What in fact is the past? The past is not a reality; it’s just a concept. The future corresponds to projections, anticipations that do not have any reality either. The past has already occurred; the future does not yet exist. These notions affect us as realities, although they have no substance. The present is the truth that we are experiencing here and now, but it is an elusive reality that does not last. We find ourselves in a paradoxical situation in which the present constitutes a border, a limit between a past and a future without any concrete reality. The present is that elusive moment between what no longer exists and what has not yet happened.
These notions that we take as “reality” are pure intellectual fabrications that do not involve an independent reality, existent in itself. According to the Buddha, perceived phenomena exist only from the standpoint of their designation—that is, the names and concepts we attach to them. The functioning of phenomena does not reveal a palpable entity that is uniquely theirs. You could compare phenomena to a mirage: the closer you get to it, the farther away it gets, until it disappears. Similarly faced with the mind that analyzes them, phenomena vanish.
— Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama
(Photo by Éole Wind)