In our daily lives, by 'the now' we mean a brief, ungraspable moment, that is gone as soon a you want to grab it, something that has disappeared the instant you saw it.
In other words in our daily life by the word 'now' we mean a thought. A thought, also the thought that we call 'the present moment' is already gone when we know it. A thought can never be grasped, its very nature is brevity and motion. No thought is ever so friendly to stand still to allow itself to be seen, even when it is contained in letter symbols on a page. In that case we have to read the text concerned again and again, even if it is made up of words that we can grasp at one glance.
We make use of time as if it were real and has an independent existence - a reality that is even stronger than ours, because we are after all limited by time. We are born at moment A and we will die at an unknown moment Z, and that moment arrives for everyone. For one person the period from A to Z may last four or five years and for another one hundred - but there is nothing that hinders arrival at Z. Therefore, time is a dictator who imposes his will on us, stronger than any dictator whatsoever.
Why is that so?
The reason is that in this point of view we see ourselves, and experience ourselves as a temporary phenomenon. In other words, what we project on our selves we also see in the 'world'. If I am a temporary phenomenon then I project what I experience as reality on the world and I say that this property is an unshakable given. In this manner time becomes an independent given: a calendar produced by creation that runs from one hundred thousand years before Christ until a good stretch further than today, and I am someone who lives out a small piece of this endless series. But in fact, it is exactly the other way around.
Not only is time something that is perceived by me as a certain way of thinking, but also the 'I' that lives 20 or 80 years is only a perceived notion of myself. Without me-as-thinker there is no time, and without time I can not exist as me-the-thinker. In short, the phenomenon 'I' and the phenomenon 'time' are so intertwined that they can not be separated from each other.
Is water the cause of wetness or is wetness the cause of water? In that sense, water and wetness are two words meaning the same: the one can not exist without the other.
This is not only true for this perception, but for all perceptions: every perception is a movement in consciousness, and each perception exists for a certain period of time. If there is no time then no perception can exist. And, because the world is nothing other than perceptions - perceived things - the world as phenomenon, as a form, is time. Without time there is no perceived world and inasmuch as people know only phenomena that appear in consciousness, we can conclude that without time what we people call the world could not exist.
The perceived 'I', the notion that I take as myself, is part of the world.
It is not so that a perceived 'I' perceives the world, but it is so that there sometimes is a perception that I call a house or a cloud, and sometimes an 'I', but both are temporary phenomena that again leave us after a few moments.
However what is really curious is that 'I' remain even when no perceived 'I', no notion, is.
No water remains when wetness is taken away, but 'being' does remain, at least a thousand times a day, but without I, without any I-notion.
If I live 90% of every day without any I-notion then that is irrefutable proof that in reality I am not a perceived I-notion. This discovery, at least if it does not remain superficial sets a total revolution of our life into motion. Because, everything that we have done in our lives up to now, has been done in one way or another in the service of a notion of a sometimes appearing I-notion. In short, for something that we are not - for someone else as it were.
Taken literally, the 'now' is a 'thought word', which is over before it is perceived.
But, there is another now: not a perceived 'now', but the perceiving 'now'. Indeed: I am always now. When I was six years old I had to go 'now' to school. This morning I had to wake up 'now', and 'now' I am reading. I am always now: now, and an instant later, now, still now.
And because I am always now, my perceptions are also always now. And, because my perceptions are always now, what is arises in this perceiving is also always now: I can not perceive something that isn't here now.
If I claim that the past is real, and that I can perceive it as a memory, I claim something impossible. I witness now a thought that is there, irrespective of whether I call the thought a memory or an expectation. Thus what I call 'past' and 'future' are one or another perceived forms. But, the perception is now.
Because I can not leave this for even the blink of an eye, it is completely impossible to perceive something that is not here now. Therefore, it is impossible that a person could perceive something that he calls 'the past'. He perceives a thought now, that he indeed calls 'past', but that is now.
In other words, in the now, the thinking - the form of thinking that we call the memory - can project something that it calls 'past', but it is happening now.
People who go to a spiritual master because they feel vulnerable or bound, and are searching for freedom, naturally feel bound by the past. To be bound you need to have a past, because all our fears and longings (and that is what the problematic is made of) arose because of experiences in the past. We say.
But whoever looks penetratingly and discovers that there is no past unless I now produce a thought that I call 'the past', discovers that he is only bound by a notion that is there now, therefore in the reality of a thought-puppet that I call 'I' and says for example: 'I have after all had such a difficult youth'. But, as the immortal Shri Krishna Menon says (Atma Nirvriti, 14 art 5): 'A past thought is one that has ceased to exist'...
What has ceased to exist does not exist, and what doesn't exist we can not know. The only thing that we can perceive is a thought that is now, but claims to have been there yesterday. That idea 'yesterday' is also now.
No one of us is thus bound by the past. The only, but then only apparent, being bound is the belief that a thought that says it belongs to the past instead of now is telling the truth. But it is lying. The truth is that we are only now, can only know the now, thus can not have a past, or consequently be bound by it.
That is the truth - the truth of which Jesus says that it will set us free.
This freedom lights everything up suddenly like a sun with the discovery that my entire personality, that is nothing else than an appearance that I call the past, has therefore absolutely no existence, unless I think it up this moment. Ten counts later it has disappeared again. How in heavens name can I be bound by a thought that is perceived for a few counts in the consciousness that I Am?
Thus in truth there is no one who is bound, and thus also no one who seeks for liberation or could be liberated. There is only this now-being that I am, effortlessly, whether I want it or not.
If there were no consciousness there could be no movements in consciousness. The movements, irrespective of whether I call them thoughts, or feelings, or sensory perceptions depend on the fact that I am there first as consciousness in which they can appear.
So, for example the belief in a bound and limited 'I' is only possible because I am there first as formless, timeless, witnessing consciousness (Atma) without which no idea of 'I' can appear. This is the origin of Shri Shankara's remark that the appearance of an ego is by itself the best proof of the fact that we are not an ego. The old proof that the appearance of movements delivers, is that there is 'something' within which they appear, and of which they are ultimately made, as waves are made of water.
[Wolter Keers, 1923 - †1985]
Published with permission of the Dutch publishers.