutras. When you compare them, you find they complement each other, leading adepts to say that hatha is kriya is raja.
Yoga as both a practice and a system implies a concept of time summed up in the Sanskrit word samsara. Samsara signifies conditioned existence, boundedness—the yoking of spirit to spatial and temporal confinement. As Georg Feuerstein, a noted scholar and teacher of yoga philosophy, points out, "Above all ... Samsara is time." Feuerstein explains that the literal meaning of samsara is flowing together—a perpetual flux of things and events producing consequences of causal relationships. As the late Gilda Radner used to remind us on the television show "Saturday Night Live," this flowing together can produce unexpected and undesired consequences—if it isn't one thing or another, "it's always something." This flowing together of things and events has a counterpart in quantum physics, and it is vital to how the mind "creates" time and the appearance of objective events. We will look at this in detail in the upcoming chapters, particularly chapters 8 and 9.
But samsara also refers to something that the Western mind, with its "linear" view of time, does not consider. This is the idea of the wheel of existence—that the soul experiences endless rounds of birth, life, death, and rebirth, set in motion by causal links created in past lives. It turns out that, from a quantum physics point of view, these cycles can be experienced by the time traveler through recognition of the role played by the ego-mind to "anchor" experience—literally bind it into time providing an active focal point or ego.
Samsara is also a term for maya, or illusion—the persistent beliefs that bind us to space and time so we participate in the flow of these perpetual cycles rather than escaping from them. This view of life taught by ancient adepts, too, resonates with findings in quantum physics, as we shall see in chapter 8.
Many ancient hymns tell us that time—the past, present, and future—is the progenitor of the cosmos and that time itself is the child of consciousness. Contained within this ancient wisdom is a secret: that it is possible through technique to cheat time—in other words, to travel through time, and even to reach the shores of timelessness. Again, quantum physics agrees, and it tells us how we can draw a map of these shores so the traveler sees what they may look like. I find it striking that modern physics posits the existence of a timeless, spaceless realm of existence without which much of modern physics would make little sense, nor would it connect with reality as we perceive it.
Well and good, you may say, but what does this have to do with time travel? Digging deeper into these ancient texts, we find that they say time and space are products of the mind and do not exist independent of it. The principles of quantum physics, remarkably, tell us the same thing. This is an extraordinary key. The trick to going outside the confines of space and time is to reach beyond their source—the mind itself. Paradoxically, we need a theoretical picture created by the mind to understand what it means to reach beyond the mind. We also need a form of practice.
To make time travel real, not just a theoretical exercise, requires a way of slipping around the corner, peeking under the screen, so to speak, where our usual motion picture of reality is projected. The ancient Vedas referred to this behind-the-scenes look at creation as kala-vancana, literally, "time-cheating." It is possible, they say, to escape the space-time illusion of samsara—the projections of the mind itself, which turns out be our own memory in disguise—and cheat time, that is, travel through time. In the coming chapters, we will examine how we think of time and how quantum physics and consciousness are related. But first let's look more closely at what one of the ancient Indian texts has to say.
THE BHAGAVAD GITA
In the early part of the first millennium BCE, Indian philosophers found evidence for the beginnings of what we today call the perennial philosophy. It can be stated in three sentences:
1. An infinite, unchanging reality exists hidden behind the illusion of ceaseless change.
2. This infinite, unchanging reality lies at the core of every being and is the substratum of the personality.
3. Life has one main purpose: to experience this one reality—to discover God while living on earth.
One of the ancient texts in which these principles are set forth and discussed is the Bhagavad Gita. The spiritual wisdom of the Gita is delivered in the midst of the most terrible of all possible human situations: warfare—literally, on the battlefield itself. On the eve of combat, the prince Arjuna loses his nerve and in desperation turns to his charioteer, Krishna, asking him what to do. But Krishna is no ordinary horse-and-cart driver; he is a direct incarnation of God, and he responds to Arjuna in seven hundred stanzas of sublime instruction that includes a divine mystical revelation. He explains to Arjuna the nature of the soul and the nature of the timeless, spaceless, changeless infinite reality and explains that they are not different.
The Gita does not lead the reader from one stage of spiritual development to another, but starts with the conclusion. Krishna says right away that the immortal soul is unchanging and always present and—important for our purpose—that the passing moments of time are illusionary. The soul wears the body as a garment—to be discarded when it becomes worn. Thus the soul travels from body to body, casting aside the old bodies to take on new ones. Just as death is certain for the living, rebirth is certain for the dead. But, Krishna reassures Arjuna, the soul is eternal, not subject to life and death. Arjuna will not be able to perceive this essential truth, however, so long as he remains caught up in life's dualities—samsara, the choices of everyday life in which we are embedded as we move through time.
Like the Buddha's discourses, the Gita does not teach the attainment of an enjoyable life in the hereafter, nor does it offer spiritual or other methods to enhance one's powers in the next life. Krishna's instruction to Arjuna is meant not as an intellectual, philosophical exercise but as a means to arrive at understanding what is truly real. And Krishna teaches detachment as the only way one can get in touch with one's basic spiritual nature. Detachment means not being emotionally entangled with the outcome of our choices. We naturally have the freedom to choose among a range of possible actions in a given moment, but we have no power or say over the results of any act we do.
Is detachment a universally accepted idea? Can quantum physics offer some insight into it? It turns out that detachment is indeed common to both yoga and, as we shall learn in chapter 9, quantum physics. It is profoundly connected to time and the way time works through the mind. The processes of attachment and detachment have much to do with memory and the way we engage with possibilities.
Early in the Gita, Krishna also introduces the word yoga—referring not to the physical postures of hatha yoga or to the discipline of raja yoga, but to a certain evenness, or balance, of mind. Krishna encourages Arjuna to establish himself in yoga in this sense, for it leads to profound peace of mind and the ability to be effective in action when it is required. Thus yoga implies acting in freedom rather than through conditioned reflex responses to the events that confront us in life.
ARJUNA'S ATTACHMENT TO TIME
The Bhagavad Gita contains an episode that each of us in his or her own way finds compelling. Our hero, Arjuna, is facing a difficult situation. About to go into battle against friends who have become enemies, he turned to his chariot driver—who is in fact the divine incarnation Krishna—who has instructed him in the nature of reality and the soul. Krishna identifies himself as the Lord, the source and final outcome of all things, the Eternal One who remains while all living things appear and disappear. Arjuna, always eager to know more, asks Krishna to show himself in this universal divine form.
Lord Krishna then invites Arjuna to peer into Krishna's body and see there at once the hundreds and thousands of his forms, including all things moving and unmoving, and whatever else Arjuna wishes to see: "This universal form can show you whatever you now desire to see and whatever you may want to see in the future. Everything—moving and nonmoving—is here completely, in one place."
The idea of peering into Krishna's formless form is reminiscent of how the mind changes possibilities into actualities, and actualities back into possibilities, from the point of view of quantum physics. Krishna's formless form contains all of his possible forms, just as quantum physics deals with all of the possibilities that matter and energy may assume. Any one form of Krishna appears as an actuality to Arjuna, just as in quantum physics observation by a single mind changes all of the potential forms of matter into a single form. We will explore this phenomenon in chapters 8 and 9.
Arjuna draws a blank. How can he do this? Krishna anticipates his question and declares that Arjuna cannot see this vision with his ordinary sight, so he gives Arjuna the power to see through time. As we will see in the chapters ahead, because of the nature of the mind and consciousness according to quantum physics, the ability to shift from an Arjuna point of view to a Krishna point of view is something each of us already possesses, though most of us do not know this yet.
With this gift installed, Arjuna for the first time sees what he has been missing. But the sight is as bright and powerful as the rising of one hundred thousand suns in a single sunrise. Images appear as if he were looking at thousands of mouths, thousands of pairs of eyes—multiple realities atop multiple realities. Arjuna sees in the single body of Krishna an infinity of images, as if parallel universes were lined up along side of each other like pages in a book.
Arjuna is overwhelmed. He begins to tell Krishna what he sees—the many bodies, eyes, legs, torsos, arms, and so on, with no end in sight. As we see later in the book, this turns out to be a parallel-universe's vision of the sub-spacetime realm, where quantum waves of possibility merge and offer multiple possible pictures of reality.
Then Krishna tells Arjuna the truth: He, Krishna, is Time itself. And with that confession comes a great unveiling: He as Time is both creator and destroyer of all worlds; for, as we know, time favors nothing in its relentless movement. It offers up the beginnings of all things and at the same moment rips asunder all order, all life, all seemingly unchanging forms and, in so doing, begins again to create. The astounding realization is that this power also lies within our grasp. Once we understand how mind and matter interact according to quantum physics, the reason this is so will become clear.
Arjuna's problem—the reason he has turned to Krishna in the first place—is that he is about to go into battle, and the enemies he has to kill are people he knows and loves: his relatives, friends, and teachers. Now, from the viewpoint of this universal vision, Krishna tells him it does not matter whether he slays these people or not: He, as Time, has already killed them. That is, being mortal, they are bound to die. So viewed from this standpoint outside space and time, they are already dead. "From your point of view," Krishna says, "they will all die. From mine, their deaths have already happened. So don't worry about killing them in battle. Take up the duty that has been given to you, and see yourself as my instrument."
After the vision fades from view, Krishna appears in his familiar form again. He tells Arjuna that no one else has seen this complete form of the Lord as the creation, and that such visions are difficult indeed to behold. Krishna explains that people are driven by all kinds of illusions and desires and forget the universal presence of the Lord. But those who are single-minded, free from attachment, and devoted can attain this presence. Only in this way can they enter into the mysteries of Krishna understanding.
WHAT THE STORY MEANS FOR PROSPECTIVE TIME TRAVELERS
What Krishna tells Arjuna at the end reveals an important theme for time travelers. In brief, to time travel you need to leave some baggage behind. Nothing too big—just your ego, is all. For what clouds the time traveler's access to the future and the past is nothing more than the illusion that she is a singular entity, an ego or "I," living in an objectifiable world of time and space. This illusion is extremely difficult to break free of, no doubt. Krishna tells Arjuna that to do this he must become a devotee of Krishna himself. By that he means seeing into the great creator/destroyer that is Time in and of itself. What does this mean in the context of this book? What is the ego, anyway? We will see that it is actually defined in terms of what it does: It acts as a focus for possibilities, a way to change the possible outcomes of a person's life into actualities. In so doing, it also acts as an anchor pinning the mind in time rather than in the timeless realm of Krishna. Just what that means will become clear in the coming chapters.
Krishna reveals something else as well. He tells Arjuna that every soul on earth, whether or not that soul remembers it, desires something that is impossible to manifest. This one desire acts as fuel for all desires. Every soul desires to be one with Krishna, even while remaining in the illusion! That means that each one of us desires to be a supreme master of all that is. From the meekest to the boldest, from those who profess egoless devotion to those who assert themselves controlling dynasties, corporations, or just mastering poses in yoga, all of us are here because we desire to be one with God, the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of all.
Clearly, no individual is capable of taking on the role of the supreme Lord. Krishna realizes this and knows what every soul wants at heart; so to accommodate them all, he gives every sentient form the ability to focus and defocus possibility, which has much to do with the sense that we can control events in our lives. Recognizing also that each one will eventually see the futility inherent in this illusion of control, Krishna nevertheless allows each one to die and reincarnate over and over again, enabling the illusion to persist as long as each being remains enchanted by it.
In this way, each of us may forget Krishna, forget to peer into the body of Time, and enjoy some feeling of power over a piece of the illusionary play. Remembering our desire to identify with Krishna is not easy, even though it is the fundamental desire from which all of our other desires arise.
We each wish to have our cake—that is, to go on living our lives in illusion or maya—and to eat it too—that is, realize ourselves as God. Quantum physics may be helpful in explaining why this is difficult to do. When we grasp this, we'll also see why time travel is so difficult.
SPACE, TIME, AND EGO
We usually take for granted that the world exists around each of us and that we can experience our own piece of the world through the senses. Physiology tells us how the senses work, how they rely completely on the nervous system to send and receive messages—pulses of electrical activity that travel between neurons. With our modern technological tools, we can witness the tiny electromagnetic signals these messages emit as they move around, particularly in the brain—commonly considered the seat of consciousness.
Excerpted from The Yoga of Time Travel by Fred Alan Wolf. Copyright © 2004 Fred Alan Wolf. Excerpted by permission of Theosophical Publishing House.
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