9. It's About Time

Eternity is Longer Than You Think

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me.
That means nothing. People like us, who believe in physics,
know that the distinction between past, present and future
is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
- Albert Einstein

The story of Punya and Pavana, fromThe Yoga Vashishtha, Upashanti Prakarana

              The Yoga Vashishtha is the record of Vashishtha’s enlightened advice to Prince Rama. Vashishtha’s words brought the young prince out of ignorance and into the realization of his divine reality. To do this, Vashishtha uses parables to wash away Ram's misconceptions about the diversity of the world and reveal the reality of Unity – Vedanta, that all this, everything in the universe, is Brahman, the undivided, eternal ocean of bliss-consciousness (sat- chit-ananda). The following parable reveals the truth about life and death.

              In the continent known as Jambudvipa there is a great mountain known as Mahendra. In the forests on the slopes of that mountain many holy men and sages lived. They had in fact brought down onto that mountain the River Vyoma Ganga (or Akasha Ganga) for their bath, drinking, etc. On the bank of this river, there lived a holy man named Dirghatapa who was, as his name implies, the very embodiment of ceaseless austerity. 

              This ascetic had two sons named Punya and Pavana. Of these, Punya had reached full enlightenment, but Pavana, though he had overcome ignorance, had not yet reached full enlightenment. 

              With the inexorable passage of time, the sage Dirghatapa, who had freed himself from every form of attachment and craving, grew in age and, even as a bird flies away from its cage, abandoned the body and reached the state of utter purity. His wife also followed him by using the yogic method she had learnt from him. 

              At this sudden departure of his parents, Pavana was sunk in grief and he wailed aloud inconsolably. Punya, on the other hand, performed the funeral ceremonies, but remained unmoved by the bereavement. He approached his grieving brother, Pavana, and said: 

              ‘Brother, why do you bring this dreadful sorrow upon yourself? The blindness of ignorance alone is the cause of this torrential downpour of tears from your eyes. Our father has departed from here along with our mother to liberation, the highest state, which is natural to all beings and is the very being of those who have overcome the small, individual self. Why do you grieve when they have returned to their own universal nature? You have ignorantly bound yourself to the notions of ‘father’ and ‘mother’; and yet you grieve for those who are liberated from such ignorance! He was not your father, nor was she your mother, nor were you their son. You have had countless fathers and mothers. They have had countless children. Countless have been your incarnations! And, if you wish to grieve over the death of parents, why shouldn’t you grieve for all those countless beings unceasingly? 

              ‘Nobel One, what you see as the world is only an illusory appearance. In truth, there are neither friends nor relatives. Hence, there is neither death nor separation. All these wonderful signs of prosperity that you see around you are tricks, some of which last for three days and others for five days! With your keen intelligence, inquire into the truth: abandon notions of ‘I’, ‘you’, etc., and of ‘He is dead.’, ‘He is gone.’ All these are your own notions, not truth. 

              Punya continued: ‘These false notions of father, mother, friend, relative, etc., are swept aside by wisdom as dust is swept away by wind. Notions of ‘relatives’ are not based on truth, they are but words! If one is thought of as a friend, he is a friend; if he is thought of as the other, he is the other! When all this is seen as the one omnipresent being, where is the distinction between the friend and the other? 

              ‘Brother, inquire within yourself. This body is inert and it is composed of blood, flesh, bones, etc.; what is the ‘I’ in it? If you thus inquire into the truth, you will realize: there is nothing that is ‘you’ nor anything which is ‘I’; what is called ‘Punya’ or ‘Pavana’ is but a false notion. 

              ‘However, if you still think, ‘I am’, then in past incarnations you have had very many relatives. Why do you not grieve for their death? You had many swan relatives when you were a swan, many tree relatives when you were a tree, many lion-relatives when you were a lion, many fish-relatives when you were a fish. Why do you not weep for them? You were a prince, you were a donkey, you were a peepul tree and then a banyan tree. You were brahmin (priest), you were a fly and a mosquito, and you were an ant. You were a scorpion for half a year, you were a bee, and now you are my brother. In these many other embodiments, you have taken birth again and again countless times. 

              ‘Even so, I have had very many embodiments. I see them all, and your embodiments too, through my subtle intelligence, which is pure and clear. I was a bird, a crane, a frog, a tree, a camel, a king, and a tiger. And now I am your elder brother. For ten years I was an eagle, for five months I was a crocodile and for a hundred years I was a lion; now I am your elder brother. I remember all these and many more embodiments I have passed through in a state of ignorance and delusion. In all these embodiments, there were countless relatives. Whom shall I mourn? Considering this, I do not grieve. 

              ‘All along this path of life, relatives are strewn like dry leaves on a forest path. What can be the proper cause for grief or joy in this world, brother? Let us therefore abandon all these ignorant notions and remain at peace. Abandon the notion of the world, which arises in your mind as the ‘I’. And, be still, neither going up nor falling down! You have no unhappiness, no birth, no father, and no mother; you are the immortal Self and naught else. The sages perceive the middle path, they see what is at the moment, they are at peace, they are established in witness consciousness; they shine like a lamp in darkness, in whose light events happen (without the lamp being involved).’ 

              Thus instructed by his brother, Pavana was awakened. Both of them remained as enlightened beings, endowed with wisdom and direct realization. They roamed the forest doing what they pleased but without blemish. In course of time, they abandoned their embodiment and attained final liberation. 

A Brief History of Eternity
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4, Verse 1
              Eternity is measured by orderly cycles of Rest and Activity. The silence of the night gives rise to the activity of the day; the resting phase of winter gives rise to the dynamism of summer. These cycles of rest and activity pulsate throughout every level of creation, from the infinitesimal, high-energy, fluctuations of subatomic particles to the pulsations of stars and galaxies. 

The Vedic Yugas
              The Vedas describe the cycles of rest and activity covering immense time spans. The Vedas provide the most cosmic understanding of creation and dissolution of the universe. One creation lasts hundreds of trillions of years and is followed by an equally long period of rest. Within these huge cycles are smaller cycles. Universal cycles, planetary cycles, etc.

              The ‘smaller’ cycles of Natural Law are divided into four basic epochs of time, called Yugas. Sat (or Krita) Yuga is the longest of these periods, lasting 1,728,000 years. During Sat Yuga Natural Law is fully lively - Heaven on Earth. After Sat Yuga, the strength of Natural Law begins to decline and life is lived in partial values. In Treta Yuga only three quarters of fulfillment is lively. Treta Yuga lasts 1,296,000 years, three quarters the length of Sat Yuga. Natural Law continues to wane to half its strength in Dwapara Yuga, which lasts half the duration of Sat Yuga, 864,000 years. Finally, only one-fourth part of Natural Law is lively in Kali Yuga, which lasts for 432,000 years, one forth the length of Sat Yuga. 

              The Vedic records indicate that Kali Yuga began at midnight February 27, 3102 BC (Julian Calendar). The year 2020 is the 5121st year of Kali Yuga. This low ebb of Natural Law during Kali Yuga is evidenced by the quality of life on earth throughout recorded history (the past 5000 years). More than 425,000 years of Kali Yuga remain. These are the darkest ages for mankind, when fulfillment is least and life is a struggle. HOWEVER, the desire to find the light of knowledge is also the strongest when the light is the darkest. From time to time in Kali Yuga, a glimpse of the full knowledge of life becomes available to those who seek it.

Chatur Yugas, Manvantars, and Kalpas
       One cycle of the rise and fall of Natural Law is called a Chaturyuga and lasts 4,320,000 years (from Sat Yuga to Kali Yuga). 

       71 Chaturyuga cycles are called a Manvantara and it is presided over by a lawgiver named Manu. 

       14 Manvantaras (i.e. 14 “Lives of Manu”) make one Kalpa. A Kalpa is one day in the life of Brahma, the creator of the universe. 

       There are 360 days in a year of Brahma’s life, and every Brahma lives for 100 years.

              According to Surya Siddhanta, the main text on Vedic Astronomy, fifty years of the life of Brahma have passed. We now are in the first Kalpa (day of Brahma) of his 51st year. In this Kalpa, 6 Manvantaras (71 Chaturyugas each) have passed. We live in the time of the 7th Manu, in which 27 Chaturyugas have finished. In our 28th Chaturyuga, Sat Yuga, Treta Yuga and Dwapara Yuga have also passed, and on March 1st, 2000, 1,863,139 days of Kali Yuga had passed.

Take Your Time 
                                    One Chaturyuga =            4,320,000 years
                                                Sat Yuga =           1,728,000 years
                                                Treta Yuga =        1,296,000 years
                                                Dwapara Yuga  =    864,000 years
                                                Kali Yuga =             432,000 years

One Manvantara (Manu)       = 71 Chaturyugas  =                     306,720,000 years
Day of Brahma (One Kalpa) = 14 Manvantaras (Manus)  =   4,294,080,000 years
One Day of Brahma (Kalpa) approximate age of earth =        4,294,080,000 years
Similarly a Night of Brahma =                                                 4,294,080,000 years
Month of Brahma = 30 days & nights     =                          257,644,800,000 years
Year of Brahma  = 12 months    =                                     3,091,737,600,000 years
Life of Brahma  = 100 years    =                                   309,173,760,000,000 years
Rest of Brahma = 100 years    =                                    309,173,760,000,000 years
Life of Visnu   = 1000 lives of Brahma   =            618,347,520,000,000,000 years
Rest of Vishnu =                                                    618,347,520,000,000,000 years
Life of Shiva   = 1000 lives of Visnu    =    1,236,695,040,000,000,000,000 years
Rest of Shiva  =                                           1,236,695,040,000,000,000,000 years
Mother Divine = 1000 Shivas   =         2,473,390,080,000,000,000,000,000 years
Rest of Mother Divine  =                      2,473,390,080,000,000,000,000,000 years
Total Cycle of Creation  =                    4,946,780,160,000,000,000,000,000 years
Continually Repeating, again and again . . . 
Sahasrashirsha Purusha = Imperishable, Unchanging, Immortal
                                          Basis of Ever Changing Creation

From MahaBharata, Mokshadharma Parva of Santi Parva:
              Chapter 280 “The period of time of one creation (and also for the resting cycle after creation is called a Kalpa. Living creatures exist for a thousand million of such Kalpas. The period for which a particular creation (Kalpa) exists is measured by many thousands of lakes. Imagine a lake that is one yojana (12-15 km) in width, one krosa (2-3.5 km or 1/4 yojana) in depth, and five hundred yojanas (7000 km) in length. Imagine many thousands of such lakes. Seek then to dry up those thousands of lakes by taking from them, only once a day, as much water as may be taken up with the end of a single hair. The number of days necessary to dry up all the lakes completely by this process represents the period of one creation (Kalpa) from start to end.”

              Devi Purana describes the perspective of Mother Divine witnessing the various life cycles of all the other Devas and Beings. Brahma, Visnu, Shiva, the Devas, Asuras, Humans and other Beings constantly revolve in life cycles tainted by their individuality, egoism, desires, and intrigues. Quotes from Devi Purana follow.
              “I tell thee now, O foremost of Asuras (Vritra), how Jiva (the individual soul) succeeds in effecting his emancipation. Desirous of Moksha, Jiva, relying upon 700 kinds of Satwic acts, gradually courses through Rajas (activity) and Tamas (lethargy) and attains to Satwa (purity). . . . The highest acquisition with one that is Satwic, is that condition called Turiya Chetana (Transcendental Consciousness), which underlies the other three states of consciousness (waking, dreaming and sleeping). (Many paths of Jiva – up and down from Satwa – are described.)

              “As regards that yogi who is unable to abandon the (satwic) bliss that Yoga brings about, he has to dwell for one century of Kalpas in auspiciousness, and after that in four other regions (Mahar, Jana, Tapas, and Satya). That Yogi, who falls off from Yoga practices, after having attained the measure of eminence described already, resides in heaven for a century of Kalpas with the remnants of his past acts, and with the senses, mind and intellect purged of all stains in consequence of their predisposition towards Satwa (purity). At the expiry of that period, such a person has to come to the world of men where he attains to great eminence. Turning back from the world of men, he departs for attaining to new forms of existence that run higher and higher in the upward scale. While engaged in this, he courses through seven regions for seven times, his knowledge being always increased in consequence of his Samadhi. The Yogi who is desirous of Moksha suppresses by Yoga, the five senses, plus mind and intellect (the Seven), and continues to dwell in the world of life, freed from attachments; and understanding those Seven as certain means of grief, he casts them off and attains afterwards to that state which is Indestructible and Infinite.

              “When the time of universal destruction comes, those Jivas who have attained to the position of Devas and who have remaining fruits of past acts to enjoy or endure, revert to those stages of life in the subsequent Kalpa which had been theirs in the previous one. This is due to the similarity of every successive Kalpa. Those (Devas) again whose acts, at the time of universal destruction, have been exhausted by enjoyment or endurance in respect of their fruits, falling down from heaven, take birth among men, in the subsequent Kalpa, for without Knowledge one cannot destroy one’s acts in even a hundred Kalpas. All superior Beings again, endued with similar powers and similar forms revert to their respective destinies in a new creation after a universal destruction, ascending and descending precisely in the same manner as during the creation that is dissolved . . .. “

From Garuda Purana Sage Suta explains to Garuda:
              “Suta said: I shall tell you a great secret as well as the decisive method of how to unravel its mystery, by knowing, which one becomes omniscient. O Garuda, you have posed a very good question about the origin of life. Hence, listen attentively.

              “In the womb, the fetus recollects the past events and happenings of his past lives. Tormented from all sides he feels depressed. "As soon as I leave the womb, I shall be very cautious. I shall never repeat mistakes. I shall act so that I may never be born again." The living being thinks thus and further recollects events of hundreds of past births--events that accrued to him from causes known and unknown. Then, at the scheduled time, the living being emerges from the womb. While leaving the womb, he suffers and faints. When he comes out of the womb, he cries in anguish. Then, with the touch of air, he obtains a little relief and comes to consciousness. Then the power of Maya, ignorance, overpowers him. Deluded by that power, he loses the power of discernment. In childhood, he remains in that state; passing through childhood, he attains youth and old age. Then he succumbs to death, and then he is reborn. Thus, on the wheel of existence he is made to rotate like a potter's wheel. Sometimes he goes to heaven, sometimes to hell. In heaven or hell, he reaps the fruits of his activities. Heaven or hell is not a permanent abode--this you should know, In hell, people suffer extreme tortures, which come to them from their hellish activities while alive. In heaven, though they enjoy wonderful pleasures, still they can see those in hell and they fear that they too may sometime again be in hell . . . .

              “Garuda said: O Ocean of Mercy! I have heard that this world of creatures is born out of ignorance. Now I wish to hear the infallible method of attaining Final Release from this cycle of birth, heaven, hell and rebirth in the world. I wish to hear the method of obtaining Enlightenment.

              “Suta said: Hear now how one can escape from this endless cycle of suffering, of births and deaths. Simply by hearing, you will achieve enlightenment and will never return to the realm of mortals.

              “Atma, Transcendental Consciousness, the Self of all beings, the indivisible Brahman, pure Being, all-knowing, all-doing, the supreme, pure, without a second, self-luminous, without beginning, without end, unchangeable, the highest of the high, without attributes is Absolute Purity, Eternally Awake Consciousness and Absolute Bliss.

              “The living beings are the units of His body. Like sparks of fire being struck by the immortal knowledge, they separate into different bodies, impelled by the timeless fuel of actions previously performed. They are controlled by virtues and vices in the form of enjoyment and sorrow. Their bodies have different propensities, age and enjoyment, which come from their different past actions. . . . .

              “Incarnating as one of the 84 lakh (8.4 million) types of creatures, one can ONLY gain true knowledge of reality if one is born as a human. After thousands of millions of births, a creature obtains a human form only sometime, due to building up of lots of virtue. Having obtained a rare human form, he should endeavor to obtain enlightenment. If he does not try, there can be no greater sin. Without a human body, it is not possible to obtain the supreme goal of enlightenment. One should be, therefore, very cautious to guard the great good fortune of having a human body and perform good actions, because he may not get a human body again. 

              “This body is useful for dharma (virtuous actions), dharma for knowledge, knowledge for meditation, and meditation for immediate enlightenment. If a person cannot protect himself from evil, then who else will do it for him? If he cannot treat the disease of ignorance here while alive, then how shall he cure himself after death, when there is no medicine? 

              “Old age is like a tigress. Age runs away like water from a leaking pot. Hence, one should practice virtue alone. As long as one remains alive, at all costs, one should practice virtue. One is a perfect fool who digs a well only when the house is on fire. A life of a hundred years is too little. Half of that goes to sleep or idleness. Whatever little is left is wasted due to childhood, disease, old age and sorrows. Therefore, at all times, in all places, at all costs, practice virtue alone. . . . 

              “He who does not know the reality of the field of Transcendental Consciousness, the Atma, Pure Being, calls what is useful, ‘useless,’ what is permanent, ‘impermanent’ and what is meaningful, ‘meaningless.’ Even when the crocodiles in the form of death, disease and old age are drowning this world in the ocean of time, he does not realize the Truth. This has to be done, this is to be done, and this other is half done. Thus thinking, one is taken by Yama. . . . 

              “The words of a person well versed in the Vedas and the Vedic Literature, but ignorant of the Reality, is nothing better than the cawing of a crow. For a person who does not know the Reality of Transcendental Consciousness, the study of the Vedas and the Vedic Literature is useless, just as a mirror is useless for the blind. But, for the wise who experience Transcendental Consciousness, the Vedas and the Vedic Literature help him gain true knowledge, the Reality of the Transcendental Atma, more clearly. But, mere study is not the way. Enlightenment comes from experience, not otherwise, O Garuda! 

              “That is called right action, which does not increase the bondage of ignorance. That is right knowledge, which brings one to enlightenment. All other action is just a labor and all other knowledge is just artistry. Penance, vows, pilgrimages, mantras, yagyas, the Vedas and the Vedic Literature, all are only meaningful when one knows the Reality of Atma, Transcendental Consciousness. Therefore, O Garuda, by all means, and in all conditions, focus your attention on Atma if you desire enlightenment. You should obtain knowledge from your master. Thus, one is easily released from the bondage of one's own actions. 

              “‘I am Brahman, the supreme shelter, the highest stage, the Atma, Transcendental Consciousness, the Self of all beings, unchanging, eternal, undivided, omniscient, omnipresent.’ When this becomes one's permanent experience, then one has obtained the eternal freedom of enlightenment. The wise who are without pride, who have left behind attachment and vices, who meditate and know the Transcendental Atma, whose desires have turned back and been reduced to nothing, who are free from the binding effects of joy and sorrow, those wise ones attain that imperishable state. He obtains enlightenment whose mind is full of knowledge, truth and is devoid of the filth of attachment and envy. 

              “Thus, I have told you, O Garuda, how to attain enlightenment. Practicing thus, with knowledge and self-discipline, one may attain enlightenment. Those who have realized the Self and live the reality of the Transcendental Atma, Brahman, at all times, have attained enlightenment - permanent release from the bondage of the world. Those who merely perform virtuous actions go to heaven, then reincarnate. Those who commit sins go to hell, then reincarnate. Everyone else continues to rotate on the wheel of birth and death. 

              “Garuda was delighted, having thus received the answer to his questions from the mouth of the Supreme. A man who hears this story or narrates it is blessed with pleasure here and hereafter. After hearing about the results of actions as described here, men may become averse to being attached to pleasures. Therefore, this story is very meaningful for the listener and the narrator. Even a drop of these words can lead one to obtain enlightenment. Once one has heard about the city of Yama, one can know to shake off one's sinful actions and perform virtuous actions, and thereby avoid the fierce tortures of Yama's city. Having heard the way to obtain enlightenment, one not only permanently avoids suffering, but also obtains eternal bliss, knowledge and life.”

A Word of Warning
              Garuda Purana is often recited at Shraddh rites. The text contains detailed descriptions of heavens and hells. The image of hells can be disturbing, at best. For example, Yama’s ‘Utkraantidaa’ is the surgical tool, which He uses to extract the soul from the body. Literally it means ‘giving an exit’ or ‘granting departure’ from the body.  The senses are torn from their familiar parts of the body in a gut wrenching operation. The only anesthesia is the blissful experience of detachment in Transcendental Consciousness, far beyond the reach of the body and senses. 

              Bhishma advised Raja Yudhishthira and his brothers to spend most of the day meditating. They had Krishna as their guide. But the Pandava brothers were men of action, not yogis. Amazingly enough, they were destined for heaven, not Moksha (liberation). Bhishma tells them: “You are Pandavas. You have been born in a stainless race. You are of rigid vows. Having sported in joy in the regions of the gods, you shall come back to the world of men. Living happily as long as the creation lasts, all of you at the next new creation will be admitted among the Devas and enjoying all kinds of bliss, you will at last be numbered among the Siddhas.”
              - MahaBharata, Mokshadharma Parva, Chapter 280

“Avert the danger that has not yet arrived.” 
         (Heyam Dukham Anaagatam)
                 - Yog Sutra 2.16
“The cause of suffering to be averted is the attachment between seer and seen.”     
         (Drashtri Drishyayoh Samyogo Heya Hetuh.)
                 - Yog Sutra 2.17