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Past, Future, Present

Note the order. This is the order used throughout the suttas (in spite of some translations indicating otherwise). The reason is to be found in the understanding of the nature of mind to proceed according to instructions. Think of the way a search tool looks for what is saught as literally described. [First examine the past, then examine the future, then examine the present.] After the seardh, we do not want it dwelling in the past or anticipating the future, so we direct the mind to reflection on the way things were in the past, then the way things will be in the future, then set it down to reflect on the way things are in the present. Also note that there is no actual term in Pali for 'the present'. In SN 3.22.9 it is Paccuppanna 'that which confronts' or has risen up in our face, literally the 'percussively-uprisen' or 'that which has arisen as a counterpart'. Elsewhere it is 'diṭṭha-dhamma' this 'seen thing'. The reason? Change is seen to make it impossible to locate any point in time that could be called a 'present moment'. Even in that which confronts us different objects are changing at different rates and further, by the nature of perception being consequent on contact giving rise to consciousness, all that which we understand to be 'the present' is really already in the past.




SN 3.22.9
AN 4.36 Brahmin Dona is walkiing along behind the Buddha when he notices the mark of the Wheel in gotama's footprints. Drawing near he asks Gotama about what sort of being he may be and is told that he is beyond 'being' and is Buddha. Bhk. Thanissaro notes [AN 4.36.than#n2] that there is a great deal of discussion (see notes in both the Bhk. Bodhi and Woodward translations (notes are missing from the Bhk. Bodhi versions permitted to be published on line)) concerning the use of the future tense in Dona's inquiries. Bhk. Thanissaro's solution here is that this is a manner of speech. I would only express it slightly differently as a contracted form of: "Will you be being about being a ..." From the perspective of the awakened mind there is actually no true 'present' to base a present tense upon in the case of asking a person what he is in the present. Things are under constant change, so a being is always about becoming something. There should really be a special tense for this case: The present-future or the future-present.

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