Talking About Time

[Lord Krishna]“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahma’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.17)

ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ
rātriṁ yuga-sahasrāntāṁ
te ‘ho-rātra-vido janāḥ

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Friend-One: I know the stress in the Bhagavad-gita is on the future, the eternal one at that.

Friend-Two: Yeah, for sure. It’s like knowing the difference between shreyas and preyas.

F1: And what is that?

F2: Preyas is the immediate result, like satisfaction in the short term. Think of it like craving ice cream and then going to eat it.

F1: Shreyas would then be the long-term benefit?

F2: Yeah, it’s like thinking ahead. If you know that ice cream gives you indigestion, then the preyas isn’t really worth the trouble. If you concentrate on shreyas instead, you are better off.

[ice cream]F1: I see. And that’s what the focus on the future is about, to worry over shreyas?

F2: Shreyas with respect to a particular object, namely the soul. Shreyas for the living entity accepting a temporary body may relate to having enough money in retirement, but the soul is transcendental to employment, retirement, leisure, study and other such circumstances.

F1: There is one issue I could see coming up. It’s pretty obvious, too. Why should you worry about shreyas for the soul when you’re not confident of what the future will be? No one knows what’s going to happen after we die, so why focus on that?

F2: Yes, if you don’t know then surely you’re going to be skeptical. You just have to know that the soul is eternal; from there you’ll see the reason for giving priority to the long-term benefit.

F1: Okay, let’s say that I agree with you about the soul. It is eternal, primeval, and not slain when the body is slain [Bg. 2.20]. I’ll take Krishna’s word for it [smiles].

[Bhagavad-gita As It Is]F2: That’s not a bad person to trust. The Bhagavad-gita addresses the properties of the soul right at the outset. If you lack this fundamental knowledge, you won’t be able to understand the other important topics.

F1: So the soul is eternal. Let’s say I agree with you. Still, I am conscious right now. I know what makes me happy and what doesn’t. My soul will exist going into the future, so why should I worry so much about where it will go? I think it’s better to focus on what I can experience at present. Let me worry about what I can perceive.

F2: Ah, I like those words: at present. Not to be confused with the word “presently,” which actually refers to the immediate future. Like if you come to my office and I’m on the phone, I’ll say, “I’ll be with you presently.”

F1: [sarcastic]Thanks for the English lesson.

F2: No problem. Anyway, let’s focus on what you said: at present.

F1: Okay.

F2: Since you’re agreeing to the soul’s eternality, you won’t mind it if I say that you were around somewhere in the past. Let’s take five thousand years ago. You were somewhere. Agreed?

F1: Agreed.

F2: Where were you?

F1: I have no clue.

F2: What were you doing?

F1: Again, no idea.

F2: If you were alive, you probably had things that you enjoyed and things you didn’t. You probably had desires and ways to satisfy them. Essentially, how you experience life at present is how you experienced it five thousand years ago.

F1: I mean the species might not have been the same, but I see what you’re saying. Yeah, it probably wasn’t that much different in terms of how things went.

F2: Okay, so chew on this fact: The present will some day be five thousand years in the past.

F1: Hmm, what do you mean?

F2: Everything you worry about right now, the things that you can perceive – this experience is guaranteed to become the distant past eventually. Just as you have no idea where you were five thousand years ago, five thousand years into the future you will have no idea where you were today. The preyas that you’re focused on now will mean absolutely nothing.

F1: I see what you’re saying.

F2: Indeed, you don’t need to go that far back. You focused on preyas as a child, for sure. Do you remember crying for milk when you were a baby? Do you remember where you were at every precise moment during childhood?

F1: I don’t. So it’s like since those things have been forgotten, they must not be so significant.

F2: Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, intelligently presents the Bhagavad-gita for the understanding of the sober person. In ignorance, we tend to think of time in terms of only the present and the immediate future. He points out that time is incredibly vast, in both directions.

F1: How vast?

[Lord Brahma]F2: To aid our understanding, He divides time into yugas. Each complete yuga, more commonly known as a maha-yuga, has four smaller yugas. In total one maha-yuga is 4,320,000 years. This maha-yuga is divided into four yugas because dharma, or religiosity, diminishes with the coming of each smaller yuga. Then everything resets with the onset of the next maha-yuga. Take these full cycles one thousand times and you get the day of Brahma, who is the creator.

F1: That’s a very long time.

F2: Everything in the world gets destroyed after Brahma’s day. Then there’s also Brahma’s night, which is the same amount of time. This gives you one full day, and taking 30 days for a month and 12 months you can figure out Brahma’s year. Brahma lives for one hundred of these years, after which the entire universe gets destroyed and recreated. So Krishna says that a person who knows the duration of Brahma’s day and night knows the actual meaning of day and night.

F1: We make all of our decisions in terms of day and night, based on the sun. But that day and night is nothing compared to the time based on Brahma. That’s really crazy, if you think about it.

F2: It’s a lot of years. Too many to fathom, but it’s a fact. There’s been so many years already in the distant past, and we have no idea where we were. There’s the future too, which we have some control over.

F1: As in we can determine where the soul will end up?

F2: Exactly. What other reason is there for understanding time in this way? You would go crazy if you thought about how long Brahma’s day is. The materially conscious become transfixed on this aspect of time, but that does little to help them. If you take the knowledge of this day and night as impetus for breaking free from the cycle of birth and death, then you’ve made the best use.

F1: Is there a place where this time doesn’t operate, where there are no cycles of creation and destruction?

F2: Krishna describes this a few verses after mentioning Brahma’s day and night. There is a higher nature which is eternal and is not annihilated no matter how many years pass. And the souls who reach that nature never come back.

F1: So if we go there, we don’t have to worry about this time again? I’m assuming you’re going to say that reaching that place is the very definition of shreyas for the soul.

[Radha and Krishna]F2: Absolutely. And it’s not that difficult to attain: just be conscious of Krishna. If that’s too much for you to do, if you think that Krishna is a sectarian God, then at least think of the person who lives in the realm that is unmanifest, which never gets created or destroyed. Think of that person through chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Concerned of the present ever so,

But back a thousand years just go.


Where exactly were you?

Living and had desires too.


To become the distant past eventually is today,

Real time known through Brahma’s night and his day.


Go to the realm that annihilated never,

And live there with Shri Krishna forever.

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