I've been learning about time and the varyous perspectives that it is viewed through, and it seems like there are two main ways of thought. The first, generally associated as a western mindset, is that time is linear. The second, and this is generally considered more eastern, is that time is considered cyclical. I'm pretty sure that this is also a common way-of-thought in Hunduism, but I'm, in particular, wanting to learn more about the nature of time from a buddhist perspective. Of what I have read sutra-wise (pretty much just the Lotus Sutra), I have only seen time's cyclality being alluded to once, when Shakyamuni Buddha is saying that, at the end of a kalpa, when the world is consumed by fire, his pure land will, although appearing to burn with the rest of the world, stay safe and untouched. I assume from this that at the end of kalpas, it was considered that the world would burn (maybe signifying the start of a new cycle). Anyhow, I'm just wanting to know more about the nuances of Buddhist-cyclical time and how one can comprehend/view the world in such a way.

2 Answers 2


Cyclicality and Linearity are both alluded to in Buddhism. Essentially many beings are trapped in Samsara living their lives and doing similar things over and over through the aeons because they are chasing after the same endless desires and suffering the same afflictions. However, it is also linear in the fact that progress is possible, you can transcends Samsara by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path. The future is by no means fixed that you are required to repeat the past. The world have many internal cycles but it is also moving forward. You can see day turn into night into day, and each day we do many similar things we have already done before, but it is also not quite the same day, and you will certainly be a different person 10 years from now.

The ultimate goal of Mahayana Buddhism is to liberate all beings, turning the world into a Pure Land of peace and joy. Yes, such a goal is very distant but never the less they strive towards that goal.


There is the cyclical nature of life in Samsara. The doctrine of Paticcasamuppāda (Pāli) states that when certain conditions are present, they give rise to subsequent conditions, which in turn give rise to other conditions. This is the cyclical nature of life in Samsara. If you read the Mā Puñña Bhāyī Sutta – It.22 it can be said that even time is cyclical. Buddha had the ability to see the past up to infinite time such as many Sanvatta Kalpa, Vivatta Kalpa, and Sanvatta Vivatta Kalpa. Sanvatta kalpa means the time that takes the world to be destroyed after countless years. Vivatta kalpa means, time of the beginning of the world. In the Mā Puñña Bhāyī Sutta – It.22, Buddha says that:

…when it was the time of the world’s destruction, He was born in the Ābassara divine world. And when it was the time of the beginning of the world, He was born in a beings-free Brahma abode as a Brahma divine being. The Buddha also said that He was born as the Mahā Brahma in the Brahma realm for seven times and as the Sakkra who is the head of all deities in Cātum Māhārājika and Thāvatinsa divine worlds for thirty six times.

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