Concept of time, Nitya

One can conceivably think that the universe could easily run out of bhAva and then fold on itself.  It could be said that all the objects (bhUta) in the design of the universe could gradually be created and the last creation could be the one which destroys everything out to help create all things new.  While this is a hypothesis, we can think that the present universe is in a path of a continual evolution which might collapse when the design ends.  Though we don’t know when the design might end, we can speculate that the universe perhaps had a beginning and had a state before the beginning.  This has been the basis of the present day scientific thought.


Since we don’t have a clear understanding how such a beginning might take place, the Vedanta theory has suggested that the universe arose out of a desire of Brahman.  This statement sounds unscientific, but we don’t know any better.  From the objects (bhUta) that exist we speculate that there could be an evolution and if we extrapolate properly we may reach a point from where the first object might have begun. Taittiriya Upanisad speculates that the first object is space, called AkAsha in Sanskrit.  Akasha is an ever expanding bag that has a self-defined boundary which contains the manifested objects.  In Indian cosmology, AkAsha makes the path way for sound.  This sound could be subtle; it’s the original murmur, eventually conceived by the humans to be received as Aum (praNava) on the earth.


The theory in the Upanisad would proceed to create the other four bhUta (s) in sequence and then make an effort to prescribe a path of evolution leading to the present; the ultimate manifestation of creating the human beings.  While the theory of Brahman is brilliant, there is no need why Brahman has a desire to create human beings.  It is quite conceivable that Brahman creates many universes with their own designs and we as human beings are only conditioned with a very limited view of our segment of the overall play.  The universes of angels, ghosts, myths, strange creatures or no creatures are all possible.  The design rules could be very different in other universes.  Our connection to such universes could be only in our imagination, our senses cannot even grapple the enormity of our own universe, forget the other ones.


Since these universes are not colliding with each other and that the objects seem to operate with a fair amount of independence, we speculate about an order dharma that we mentioned before.  Maintenance of the object property (bhAva) in this massive ensemble would be the nature of this dharma.  Suchdharma would be beyond the comprehension of any person and would appear frozen from the human point of view.   This concept of assumed unchanging permanence has been called nitya in Sanskrit.  In every day usage, nitya would mean anything that doesn’t change in a given time scale.  In practice, we can put the concept of nitya at any point beyond which we are incapable of determining a change.  It is a perceptual frame of reference from which we can measure a perceptual change.


Whenever we can say that an object was created, we know that the nitya is far away from it.  Any possibility of creation does connote a change and hence an adjustment to the population; we must look for the source of the change.  Once the object is created we can start counting its development in some unit and this has been called kAla in Sanskrit, translated to ‘time’ in English.  All objects have a kAla associated with them, our universe itself has a kAlaassociated with it, but their measurement from a perceived nitya would be different.  Once we take a measurement of time like a solar day, we can throw arbitrary numbers depending on where we think the time horizon could be.  This philosophical context is troublesome to modern science, where time is measured from the birth of our universe.  In Indian cosmology such measurement can give the ‘age’ of the universe but the measurement of kAla would be further up the road. The basis of such thinking is that the nature of the original signal (murmur, Aum ) is inconceivable and hence an arbitrary threshold is not very meaningful.


In language use people can bring the word nitya to their daily life to qualify activities which do not suggest change.  It is assumed that we would do those activities with regularity every day.  Such regularity can become our bhAvanitya qualifying the permanence in the bhAva.   Here the idea is that unless we are tuned to a bhAva we cannot be regular in it, so the regularity connects the bhAva to nitya and gives us a characteristic which uniquely defines us as an object (bhUta).  As we said before, the nitya here would not represent the ultimate time horizon but a threshold accepted by our local community.  In such cases the bhAva become svabhAva, the prefix sva denoting ‘one’s own’.   The activities that we would do under such svabhAva would be calledsvadharma.  We will analyze further on this in the next article.


Bijoy Misra

October 7, 2012.

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