Time is Only Made of Non-Time Elements


June 4, 2012. 185-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from Upper Hamlet in Plum Village during the 21-Day Retreat with the theme The Science of the Buddha. The talk is given in English and this is the third dharma talk (of 15).

We begin with 10-minutes of chanting followed by the main dharma talk by Thay. After some mindful movements, we continue (at 2:10 into recording) with University of Virginia Astrophysicist Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan interviewing Thay.

Topics of the Talk

Obstacles of Buddhist Practice 

  • Knowledge
  • Afflictions

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Body
  2. Feelings
  3. Mind (51 mental formations)
  4. Objects of Mind (‘nature’ for the scientist)

From the objects of mind we have “double grasping” and the “perceived and perceiver” – entanglement.

Two Realities

  • Ultimate
  • Historical

A=A?B (science)

A?A=A (Buddhism)


Question 1: Buddhism says that one has to get rid of all previous knowledge, to have a clear mind. I think in science one has to know things that were done before, but keep a clear and open mind. Does Thay agree with this?

Question 2: You said something about inanimate matter has intelligence. I’m not sure this is the current scientific view now. Even if you claim that an electron has consciousness, then I say that we have to say there are varying degrees of consciousness. I would say that an electron is very different from a human being. An electron has mass, its electric charge, and its spin, that’s it. Once you’ve seen an electron, you’ve seen them all. Also, a flower. Chimpanzees have some human notion, so close to us in genes. I think there are different degrees of consciousness, and we cannot put everything on the same level. What is your response to that?

Question 3: What is the concept of time in Buddhism? We have the impression that time passes, from the past to the present to the future. In science we learn that past, present and future are always there, and time is not the same for everyone, depending on the movement of the observer. Although there is a psychological time that seems to be there. That is the physical conception of time. So what is the Buddhist concept of time?

Question 4: I like Buddhism not only because I was raised in it, but because it is very logical. It has the spirit of experimentation that a scientist would accept. The mind is the instrument. Objective and subjective reality, that’s something true. As a scientist I realize that an observer is very important as part of what he sees. If you say that there is no objective reality independent of the mind, do you think, for example, that if you do not look at the moon, the moon does not exist? Do you really believe that an alternate universe without consciousness would not exist, if no one could be conscious of it?


By Chan Niem Hy

Dharma Teacher.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.