Past? Present? Future? Hope? Spiritual? Sacred? Holy? Worldly? Secular? Use such words sparingly and mindfully

Owing to habit, we impose our views with alarming frequency to the point that we imagine our view confirms the reality. The view and the reality keep endorsing each other. The interpreted influences the interpreter and vice-versa.

So, the experience of ‘life’ depends upon the view as much as the viewed.

You might consider dropping certain familiar concepts or changing them to different concepts to see what insights emerge from the change.

Let’s take past, present and future. Frequent use after years, firmly places the three concepts into fixed categories as if each category had its own existence. This gives the  impression that the past exists independent of the view of the past. The present exists independent of the view of it and the future will exist independent of the view of it. We forget the inter-dependency of past, present and future, too.

Some will claim that there is no past nor future but only the Now. This narrow and restricted view boxes the view into a fixed zone. For example,  I book a train journey to Germany. Would I respond if I kept telling myself. “There is no future. This desire for a train ticket is just a thought in the Now.” Nobody lives like that. Other species do not live like that either.

Buddhist translators find themselves in a pickle. They have to make the translation accessible to conventional concepts but find themselves sacrificing the subtle nuances in the Pali language.

Examples of Nuances in Original meaning  

  • Pali word for past is atita.
  • Pali word for present is paccuppanna.
  • Pali word for future is agata.

A more precise translation of the three Pali words above would be:

  • That which did arrive or did arose
  • That which has arrived or is arising
  • That which has not arrived or will arise.

Western culture regularly uses the language of ‘hope.’ There is no parallel word in the Pali language. References to hope appear in the Old and New Testaments.  The New Testament refer to ‘faith, hope and charity.’ Like the Buddha, Jesus makes no reference to hope.

A Dharma perspective on Hope

Former US President Barack Obama probably qualifies as the best known exponent of hope in recent decades. He used the word hope night after night in his campaign speeches for the presidency. Millions of people were swept up with his promises of hope. He wroe one of the biggest selling political books in recent generations The Audacity to Hope. Eight years after his election, 59,000,000 US citizens voted for Donald Trump.  One might conclude that Mr Obama had the audacity to hope rather than act.

The word ‘hope’ provides a useful encouragement to change or stay with a situation. The hopeful type of personality needs a depth of mindfulness to ensure that their hope does not mean avoidance of wise and compassionate action and doesn’t depend on clinging to outcome. Such hope can lead to disappointment, anger and sorrow.

A human being cannot lose ‘hope’ – hope loses the person.

The teachings do not encourage the loss of hope but place the emphasis on right action based on the understanding of what arose and what is arising. Hope plays a minor part, if any, in the undulating processes of time.

For example, a child has cancer. The parents do everything in their power to save the life of their child. They meet with top oncologists, use medication, diet, prayers, meditations, love and more. They constantly express hope to each other and their family and friends that their child will recover.

The child does not recover.

The reality has the power to dissolve the hope. That’s when the anguish starts. That’s my concern about the use of ‘hope.’

The parents do not ‘lose’ hope but the reality turns out to be stronger than the hope.

 Readers will find the word ‘hope’  used in translations of the Pali. The Pali word used for hope is  nappatikankhe.

The Pali terms

nappatikankhe anagatam gets translated ason the future build his hopes.

A literal translation: Being certain about what has not yet come.

The Pali terms encourages us to take care in the way we view the future.

The Words ‘Sacred, ‘Spiritual’ and ‘Holy.’

Most references to ‘sacred’ in the Buddha’s discourses refers to his comments on the Brahmins beliefs in sacred rivers, sacred fires, sacred texts, sacred hymns, sacred books and sacred laws.

The Buddha placed the priority on ethics, conduct and wise action rather than grasping onto an object and investing it with sacred or holy qualities.

The Pali word for holy is brahmacariya. Brahma means God. Cariya means conduct. It could be translated as godly conduct.

In reference to the Buddha, translators have used the word  Sugata – the Holy One. The literal meaning of Sugata is ‘a happy course of existence’ or the ‘one who goes happily.’

Spiritual also shares the same meaning as brahmacariya. Spiritual also refers to deep feelings, not worldly, not bound to bodily desires – nir?misa.

Readers might read the Longer Discourse on the Full Moon Night in the Middle Length Discourses 109 of the Buddha. Pali follows the English.

The Practice

Consider changing the language as a practice for 40 days and 40 night.

Let go of  thinking/speaking/writing with the words past/present/future

Instead think/say/write ‘what has passed by, what is arising and what has not yet arrived.

Are there any benefits to viewing the three fields of time in this way?

What was arising influences what is arising. What is arising influences what will arise. All three mutually support each other in the field of dependently arising conditions.

Know the freedom of action through not being tied to what was, what is and what will be.

Oh yes. I hope you have a nice day.

PS. Thanks to Ulla K for research.


3 thoughts on “Past? Present? Future? Hope? Spiritual? Sacred? Holy? Worldly? Secular? Use such words sparingly and mindfully”

  1. I have always gone through life with the perspective that you mention living now. Read through this post and trying out your exercise – “think/say/write ‘what has passed by, what is arising and what has not yet arrived” – made me see your perspective that in reality that the now depends on what has arisen and are now gives rise to what has not yet arisen so that it’s not about living in the “now” but everything is dependent on causal effects. So attachment either to the past now or the future just create suffering and as you said freedom arises, “through not being tied to what was, what is and what will be.” 🙂 was my understanding ok, please?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

Scroll to Top