Attitude to time: a comparative analysis of Western and Eastern thought


In the modern world, where everything happens at high speed, people's attitudes to time own life is undergoing many changes. Actions and deeds of a person is largely determined by the model, which reflects ideas about his future: in the form of dreams, in which people are going through the process of self-realization; in the form of specific objectives, as well as in the form of plans. In my work, I will try to outline the main features of the relationship to the time within Western and Eastern cultures.

So, if you imagine in the future the life of modern man and to perform it, you can see that in our society it is accepted to constantly plan their own future. For example, a girl planning her life, building it in such a way that, in the end, to get married, married couple plans to have children, to educate them, to send to study abroad. People plan their lives with the goal to do everything to make the day much more someone plans to satisfy their vital needs, and someone simply is afraid not to have time to do everything in life. Thus, the deeper time perspective plans, dreams, goals, the more intense and in many ways meaningful human life.

it's safe to say that the concept of time is multifaceted. Time – this is the cycle of life, its rhythm, periods, it's value as a person is able to fill it with deep meaning and realize himself in it, also time is a measure of productivity. In psychology, the concept of “time perspective" first appears in the works of K. Levin and reflects the vision of the man of his future or the past in the present, while past and future events have a direct impact on the actual human condition [1]. L. Frank gets a temporary term as the influence of the past on the future and the process of decision-making in the present. K. K. Platonov determines the life-course perspective as the image of the desired future subject to the achievement of specific goals. E. I. Kirichuk and O. P. Lysenko say that the farther in the future handed down goals, expectations, personality, the great dedication and commitment, stability they attach to activities in the present, the more goals in life, the more fulfilled and productive lives [1]. Many authors have prospects in life, their future is seen as a potential opportunity for the development of personality, its self-actualization.

In the framework of existential psychologists, in particular R. may, also, great attention is paid to the relation of man to time and to their own future, since man's being is not static and is always evolving in time [3]. Only people can project themselves into the future for decades to come. Strong anxiety and depression, according to R. may, destroy the future. At the same time, in the framework of existential psychology, the focus is not only the vision of man's own future and the desire for self-development, but also the pursuit of their own genuine goals, not externally imposed by society [3].

we now Turn to Eastern thought, in particular, to the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Time here means “Sabato”, or differentiation and determination of boundaries. It should be distinguished from the concept of eternity – “BEDO” or not ‘Sabato” [2].  In Buddhism, the time itself does not exist, in the same way as the passive eternity without time, and the concept of time is really only in the framework of relative existence.

as for the relation to time, then, on the one hand, the doctrine of samsara or karma, the cycle of existence, it is possible to trace ideas about their own future, but are associated primarily with the desire to achieve a better next life or to go beyond the cycle of rebirth, which is presented to us as a kind of understanding of self-actualization. Human behavior then is determined not by their own goals and dreams, and some shared understanding about the next life and the individual is guided rather by the principle of “act”. Not only actions but also thoughts, words, leave its karmic traces, which must, according to Buddhism, to leave as little as possible.

But not enough to wish for best future life. The main purpose of the Buddhist – to get out of the cycle of rebirths. For this, you need to opt out of all possible desires, and, therefore, goals and plans, which are the source of human suffering. In renunciation one can attain peace, unspeakable joy [2]. In Western thought, too, it is possible to trace the desire of the individual to some ideal afterlife. But this ideal seems remote, some – is unlikely, and, despite some limitations in the desires and actions (thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill), still leaves a man the right to dream and endlessly strive to turn their plans into reality. Unlike Western man, the Buddhist pushes the boundaries of personal future and pursues the only goal of the enlightenment, committed to self-improvement at the moment.

So, on the other hand, is essentially a difference in opinion on the present of modern Western man and the representative of Eastern thought. D. T. Suzuki gives the example of the following lines [2,p. 97]: “to Drink tea, eat rice, I spend my time of course; to Admire the ceiling, enjoy the mountains. What serenity I feel”. It is possible to note the invaluable ability to be in the present moment, to make everyday actions and seek to continually enjoy your own life, not to experience constant thoughts about what was and will be. Modern man regrets about the past and worries for the future, his present experiences are constantly mixed with something alien, and then “the future and the past intrude into the present and strangle him” [2, p. 122].

At the same time, enlightenment, or Satori, is when the consciousness reaches the state of “the thoughts” – the smallest possible unit of time, moment. In this case, the time is reduced to an absolute point with no length, there is “the absolute real” or “the eternal now" where there is no past behind, no future ahead [2]. Here we see that  the pursuit of the ideal in the future kind of turns into a desire for absolute real.

Thus, it can be noted that in both Western and Eastern thought there is the view of personal future associated with the pursuit of self-improvement and self-development. However, modern Western man is a “planning” in time the person who puts before itself a number of goals, the pursuit of which is socially acceptable rather than personal matters. The Buddhist is – the rejection of superficial desires for the sake of finding the absolute present. While Western people are more attached to the material terms of their desires, in contrast to the preferred Buddhist spiritual values. You can also note the difference associated with the ability to be ‘here and now”, which is representative of Western culture is difficult. The latter probably tend to dive into the personal past and speculate about his possible future. At the same time existential psychology and Buddhist philosophy is close to their relation to the past, an obsession which proves ineffective and inauthentic living their own lives. Two approaches can be discerned the desire to listen to yourself and truly build their present and future.


  1. Ralnikova I. A. the Life prospects of the individual in the scientific paradigm of psychological knowledge / Ralnikova I. A. // news of Altai state University-Barnaul, 2011 – T. No. 2/1 (70). Series: Pedagogy and psychology. – P. 53-60.
  2. Suzuki, D. T. Fundamentals of Zen Buddhism / by D. T. Suzuki [Electronic resource]. – 1993. - Mode of access:
  3. Existential psychology. Existence: a new dimension in psychiatry and psychology / ed. by R. may and others-M.: Aprel ' Press & EKSMO-Press, 2001. - 624 p.

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