There is an oft-repeated story of a frog that lives in a well. One day, a bird perches on the edge of the well, and they engage in a conversation. The bird mentions that he has seen the ocean, and that it is a very large body of water. The frog then inquires if the ocean is half as big as the well, and the bird replies that it is much, much larger. Then the frog asks if the ocean is almost as big as the well, and the bird replies that it is an infinitely greater expanse. The frog then concludes that the bird must be lying, and abruptly breaks off the conversation.
Like the frog, because our experience is a conscious experience, we are limited by the walls of the well –the limits of consciousness– and our parameters for conceptualizing reality are those that are given, or included, inside the well –inside consciousness.
Within this consciousness, we have a concept of linear time, of sequential order. When we attempt to understand that which lies outside consciousness (like the origin of consciousness itself!), we cannot help but use those parameters, and inevitably pose the questions: “What happened in the time before consciousness? When did consciousness originate?”
Time itself is a function of consciousness, so it is not possible to place the origin of consciousness in time. Thus, our teachers say that all phenomena are birthless and ceaseless —because they have no temporal locus. They are outside time.