A few days ago I argued that whatever little things happen to us between our birth and death are caused by guṇas and by time and as such cannot affect our relationship with the Lord, which is timeless. Maybe this is not a right way to frame this argument because it contradicts other aspects of our philosophy.
We operate with two concepts of time, one material and one spiritual, even though we don’t acknowledge it. Material time is easy – Kṛṣṇa enters into the universe in this form of kāla and makes everything move. This time doesn’t affect the soul itself as it pertains to what we consider as illusion. Even scientists figured out that it’s a part of the universe and is mathematically related to the concepts of space and speed. They also got a problem of “before Big Bang” when time didn’t flow and space wasn’t there. In our speak it was before kāla made his appearance.
This is where we come to the yet undetermined spiritual time. It manifests itself in sequencing events outside the material creation. If there’s before and after and things happen in a particular order there must be some sort of time involved. Also, our material time cannot be a thing unique only to the material world, it must have a spiritual equivalent, too.
Some examples are obvious – Mahā Viṣṇu goes to sleep, He inhales and exhales, during the exhale universes comes out of the pores in His skin, during the inhale they are drawn back in. All these processes must happen in time, one after another, with some duration assigned to them. We can even measure them relative to our material time – one exhale is a bit longer than the life of Lord Brahmā who gets born, creates everything inside the universe, and eventually dies when comes the time for Mahā Viṣṇu’s inhale. Lord Brahmā lives a hundred years, each year consists of a twelve months, each month consists of thirty days, each day and each night lasts for a thousand mahā-yugas, each mahā-yuga lasts over four billion solar years, which makes Brahmā’s life last over 300 trillion years in total, which means that Mahā-Viṣṇu’s exhale is a bit longer than that. Exact calculations can be found on wiki.
The time as is appears within the universe does not exist outside and does not affect Mahā-Viṣṇu yet here anyone can dovetail Mahā-Viṣṇu’s apparent time scale to ours.
Our own journey through the universe can be used as an indication of the existence of the spiritual time, too. We say we’ve been trapped here since time immemorial, we can’t calculate how long ago we fell down in our material units of time. Quite possibly we’ve been around for a few of Mahā-Viṣṇu’s inhales-exhales already. It’s understandable why in our material time frame we appear as nitya-baddha, eternally conditioned. It started before Big Bang so there’s no sense to talk about it in our units of time, and yet we still follow a sequence of spiritual events – we were with Kṛṣṇa first, then we broke up with Him, then we got thrown down here, given a time to cool off, or maybe literally sleep off our anger. Then we meet Kṛṣṇa’s devotees, they awaken us from our illusion, gradually, life after life, we correct our rebellious attitude and find taste in devotional service and then we return back to Godhead.
If we skip the happenings inside the universe we get angry, go to sleep, wake up, and come back – clearly a sequence of events that must follow one another and so be governed by time, and clearly not by material time. Btw, while Mahā-Viṣṇu lies down in His yoga nidra, our time in illusion here is also called nidra, sleep, by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura. We are both sleeping here, so to speak.
The appearance and disappearance of the universes is a mechanical process and Kṛṣṇa knows at what time Lord Caitanya would appear there and how many souls would come in touch with Him and His mission, how quickly they’ll get liberated and so on. He knows how much time it would take between the start and the end of our journey through devotional service in the material world. He knows how quickly or how slowly our anarthas would disappear, He knows when they will force us to fail and how many times it would happen before we finally give them up. He knows how many rounds we’d have to chant, where and when, and whether they’ll be spread over multiple lifetimes. This is all rather mechanical, as I said. Even though the effect of a devotee on people who come in contact with him is spiritual, it’s still predictable and unavoidable – they’ll get infected with bhakti, so mechanical.
What about our free will then? In this model there would be no place for it whatsoever. Well, this isn’t true. Devotional service imply relationship, and each such relationship is unique, and each such relationship is spiritual, so freedom is still there, but we also can speak of relationships in general terms. It’s like saying that one woman in America gives birth to 1.88 children. It’s physically impossible to give birth to 1.88 babies and no woman ever does that but it’s the average, we can talk about it even if it doesn’t describe any particular woman there. Similarly, we can talk about Kṛṣṇa knowing the duration of our spiritual journey even if in reality our free will might affect it and change His calculations. He can say that a soul born five hundred years after Lord Caitanya in a particular place on Earth and in contact with ISKCON, on average returns to Him in 1.6 lifetime, 1.1 if they came in contact with Prabhupāda himself. This replays every day of Brahmā for a hundred years and then during the next universal creation again, so there’s enough data to calculate averages here, and Kṛṣṇa still has personal space to accelerate or slow down our return depending on how we ourselves feel about it.
This means that our input is important. Theoretically, we might get liberated right this second, or we might commit an unforgivable offense and get stuck until next kalpa. These versions would be outliers but are possible. In general, however, we’d probably be somewhere very close to the average. We can’t change the fate of our material bodies but spiritually we are free to surrender to the Lord, in as much as we can be free while under the illusion. Kṛṣṇa then can take us back as soon as possible and He can even refill our remaining body with some other soul if necessary, in as much as He is free to do anything in this world.
So we do have a swing vote that can decide our fate, but I have no time to talk about how to use it under what the conditions. Perhaps tomorrow.