Fascinating as time travel stories can be, it is also a rather exhaustedly ‘travelled’ genre, ‘inspiring’ a sense of ‘Isn’t this like what I saw before? Here we go again?’ Then again, almost every time travel tale has its own quirks, with unique takes on the ‘rules’ of time travel, with different possibilities and ethics. All rules however, ignore one main rule – that we cannot travel back in time! And no, experiencing a relatively slower speed of time is not the same as actual travel back in time.
Time travel simply messes up cause and effect, which we know does not happen due to the orderliness of cause and effect we see around us all the – time. If time travel is possible, gazing at a non-electronic history book will show us morphing words and pictures, as history keeps getting rewritten. Of course, some will argue that the changes are undetected exactly as history has changed. But trying to prove this is like trying to prove an unseen magician without any seen tricks exists.
However, existentially, in the larger scheme of things, there is another kind of ‘time travel’. It is possible for one to relive life in a spiritually regressive instead of progressive manner, such that bad old habits are picked up again, with them yet to be fully uprooted. This is done mostly unmindfully, such that one does not know it is occurring – especially with existential forgetfulness from life to life. The only fix for this is to live the present well, to travel forward with mindful effecting of truly lasting changes.
It is however very difficult to break free from all past lives’ ill habits, and to strengthen new good habits all the way, for advancing to spiritual purification. The ideal result is liberation, enlightenment, and the key obstacle is existential unmindfulness, that forces personal history and mistakes to more or less repeat. Rebirth can even make beginner Bodhisattvas forget their goals! Instead of being illuminated by the moon which represents Buddha-nature, there is living and dying ‘in the shadow of the moon’ to some extent.
The solution for being trapped in existential ‘time’ loops is to seek birth in Amitābha Buddha’s (Āmítuófó) Pure Land, where not only will there be no slightest spiritual retrogression or backsliding, there will also be empowerment to recollect all past lives, of oneself and others. Not only will all forgotten and missed personal hindsights be recalled, even those of others can be learnt from. This is true ‘time travel’, without space travel! With even more blessings available, this is how Pure Land offers the expressway to Buddhahood!
Can Buddhists Be Time Travellers?