Time and Again
From Back to Godhead
By Mathuresha Dasa
Being God, Krishna has no work to do and simply enjoys in His original abode, while His expansions and energies, such as time, take care of the material creation.
As working men and women we typically leave home in the early morning and spend eight or nine hours on the job. Life at work sustains life at home. Official dealings at work contrast with family intimacies at home. However diffuse and overlapping the boundaries between the two, our work persons differ from our home persons.
Krishna, the supreme person, has no work to do. He is always home in His own abode, an expansive, eternal, and endlessly varied estate beyond the material world known as Goloka Vrindavana. Krishna fills His home life as we fill ours, with His loving friends and favorite belongings. Our own proclivity for home life derives from His original personality, because as minute individual souls we come from Him and from His transcendental abode. Since Krishna is partial to cows and to the Tulasi tree, His pristine abode has a wealth of both. Goloka means “abode of cows,” and Vrindavana means “forest of Tulasi” (Vrinda being another name for Tulasi). The forests, rivers, streams, hills, mountains, fields, and village dwellings of Goloka Vrindavana are an eternal setting for the blissful recreations of Lord Krishna and His confidential devotees.
With no work to do, Krishna is under no obligation to create our temporary material world. He does so out of kindness to provide material estates for those of us who prefer to live independent of Him, or to have the illusion of doing so. Krishna entrusts the work of creation to His expansion Lord Maha-Vishnu, who is Krishna’s original “work person.” Unlike our own work persons, Maha-Vishnu, while an expansion of Krishna’s personality, is also an individual with distinct initiative and identity. He works on His own, leaving Krishna, the original home person, unbothered. This ability of Krishna’s to expand without leaving home, entrusting work to His individual expansions without so much as a thought to the stereotypical functions of God-as-puppeteer, is a unique and essential feature of the Supreme Being.
While Lord Krishna enjoys the informality of intimate dealings at home with devotees who are in the mood of family and friends, in the office of creator Lord Maha-Vishnu attracts worshipers who prefer a God primarily endowed with grand, omnipotent, awe-inspiring features. Maha-Vishnu’s caliber is inconceivable. To illustrate, the Bhagavad-gita and other texts say that not only are we not alone in the universe, but the universe itself is not alone. Past the enormously distant shell of our own universe are an uncountable number of others. These innumerable universes, in a form described variously as seeds and golden eggs, float from the pores of the skin of Maha-Vishnu as He lies sleeping on the Causal Ocean, a body of transcendental water that separates the spiritual and material realms. Maha-Vishnu breathes out, and the universes come into being for trillions of years. He breathes in and absorbs all the universes and their inhabitants back into His body until His next exhalation in the cycling of creation.
Work for Lord Krishna, or for Maha-Vishnu, is therefore not a matter of great effort. He does it in His sleep. And like all His other activities, His work is a voluntary, sportive pastime to please and accommodate His devotees. Maha-Vishnu’s transcendental creative slumber is said to parody our own unconsciousness under the spell of matter. Here we are forgetful of Krishna, Maha-Vishnu, the spiritual world, and of our own eternal individual natures. The technical term for Lord Maha-Vishnu’s sleeping is yoga-nidra, a term Vaishnavas also employ to denote the coating of intellectual, scientific, and quasi-spiritual knowledge that, in perpetuation of our forgetfulness, directs our waking activities.
Lying on the Causal Ocean, Lord Maha-Vishnu wakes to cast a radiant glance at material nature, which is the shadow of the spiritual nature, represented by His own consort the goddess Rama Devi. While Lord Vishnu is always in the direct company of Rama Devi, He contacts material nature only by His glance. Since Rama Devi consorts with Maha-Vishnu both as His beloved partner and as His power of knowledge, the implication is that both knowledge in the material nature and the material nature itself have a shadowy quality. The material nature is not false, however. It is real. But its fleeting, cyclic reality should, like the shadows in Plato’s cave, leave us to wonder at the substance, vitality, freedom and variety of the original, spiritual nature.
The Glance of Time
The words used for Maha-Vishnu’s glancing are tyakta kalam, indicating that His effulgent glance and time (kala) are one and the same. The radiant time glance carries us minute eternal individual souls into the womb of the shadow material nature, where we acquire temporary bodies according to our activities in the previous creation, the previous breath of Maha-Vishnu. The universes, too, having risen from the pores of Maha-Vishnu’s skin in seed form, enter (in Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati words) the “unlimited accommodating chamber” of material nature, where they enlarge to house the embodied souls.
Being ever-present, without beginning or end, time monitors and records everything. Time brings with it to the current creation the results of our activities and desires in previous creations, so that we are daily awakened and impelled by time and time-borne circumstances to deal with our past desires and activities. Like a tape-recorded voice, time represents the will of Krishna and Maha-Vishnu while appearing to be separate from Them.
According to the Brahma-samhita, even Maha-Vishnu’s glance does not directly touch material nature. There are intermediaries. The first is Rama Devi herself, who “carries the function of His glance” to her shadow nature. (Brahma-samhita 5.7) And at the point where this transported, effulgent time-glance touches the material nature, a reflected halo appears that is known as Sambhu, or Lord Siva. It is Sambhu who impregnates material nature by direct contact. Lord Siva is thus identified with time, its destructive aspect in particular, and is sometimes known as Kala. His consort, the material nature, is often portrayed as the dark destructive goddess Kali. As Maha-Vishnu’s glance and Lord Siva are both identified with time, all three are practically identical. Srila Prabhupada therefore states at various points, without contradiction, that Maha-Vishnu touches material nature only with His glance, only with His time energy, and only in the form of Lord Siva. Lord Siva is, in short, Lord Maha-Vishnu in contact with material nature.
“Lord Vishnu acts through Lord Siva in the creation of the material world,” Srila Prabhupada writes. “When Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that he is the seed-giving father of all living entities (aham bija-pradah pita), this refers to actions performed by Lord Vishnu through Lord Siva.… When material activities are to be performed, Lord Vishnu performs them through Lord Siva. When Lord Vishnu is untouched by the external energy He is Lord Vishnu, but when He is in touch with the external energy, He appears in His feature as Lord Siva.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 8.7.22)
Lord Brahma’s Creations
Having set the creation in motion by impregnating material nature with the time-bound souls, Lord Maha-Vishnu and Lord Siva expand to individually reside in each universe. Lord Brahma, who is born from a golden lotus flower growing from Lord Vishnu’s navel, joins them. Lord Brahma is first-born of the time-bound souls in every universe. Like the rest of us and unlike Lord Vishnu and Lord Siva, Lord Brahma, though very powerful, is here in the universe, as a result of his past activities, or karma, in pursuit of enjoyment apart from Krishna. Elaborating on the imagery of the lotus, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati states that not only Lord Brahma but every living being has a place on the “superior plane” of this lotus and has a connection to God through its golden form, which represents pure knowledge.
Sitting in meditation atop the lotus, Lord Brahma, impelled by impressions from his previous life, as are all of us, turns his mind to creating the planetary systems, the species of life, and other features of the universal layout. In this way the rest of us individual souls are provided bodies in species that match the mentality we developed in our past lives. During one lifetime of Brahma we rotate in the cycle of birth and death, acquiring and giving up bodies according to the consciousness produced from our chosen activities. Figures given in the Bhagavad-gita show that Lord Brahma’s day, or his twenty-four hours, is equal to approximately eight and one half billion solar years. One hundred years of such days is Brahma’s lifetime, which in turn is equal to one breath, one exhalation and inhalation, of Lord Maha-Vishnu.
While empowering Lord Brahma to create and Lord Siva to destroy, Lord Vishnu Himself takes charge of maintaining each universe. All activities in the material nature fall into these three broad categories of creation, maintenance, and annihilation under the administration of these three deities. We create our dwellings, families, institutions, nations, and civilizations, maintain them and destroy them, and watch as they are destroyed. Outside of human influence as well, all material bodies, plants and animals, as well as natural bodies like mountains and planets and universes, have their creation, their duration or maintenance, and their ultimate demise under the supervision of the triumvirate headed by Lord Vishnu.
As the contact point with material nature, Lord Siva is initially an instrument of creation. Sambhu means parent or progenitor. The accounts of universal history contained in the Puranas also have him assisting Lord Vishnu in maintenance by diverting or battling villainous elements in the universal population. But Lord Siva is best known as the destroyer. He is said to perform the tandava nritya, a wild, gesticulating dance, crushing not only the universes themselves, but everything within them, great and small. Everything material disappears in due course, trampled by the unrelenting dance of time. Within each universe Lord Siva is known as Rudra, and his wife as Rudrani, names indicating that these two cry loudly, and that, with their violent, destructive natures they cause all of us to cry as well. Rudra also denotes reddish blue, said to be the color of anger. In the form of Lord Maha-Vishnu’s glance, time envelops and directs the entirety of the material manifestation, including creation, maintenance, and annihilation. Time’s overall material effect, however, is destruction, implemented by Lord Siva and his Rudra expansions.
Time in the Spiritual Nature
Creation, maintenance, and destruction in the course of time are not features of the spiritual nature. The Upanishads say that before the creation there was no Brahma and no Siva, no sun, stars, or sky. There was only Vishnu, His expansions, and the pure souls who have no desire for a life separate from Him. With only Vishnu, and no Siva or Brahma, there is only maintenance, with no creation or destruction. Time exists in the spiritual nature without its destructive side, and without the type of creative side that is merely destruction’s necessary counterpart. And yet the spiritual nature is said to be full of activity, more so than its material reflection. Lord Vishnu and His devotee servants expand spiritually there to enrich, vary, and perpetually increase the pastimes of blissful loving devotion.
While all this still takes place under the watchful eye of time, in the spiritual nature time only maintains, by the sole influence of Lord Vishnu, or in other words everything there exists eternally. Our experience of the three-fold and ultimately destructive nature of time is only the material experience. The Brahma-samhita refers to spiritual time as a “concentrated all-time presence” and as “transcendental ever-existing time.” It also describes Krishna’s abode Goloka as a place “where there is eternal existence of transcendental time, who is ever present and without past or future and hence is not subject to the quality of passing away even for the space of half a moment.”
As working men and women the process of breaking away from the tearful conditions of material nature and material time begins with using both our work life and our home life as a means to meditate upon and worship the Supreme Person. The Upanishads state that spiritually inclined persons, from Lord Brahma on down to human society, always look to the supreme abode of Vishnu with all their hearts and minds: om tad vishno paramam padam sada pasyanti yat suryayah. From this perspective there is no question of inactivity because we act ceaselessly, whether in the material or spiritual natures. In pursuance of our ideals, whatever they may be, we are constantly busy. Our entrance into the material nature came about by a desire for the illusion of independence from the Supreme, and the entire nearly immeasurable material creation appeared to satisfy that desire. Redirecting both desire and activity towards Vishnu and Krishna can bring about changes at least equally immeasurable. The practices of bhakti-yoga detailed in the Bhagavad-gita, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, and other books center on hearing about and describing the attributes and glories of the Supreme Person and of the spiritual nature. These methods, even approached with theoretical caution, can turn both our work persons and our home persons back into pure, transcendental, spiritual individuals by awakening us from our slumbering condition in material nature.