Buddha said, "the trouble is, you think you have time


This quote is another one from Jack Kornfield’s Buddha’s Little Instruction Book (1994), which isn’t a collection of Buddha quotes, as the title might suggest, but is Jack’s rather lovely interpretation of Buddhist teachings.

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According to lớn the publisher:

Just as the serene beauty of the lotus blossom grows out of muddy water, Buddha’s simple instructions have helped people to lớn find wholeness & peace amid life’s crisis & distractions for more than 2,500 years. For this small handbook, a well-known American Buddhist teacher & psychologist has distilled & adapted an ancient teaching for the needs of contemporary life. Its practical reminders and six meditations can infuse smallest everyday action with insight and joy.

It’s a charming book, although the title has led many people lớn think that its contents are quotations from the Buddhist scriptures. In some cases that appears to lớn be so, but most of the aphorisms seem to be Jack’s own thoughts.

Thanks to lớn an alert commenter (Paxski), I was able to lớn track where Jack got this quote from. Paxski had heard Jack use this quotation in one of his talks on CD, where he attributed it lớn Don Juan. Paxski wasn’t sure which Don Juan this was, but a hunch told me that it was probably the (fictional?) Yaqui shaman from Carlos Castaneda’s books. And indeed, I found the following in Journey to Ixtlan, Castaneda’s third book:

There is one simple thing wrong with you – you think you have plenty of time … If you don’t think your life is going khổng lồ last forever, what are you waiting for? Why the hesitation lớn change? You don’t have time for this display, you fool. This, whatever you’re doing now, may be your last act on earth. It may very well be your last battle. There is no nguồn which could guarantee that you are going lớn live one more minute.

So this another version of the “timeless” reminder that time is brief and that we should make good use of it.

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Shorn of this context, though, as it is in Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, I’ve often thought that this quote might be a little counter-productive. I know what the quote was intending khổng lồ say, but what is it we don’t have time for? The quote doesn’t say. I certainly hope I have time to get enlightened. Of course I don’t know how much time is available lớn me, but if I’m being told that I don’t, in fact, have time, then what’s the point? The quote’s intention is to lớn point out that we don’t have time to waste, but not having time to lớn waste is not the same thing as not having time. We vì have time, or at least we have some time, & the question is how we’re going khổng lồ use it.

Shorn of its context, I think that this particular quote may be an example of what Daniel Dennett has called a “deepity.” Here’s an adaptation of Wikipedia’s trương mục of that term:

Deepity is a term employed by Dennett in his 2009 speech to lớn the American Atheists Institution conference, coined by Miriam Weizenbaum, who was at that time the teenage daughter of one of his friends. The term refers lớn a statement that is apparently profound but actually asserts a triviality on one level & something meaningless on another. Generally, a deepity has (at least) two meanings; one that is true but trivial, và another that sounds profound, but is essentially false or meaningless và would be “earth-shattering” if true.

It would be earth-shattering to say, truthfully, that we don’t have time. But it’s essentially false. Still, this is me over-thinking the quote. As I mentioned, I knew the first time I read it what it meant. & I love it. It’s just a little ambiguous. & not something the Buddha said, although he said similar things:

Ron says:

What Don Juan was saying was you don’t have time khổng lồ be in a crappy mood. So whatever you do, you must decide that it is worthy of your last act on earth. So for example, if you decide lớn brush your teeth then you must do it lượt thích you were khổng lồ die afterwards. Otherwise if you vị it like it was just something you had khổng lồ do, then you just wasted 5 minutes (or however long it takes to lớn teeth brush) of your time.

Ed_ says:

Setting aside the question of whether, having come from a Buddhist teacher, this quote is in fact attributable khổng lồ Buddha, I feel that you’ve missed something essential. In my view, it IS time that we think we have but don’t. Castaneda’s quote clarifies the point; rather than thinking of death as distant (i.e. That we have time), he emphasises the imminence of death at every moment, THIS moment: “This, whatever you’re doing now, may be your last act on earth.” In other words, the inevitability of death nullifies the time that precedes it.

You ask “if I’m being told that I don’t, in fact, have time, then what’s the point?” But what are you really asking? What’s the point of what?