Desha and Kaala
(Space and Time)
In religion, India is the only millionaire--the one land which all men desire to see and having seen once by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.
Time is the most mysterious of god’s powers. We really don’t know how or why we calculate time. It has always been one of Nature’s untameables. Even though the mind has created it, the mind cannot understand it.
Time finds no place in Advaita Vedanta though space gets some prominence. Space is a positive entity. It is a product. On the contrary, time is a nonentity. It is not a product. In reality, there is nothing like time. Advaita Vedanta says that it is purely a mental concept. In the absence of any activity or event, there cannot be any mental concept of time. With the occurrence of more than one event, the mind constructs the concept called “time.”
Classical physics had always postulated that Time and Space were eternal realities. Space and time as independently existing realities were absolutes for Newton. He considered atoms to be the elementary building blocks of the universe. They were presumed to be absolutely solid, impenetrable, indestructible, and unchangeable. He believed in the strictly causal nature of physical phenomena. So it was a big shock to the classical physicist to hear Einstein’s theory of matter. Hardly had they recovered from this shock when came the second shock with his theory of relativity. Einstein and many of the scientists who came after him proved that time and space are relative. This is a shocking idea to us, bound as we are to our clocks and time schedules.
The fact that Time and Space are not eternal verities but convenient suppositions of the mind were well known to the rishis. They declared that human life is completely conditioned by the three upadhis (conditionings) known as desha, kaala, and nimitta--space, time, and causation. Everything we see in the world exists in space for a certain period of time and has a cause. This is how the mind works. Without these three upadhis, the mind cannot function.
Einstein said that one cannot talk about space without bringing in time. All measurements involving space and time are devoid of absolute significance. The example of a pair of twins, who are twenty years old, is given. One twin goes in a spacecraft that goes at 9/10 of the speed of light. He returns to Earth when he is forty-six years old but finds that his twin has already turned eighty!
The same phenomenon is described in our Puranas, which shows that they were well aware of the fact that velocity reduces time. In the Bhagavad Purana, the king called Raivathan goes with his daughter, Revathi, to the world of Brahma and stays there only for the duration of a few minutes, but when he returns he finds the whole world has changed and none of the people he knew existed anymore. They were already dead and gone. Moreover, he finds that people have shrunk in size whereas he and his daughter were very tall. He could not find anyone who could match his daughter in size so as to be able to marry her. At last he found that the only man who could match her was Balarama, Lord Krishna’s brother. There are many other instances that show us that the ancients were well aware of the fact that time and space and velocity are irrevocably bound together.
The moment we demarcate ourselves as belonging to a specified place and time, that moment we separate ourselves from our roots, we bring suffering on ourselves. We are the creators of time and space. When we bring energy to conscious awareness, through the act of perception, we create separate objects that exist in space through a measured continuum called time. By creating time and space, we create our own separateness.
Brahman alone is said to be sat, or pure existence. Brahman is beyond time. Hinduism does not declare the world to be asat, or nonexistent. The jagat, or world, is mithya and not asat. It is called mithya because it has a dependent and relative existence. It is not eternal and timeless, but it exists on the substratum of the Brahman. The universe has a beginning and thus it also has an end. Time starts with the beginning of the universe and ends with its dissolution. Space is born with the origin of the universe and expands and contracts, finally dissolving with the dissolution of the universe. Thus, the universe is known as mithya. Brahma Satyam, jagat mithya (Brahman alone is Real and the world unreal) is what our scriptures say.
Without change and movement nothing can exist even for a moment. The stars are revolving, the planets are rotating, the galaxies are moving, and the whole universe is expanding. This is applicable to the subatomic world also, where every particle is constantly in motion. This movement is what gives rise to the illusion of space and time! The Sanskrit word for the world is jagat--that which is ever moving and ever changing. By giving the name jagat to the world, we can realize that the ancients knew this important fact.
Even though they denied any absolute existence to time, the rishis had their own method of calculating time since it is an obvious fact of our human life. Sanskrit has had words starting from micro seconds to millennia. They knew of light-years. The life span of Brahma, the creator, is known as a kalpa, which is the longest period of time that we can think of--millions of light-years. They also had words to describe the minutest period of time, less than the blink of an eye. They knew about atoms, which were called anus, and even particles, which were called paramanus.