Most people are addicted to angling for very short-term gains. CEOs are focused on this quarter’s profit and stock price; students are focused on this semester’s grades; many households are focused on getting through this week without going broke; many drug and alcohol addicts are focused on just getting through this day.
As a person’s being decreases in quality, their consciousness and attention span shrink, and their time horizon decreases in length. What writer writes, what musician composes these days for eternity, or even for posterity? The goal is to release a hit novel or album as soon as possible. And then do it again. Of course, this leads to a regress in quality and being.
On the other hand, as a person’s being increases in quality, their time horizon increases and their perspective broadens. Even a conventionally religious person is focused not just on this life, but toward the next life or heaven. They have paid obeisance and given their dedication, their fealty to a teacher, philosophy, theology or religious organization, and they are waiting for their reward.
Is there any greater perspective than this? Yes, there is.
Consider the case of a monk engaged in deep meditation. He attains the first Jhāna: “…rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness.” (All quotes from Jhāna Sutta)
Similarly, in the second Jhāna one experiences “…rapture & pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance.”
“Furthermore, with the fading of rapture, a monk — remaining in equanimity, mindful & alert, and physically sensitive to pleasure — enters & remains in the third Jhāna, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding’.”
“Furthermore, with the abandoning of pleasure & stress — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — a monk enters & remains in the fourth Jhāna: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither-pleasure-nor-pain.” The qualities of the fourth Jhāna are “a feeling of equanimity, neither pleasure nor pain; an unconcern due to serenity of awareness; singleness of mind, contact, feeling, perception, intention, consciousness, desire, decision, persistence, mindfulness, equanimity & attention.”
Then there is the fifth Jhāna: “There is the case where a monk, with the complete transcending of perceptions of [physical] form, with the disappearance of perceptions of resistance, and not heeding perceptions of diversity, [perceiving,] ‘Infinite space,’ enters & remains in the dimension of the infinitude of space.”
Infinite space means an unlimited field of space and time. The universe, no matter how big it is or how long it exists, is limited in space and time. Everything that is manifest, that has being, has a beginning and an end in space as well as time. But space, nothingness or emptiness is unmanifest, therefore unlimited.
In the realm of infinite space, the existent universe shrinks to an insignificant dot. In fact, it disappears completely into insignificance. How’s that for perspective? Is that enough of a time horizon for you?
The fifth Jhāna is very peaceful. It’s a refuge par excellence. And there are still three higher Jhānas! But a monk who reaches even the fifth Jhāna has tremendous perspective on ordinary life. Things that seem like a big deal to most people become insignificant to such an advanced meditator.
“This is peaceful, this is excellent: the stilling of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all assets; the destruction of craving; detachment, cessation, extinction.” — Mahā-Mālunkya Sutta (M I 436)