On Mythological Time and Space

With our ordinary sense of time, events happen one after the other. Looking ahead, we make plans, and looking back, we measure how far we are now from an experience according to the clock, or calendar. Mythological time though is something completely different. In mythological time, every story that’s been told, of sacred adventures, is about what is happening now, and eternally, and in all times and places…


In mythological time, the Buddha is always descending from heaven and taking birth, leaving the home life, realizing freedom and turning the wheel of the Teachings;

In mythological time, Avalokiteshvara is always overcome by the immensity of suffering, his head splitting into pieces from the intensity of the emotion; Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light, is always comforting him, telling him he’ll help him accomplish his compassionate aims and putting him back together in his thousand-armed form;

White and Green Tara are always sprung from his tears, and vowing to help him liberate beings ceaselessly;

Atisha is always setting out for Indonesia, studying with Serlingpa, and accomplishing the teachings on generating the compassionate mind of enlightenment; he is always being invited to Tibet, and teaching in those places where the teachings are not understood, or have declined…

This is all happening now, and it will always be so.

Everything that happens in time that has the nature of the timeless can be talked about in different ways, in different cultures, and it will always be understood by poets, contemplatives and spiritual people.

It’s a challenge to access these levels of our being, and to live them out, and then to talk about them, even a little, but still they are here for us, waiting.

And these are not just stories we tell. There are divine potencies awakening, coming into being in our lives and the world. There is spiritual help coming to us from what seems to be altogether outside of time. This why some teachings or ways of being have a feeling of freshness to them, whenever they are found.

The same things can be said of mythological space, such as what we move into when we say we visit a Pure Land, or enter a mandala, or sense of the sacred in our meditations. It is everywhere at once, and can be accessed by anyone in any place, and at any time for that very reason.

Mythological space is everywhere at once, without any effort, and without needing to be made so. This is just the way it is.

Joseph Campbell, in The Power of Myth, tells of the shaman Black Elk’s experience. In his autobiography, Black Elk said:

“I saw myself on the central mountain of the world, the highest place. And I had a vision, because I was seeing in a sacred manner, of the world.”

And the sacred central mountain was Harney Peak in South Dakota. And then he says,

“But the central mountain is everywhere.” That is a real mythological realization.’

Wendell Berry spoke truth when he said that

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places

Now, the reason we don’t experience either mythological time or space is only because of the way we hold so tightly to our concrete and de-based or de-graded concepts, about ourselves and the nature of our lives here. As soon as this loosens up, even a little, the light of a timeless dimension reveals itself. When we experience art, it happens sometimes; when we fall in love it can happen; when we are open to an altogether different kind of experience, as in prayer or meditation, it can happen. When we die too, I believe it also can happen then.

If we were to adjust our thinking or ways of relating to time and space, we would open ourselves to these realities by that much. Then their light and grace can come through, and be shared with our loved ones, and with all the world.

We may think that changing our mind and heart, and going beyond ordinary conceptions is the end of life as we know it, but actually it’s the beginning. It is a new birth, at every moment, and all the old stories that have been passed down become true, and they become ours.