Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the idea of 'Time'

Time is a very fascinating and elusive subject for study. The idea of time in ancient Hindu philosophy is equally baffling and complex. It is as intriguing to know that while most other civilizations and cultures were still basing their cosmological arguments on the scales of few hundreds and thousands, early Vedic period had developed highly sophisticated concept of time embracing millions and even billions of years. The numbers, they were dealing with were mind boggling. Phenomenon of Time has been central to religious and philosophical thought of all ancient great civilizations of Maya, Egyptian, Aztecs, Greeko- Roman, Chinese and Indian etc.

The Two Worlds
Examining the concept of time involves, based on the available resources, analysis at two levels as Lawrence W. Fagg discussed in his book, Two Faces Of time. On one hand we have the modern scientific interpretation of time where physics plays an important role in our understanding of the world of small (Microcosmic) and world of Large (Macrocosmic). Every scientific theory, from the foundations of classical physics (Newtonian) and its concept of absolute time to idea of relativistic time in modern physics (Einsteinian), had a profound impact in altering our preexisting notion of time and causality.  The other hand we see myriads of different interpretations of Time which are deeply embedded into the religious and philosophical thoughts of different cultures. While one idea of time is based on physical theory and objective measurement, the other is purely derived from human consciousness and subjective experience.

Measurement of Time in Hindu Philosophy
There are innumerable literary sources available on interpretations about the Hindu notion of time and its measurement.According to early Vedic thoughts, Time is described as an endless cyclical procession of creation, preservation and dissolution. This notion is closely entwined with the idea of Bramhan in Hindu Philosophy. This is evident from the following method of measurement as provided here and here :
The time is cyclical and each cycle is called a Yuga. There are four yugas and depending upon the yuga the duration varies. The four yugas along with their duration in earthly years are Satya Yuga (1,728,000 years), Treta Yuga (1,296,000), Dvapara Yuga (864,000) and Kali Yuga (432,000) which totals to 4,320,000 years of one yuga cycle, also called Mahayuga. If you observe, the four yugas maintain a ratio 4:3:2:1 of their durations.  Hence a Kaliyug if represented as K(432,000) human years, then the other three yugas can be represented as 2K, 3K and 4K years A thousand Mahayugas is called a kalpa and therefore a kalpa is 4,320,000,000 years. 71 such Mahayugas make one Manvantara. Each Manvantara  is preceded by a Manvantara Twilight. In this way time moves on in these great cycles, yuga after yuga, kalpa after kalpa, eternally.

Brahma's life span is calculated according to yuga time. One kalpa is said to be the 12 hours of Brahma’s day, so his 24 hour day is two kalpas in length. That means 24 hours of Brahma’s time is 8,640,000,000 earthly years! His year is 365 days long and he lives for a 100 years. Each Manvantara is created and ruled by a specific Manu, who in turn is created by Brahma, the Creator himself.

Based on interpretation of Puranas(particularly Bhagwat Puran),
One day of Brahma (or one Kalpa) consists of 14 manvantaras + 15 manvantara twilights (because there is an extra manvantara - twilight at the end of all the 14 manvantaras)
= 14 x 71 mahayugas + 15 x 4K
= 994 mahayugas + 60 K
= 994 mahayugas + 6 mahayugas (10K = 1 Mahayuga)
= 1000 mahayugas = 1000 x10K = 4,320,000,000 human years.

In many cultural and religious expressions we find existence of deification of time with anthropomorphic characteristics such as: the father of greek god Zeus was Kronos who manyy thought, as deified personification of Chronos, Time. In Hindu religion, we find many interpretations of deified Kāla (time) in Skanda Purāa and Devī Māhātmy. Kali is considered the goddess of time and change.  In Persia, Zurvan was the god of temporal Time and fate so on and so forth.

Discovering parallels between both worlds
The concept of time not only differs in the way modern scientific theories see it (i.e. assuming a linear, irreversible flow of time) but also differs in religious thoughts across eastern and western religions (such as western philosophy sees a linear time while Hindu philosophy describes a cyclical and at much more greater scale).

Notwithstanding the seeming disparity between both the points of view (scientific and religious) on subject of time, attempts are being made to seek a relationship between them in the modern world which is apparent from recent popular works on the same. One such example is Fritjof Capra’s interpretation of Dance of Shiva, ṇḍava, that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution and a central theme in the idea of Bramhan and cyclical notion of time in his book Tao of Physics. He saw it as a pictorial allegory of chaos at the sub-atomic world.
Mankind’s intellectual curiosity and the quest for finding the ultimate truth (the Holy Grail in modern terms) may eventually lead to convergence of all beliefs, scientific thoughts and theories. As prevised by the great indian scholar, Swami Vivekananda, during his lecture at Parliament of Religions, Chicago –

Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as science would reach perfect unity, it would stop from further progress, because it would reach the goal. Thus chemistry could not progress farther when it would discover one element out of which all others could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all the others are but manifestations, and the science of religion become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death, Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world, One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations. Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, that the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of all sciences.