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A Worship of the Process of Time
by Swami Krishnananda

(Spoken on New Years Eve 1993)

We are now on the eve of a New Year. Everyone throughout the world observes this event as the beginning of a fresh enterprise in life, indicating thereby that something totally new, different from the experiences we have passed through earlier, will commence.

We have to ponder over the implication of this concept of the beginning of a New Year so that we may benefit by celebrating it. What actually happens when the New Year commences? Very easily one cannot give an answer to this question. Unless we feel that something is happening which is totally different from our earlier life, we would not be overjoyed or celebrate it as if it is a holy event.

We may say the year commences with the 1st of January, and therefore we should consider this occurrence, the event of the 1st of January, as the beginning of the New Year. But what does 'January' mean? It is a word into which we have thrust some significance by sheer habit of thinking. Any habit assumes a great meaning and becomes a solid affair of our life merely because the psychological operation called habit enters into our very bloodstream and the fibre of our thinking. Otherwise, if we are to divest this thought from its being merely a habit, what other significance has it?

If you deeply think over this matter, you will realise that this is actually a worship of the process of time, about which we know really next to nothing. We do not know what time is. If anyone is to think over the fact of there being such a thing called time, we will be flabbergasted that it is indescribable. We do not know where time is. We can see, for instance, a thing called space. We open our eyes and see some large expanse in front of us which is space, akasha, but we cannot see time in that way. That is why time binds us more forcefully than the way in which space limits us. Space and time both limit us, but time can bind us in such a way that our entire life is conditioned by its process. Our birth, our growth, and the processes of our life are all to be interpreted in the manner of the passage of time.

How does time move? We imagine that time, like an arrow, perhaps, moves forward endlessly towards infinity. That time is a linear, straight-line movement is only a habit of thinking, just as sometimes we feel that the Earth is flat. Studying geography has told us that the Earth is not flat, but when we actually look around, it looks as if it is flat. When we walk on the road or move in a vehicle, no one feels that the movement is on a ball. It is a flat Earth. This shows that our optical perception is not to be taken for granted as a genuine method of calculating the principals of life.

Again, on thinking further, we will realise that it is difficult to imagine, as far as we go, the very existence of time unless there is what is called day and night. The day-night collaboration, and the recurrence of the same, makes us feel that some event is happening every twenty-four hours, according to our way of thinking and observation. But why do day and night happen? This is a simple question. Anyone who has studied astronomical movements knows that day and night would not be there if the Earth were not to move on its axis in a particular way. Therefore, day and night do not actually exist. They are only certain features projected by the activity of the Earth and the relationship of the Earth to the Sun. They are only our interpretations in terms of the action of the Earth, which we ourselves cannot see with our eyes. We never see that the Earth is doing anything at all. We think that it is static like a rock, and we are immovably seated on it, but the fact is different. The Earth is very active, and it does not sit quiet even for a second. We may say that time is a kind of imagination in our minds which arises on account of our observation of the consequence of the movement of the Earth, and the other planets also, if we take them into consideration. If planetary motion were not there, then day and night, and the very concept of anything happening, would be far from the reach of our minds.

So, do we conclude then that time is only a thought process depending upon certain happenings in the planetary system, and that it would not be there if this system were not operating? Perhaps that is true. Time does not exist, yet it binds us, determines us, makes us feel old, and will kill us one day.

If, as we are told, we travel up into the sky beyond the orbit of the Earth, we will not see any day and night. It will be difficult to know if there is time. It will be an indeterminable, vast, unimaginable expanse of feeling, indescribable even by our own selves. This is something about the intriguing character of the time process. Time is not, therefore, a linear movement like a straight line, but a cyclic operation with events taking place in a systematic manner. It is a cycle of activity which we instinctively feel is taking place.

Then what is the New Year? The movement of the Earth, to which I made reference, is not merely in terms of its rotation on its axis. It also does another thing, known as its revolution around the Sun. The Earth is engaged in a double activity. It rotates on its axis, causing day and night, and it revolves around the Sun, causing the phenomenon we call a year of twelve months. Not only that, like a perfect and excellent dancer, the Earth performs something more than rotating on its axis and revolving around the Sun. It tilts one way and another way, causing summer and winter. If it tilts in one way, it is summer somewhere, and if it tilts in another way, it is winter in that same place. At least three things it does simultaneously. Only an expert dancer can perform this action.

Why does the Earth behave in this manner? How does it happen that it is forced to act in this manner? This is, again, inexplicable except in terms of the Earth’s relation to other planets. Every planet is conditioned and determined by the movement of every other planet on its path. Further, there is a great pull of some sort exerted by the Sun, and a push at the same time. Because of the pull, the planets maintain a perfect, orderly path. Because of the push, the planets do not go and dash against the Sun.

Incidentally, for your information, it is also mentioned in one of the Upanishads that even our sitting on the ground or walking on the road is due to a double activity taking place in the Solar System. The Sun pulls us up. Because of that fact, we are not sticking to the Earth due to its gravity. We would not be able to lift a foot from the ground if the Earth were to pull us forcefully with its gravitation and the Sun were to be simply unconcerned with it. But, at the same time, if the Earth were not to have a gravitational force, we would be flying in the air and would not be on the ground. Here again, a double activity is taking place. It is a great wonder indeed! Our breath will cease by thinking of this wonder of creation.

We are very busy with our shopping, our little activities, our office, etc. We think life is only this much, but this miracle of life, this natural process taking place, is really staggering, and we do not know where we are actually living. Are we living here, or where are we? Wondrous theatrical action is taking place throughout space and time. Everywhere actors are performing their roles. I mentioned only a few. There are many other wonders within the Solar System and the planetary operations, which will take our breath away and make us humble. Not knowing this, we boast as if we are independent in every way, while we have no independence to think even in a modicum. If the Earth is not to move in the manner mentioned, let us see where our freedom is. Everything we call life will be blown out in a second. The whole thing will cease. Where is our freedom that we are speaking of?

Now, coming to the point of the beginning of the New Year, because of something connected with the cyclic activity of the operations of the planets, especially the revolution of the Earth around the Sun, some events recur. Something happens at some time, and the same thing will happen again when that particular juxtaposition of the planets occurs during the course of their movements. Astronomy is a wondrous science, and also a very difficult science to understand and appreciate. Thus, like the birthday of a person, which is a recurrence in the time process, we celebrate the New Year as a similar event in the process of natural phenomena.

What do we do when the New Year starts? Why do we observe it, celebrate it, and rejoice over its coming? Actually, people like us who are said to be spiritual seekers should see a new meaning hidden in all these functions and celebrations, apart from the outer aspect of the activity. It is not that life is only a feature projected by the movement of planets in relation to themselves and in relation to the Sun. There is also something in life which is other than what can be comprehended in the time process. A timeless element also exists.

We sometimes, in sober moments, may feel that we are something that is perpetual, or if not perpetual, something which would like to be perpetual. We never believe that our lives will end, though there is no foundation for this feeling. No one believes that tomorrow is their last day, though it is a possibility. Why do we feel that life is endless? “I will never die. I will live for many years,” is the feeling of everyone. From where does this feeling arise? It cannot arise from the recurring phenomena of nature, as mentioned, because that is a process. A process cannot create a non-processional element of permanency, but that feeling is there. We would like to defy death itself, if possible. Death should not be there. That is to say, time should not be there. We have to be totally independent of the conditioning factor of time. We forget here, again, that space and time are clubbed together. They cannot exist independently, and so modern thinkers in the field of science do not speak of space and time. They put a hyphen between the two words, space-time, to signify a total operation or a unified something, though there is no such thing as a unified something in our lives. Everything is different from everything else.

During this occasion when the New Year is to commence, we have to deeply contemplate on what is our role in this process of time, which peeps into our recognition by the fact of our desire to defy dying and to live forever. We wish to be eternally existing, and not temporally moving in any direction. Eternity is our longing. We are not merely concerned with the time process, we are determined, conditioned and enslaved by it in every way.

We know the value of time because we know how much we depend on it. But there is something in us which is not in time and not in space. This is why we have a desire to be infinitely large in our content of being, which explains the desire in man to become bigger and bigger by the acquisition of more and more wealth, property, name, fame, authority and power. This desire in the human being is an indication of the necessity to defy the limitation of space. We dislike finitude. No one wishes to possess only something. Everyone would like to possess everything, all things, excluding nothing. That is the desire of every person, which is a temporal, time-bound feeling of it being possible to overcome the limitations of space. But this is not to be done by the accumulation of wealth, etc. It is like wealth in a dream, which has no validity by itself. People who want to own more and more of things are dreaming, actually; they are not awake.

In a similar manner, we want to go beyond time. That is why we do not like that there should be any talk of dying, of ending our life, etc. As there is a desire to expand horizontally the dimension of our being, indicating the need to overcome spatial limitation, so also there is a desire to expand vertically, to march forward in the direction of a timeless, eternal condition. Eternity and infinity explain the nature of the Ultimate Reality. Satyaṁ jñānam anantam brahma says the Taittiriya Upanishad. Satyam means 'existing’, anantam means 'infinite’. Because it is infinitely existing, it is also eternally existing. That which is infinite has also to be eternal. Why? Because the infinite is that outside which nothing can be. If there is nothing outside, there cannot be any process external to it. That is to say, there is no time and no space outside infinitude.

What is the longing of the human being, finally? What do you want? If you boil down all your aspirations, desires and cravings, you will realise you are befooled by not really appreciating the call from within even in the midst of the din, noise and clamour of the sensory organs. What summons us is the infinite and the eternal. God is calling us by these feelings of endless expansion and perpetual existence planted in ourselves. What do we want? The essence of the whole matter seems to be that we want God. Nobody has a need for anything else. “I have many duties to perform. I have got so many commitments.” People talk nonsensically in this manner. God can be shoved into the farthest end of one’s life. Perhaps, if it is possible, we think of Him when we die, as if life is more important than contemplation on God.

There is no such thing as life, really speaking. It is God operating through His multifarious hands and speaking to us through different types of language—which is loudly making noise in the form of our perception through the eyes, hearing through the ears, smelling through the nose, tasting through the tongue and touching through the skin. These sensations are actually the outer, symbolic representations of the eternal calling us. It is foolish to forget this fact. No education has any meaning if such vital things in life are ignored in the curriculum of studies. Becoming an emperor in the dream world is not a great achievement, and this is what we are longing for when we speak of greatness in this world, amassing wealth, and going for name, fame, authority, power. We are all dreaming; we have not woken up, even a little.

It is now high time, may we say at the commencement of this New Year, to wake up to the possibility of  knowing what it is that we actually need, and to conclude that it is God that we need. Sometimes people say, “God first, world next, one’s own self last.” We may boil this threefold aspect still further, and find the residuum is God only, not God plus the world, plus ourselves. There is no plus for God. We cannot add something to Him because it is already mentioned that He is infinite.

If this contemplation, this way of thinking, this longing, deeply enters our feelings, it will burn up all our samskaras. Even sins can be destroyed by this kind of meditation. There is no such thing as sin, really speaking. It is only a maladjustment of thought in terms of the facts of nature and the truth of Reality. No one is a sinner or a perpetually guilty person. They are all phenomenal conceptions. There is a deathless, immortal, godly being which sets aside all the values of life. The president of the cosmos has dissolved the whole parliament, as it were. The government ceases to exist. There is only One Being there. This will be the conclusion finally, making us shudder in our personality, and also making it impossible for us to think for a moment. It will put a stop to our thinking process. The whole universe is the grandeur of the Supreme Absolute Reality before us. We cannot breathe. We cannot see anything around. We cannot even think. Every psychological operation will cease. True yoga will emanate from us spontaneously, without any kind of technique.

Here is the blessed New Year for you, the new beginning of a blessedness for everyone, on which deep meditation is called for. May Sat Gurudev bless you all with this wisdom. May Sankara Bhagavan bestow upon you this grace, and may eternal blessedness be yours.