Consciousness, Time, and Dukkha
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,Omar Khayyam
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
We should try to understand how the present dysfunction of the Late Modern consciousness structure (the perspectival or mental-rational) is, as Gebser understood it, related to the “irruption of time” into that structure which is ill-adapted to the positive handling of time, and consequently why this irruption threatens the structure with dissolution in a “maelstrom of blind anxiety”, as he put it, which is everywhere present today. This is the import, too, of those famous few lines of verse from Omar Khayyam.
Time is not like space, despite the attempts by the present consciousness structure to make it conform to the logic of space. As Gebser notes, time is an “intensity” and not an extensity, one which he prefers to describe as an “amension” rather than a “dimension”. Real time reminds us that we have an appointment with mortality, and that is also why Gebser links this irruption of time with existential Angst or anxiety.
The impress of time brings us face to face with the Buddhist “law of impermanence” and the associated issue of dukkha or suffering as clinging and the need to practice “non-attachment”, which is actually a reaching for that which Gebser calls “time-freedom” by the overcoming of dukkha. “Stopping the wheel of dukkha” and “stopping the wheel of time and space” are essentially the same. For Gebser this comes about through “diaphaneity” or “the transparency of the world”, which is the transparency of the ego and of time and space. Or, as Blake put it,
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
The transparency of the world was a fact for Blake. “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Blake understood likewise the necessity of non-attachment and the paradoxical relationship between time and eternity. He would have understood the Buddhist doctrine of dukkha had he been familiar with it.
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
Where “eternity’s sunrise” is the same as Gebser’s “ever-present origin”. “Eternity is in love with the productions of time” is another way Blake expressed the same thing and the abiding presence of the absolute within the relative order. Time is the paradox that both is and is not. But denying the reality of time confers immortality on no one.
Our liberation, then, from the “vale of tears” that Buddhists call “dukkha” and from associated Angst and the “maelstrom of blind anxiety” comes about through Gebser’s “diaphaneity” which is already the deep inner knowing of what some refer to as “the True Self” or what Gebser refers to as the “diaphainon“.
Much of this is described in Blake’s Prophetic Books where Gebser’s “diaphainon” is referred to as “Albion’s awakening”, or in other terms as the “fourfold Atman” in Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga and the descent of the “supramental consciousness”. So, in an odd sort of way, the integration of time into our thinking becomes the necessary precondition for achieving the transparency of time.
You can see, of course, how the conservative “preference for the familiar” could be aroused to great anxiety by this irruption of time and of the intensification of time and change processes, and this makes for often blind reactionary attitudes.
Again, Blake shows us the meaning of Gebser’s “diaphaneity” and the importance of non-attachment as true freedom. To kiss the joy as it flies acknowledges the impermanence of the relative order, and yet it all transpires within the bosom of “eternity’s sunrise”, or as Rumi once expressed it,
“To the mind there is such a thing as news, whereas to inner knowing, it’s all in the middle of its happening. To doubters, this is a pain. To believers, it’s gospel. To the lover and the visionary, it’s life as it’s being lived.”
For Gebser, then, time is dukkha, and the cause of great anxiety as long as it remains opaque to our perception and not transparent, for which reason, it is reported, he died with a knowing smile on his face.