Time is the ongoing sequence of events taking place continually; the past, present and future. We are all under the influence of time. Since we wake up in the morning, all through the day until night, all our activities are continuously controlled by time. Day, night, weeks, months and seasons of the year, keep changing endlessly in a wonderfully orchestrated manner.
The influence of time on us begins even before we are born. The effect of time is perceptible soon after the mother conceives and the growth of the embryo in the mother’s womb matches with the passage of time. After birth, we express the time duration a person has spent in this world, as his age (number of years).
When Did Time Come Into Existence?
Our Vedic scriptures tell us that with the creation of the universe, time comes into existence, and time is one of Lord Krishna’s energies. Time is the imperceptible formless aspect of the Lord. The universe is created by the omnipotency of the Supreme Lord and it involves stepwise transformations and reactions of His material energy. With the incarnation of the first purusa (Karandakasayi Visnu/ Maha Visnu) and the subsequent formation of the principles of material creation (mahatattva), time is manifested. Hence, Kāla, or time, is the transformed manifestation of the principles of material creation. In simple words, time is a manifestation of the Lord’s energy and the ultimate source is Narayana or Vasudeva.
This is stated in Srimad Bhagavatam
After the incarnation of the first puruṣa [Kāraṇārṇavaśāyī Viṣṇu], the mahat-tattva, or the principles of material creation, take place, and then time is manifested, and in course of time the three qualities appear.
In the Bhagawad gita, when Lord Krishna explains His opulence to Arjuna, He states that He is the inexhaustible time.
Time is the representative of Lord Krishna and everything – living and non-living is under the control of time.
With the concept of time, two qualities emerge – temporary and eternal. Temporary is transient, non-permanent and perishable; while eternal is non-perishable and without an end. It is said that the soul is eternal but the material world is temporary. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita that we are His parts and parcel and we existed in the past and will continue to exist in the future without interruption.
On the other hand, it is said that this material world is temporary and Srila Prabhupada, Founder-Acharya of ISKCON frequently quotes from Bhagavad Gita as ‘dukhalayam asasvatam’ i.e. to say this material world is temporary and full of miseries.
Krishna Is Tri-Kaal-Jna
As human beings we have limited memory of the past and cannot foretell the future. The Lord has a transcendental body and so He knows the past, present and future. In the opening verse of the Srimad Bhagavatam, Sri Vyasdeva while offering obeisances to Lord Krishna addresses Him as "abhijñaḥ svarāṭ", which Srila Prabhupad translates as "fully cognizant and fully independent". The Lord knows all that is happening for every living entity as He is situated in the heart of every living entity as the Supersoul. He is the upa-drishta or the witness for all our activities throughout our life. Lord Krishna also remembers the past.
During the Kuruksetra battle, when the Lord imparts transcendental knowledge to Arjuna, He says that He had given this knowledge millions of years ago, to Vivasvan the Sun God. Arjuna was then perplexed as to how could this be possible, and then the Lord tells him that He remembers all His previous births.
The Personality of Godhead, Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku.
The Personality of Godhead said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O sub-duer of the enemy!
O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.
The Lord also predicted victory for the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra war when He showed Arjuna His virat rupa (universal form).
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds, and I have come here to destroy all people. With the exception of you the (Pāṇḍavas), all the soldiers here on both sides will be slain.
Thus we see that the Lord is the knower of the past, present and future.
Time Is The Ultimate Controller
We are all under the influence of time and time is the inevitable controller of us all. It is said that time or Kāla, is identical with the Lord Himself. Everything in this material world is under the influence of time and as a result, has a beginning and an end. This is true for all living entities - human beings, animals, plants and even for non-living objects; ultimately everything is perishable. A flower initially is a bud, it grows and blooms, after a few days it withers and ultimately gets destroyed. Similarly, in this material world, all living and non-living entities continually undergo change with time. These changes are discernable over variable time durations, it could be days – months – years - decades or millenniums; but ultimately there is aging and destruction.
Our scriptures call this destruction as pralaya, which in Sanskrit means dissolution, annihilation or death. The Srimad Bhagavatam describes 4 types of pralayas - constant, occasional, material and final.
(1) The destruction happening constantly at every moment, invisibly transforming our bodies and the bodies of all living entities is nitya pralaya.
(2) When a person attains knowledge of the Absolute (liberation), he is liberated and it is called atyantika or final annihilation.
(3) The annihilation happening at the end of Brahma’s day is occasional or Naimittika pralaya.
(4) The annihilation that happens at the end of Brahma’s life is called material or Prakritika pralaya.
Hence we see that among all kinds of killers, time is the ultimate because time silently devours everything. Time is the representative of Krishna and in due course of time everything will be annihilated.
At the end of the Kurukshetra war Bhismadeva was injured, was lying on a bed of arrows, about to die. Sympathizing with the sufferings of the Pandavas he said that this was all due to the influence of irreversible time. He said that time controls the world just as the wind controls the clouds.
In my opinion this is all due to inevitable time, under whose control everyone in every planet is carried, just as the clouds are carried by wind.
Srila Prabhupad explains that Kāla or time controls even the action of the air and other elements. Everything is controlled by the supreme Kāla, a forceful representative of the Lord within the material world.
Time Concept In The Material World Differs From That In The Spiritual World
In the spiritual world, time is unlimited and eternal. Time has no ability to control the Lord, rather the Lord is the controller of time. As explained in the Brahma-saṁhitā it is said that the entire duration of the life of Brahma is less than a second of the Lord’s time.
jīvanti loma-vilajā jagad-aṇḍa-nāthāḥ
viṣṇur mahān sa iha yasya kalā-viśeṣo
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
In essence, the entire duration of Brahma’s life is equal to the time occupied in the Lord’s one breath.
kālo ’yaṁ dvi-parārdhākhyo
hy anāder jagad-ātmanaḥ
It is also known that the duration of Brahmā’s life, is equal to one nimeṣa [less than a second] for the Supreme Personality of Godhead and that one day for Brahma is equivalent to 1000 caturyugas. (SB 3.11.19, SB 3.11.22). Since one caturyuga comprises of four milleniums – Satya, Treta, Dvapar, and Kali; we can now understand that in comparison to time in the spiritual world, our life is as brief as a flash of lightning. Hence it is said that the Supreme Lord is eternal, unchanging and unlimited. Similarly, we can now also believe that it is not difficult for the supreme Lord to be actually present in the archa vigraha deity form that we worship in the temple.
Take Away Message
- The material world is temporary and we are only temporary caretakers of our families, wealth, property and possessions. We should conduct ourselves keeping in mind that we finally have to part with all these and that everything ultimately belongs to the Lord.
- It is because of our illusion that we believe this material world to be our permanent residence and spend much time and effort, trying to make ourselves comfortable here.
- The Lord is a witness to all our thoughts and actions. We can hide from everyone, but we cannot hide from the Lord.
- Joy and sorrow in our lives are transient. Our one life is as brief as a flash of lightning in the long journey back to Godhead.