Bhishma in Vishnu Sahasranamam tells us that Vishnu is the lord of the past, present and future. (bhUta bhavya bhavan nAthah). What does this mean? What is the past, present and future? And what does it mean to be Lord of such past, present and future. We shall explore these ideas gradually one by one.
Time lies at the core of our strongest emotions. We have nostalgia and relief about the past and anticipation or dread about the future. Time is a “familiar stranger”.
Our sense of ourselves as enduring through time pervades our entire conception of the human predicament.
There is the common-sense view of time that is based on our experience of it.
- We think that time passes the same for everyone and that we all share the same present.
- We believe in limited free will. (nimitta mAtra). We think that there are many alternate possibilities and that our chosen actions determine which of these possibilities become real.
- We don’t regard the contents of the past as still existing, but we regard them as real.
- We don’t regard even those future events that are certain to happen as real.
- We believe in causation. We think that an effect cannot happen before the cause and that no later event can influence a prior event.
- We can remember the past but cannot foresee the future.
- Thus we have a set of ideas about time passing, the temporal passage, possibility, actuality, causation, freedom and our knowledge of the past and future.
- However this entire way of interpreting time is, as we shall see, far from being self-evidently correct. Ultimately it is just a theory and like any theory, it is potentially vulnerable to opposing argument and evidence. It must be scrutinized in the light of philosophical and scientific considerations.
The moving present and the fleeting present :
- The words for positions in time like now, two days ago, two weeks hence, refer to positions of time that are defined in terms of the present moment.
- In terms of now. What was two days ago today, will become three days ago tomorrow. These are now-relative times.. just as the word “here” changes meaning as you go on a journey in space, the meaning of now changes as time passes by. This is the subjective concept of the moving present.
- The words for positions in time like 22:01, 26th June 2011, that correspond to dates and clock references, refer to an objective set of times without reference to their “nowness”
- All these dates and times objectively exist. Each of them is “Now” for a brief instant and it passes irrevocably from the future into the past. This is the concept of the fleeting present.
- But subjectivity of time matters to us.
- We fear future unpleasant experiences (eg dentist visits), and we are relieved when they are over. The closer an event is to “now” the greater my emotions regarding it. I am not as worried about dying 100 years later as I am about a dentist visit in the next half an hour. I am not as relieved about passing my 10th standard public exam today, as I am of passing a test yesterday.
- At any specific clock time, we tend to have different attitudes towards events at other clock times, in a way that depends on their relationship to this specific time, our current now.
- “Past, present and future” represent a “tense”d view of time. 25th, 26th and 27th June 2011 represents a “tense”less view of time. Spinoza thought that we ought to give up our subjective time bias and look at ourselves from the perspective of eternity.
- “Now” is like “I”. 26th June is like “Satya Sarada”. 26th June is important only if it is “now”, I don’t care as much it if it is in the next century or in the last millenium. Satya Sarada is important to me only if it is I, not as much if its a sting ray or virus in some remote ocean. Humans care more about Now, Here and I, than about sometime, somewhere and someone. It is hard to be objective about time.
The omni-present Vishnu, Bhishma tells us is the lord of the past, present and future. The very concept of “Past, present and future”, depends on the idea of “Now”.
To get a better understanding of “Now”, we will take a look at the theories of relativity, next time.
Aum namah kaalaaya, kaalaagni rudraaya, neelakanThaaya, mahaadevaaya!
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