How did monks traditionally time their practice before the age of timers? Any sutta references would be greatly appreciated. I'm looking for an organic way to time my sittings.

  • Related answer here: buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/1698/…
    – Robin111
    Feb 3, 2015 at 11:04
  • Yeah Robin that's a good answer... maybe copy that over as an answer if you want the points? @ChrisW This question is specific to avoiding the usage of clock, timer, all "inorganic" tools haha.
    – Ahmed
    Feb 3, 2015 at 16:06
  • 1
    Instead of copy-and-pasting answers it's normal to close duplicate questions.
    – ChrisW
    Feb 3, 2015 at 16:07
  • I understand but this is not duplicate is it? One asks how to avoid clock. Mine asks how to avoid all digital devices but still time correctly
    – Ahmed
    Feb 3, 2015 at 16:09
  • I titled my question wrong (but can't change it anymore..). I wanted to ask how to practice without timers (which is why I was asking how monks used to practice)..
    – Ahmed
    Feb 3, 2015 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


To refer to the traditional way that time is kept:

"The best way I've heard to a) keep track of time b) without a clock (or timer) was related to me by my 91-year-old teacher who said in the old days they used to use incense sticks; once the incense stick was finished, they would switch from walking to sitting. For shorter sessions, you could cut the sticks in half, etc. Of course, it still means you need to open your eyes every so often during sitting." --this answer

The act of not timing your sitting is a profound one. It's not like the Buddha timed his sittings when he attained Enlightenment! After nourishing himself the Buddha himself literally said "I will not get up from this Bodhi tree until I attain Awakening! Let my bones break and my flesh rot before I shall arise." And then he entered the 1st jhana, 2nd jhana all the way to 4th and then experienced the 4 formless absorptions one by one and then attained Awakening.

He did not time his sittings except taking a bit of a break when he was truly exhausted and he opened his eyes to look at the night sky to take a bit of a rest. And like magic, right then, he Awakened.

[Similarly Zen practitioners and other "hardcore" practitioners do not time their sittings... and they tended to Awaken when they took a bit of a rest and their Buddha Nature spotaneously opened to them, their skandhas dropping away giving them a strong taste of Awakening.]

Thus, the ultimate "inorganic" method is your own physical exhaustion, your own body telling you it is time to take a break from your arduous efforts!

Nonetheless, You can use other similar methods that are "organic" and do not use digital devices: tea kettle boiling, the birds starting to chirp in the morning as you push your meditation on in the early morning, etc.

Also your question is an important question because we all need to do an electromagnetic detox! We are all heavily dependent on our devices and are sleeping, reading, and practicing in a pool of EMR. I definitely notice a huge difference when I wear my crystals than when I am not. Many of us experienced times when we go to a garden or some greenspace, far away from wifi connections and our mind completely clears and it feels the bliss of concentration is close at hand. It is also much easier to think about one's own life and contemplate in such an environment, also due to having less electronic devices subconsciously yelling and calling us in hundreds of ways.

  • This answer would be great on the original question mentioned in the comments to OP.
    – Anthony
    Feb 3, 2015 at 18:54

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