Among the six principal schools that developed in the Brahmanical traditions in India, Mimamsa and Vedanta form the most recent group, the others being Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, and Yoga systems. These two schools, that is, Mimamsa and Vedanta, are also known as Purva-Mimamsa and Uttar-Mimamsa. Founded by Maharshi Jaimini and Maharshi Samkara, respectively, these schools develop their theories of time in a unique way. Remaining faithful to the core thought of the Upanishads, namely the reality of the immutable Brahma, they explain the phenomena of change in diverse ways.
The Purva-Mimamsa school has two sects, one known as Bhatta or Kumarila Mimamsa, propounded by Kumarila Bhatta, and the other known as Prabhakara Mimamsa, established by Prabhakara Mishra. The two sects differ somewhat in their treatment of time.
In the Jaimini Sutra the concept of time is discussed in connection with action. Some element of time is associated with all actions. Action is in a way determined by time. The Mimamsa school bases its philosophy on the Vedic hymns. According to these, while interpreting Vedic hymns, if the hymns are correctly pronounced, they refer to the laws of time or life. But it is also said in the Jaimini Sutras that time is not the cause of the result of action. Result is due to the effort.
The Vedas never refer to time as the sole cause, for a result never comes simply due to the passage of time. But it is true that sometimes if after several sincere efforts, one fails to achieve results, one can attribute the failure to time. In ancient thought time is associated with decay, death, and failure. Time changes our position. But the Mimamsa text clearly points out that everything happens due to the impelling force, and time is not connected with it. The concept of change is associated with both nature and time. The concept of time is associated with any new being. But time itself is immeasurable as it is without beginning or end. It is through the instrument of intellect that we receive the idea of time. For the purpose of our understanding, the seers have divided time into yugas, manvantaras, and kalpa. These are nothing but the exercise of our mental faculties. When we analyze the etymological meanings of these terms, the point becomes clearer. The word yuga is derived from yuj, which means “to fix or concentrate the mind.” The word manvantara is derived from manu, which is the same as mind. Similarly, one of the meanings of kalpa is research or investigation. And the word kala for time is itself derived from kal, which means to perceive or consider. So, it might be said that the idea of time involves a series of functions of the intellect or the mind.
It is mainly the orderly arrangement of objects or the succession of events that gives us an idea of time. The appearance of a new object in nature reminds us about the role of time.
Though the Mimamsakas are known as theists and God plays a supreme role in their systems, still time cannot be personified as God, as God creates and sustains the universe. But time does not play the role of creator and sustainer, although sometimes it is treated as the greatest destructive force.
After life begins on this earth, time starts acting upon everything of the universe, but time itself remains unaffected. Therefore it is said to exist for other things and not for itself. Like the prakriti, or nature, of the Samkhya system, time remains unaffected throughout its functions.
For our practical purposes we divide time into segments but time itself is a continuous whole. Time is like butter that is beginning to separate out of cream; it partakes of the nature of both the butter and the cream, yet the two can be separated. Like the endless chain of desires, time flows continuously. It has been said that when the mind begins to function, desire arises, hence the idea of time is associated with desire.
The Mimamsa school follows the sacred text known as the Gita. In the Gita it is stated that the number 12 refers to time. This number constitutes the basis of the calculation of the time of day and night, the months of the year, as well as the great ages of time, all of which are multiples of the number 12. The Mimamsa text refers to dvadasa-satam, which may mean both 112 and 1,200. These two numbers refer to the passage of time. There are four yugas: Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. The entire duration of these yugas make a Manvantara, and a thousand yugas constitute a kalpa. The duration of these four yugas is said to be 1,728,000 years, 1,296,000 years, 864,000 years, and 432,000 years, respectively, of human time. The above figures are nothing but multiples of 1,200, which may be said to refer to prakriti, or time. In the Mimamsa text, the number 12 plays an important role, as it represents time or prakriti.
Bhatta and Prabhakara Schools Compared
Both of the schools of Mimamsa (Prabhakara and Kumarila) admit that substance is that in which quality resides, and they treat time, like space, as substance.
Kumarila, in his commentary titled Slokavartika on Sabara-bhasya, an important text of the Mimamsa school, says that time is one, eternal, and all-pervasive. But although time is all pervasive, it is conditioned by extraneous adjuncts for the purpose of empirical usage. And this is the reason that there are various divisions and subdivisions within all-pervasive time. Tantravartika, another commentary in prose on Sabar-bhasya, describes time as eternal like the Veda. Not only Kumarila but Prabhakara, another philosopher of the Mimamsa school, also treats time as one of the eternal substances.
Regarding the perceptibility of time, the two schools of Mimamsa (Bhatta-Mimamsa and Pravakara-Mimamsa) differ in their viewpoint. The Bhatta school held that time is perceived, whereas the Pravakaras joined the Nyaya-Vaisesika system in maintaining inference to be the valid means for knowing time. Parthasarathi Misra, a noted Bhatta-Mimamsaka philosopher, in his work Sastradipika points to the fact that all perceptual cognitions also include the duration of the perception. In our everyday dealings we express such statements as “we are perceiving the pot from the morning . . .” And this statement clearly reveals the fact that time is perceived. While recording a statement, we always use such expressions as “now,” “then,” and the like. Such expressions would be meaningless if time were not also perceived along with the perception of the object. These words refer to the time-content of the perception itself. The Bhatta-Mimamsaka wants to stress that the temporal dimension of all our perceptions would remain unaccounted for without the contention that time is amenable to perception. The Nyaya-Vaisesika philosophers deny that time can be said to be perceived, as it has no perceptible qualities such as colors and form. It can only be inferred.
But the Bhatta-Mimamsaka retort that absence of color in time does not prove that time is imperceptible. Possession of a quality like color is not a criterion of perceptibility. Thus the contention of the opponent suffers from the fallacy of false generalization. However, the Bhatta-Mimamsakas acknowledge that time as such is never an object of perception, but it is perceived always as a qualification of perceptible objects. Therefore time is perceived as a qualifying element and never independently of the perceptible object. This is why we perceive events as slow, quick, and so forth, which involves a direct reference to time.
In Manameyadaya, a notable Mimamsa work, one of the exponents of Bhatta-Mimamsa, Narayana, refutes the claim of Nyaya-Vaiseseka that time is inferred on the basis of such notions as simultaneity. Narayana expands his view with the following example: In our everyday life we experience such events as “Devadatta and Yajnadatta arrived simultaneously” or “Ram arrived late.” Here the question is whether such awareness, received through perception, can be denied to have time as its essential component. The point that emerges is that such direct, immediate awarenesses as simultaneity or lateness cannot be ascertained, as in the above examples, throughanythingbutsense-perception.“Devadatta,” “Yajnadatta,” and “Ram” are related directly to time, and the latter is perceived along with the substances that it qualifies.
Prabhakara also treats time as one of the eternal substances. According to Prabhakara, space and time cannot be perceived as they cannot be seen or touched. Prabhakara considers some degree of magnitude along with color and touch and other such qualities as a necessary condition of proper sense perception. Time, though large, is not perceptible because it is devoid of color and touch.
The Brahmanical tradition finds its full expression in the system of Vedanta. The system follows the literal teaching of the Brahma Sutra, where a complete identity or oneness is shown between the world and the Brahman, hence it denies the reality of the finite world of time and space. The two main commentaries of the Brahma Sutra are the following: Samkara-Bhasya, propounded by Maharshi Samkara, and Sribhasya, propounded by Maharshi Ramanuja. Both of them believe that Reality is non-dual, but their interpretations differ. The school of Samkara is known as Advaita- vedanta, and the school of Ramanuja is known as Visistadvaita-vedanta. In the school of Advaita- vedanta, the problem of Creation is reduced to a problem of appearance, whereas in the Visistavaita school of Ramanuja, the world is conceived as the body of God. The concept of time is discussed here mainly from the Advaita-vedanta standpoint of Samkaracharya. The conceptual framework of this school has the unique characteristic of expressing its position with the single dictum, “Reality is the-one-without-another.” Here the concept of being is treated as timeless, involving the notion of time as appearance. This nondual nature of Brahman (reality) reduces all duality (difference) to a problem of appearance. In this metaphysical system there is no place for the concept of objective real time. To accept time as real is to invite pluralism. But this view cannot be accommodated in the system of Advaita-Vedanta because “Reality is one-without-a-second.” So the question arises, What will be the status of time here?
To understand the status of time, it is necessary to discuss the notion of causality of the Vedantins that is known as Vivartavada. In this theory, the effect is characterized as “no-other,” that is, ananya, to the cause. In his commentary on the Brahma Sutra, Samkara brings out the importance of the term ananya as the effect being no-other in relation to the cause. This is the kernel of the vivartavada of the Advaita Vedanta. In the Vedantaparibhasa, an important work on the Vedanta glossary of technical terms, the significance of the term vivarta is explained. The term vivarta is to be understood by contrasting it with the term parinama. When the cause and the effect are taken to be realities with the same status, the effect is designated as parinama of the cause; for example, prakriti and its different aspects evolve in Samkhya system. But if the cause and the effect cannot be given the same ontological status, it is termed vivarta, as in the case of the world as effect in relation to its cause, Brahman, the Real, in Advaita Vedanta. Here the effect is indeterminable, related to neither sameness nor difference. The effect is nothing but the appearance of the cause— the effect has no separate existence of its own other than a difference of name and form, just as the earthen jug cannot have any reality apart from the clay, its material cause. The Advaita Vedantin asserts that no change or modification can be ascribed to that which is real. In other words, change can never be granted a separate ontological status under any circumstances.
The process of Creation as discussed in the Brahma Sutra shows that the world is in time. And time is characterized by succession and sequence. The steps shown in the creative process involve succession. This succession implies that the world must be in time. The creation and the dissolution of the world are a temporal series.
The Vedantins believe in the rebirth of the soul. The experiences gathered by the finite soul in each birth and death are events in time. The Vedanta schools agree unanimously on one point: that the liberated soul is beyond the domain of the temporal world. Therefore, finite souls live, move, and have their being in time. But here a question arises: How can an eternal and changeless Brahman be held to be preceding the world? Precedence, succession, sequence—these are all time relationships. If Brahman precedes the world and brings the world into existence at a certain point of time, Brahman cannot be called eternal and cannot be beyond time. In the Vedanta texts the word eternal is used in different senses. Sometimes the word eternal means existing for an unending span of time. Sometimes this word is used in the sense of being beyond time. In other places it is taken as transcending time yet somehow including it. There is a distinction between self-contained Brahman and Brahman-who-creates-this-world in the Vedanta texts. But this distinction is apparent, not real. The temporal order of the world is in Brahman. Thus Brahman is beyond and yet somehow includes time.
In fact, the Advaita Vedanta reduces the problem of creation to a problem of appearance. Just as the earthen jug, which has a distinct name and form, does not have an existence independent of the “clay” from which the jug is made, similarly the world as effect has no independent existence without its cause: Brahman. The Advaita Vedantins do not accept Brahmaparinamavada, a theory where the world is conceived as a real transformation of Brahman. The Vedanta school maintains Brahman as the cause, but cannot accept any transformation or modification of the cause. The empirical world is entirely dependent on the self- existent Brahman, having no reality of its own. Brahman is the indispensable cause of the worldappearance. Maya, or illusion, explains the existence of this temporal and spatial world. But it should be pointed out in this connection that the idea of appearance does not imply that the world is merely a subjective dream. Samkara, in his commentary on the Brahma Sutra, refutes the Buddhist school of subjective idealism by saying that the world is empirically real. The idea of the false appearance of the world is intended to disclose its entirely dependent status, that is, it is not real per se. Brahman as real per se as cause of the origin, sustenance, and destruction of the world points to the formulation of the idea of being as timeless as the very presupposition of the temporal. There are two types of definition of Brahman as cause of the world in the Advaita Vedanta texts: one is tatasha- laksana, the accidental or moDalí definition; the other is svarupa-laksana, or the nonrelational definition. The moDalí definition indicates Brahman as the ground of the experienced world as it appears to be. But the Advaita-Vedanta advocates a nonrelational definition of Brahman as sat-cit- ananda swarupa (being-consciousness-bliss). The temporal world as effect is not ontologically real, but Brahman as its foundation is self-existent. In Advaita-Vedanta, Brahman is characterized as nontemporal, nonspatial, and noncausal. Time, space, and causality are all categories of the empirical world. These categories presuppose pluralities that are the products of our ignorance or avidya. It is because we are veiled with ignorance that we experience this plural world. Brahman transcends these categories and is the timeless Reality. Thus Brahman is beyond the spatiotemporal sequence of multiple events and things.
Sri Harsa, an ardent follower of Adaita Vedanta, raises the question whether such time distinctions as past, present, and future are integral or not integral to time as such. If these distinctions are integral to time as such, then the notion of the unity of time has to be given up. On the other hand, if one upholds the unity of time as essential and the differences of time-forms as inherent in it as its threefold nature, then the designations of past, present, and future could be made at random for want of a strict basis for such usages. This is to say that one cannot accept the differences of time-forms as integral to one time, either. But if it is said that it is due to the sun’s motion that time divisions arise, Sri Harsa also finds that to be equally untenable. He holds that the solar motion cannot account for the determinations of the different time forms, since it is used as the common criterion for the divisions of all three time forms—past, present, and future. It is said that the same qualifying factor—the solar motion that distinguishes the past day from the present and also distinguishes the present day from the future—is not a basis for valid argumentation. In this way Sri Harsa rejects the reality of time.
Not only Sri Harsa but also Citsukha, another great exponent of Advaita Vedanta, in his important work Tattvapradipika, has discussed the problem of time thoroughly. While refuting the existence of time, Citsukha argues that neither perception nor inference can establish the reality of time. The ontological reality of a substance can be established through perception only if the substance in question can be said to be perceived by vision or touch. But as time is without form and is intangible, sense perception cannot be the source of knowledge. Time cannot be perceived even though the mind works only in association with the external senses. It cannot even be inferred in the absence of perceptual data.
Again it is possible to point to the existence of such mental states as happiness or sadness, which are known through introspection and need not be first known through sense perceptions. Could the existence of time be established in a similar way? But Citsukha rules out this possibility, as it is possible only for facts that are subjective, but time as an objective category of existence cannot be thus established.
Time cannot be inferred as the substratum of the notions of priority and posteriority, succession and simultaneity, quickness and slowness, as these notions are not associated always and in all places. It may be argued by the Naiyayikas that the entity that establishes relations between the solar vibration and worldly objects is called time. But Citsukha replies that all-conscious self is the cause of the manifestation of time in things and events; therefore it is unnecessary to assume the existence of a further entity called time. The notions of priority and posteriority are associated with a larger or smaller quantity of solar vibrations. So here also it is not necessary to admit time as a separate category.
In conclusion, it may be noted that the Brahmanical tradition expresses its conception of being in its radical form in the Vedanta system, rejecting the pluralistic model. The system advocates a philosophy of nondualism and focuses on the reality of the unchanging eternal Brahman as the one and only Reality. The concept of time plays a phenomenal role without any ontological reality.
See also Becoming and Being; Change; Eternity;
Hinduism, Nyaya-Vaisesika; Hinduism, Samkhya- Yoga; Idealism; Materialism; Metaphysics; Ontology;
Time, Measurements of
Balslev, A. N. (1999). A study of time in Indian philosophy.
New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.
Jha, G. (1942). Purva-Mimamsa and its sources.
Banaras, India: Hindu University.
ManDalí, K. K. (1981). A comparative study of the concepts of space and time in Indian thought (2nd ed.). Patna, India: A. ManDalí.
Radhakrishnan, S. (Ed.). (1952). History of philosophy:
Eastern and Western. London: Allen & Unwin.