From our collection

Rasikananda dasa
Vaivasvata Manu Worships Lord Matsya, 1997, oil on canvas, 80 x 108 cm

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Krishna says: "Time I am."

In contrast to the Western concept of linear time, the sacred texts of India view reality from the perspective of cycles called yugas. Our current cycle of history is seen as one of many stages that recur eternally. Ages turn into new ages, and then back. Nature shows hints of this throughout life: the seasons repeat themselves, the days of the week recur, day turns into night and then day again.

Creation leads to destruction, which, in turn creates something new. Indian seers take this as symbolic of all aspects of reality: life does not end with death; rather, the soul is reborn in a new body. In this way, the soul lives through a cycle of lives, much as the various ages associated with cosmic time repeat themselves. History moves in a succession of great cycles called divya-yugas. The vedic texts give minute details on the length of these cycles.

Each divya-yuga is composed of four ages progressively declining in length: Satya-yuga, which lasts 1,728,000 years; Treta-yuga, which lasts 1,296,000 years; Dvapara-yuga, which lasts 864,000 years; and Kali-yuga, our current age, which lasts 432,000 years. These four periods are called the golden, silver, copper and iron ages, respectively. We are now more than 5,000 years into Kali-yuga. After that , in roughly 427,000 years, there will be a partial destruction of the universe, and then a new Satya-yuga will dawn. According to the texts, as the ages decline in length from Satya- to Kali-yuga, piety and other virtues also diminish in a commensurate way.

Theologically, the Vedic literature discusses time as a potency of God – a natural emanation of the smallest material particle that God creates. This atomic particle (called anu) is among the fundamental building blocks of material nature. The Bhagavatam elaborates, explaining how atoms take up material space and are consequently subject to time (since time is measured in space). Because both space and time are material, the Bhagavatam connects them to maya, the illusion. In other words all changes that result from the vicissitudes of time are temporary, like a dream. Only Krishna and His avatars - the spiritual domain – are beyond the dictates of time and its influence.

However, in some ways time does appear to exist in the spiritual realm. Krishna rises in the morning, milks the cows, then eats breakfast, goes to the forest with His friends and the cows, plays all day, and in the evening returns to Vrindavan village, etc. It must be noted, though, that all these pastimes exist simultaneously. Each moment is eternally present. Since this constitutes an unfathomable concept of time, the Vedic literature concludes that, in the spiritual realm, time (as we know it) is conspicious by its absence.

Vaishnava texts describe Devi-dhama, or the material world, as the lowest of all possible realms. Mahesh-dhama, or the abode of Lord Shiva, is slightly higher than the multifarious universes that make up Devi-dhama. The worlds encompassed by both Devi-dhama and Mahesh-dhama range from the grossly material up to those that are composed almost exclusively of subtle energy, such as mind, intelligence, and ego.

Beyond these lesser realms is Hari-dhama, also known as Vaikuntha. This is the Spiritual Sky proper, where there are no material imperfections and life is eternal. And above the highest realm in Hari-dhama is Goloka, Krishna's supreme abode. Details on why Goloka is the topmost spiritual abode can be found in both the Brahma-samhita and the writings of the Six Goswamis of Vrindavan.

To eleborate, on the outer shell of the material cosmos is the Viraja river, beyond which one finds the freed souls, or those liberated from material existence. Further still is the Paravyoma, where infinite numbers of avatars, or partial manifestations of Krishna, reside. Here one can locate the planets of Rama, Vamana, and Nrisimha, for example, and devotees of these particular manifestations of Godhead may go to these spiritual realms after death. Above all other realms is Krishna's supreme planet, Goloka, which can manifest as Dvaraka, where opulence reigns supreme, as Mathura, where opulence is mixed with sweetness, and, ultimately, as Vrindavan, where all lordly power is eclipsed by love.

Expansions of these three later abodes exist on earth, and their material counterparts are considered nondifferent from their corresponding spiritual regions.