Material world consists of time and space. These two closely intertwined notions make up the whole structure of material creation. We got entangled in that structure and find it hard to live in a present moment. We either reflect on the past or dream about the future. But we never manage to bring our mind into the present.
Before we try to understand what the present is, we must have a closer look at the concept of time. Vedas give the definition of “the great time”, or atomic time. That’s the amount of time it takes for the light to pass through the atom. The whole world consists of atoms and light. Therefore, the definition of time is based on these most fundamental concepts. And we can see that science has reached the same conclusion: time must be atomic. Although they see it a little differently, they find a solution in a similar vein as the Vedic science.
The fact that Vedas introduce atomic time measurement is not a limitation by itself. Theoretically, time can be measured by any means. Humanity came up with different clocks and watches: sand watches, water watches, sun watches, spring-loaded watches… We can measure time by our breath or even by cough, though others may refuse to adopt our system. We seem to have learnt how to measure it – but did we come to understand it? What if I decide to measure a computer with a ruler? It doesn’t make me a programmer at all. Those who measured a diameter of the Sun, have no idea how life works there. Having measured the Earth, we didn’t understand its structure. Imagine that you consulted a physician, but only had your height measured. Materialists hold the firm belief: “Whatever gets measured gets managed”. They think if they measure something, they come to understand it. But it’s the biggest miscomprehension. We have already measured the whole universe. But do we have what it takes to understand the meaning of life?
For a materialistic person, time remains inconceivable and unexplained. But the Vedas give a precise, unambiguous explanation of what time is. Time is the manifestation of the Absolute Truth. It is explicitly stated in the Bhagavat-Gita: “Time I am”. Through His energy, the Absolute Truth gives rise and puts an end to everything taking place in the material world. Because of this we can feel the presence of time and realize that everything will have to end at some point. In the material world time is described in terms of beginning and end, past and future. Something that started in the past is sure to be over in the future.
Time in the spiritual world has another impact. It exists only as the absolute present, something that’s happening at the given moment. This is far different from the material reality where it’s impossible to stay grounded in the present. As soon as you start thinking of something, it automatically recedes into the past. We can’t truly grasp the present moment with our perception. This is why spiritual world is of such great interest to us. It’s the world of eternal present.
In the material world, there’s only past and future. And no one can keep oneself in the present. So it’s just the opposite of the way things are in the spiritual world. There’s only present there, without any past or future.
In the material world, so many systems of philosophy were created. They try to explain what the present moment is. But the truth is that it can’t be perceived in the material world. Everything we can see or feel immediately becomes a thing of the past. And this is the source of all human anxiety. We can see life but can’t get into it…
Material life consists of hankering and lamentation. We either lament over something we failed to achieve in the past, or dream of things we can probably get in the future. But what are we doing right now? We’re trying to snatch the present moment, but it’s gone. Moment’s gone. Present instant is actually absent. You’re looking at me, but I’m not the same person I was a moment ago. You can only snatch the past. You see the reflexion of light that touched me in the past. Now another light reflects off me. Certainly, this is very recent past. But it’s apparently a thing of the past. Once I’ve said something, my mind has already changed. While speaking, I already changed my opinion on what I’ve said. Hence, what we call ‘present’ in this world is nothing else than the recent past…
So, to sum up, time has no impact on the spiritual world. But it does exert a powerful influence on the material reality. Here we consider the time factor to regulate our activities: routinely wake up, go to work, and celebrate our birthdays. Each day is divided into 24 hours; 60 minutes make an hour, and 60 seconds make a minute. This is the timing of modern civilization. In a Vedic system, they divide a day not into minutes, but into danas. A day consists of 8 danas. And dana is calculated based on the passage of light through the aggregation of 6 atoms. By the way, it was easily visible to the naked human eye. This is beyond our understanding. But the sharpness of vision in the Vedic times was such that people could see a tiny aggregation of atoms with the naked eye. For our civilization of lenses this is simply inconceivable.
Surprisingly enough, atomic time can’t easily be calculated even now. But this time scale was widely used in the Vedic civilization 5000 years ago. So it was far from being a primitive culture. Some historians suggest that people in those days just fought for life and food. But in reality, they had the same exact understanding of time, as modern physicists. Vedic astronomy accurately describes the motion of celestial bodies. It is contained in special treatises – Upavedas. Modern scientists have no clue what happens before our birth and after death. But Vedic astrology was so perfect that it was able to predict exactly what would happen in the next 30 minutes. Modern scholars, however, use the Vedic astrology to predict the outcome of football matches. They seriously discuss it at astrological forums…
There’s one historical text written by Madhvacharya. It contains mathematical calculations of planetary motion. This is so complicated that disciples of Madhvacharya worshipped this treatise as they couldn’t fully comprehend it. When this work was shown to modern scientists, they were amazed at how complex and precise the calculations were.
If we can’t see the present, we can’t gain proper understanding of the past and the future. In our present we’ve got a man with no principles, no goal in life or knowledge of the soul. If we don’t pay heed to this fact, it would be extremely difficult to benefit by the knowledge that comes from more advanced civilizations.
We go to museums and see collections of pottery there. But culture is not about the pots. Culture is the ability to use knowledge accumulated and tried through practice over millenniums. Potsherds are not the embodiment of culture. This is just an ancient scrapyard. While the real study of culture is the study of scriptures, study of the sages’ message, study of experience saints had. It seems that a modern man doesn’t have a clue. Culture is when we have something to see, hear or think about. But it’s a huge problem nowadays. Since we lack that sort of culture, people just stare at each other and become either lusty or aggressive. Even in material life it’s better to use knowledge that already exists. For instance, people pump oil from the ground by all means. But the point is that lack of oil causes earthquakes. Nowadays they occur with increasing frequency.
The most important knowledge, however, is spiritual knowledge. Krishna says in the Bhagavat-Gita: “Always think of Me”. And this is exactly the entry point into the present we are searching so hard. It gets you thinking. You think of the options to turn your mind to the Absolute Truth. And 20 years later you suddenly realize that it has been the object of your thought all that time! Maybe not directly, but still we thought about how to think of the Absolute Truth! This is the secret of Bhagavad-Gita. We don’t even notice how it brings our awareness into the present moment. We notice it only when we get into spiritual world. We ask one another: “How did you get here?” “I don’t know. I only thought my whole life about Krishna’s words when He told Arjuna that one should think of eternity, knowledge and bliss …”
Thus, the one who constantly remembers that one should think of eternity enters the Great Present. This is because the present moment can only be in eternity.
Last but not least, hear the parable.
One day a soldier guarding the road stopped a Buddhist monk. Snatching up a sword, he sternly asked the traveler:
“Who are you? Where are you going to? And why are you going there?”
The monk thought for a while and timidly inquired,
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Fire away!” – griped the soldier.
“How much does your chief pay you a week?”
“Two baskets of rice.”
“I’ll pay you four baskets of rice if you promise to ask me these questions each day.”