Hindu conception of time

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at BRAINCELLS.COM
Sat Mar 8 17:00:12 CST 2003

[Was Re: Statements in our shastras]

As several issues have been raised during the course of this conversation,
I'm replying to them seperately and with different titles.

On Wed, 5 Mar 2003, Sanjay Verma wrote:

> We may not be able to accurately date the shastras, but we do know that
> they are not in our time., and can safely say that they were composed
> much before us.

That's about all we can say.  To try and read much more into the
historical background of them is mere guesswork.

> How do we know the times have changed? Well, since there
> seems to be much emphasis on referring to those shastras, then even in
> the shastras it states that time is changing, and what is appropriate
> for one yuga is not necessarily appropriate for another yuga, and that
> even within a yuga there is progressive deterioration of dharma.

There are two outlooks one can have on history.  One is "progressive"  It
says that as time goes on things are steadily getting better until some
point in the future when a Messiah will appear or some other perfect
utopia will occur.  The other is "regressive" It says there once was
golden age but things have been steadily going to hell in a handbasket
ever since.

The yuga theory is an example of the latter type.  In the Satyayuga none
of these discussions would have arisen because everyone perfectly knew
their Dharma and their were no wants, conflict, death etc.  But with each
succesive age, Tretayuga, Dvaparayuga, and the present Kaliyuga, things
have been getting worse.  In the shastras some practices are indeed
considered "kalivarjya" or forbidden in the Kaliyuga e.g. burial. It
appears that in the remote past our ancestors used to bury the dead but
nowadays only sannyasis and a few other types ar buried and cremation is
the norm.  However only a few practices get such treatment.  The idea
expressed by the yuga theory is that it is the _quantity_ of Dharma which
is decreasing not the _quality_.  The cow of Dharma which walked on all
fours in the Satyayuga now hobbles about on one.  It doesn't say the legs
have become ears or anything.  This is why our religion is refered to as
Sanatana "eternal" Dharma.

I have remarked several times recently of how civilizations contain
contradictions and it is true here also.  Alongside the pessimistic strain
of thinking in our culture there is an optimistic strain too.  This sees
the Kaliyuga as not unremittingly evil but a golden opportunity.  Because
of the laxness of the age, those who are Dharmic get more "mileage" so to
speak out of their actions with less effort.  So rather than being
dismayed and giving up, knowing about the yugas should actually energize
us to do more.

The Vedantic view goes even further than both of these.  What comes after
the Kaliyuga?  Another Satyayuga.  What came before the golden age?
Another dark age.  Rather than looking at time as a straight line going
backwards or forwards, it is more like a sine wave.  Just as if you look
at the ocean from space it seems flat but when you get up close you see
waves, time is turbulent at the local level but from the paramarthic level
it is perfectly still.  Time is maya.  The notion of having to change with
the times is silly because _we_ create the times.

Reformist types want it both ways.  They want to declare whatever doesn't
match their ideological fads "out of date" and still pretend they are
followers of the classical past.  This is why their religions are unstable
and rarely last more than a generation or two because their followers
quckly see through the hypocrisy.  Sanatana Dharma on the other hand has
lasted for millenia because we pay no attention to the vagaries of time
and intellectual fashions.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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