“O my Lord, everything within material nature is limited by time, space and thought. Your characteristics, however, being unequaled and unsurpassed, are always transcendental to such limitations. You sometimes cover such characteristics by Your own energy, but nevertheless Your unalloyed devotees are always able to see You under all circumstances." (Stotra-ratna of Yamunacharya)
Life poses many tough questions, the most important of which focus on the origin of life. “Where did I come from? Why are we here? Who are we? Why do I have to die? Where was I before I took birth and where will I go after death?” Great theologians and scholars since time immemorial have pondered over these cogent questions but have failed to find any tangible answers. Real answers to these questions can only be found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India emanating from Lord Shri Krishna, or God Himself. The Vedas tell us that God represents all that is, ever was, and will ever be. He is the Supreme Absolute Truth.
So how do we know Vedic information is correct? We take it on authority. When we read books in school or take instruction from our teachers, we believe what they are saying based on the principle of authority. Hearing is the most effective way to take in knowledge. In our youth, we acquire knowledge and wisdom through the words of our parents. Our mother tells us who our father is and where we were born. When we get older, our family members tell us stories of our childhood and how we looked as babies. We were alive during these occasions but we have no ability to remember them. In order to gain knowledge, we must trust the authority of the words of our parents and elders.
Hearing can also take place by reading. Great writers and teachers have put their instructions and stories into written word so that anyone can learn from them in an easy way. We usually don’t question the authority of written word as long as it was published in the recent past. For books released during our lifetime, we never question whether or not the information in them is true. We trust that the author was honest when writing the book. However, as we go further back in time, we have a tougher time believing in what we read. This is only natural because, for most of us, our historical perspective begins from the day we were born. If we look back at old pictures of our parents, it is hard for us to imagine how life was like back then. In reality though, there isn’t much difference between the past and the present. For example, this exact moment in time will one day be part of the distant past. Yet if we look around, none of us would think we’re living in a dilapidated period, or in some ancient age. Yet future generations will undoubtedly look back to this precise moment as being part of the olden days.
Events that took place thousands, or even millions of years ago, seem impossible to comprehend. This is the nature of time and space. They are both never-ending. “When was the beginning of time? If God created everything, then who created Him? Where does space end? If I keep travelling in outer space, will I eventually reach an end?” If we seriously ponder these thoughts, we realize that these are very disturbing questions.
“You are the origin without beginning, middle or end. You have numberless arms, and the sun and moon are among Your great unlimited eyes. By Your own radiance You are heating this entire universe.” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.19)
The Vedas give us the best possible answers to these questions. They tell us that time and space are both concoctions of the material mind. By definition, anything that is material must be flawed. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the fountainhead of everything. He has two distinct energies: spiritual and material. The spiritual energy is the superior energy represented by Krishna’s personal Self, vishnu-tattva, and all the living entities, or jiva-tattva. The material energy is inferior and it consists of the entire material creation which we currently inhabit. The unlimited universes and all their planets were all created by God to act as a sort of playing field for the spirit souls. As jiva-tattva, we have a choice as to which energy we want to associate with. The Vedas tell us that we are currently associating with material nature due to our own desires. Yet since the material world was created by God, it must also be subject to destruction. We spirit souls, however, are never created nor destroyed. That is the nature of spirit.
Since the material world is temporary, it is inferior and limited. Upon entering this world, the spirit souls assume a body belonging to one of the 8,400,000 species that exist. Each material body possesses a variation of the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. In scientific terms, each material body consists of the five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether, and the three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. Since the mind is considered a subtle material element, it is by nature flawed. This means that the mind is incapable of thinking beyond time and space. There is no beginning or end in the spiritual world where Krishna resides.
“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.10)
If there is no such thing as time in the spiritual world, why does Krishna make references to a person’s time of death and how they will never return the material world once they reach His abode? This is certainly a valid question, for the term “never” itself implies a measurement of time. The reason Krishna uses this terminology is so that we can better understand Him. We can never truly understand God or His greatness. This is why Vedic science is referred to as Vedanta, meaning the end of knowledge or the ultimate knowledge. God is the source of Vedanta, so this means that He represents the highest form of knowledge that can be acquired by our limited brain functions.
“O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.26)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains that He imparted the imperishable science of bhakti-yoga to the sun-god at the beginning of creation. Arjuna, Krishna’s cousin and disciple, couldn’t fathom this. “How could this person standing before me, Krishna, have been alive at the beginning of creation? Not only that, how can He remember what happened back then?” This fact illustrates the difference between the living entities and God. We are god-like in that our spirit souls are identical in quality with God, however, we are minute in quantity compared to God. We are somewhat conscious of our current life’s experiences, but God is so great that He is not only conscious of our current life, but also those of every living entity, past, present, and future.
Lord Krishna and other Vedic authorities speak in terms of time and space in order to help us can gain a better understanding of spiritual nature. It is much easier for us to take in knowledge when it is presented in terms that we are familiar with. All of us are quite familiar with time and space for we use these as references in almost all of our activities. For this reason, Vedic wisdom relies heavily on time measurements to help us better understand God.
In the end, the material mind is limited in its capability and thus is never able to go beyond the concepts of time and space that are exclusive to God’s inferior energy. So what are we to do? The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma means occupational duty, or religiosity. Essentially, it is the eternal occupation of man to know and love God. Since our real business is to associate with Krishna in the spiritual world, endeavoring to find the origin of time or attempting to reach the end of space are both wastes of time. Perfection in life comes when we give up this futile search and realize that not only can we never answer these questions, but that there is no need to.
The spirit soul is meant to be happy. Lord Krishna is described as having an eternal body, full of knowledge and bliss, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. Since we are part and parcel of God, we are also meant to be eternally happy. Yet that happiness cannot be found in this world. Pure bliss only comes through direct association with the Lord. This is why God and His authorized representatives lobby so hard to get us to take the necessary steps to return to the spiritual world. Once we reach the spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka, we give up our hankering for answers to useless questions pertaining to the temporary material world.
The desire for self-realization must exist in the beginning stages if one is to make progress. The famous Vedanta-sutras begin by stating that “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or the Absolute Truth.” The benefit of human life is that we have the necessary brain power to gain a slight understanding of God. If we misuse our intelligence for material pursuits, we will have squandered a great opportunity. If we remain on the material platform, we will continue twisting and turning through the never. But if we make a sincere effort to reconnect with Krishna, we will be paving our way back to the spiritual world.
In the current age, the quickest path to the spiritual world can be found by regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By engaging in chanting and other processes of devotional service, we will slowly progress to the point where we will give up our pursuit of self-realization. For those who have developed a pure love for God, they no longer desire liberation or answers to life’s questions. In essence, this state represents the perfection of life.