Sacred Time: All Religions Invite us to Question Ordinary Conceptions of Time
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Last week marked the start of Yugadi, the New Year of the Hindu lunar calendar.
The name “Yugadi” comes from the Sanskrit words yuga (age) and ādi (beginning): “the beginning of a new age.” Hindus and Buddhists believe in the cyclical nature of time — that the world has been created and destroyed many times before and will continue to spring into and out of existence according to cyclical time units on the scale of thousands of years called yugas and kalpas.
All religions have their own systems of time and time keeping. Some follow a Gregorian calendar, some a lunar calendar. But all religions also help us understand that, in the cosmic timeline, our lives are mere specks and that we should always keep perspective.
If we were to follow Hindu philosophy, we would understand that beyond us, beyond the limited timeline of our lives, exists a consciousness that endures beyond time and space. Our physical forms come and go, but this consciousness is timeless. This helps us understand the illusory nature of past as well as future. We can learn to live more mindfully in the present moment. Understanding how minute our lifespans are in contrast to cosmic time help us put in perspective the events and emotions that otherwise seem overwhelming.
But most of us are chained to our clocks. Time has a God-like power over us, even though there has been enough scientific evidence to suggest that time is relative, and spiritual evidence to show that time may not even exist, that past, present, future, are illusory concepts. But we are addicts of structure and most of us operate robotically to the tik-tock of our time machines.
Time is one of the great mysteries of our existence. The ways we experience time are constantly changing according to a variety of contextual factors which remind us that time may, after all, be just a manmade illusion.
“Twelve thousand divine years constitute a period of the four Ages, and a thousand of the four Ages is called a day of Brahman, or an aeon (kalpa), in which there are fourteen Manus. At the end of the aeon there occurs the occasional dissolution brought about by Brahman.”
— Vishnu Purana, Hindu text
“Those who understand the cosmic laws know that the Day of Brahma ends after a thousand yugas and the Night of Brahma ends after a thousand yugas.”
— The Bhagavad Gita (8:17), Hindu text
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
— The New Testament (2 Peter 3:8), Christian text
“It will fall on the disbelievers — none can deflect it — from God, the Lord of the Ways of Ascent, by which the angels and the Spirit ascend to Him, on a Day whose length is fifty thousand years.”
— The Qur’an (70:2–4), Muslim text
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
— The Hebrew Bible (Ecclesiastes 3:11), Jewish text
“The earth life lasts but a short time, even its benefits are transitory; that which is temporary does not deserve our heart’s attachment.”
— ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i leader
“An eon is long, monk. It is not easy to count it and say it is so many years, or so many hundreds of years, or so many thousands of years, or so many hundreds of thousands of years.”
— In the Buddha’s Words, collection of Buddhist texts
“While standing by a river, the Master said, ‘What passes is perhaps like this: day and night it never lets up.’”
— The Analects (9:17), Confucian text
“Time and space are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live.”
— Albert Einstein, physicist
“Before 1915, space and time were thought of as a fixed arena in which events took place, but which was not affected by what happened in it. Space and time are now dynamic quantities… space and time not only affect but are also affected by everything that happens in the universe.”
— Stephen Hawking, theoretical physicist