Q&A: time after time
8 January 2009

December 31 2008 – January 1 2009

time after time

Another year gone, another year started. As the poet Bob Dylan sang, “The times they are a changing…”

Bob before Bob after

But are they?

Here’s a very appropriate question considering the time of the year. This is from Acyuta prabhu in the CIS:

“In the spiritual world there is no factor of time. In the material world there is a past, the present and the future.
In spiritual world only the present. I cannot understand it.”

“How it is possible to understand, that in the spiritual world there is no past and the future? For example, if I have drunk a glass of water, it means, that process of drinking has remained in the past! This process cannot be all time in present time?!… Even if this process will occur in the spiritual world, if I have jumped in water or I sit down on a chair, this action has already come to pass, that is remains in the past. How these actions can be all time in present time? Please, explain to me it is in the detailed image!”


Understanding time is very difficult. This is a big topic and we cannot answer all the aspects in a short blog entry. However, here are a few observations that may help you to get a better understanding.

Time is the force by which everything in the material world changes. It is the ultimate master of all living beings. It moves everything, and when there is no influence of time, there is no movement, nor variety:

SB 3.26.10

The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: The unmanifested eternal combination of the three modes is the cause of the manifest state and is called pradhana. It is called prakrti when in the manifested stage of existence.

The Lord points out material nature in its subtle stage, which is called pradhana, and He analyzes this pradhana. The explanation of pradhana and prakrti is that pradhana is the subtle, undifferentiated sum total of all material elements. Although they are undifferentiated, one can understand that the total material elements are contained therein. When the total material elements are manifested by the interaction of the three modes of material nature, the manifestation is called prakrti.

The actual explanation of pradhana, however, is given here: when the cause and effect are not clearly manifested (avyakta), the reaction of the total elements does not take place, and that stage of material nature is called pradhana. Pradhana is not the time element because in the time element there are actions and reactions, creation and annihilation. Nor is it the jiva, or marginal potency of living entities, or designated, conditioned living entities, because the designations of the living entities are not eternal. One adjective used in this connection is nitya, which indicates eternality. Therefore the condition of material nature immediately previous to its manifestation is called pradhana.”

pradhana and prakriti

SB 11.3.8

“In the Third Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam Lord Kapiladeva teaches that the material nature originally exists in an inert state of equilibrium called pradhana. When Lord Visnu casts His potent glance in the form of kala, or time, material interactions take place, culminating in the variegated creation of the material cosmos.

“In this verse it is stated that at the end of universal time the same kala that originally incited the female nature into manifestation again withdraws the cosmos into its original state of inert nonmanifestation. According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the time potency itself, kala, is then withdrawn, and it merges into the Supreme Soul, who manifests Himself as the original cause of material nature (anadir adir govindah sarva-karana-karanam [Bs. 5.1]).”

[end quote]

What we understand as time is really a figment of our imagination in the sense of there being a past, present and future. We tend to ‘measure’ time by observing the changes that it causes to our bodies and the surrounding environment. However, the soul is fixed and immutable and does not change, so for the soul there is no past or future, only the present, or rather his own presence.

Material elements also do not change. Different states of energy cannot be either created or destroyed and in their fundamental states they remain the same. Material elements are the energy of the Supreme Lord and are therefore eternal. The only thing that does change are the combinations of material elements into various forms. These combinations are provided so that the individual living beings can fulfill their various desires.

It is the presence of a living force within these combinations of matter give them the appearance of life. When the life force is withdrawn, the forms simply dissolve. The souls remain, the material elements remain. Since these forms do not remain permanently, they are simply an illusion.

Thus there is no past, nor is there a future. There is only the continuous presence of the souls, and the material elements.

Time in the material world is the force that moves the individual soul from one situation to another in search of fulfillment of his desires.Time is the supreme regulator. Time is Krsna. What we call time is simply the influence of Krsna without realization of His person. Srila Prabhupada describes time as the impersonal energy of the Supreme Lord.

In the spiritual world, Krsna is continuously present to His parts and parcel living entities.

Radha and Krsna

He dominates everything, He is everything. Time, or the sense of being, is therefore simply the sense of Krsna’s personal presence and one’s relationship with Him, and nothing more. Since Krsna is eternal and the soul is eternal, there is no past nor any future but simply the loving exchanges between Krsna and His devotees which are endless in their variety.

The forms in the spiritual world are all spiritual. They are eternal, and yet they can change. How they can change was described by Srila Prabhupada in a talk given in Melbourne on May 20, 1975:

Srila Prabhupada in Melbourne, 1974

Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.1-4 — Melbourne, May 20, 1975

Yasomatinandana: Is the original body of the spirit soul a human form?

Madhudvisa: The question is that whether the eternal form of the spirit soul is a human form or is it…

Prabhupada: Yes, human form. God is also human form. “Man is made after the shape of God.” I think there is in the Bible. Is it not? So God is also like human form. Here you see Krsna, two hands, two legs.

Hari-sauri: How do we understand, then, that there are peacocks and flowers and trees in the spiritual world? Are these not eternal forms?

Prabhupada [decribing material form first]: Yes. They are more covered. Just like if you cover your body with blanket, the hands and legs are invisible. But you are not the blanket. So the trees and plants, they are more covered. They are not in full manifestation. The human form is the full manifestation of the soul.

Hari-sauri: They are covered in the spiritual world?

Madhudvisa: He is asking if they were actually covered in the spiritual world as well.

Prabhupada: Not in the spiritual world. There that is voluntary. Some devotee wants to serve Krsna as flower; they become flower there. If I want that “As a flower I shall lie down at the lotus feet of Krsna,” he becomes flower, voluntarily. And he can change his…, from flower to human body. That is spiritual life. There is no restriction. If some devotee wants to serve Krsna as cow, he serves Krsna as cow, as calf, as flower, as plant, as water, as ground, field, or as father, as mother, as friend, as beloved, anything. Ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham [Bg. 4.11]. That is Krsna’s all-powerfulness, spiritual life.”
[end quote]

The fact is that spiritual form is inconceivable to our present senses. In the material world we try to measure things. But to measure anything, there has to be a reference point and our own bodies are the reference we use to understand the rest of the world around us. Thus our sense of existence is limited to the actions and existence of our own bodies.

You have given some examples of drinking or jumping in water or sitting on a chair. Once an action is completed, it is gone, it is in the past. As for the future, it is not manifest to us. We do not know what will come next. We thus have a sense of separation from the action and the object, both in the past and the future.

But in the spiritual world Krsna is the object, and all action is for pleasing Him. There is never any separation from Krsna. Krsna continuously dominates the consciousness of every living being and action is the eternal flow of service to Krsna. It never stops yet it takes on unlimited variety of performance. It is inconceiveable, yet a fact.

On a morning walk on June 7 1976 in Los Angeles we discussed this with Srila Prabhupada:

Srila Prabhupada in LA 1976

Ramesvara: In Caitanya-caritamrta you wrote that the kalpa-vrksa trees, they move, they are not stationary.

Prabhupada: They are spiritual.

Ramesvara: Is this true for the plants and flowers?

Prabhupada: Everything. Everything. They are spiritual, absolute. There is no condition. ‘Because it is tree, it cannot move’-that is condition.

Ramesvara: No condition. In the spiritual world, can trees and plants communicate? Here they have no means of communication, no talking.

Prabhupada: Everything is possible.

Ramesvara: The animals can also understand and communicate.

Prabhupada: You can milk the cows as many times as you like, and as much as you like.

Ramesvara: And talk with them.

Prabhupada: Yes. There is no limit. That is spiritual world.

Hari-sauri: One thing that has always confused a lot of devotees is how is it possible to eat something in the spiritual world when that, the thing that you’re eating is also spiritual?

Prabhupada: There is no need of eating, but if they like, they can eat, enjoy.

Ramesvara: The taste, the flavor.

Devotee: But what happens to the thing that they’re eating?

Prabhupada: (laughs) Then you will see when you go there.

Devotees: Jaya Prabhupada!

Prabhupada: This is our disease. When we’re talking of spiritual world, we are bringing material thoughts. To bring coal in Sheffield. What is called. Sheffield? There are many coal mines?

Hari-sauri: To bring coals to Newcastle.

Prabhupada: Yes, like that. Why should you bring your material ideas to the spiritual world? There is no relativity. Everything absolute.

Ramesvara: There is no day or night. Everything is self-illuminating.

Prabhupada: There is, but there is no need.

[end quote]

To summarize:

In the spiritual world, the force that moves everything is Krsna Himself. There is only the ‘present’. i.e. the ‘presence’ of Krsna. So there is no sense of past and future. Only eternal exchange with Krsna. There is no time in the spiritual world because Krsna Himself is the supreme regulating principle.

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