Kala, The Concept of Time: Part One
By Vasant Lad
The ancient Ayurvedic texts speak a great deal about time. According to Vaisheshika’s philosophy of the creation of the Universe, there are nine causative substances: The five elements (Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth), Atma (the conscious principle), manas (the mind), dig (direction), and kala (time). In the journey of consciousness into matter, kala plays an important role.
The whole journey of consciousness through the five elements is a movement of time. Ether is nuclear energy, which is the expression of cosmic expansion. Air is the movement of consciousness towards creation, which is electrical energy. Because of this movement there is friction, which creates Fire or radiant energy. In the same way that heat solidifies a clay pot, so the Fire element keeps the molecules in close contact. Then consciousness liquefies, which is the Water element or chemical energy. This Water element creates a homogenous mass of cosmic plasma. Finally comes Earth, which is crystallization of cosmic consciousness into solid masses. It is mechanical energy moving in space.
Atma, the soul or conscious living principle, is timeless, formless, pure existence. It is being. Pure atma has no qualities, but Vaisheshika’s use of atma is jivatma (individual soul), which is bound by cause and the effect and therefore by time and space. This jivatma is self-identified eternal consciousness, which confines itself into one’s self. This self keeps in touch with physical existence through the mind.
Manas, the mind, is a movement of thoughts, feelings, emotions, judgments, and conclusions. Anything that moves from here to there needs time, so time is closely connected with manas.
Dig means direction. Direction is a dimension within vast, limitless space. Sunrise and sunset are two points through which the eight main directions are measured. They are related to the elements and their respective creative energies, called deities. Direction is geomagnetic and solar energies, criss-crossing each other, through which the four dimensional universe is created. The fourth dimension is time.
Kala is time. From subtle microscopic changes through to cosmic changes within the universe, all are governed by time. There is cosmic time in the macrocosm, called yugas, and in the microcosm, called prana. Prana is the movement of cellular intelligence. Wherever there is movement there is direction; similarly where there is direction there is movement. Time is movement and the whole of life is a process. Birth and death, living and dying, digestion, respiration, and circulation are all processes, and they are continuously occurring, whether it is the life of a plant, animal, microbe, amoeba, or bacteria, through to the complex mammal, the human being. Life in a human being is a process. As long is the length of life, so long is the length of death. This is biological time.
Process is change, and everything is changing in this world. Within a few days of sowing a seed in the soil and watering it, that seed undergoes changes and swells, because the water and warmth from the Earth enter the seed so it bursts and the radical sprouts. This is the death of the seed and birth of the radical. The radical eventually dies and becomes a seedling, then the seedling dies and becomes a plant, and finally the plant dies, as it becomes a beautiful tree. This continues until the fruit from the tree also dies and becomes a seed. The journey of the seed is a series of processes and changes, which is time. There is nothing permanent in this world. Only change is permanent and anything that undergoes changes needs time.
Different Aspects of Time
Chronological time is due to the movement of the Earth, Sun, and planets. It is commonly divided into seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, millennia, and yugas. One revolution of the Earth around itself creates the daily cycle of sunrise and sunset, day and night. A revolution of the Earth around the Sun creates the year.
In Ayurveda, time is measured in such terms as pala, vipala (one sixteenth of a pala), and muhurta (moment). These and other Sanskrit words for time have great meaning. One pala means the time required for the upper eyelid to meet the lower eyelid while blinking. A palaardha is the time required to close half the eyelid, which is a fraction of a second.
Time can also be divided into prana, which in this context means respiration, and there are fifteen prana per minute in a normal healthy condition. If the person’s life is very stressful, having anxiety and worries, then the rate of respiration is higher. It will be beyond twenty per minute. But in a normal healthy individual, the number of respiration is 15 prana per minute. 15 multiplied by 60 is 900 breaths, 900 respirations, or 900 prana an hour and 900 multiplied by 24 hours of a day is 21,600 breaths per day. This is chronological time based upon the breaths. So prana is microcosmic time that governs cellular life, while yuga is macrocosmic time that governs the movements of the universe.
The Vedic calendar is based on the lunar month. The waxing moon from the new moon (pratipada) to the full moon (purnima) is fourteen to fifteen days duration, while the waning phase from the full moon back to the new moon (amavasya) is also fourteen to fifteen days. Hence there are about twenty-eight days in an Indian month. Also according to the Vedic calendar, one day begins at sunrise and continues through to the next day’s sunrise.
The moon becomes brighter and brighter from new moon to the full moon, which is shukla paksha, the white aspect of time. From full moon to the new moon, the moon starts waning, becoming darker and darker. This is called krishna paksha, which means dark or black, so dark or black period of time. They say that shukla paksha is auspicious and krishna paksha is not auspicious. However, Lord Krishna was born on the eighth day of krishna paksha, which is a very powerful day. Ashtami, the eighth lunar day, is very auspicious whether it is waxing or waning. At this time the Moon is exactly half and the half Moon is a balance between yin and yang, purusha and prakruti. That may be the reason that Krishna has half female aspect and half male aspect, and also why it is auspicious.
The seasons have attributes much like the three doshas and can cause aggravation and imbalance. In India, there are six seasons: vasanta, grishma, varsha, sharad, hemanta, and sushira. In the West there are four seasons: spring, summer, fall or autumn, and winter. However, there are not standard dates for these seasons. For instance, in some parts of the United States spring will begin in February; in other areas it will manifest in March.
In North America, summer is hot, sharp, and bright, so it provokes pitta. Hence pitta diseases like sunburn, hot flashes exhaustion, acne and diarrhea may occur. Psychologically, people may respond to others with anger and hate. Fall or autumn is dry, light, cold, clear and windy, all aggravating qualities to vata dosha. Aches and pains in the joints and muscles may materialize, and the mind may become fearful, anxious and lonely. The heavy, cold, dampness of winter can provoke kapha, leading to cough, cold and sinus congestion. Attachment and greed may develop in the mind when kapha is aggravated. The watery quality of spring also provokes kapha and some people will tend to have spring colds, allergies and respiratory ailments at this time. The change from one season to another may require shifting one’s diet for a period of time to restore balance.
Finally, the Vedic concept of yugas is also important. Satya yuga (golden age), treta yuga (silver age), dvapara yuga (copper age), and kali yuga (iron age) are the four main cycles of history. These are huge time periods. For instance, there are 10,560 years in kali yuga. One maha yuga is the time for these four yugas to complete their cycles. The birth, growth, and death of a galaxy happens over a maha yuga.
Chronological time is subtle and immeasurably vast.
to be continued. . . .
Excerpted from Ayurveda Today, November 2002, by permission of The Ayurvedic Institute.