Time is an important topic in the Bhagavad Gita. Actually it’s one of the Gita’s five main topics. These include: 1) isvara – the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna 2) the jiva – the minute living entity 3) prakrti – material nature 4) karma – our actions and reactions, and 5) kalah – eternal time.

For me, I didn’t detect how much there was about time in the Gita until recently. Now, time is all over the place. Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is instructing the warrior prince Arjuna. He explains His own connection to time as well as our connection.

For instance, in the 10th chapter of Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains it in a nut shell: “I am the beginning, the middle and end of all things” (10.20). Several verses later He makes two other points: 1) “of subduers, I am time” (10:30) 2) “I am inexhaustible time” (10:33).

Krishna also elaborates on our relationship to time and how it is calculated in the material world. If you read carefully, there are numerous references. Krishna explains how the yogis meditate on the inward and outward breath (4.29). That’s one calculation. We only have so many breaths and so many heart beats in this particular lifetime of ours. Krishna also explains that He is “the light of the sun and the moon” (7.8). He goes onto proclaim that He is “flower-bearing spring” (10.35).

Thus, there is day and night. There is the waning and waxing of the moon which create the seasons. The seasons turn into years. These are the ways we measure time. Krishna also explains time on a cosmic scale. Brahma’s day (kalpa) consists of a thousand human ages (8.17). The Vedas compare the duration of the universe to the life of Brahma, the creator and grandsire of the universe. Brahma’s life is calculated to be over 311 trillion years.

Another way we calculate time is by how quickly we achieve the goals we set for ourselves. Krishna states that He is the goal (9:18). So where are we in our progress towards our goal, or perhaps in our progress on some journey we undertake? Are we at the beginning, middle, or the end? These markers are all expressions of Krishna.

In Bhagavad Gita 18:54 , Krishna mentions another way to view time. The conditioned soul laments about the past: something we did and regret doing, or something we didn’t do but should have done. All of us lament in one way or other. And we hanker or worry about the future. Will our hopes and desires be fulfilled?

In this way we continually avoid being in the present moment, which is essential for self realization. Being attentive to the present opens up the brahma-bhūtaḥ stage of spiritual joyfulness, and helps us to rise to the platform of bhakti, loving service to the Supreme Lord.

Children especially hanker for the future. I remember being ten years old, sitting in my classroom and the clock on the wall said 1 PM. We didn’t get out of school until after 3 PM and I was thinking, when will school be over so I can go home and enjoy myself. But 3 o’clock seemed such a long time away. Time seemed to be moving ever so slowly. Soon, other thoughts crossed my mind. When will I get to high school? When will I get to college? And in college I thought, when will my studies be over so I can get on with my life.

And now I look back, and I graduated from college over fifty years ago. The passing of time is overshadowed by our hopes, goals, and desires. We are absorbed in achieving ours goals and don’t notice the years slipping by. Then suddenly, we’ve reached old age.

During the course of time our eyes, our teeth, our hearing, our hearts and minds become weaker. Over the years, the body is barraged with anxiety and frustration. This toll can only be lessened or avoided by understanding Krishna’s instructions in the Bhagavad Gita. He informs us that we are not the aging body, but we are an eternal, youthful and joyful soul, giving life to the temporary material body we inhabit.

This is where we come to Oppenheimer and his famous quote from the Gita. For him, the Gita was “quite marvelous” and “the most beautiful philosophical song existing in any known tongue.” I wonder how much he understood about the eternal, individual nature of the soul; that the soul “is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. . . (and) is not slain when the body is slain” (2:20).

In the light of the recent movie “Oppenheimer,” Americans are rediscovering his Gita quote when he realized the magnitude of devastation the atomic bomb would unleash: “Now I am death, destroyer of the worlds” (11.32). But Oppenheimer’s quote is a bit inaccurate, considering he learned Sanskrit to study the Bhagavad Gita in its original text over ten years before the Manhattan Project.

The text actually reads kalah (time), and not mrtyuh (death). Arjuna trembles upon seeing Krishna’s cosmic, universal form (visva-rupa), stretching endlessly in all directions, devouring everyone as they rush into His unlimited, blazing mouths. Arjuna totters on the edge of sanity. He pleads to know, “Who are You? What is Your mission?” Exhibiting this form, Krishna replies, “Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds.”

Of course, Krishna mentions death elsewhere: “I am death personified”(9.19) and “I am all-devouring death”(10.34). Death and destruction are two mutual concepts that Oppenheimer naturally joined together.

But in verse 11:32, Krishna links time and destruction. Time is the precise, and often imperceptible, agent for death and destruction. Time is weighing heavily upon us, and this is an uncomfortable connection which we don’t want to make. A connection we try to put off for as long as possible. But it’s impossible to escape the effects of time. Time constantly changes our bodies and the world before us. Time subdues everything. Ultimately, it destroys our bodies and all the wonderful gadgets humankind has created.

The life of our bodies from birth to death is the most relevant way to understand time. In the epic Mahabharata, King Yudhisthira was asked, “What is the most wonderful thing in the world?” Yudhisthira responds, “Everyone is growing older and dying, but we think we will live forever.” His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, author of Bhagavad Gita As It Is, warns us, “this life is a flash” (Srimad Bhagavatam lecture, March 1, 1967). And to the sages of India it doesn’t seem to make a difference if the flash of life is our human life, or the life of Brahma at 311 trillion years.

Sankirtana Das, a disciple of Swami Prabhupada, is a longtime resident of New Vrindaban Community and an award-winning author and storyteller. His most recent book, Hanuman’s Quest, is acclaimed by scholars and has received a Storytelling World Resource Honors.

Source: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=110689

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