Friday, March 24, 2006
Hindu Concept of Time
Cyclical TimeThe passage of 'linear' time has brought us where we are today - at the dawn of a new century and a new millennium. But Hinduism views the concept of time in a much different manner, and there is a cosmic perspective to it. Hindus believe the process of creation moves in cycles and that each cycle has four great epochs of time, namely Satya Yug, Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug and Kali Yug. And because the process of creation is cyclical and never ending, it "begins to end and ends to begin".
Time is GodAccording to the Hindu theory of creation, time (Sanskrit 'kal') is a manifestation of God. Creation begins when God makes his energies active and ends when he withdraws all his energies into a state of inactivity. God is timeless, for time is relative and ceases to exist in the Absolute. The past, the present and the future coexist in him simultaneously.
KalchakraGod creates the cycle of time, called Kalchakra, in order to create divisions and movements of life and sustain the worlds in periodic timeframes. God also uses time to create the 'illusions' of life and death. It is time, which is accountable for old age, death and dying of his creations. When we overcome time, we become immortal. Death is not the end of the line, but a gateway to the next cycle, to birth. This is also true of the universe itself and akin to the cyclic patterns in the rhythms of nature.
The four ages symbolize the four phases of involution during which man gradually lost the awareness of his inner selves and subtle bodies. Hinduism believes that human beings have five kinds of bodies, called annamayakosa, pranamayakosa, manomayakosa vignanamayakosa and anandamayakosa, which represent the 'gross body', the 'breath body', the 'psychic body', the 'intelligence body' and the 'bliss body' respectively.
Another theory explains these epochs of time on the basis of the degree of loss of righteousness in the world. It says, during Satya Yug only truth prevailed (Sanskrit Satya = truth), Treta lost ¼ truth, Dwapar lost ½ truth and Kali is left with only ¼ truth. Evil and dishonesty has replaced truth in the last three ages or yugs.
DashaavatarThroughout these four yugs, Lord Vishnu is said to incarnate ten times in ten different avatars. This is known as 'Dashaavatar' (Sanskrit dasha = ten). During the Age of Truth, human beings were spiritually most advanced and had great psychic powers. In the Treta Yug people still remained righteous and adhered to moral ways of life. Lord Rama of the fabled Ramayana lived in Treta Yug. In the Dwapara Yug, men had lost all knowledge of the intelligence and bliss bodies. Lord Krishna was born in this age. The present Kali Yug is the most degenerated of the Hindu epochs.
We live in the Kali Yug — in a world infested with impurities and vices. People possessing genial virtues are diminishing day by day. Floods and famine, war and crime, deceit and duplicity characterize this age. But, say the scriptures, final emancipation is possible only in this age.
The Signs of Kali Yug!Kali Yug has two phases: In the first, humans - having lost the knowledge of the two higher selves - had knowledge of the 'breath body' apart from the physical self. During the second phase even this knowledge has deserted mankind, leaving us only with the awareness of the gross physical body. This explains why we are now more preoccupied with our physical self than anything else.
Due to our preoccupation with our physical bodies and our lower selves, and because of our emphasis on the pursuit of gross materialism, this age has been termed the 'Age of Darkness' - an age when we have lost touch with our inner selves, an age of profound ignorance!
What the Epics SayBoth the two great epics - The Ramayana & Mahabharata - have spoken about the Kali Yug. In the Tulasi Ramayana, we find Kakbhushundi foretelling: "In the Kali Yug, the hot-bed of sin, men and women are all steeped in unrighteousness and act contrary to the Vedas…every virtue had been engulfed by the sins of Kali Yug; all good books had disappeared; impostors had promulgated a number of creeds, which they had invented out of their own wit. The people had all fallen prey to delusion and all pious acts had been swallowed by greed."
In the Mahabharata (Santi Parva) Yudhishthir says: "…The ordinances of the Vedas disappear gradually in every successive age…the duties in the Kali age are entirely of another kind. It seems, therefore, that duties have been laid down for the respective age according to the powers of human beings in the respective ages." The sage Vyasa later on clarifies: "In the Kali Yug, the duties of the respective order disappear and men become afflicted by inequity."
What Happens Next?It is predicted that at the end of the Kali Yug, Lord Shiva shall destroy the universe and all the physical body would undergo a great transformation. After such dissolution, Lord Brahma would recreate the universe and mankind will become the 'Beings of Truth' once again.