CONCEPT OF TIME IDENTIFIED BY CLASSICAL SANSKRIT GRAMMARIANS
Anirban Dash, Ph.D.
'Time' is an important factor that governs human life. Every one of us understands time. Everyday we use it and we also realize it. In general, everybody is acquainted with it.
2. Time: A Historical Overview
Numerous viewpoints have been put forward by various thinkers to solve the mysterious character of time. These viewpoints are based upon numerous philosophical systems. Both Indian and western thinkers have given a special status to time in their philosophical outlook.
The original conception of 'time' in Indian mind seems to go back to Vedic period of Indian thought. The earliest reference to time is found in Rg Veda (10.42.9), where it is used in an adverbial sense 'in time'.[i] In AV it is also used in the sense of an "ultimate cause" of the world.[ii] MaitrI UpaniSad clearly mentions the two forms of Brahman i.e. time (kaala) and timeless (akaala). 3
3. Views of Grammarians on Time
PaaNini has not defined time. The concept of time with its rudimentary division into three was already well known before PaaNini. PaaNini has grouped verbal endings under three adhikaaras referring to divisions of time. He has divided the time into three parts i.e. bhuta (past) , vartamaana (present) , bhavishyata (future ) to which different lakaras are employed. PaaNini's main contribution to the concept of time is that, he has made it a component meanings understood from a verbal form in a sentence.
There are different sections in AsTaadhyaayee, which discuss matters in relation to time. A number of sutras starting from P. 3.2.84 onwards discuss the peculiarities of time with reference to verbal forms where as another two sets of rule starting from P. 4.3.43 to 52 and again from P. 5.1.78 to 96 discuss regarding the syntactic and morphological peculiarities of the various words and sentences in relation to time.
Kaatyaayana who has followed PaaNini did not discuss the concept of time as such. His advancement consists in making some remarks on 'vartamaane laT' (P.3.2.123). Since PaaNini has not explained vartamaana (present), Kaatyaayana has devoted five of his Vaarttikas for the explanation of present and division of time.
It was PataNjali who for the first 'time' incited a philosophical discussion on time. He says that through kaala 'time' the growth and decay of material objects are perceived.
yena mUrtInaamupacayaapacayaacsha lakSyante tam kaalamityaahuH ||
MahaabhaaSya. on PaaNini .2.2.5 ||
Kaala is divided into days, nights, months, etc which is an artificial process of calculation. It is the movement of the sun, which is the basis of our conception of the perceived division of time. (Vide MahaabhaaSya. On PaaNini. 2.2.5)
4. Bhartrhari on Kaala
For the first time in the history of grammar, Bhartrhari paid special attention to time as a concept. He accumulated the main idea from his predecessors and gave a new approach to time in his philosophical discourse. He introduced this concept to explain another important dimension of the phenomenal world, i.e. the idea of change. He conceived of the reality as one and unchangeable. The phenomenal world being characterized by change owes an explanation in terms of unchangeable reality. To explain this issue, Bhartrhari introduced the concept of the time.
Bhartrhari identified the notion of time with power (shakti). He does not confine himself only to the explanation of time with reference to a verbal system as done by PaaNini. He raised some fundamental questions such as: What time is and how it is related with the ultimate reality?
5. Time: A Creative Power of Brahman
For Bhartrhari, the ultimate reality is nothing but the expression of the Brahman itself, which is reflected in the form of shabdatattva from which the whole cosmos is manifested in the form of object4. Time (kaala) is an independent power (shakti) of shabdabrahman.5
In BrahmakaaNDak 2, he says that shabdabrahman, though one, has many powers and one of the powers is time 'kaalashkati'. These powers are actually not different from the Shabdabrahman 6. It is due to our ignorance that we conceive these powers as different from the ultimate reality.
Time is a creative power of shabdabrahman and thus it is responsible for creation, destruction, and continuity of every thing in the cosmos.7 This manifestation in the universe is an evolution, which involves actions and processes.
According to Bhartrhari, all animate and inanimate things are liable to change and this change, according to VaarSyaayaNi (quoted by Yaaska in his Nirukta), can be analyzed into six states 8, as follows: jaayate (genesis), asti (existence), vipariNamate (alteration), varddhate (growth) apakSIyate (decay) and vinashyati (destruction).
It can be illustrated as follows:
6. Prohibition and Permission: The Two Powers of Time
Time functions with its two prominent powers called pratibandha and abhyanujNaa. 9. These are the powers through which the sequence in the manifestation is brought about.
Of these, pratibandha is a preventative power, which prevents or hides things from appearing and abhyanujNaa permits a thing to appear. In this way time functions like a puppet -operator or a string holder who causes opening and closing of an act.10 Thus, time works through its two powers in such a systematic way that automatically things get priority and posteriority through their activities and everything become ordered. In the absence of these two prominent powers called abhyanujNaa and pratibandha, all the functions would take place at one time and there will be no order. 11. Thus ordering or making a sequence is also one of the powers of time. 12
7. Time and Action
Time is also called the operator of this mechanical world13 and measurement of the course of activity.14 Coming into existence, the appearance and disappearance of all the objects are due to time alone15. Therefore according to Bhartrhari, time is the cause of the motion. Since it is an instrumental cause of the activities, it is treated as being identical with activity.16 though in reality different from it.17
Again time is comparable to water wheel, which drives (kaalyati) the beings and hence designated as kaala.18 From the explanation given by Helaaraaja it is understood that the only true being is Parabrahman (which can be considered as shabdabrahman here). It has definite powers through which it produces all kinds of effects and again since it creates effects in cyanic manner (kaalayati) it is called kaala.19
8. Past, Present, and Future: An Illusion
About the three divisions of time i.e. present, past, and future, Bhartrhari says that these are not three different times but the same single time appears, as three through its three powers.20Time is a relative term. It is determined by the action.
Bhartrhari explains this by giving an example of a balance. In the center of the balance rod there is a needle. One side of balance contains the weight value; where as the other side contains a thing to be weight. When the weight value is equal to weight of other side then the needle remains in exact vertical position. When it remains like that we consider it as the correct weight. Thus we impose the correct weighting process on the action of needle. In the same way we impose the action of the needle in a watch on time. 21
According to M. SrimannaaraayaNa Murti, Bhartrhari exposed two points regarding the notion of time.
- He has introduced a dual function of time i.e. abhyanujNaa and pratibandha.
- His mode of treatment though mainly argumentative has a poetical tinge with a host of similes and metaphor.22
Thus, in the view of Bhartrhari, the kaalashakti holds the similar relation with the shabdabrahman as maayaa does with the Brahman.
- In the grammatical tradition divergent views regarding time are found.
- Being a formal grammar, PaaNini's ASTaadhyaayee. does not talk any thing about the nature of time. His grammatical tradition is basically related with the morphological and syntactical aspect of time. Though it recognizes different times past, present and future, they are not treated as particular philosophical notion. It was PataNjali, who for the first time incited a philosophical discussion on time.
- Bhartrhari has given further consideration to this concept in his Vaakyapadeeya. According to him, Time is a creative power of shabdabrahman and thus it is responsible for creation, destruction and continuity of everything in the cosmos. Being an independent power of shabdabrahman it functions through its two powers, namely: abhyanujNaa and pratibandha i.e. permission and privation.
- It is an instrumental cause of the activities, Therefore generally it is treated as being identical with activity, though, in reality different from it. Thus, in the view of Bhartrhari the kalashakti holds the similar relation with the shabdabrahman as maayaa does with the Brahman.
1. According to St. Petersburg Sanskrit German Dictionary.
2. AV. xix, 53-54
3. MaitrI Upanisad Vi.2
4. anaadinidhanam brahma shabdatattvam yadakSaram |
vivartate'rthabhaavena prakriyaa jagato yataH || Bk.1||
5. kaalaakhyaa svaatantryashaktirbrahmaNa iti tatra bhagavadbhartrharerabhipraayaH ||
Prakaasha on PK. 9.62||
6. ekameva yadaamnaatam bhinnashaktivyaapaashrayaat |
aprthakatve'pi shaktibhyaH prthakatveneva vartate || Bk.2||
7. utpattau ca sthitau caiva vinaashe caa'pi tadvataam |
nimittam kaalamevaahurvibhaktenaatmanaa sthitam || Pk. 9.3||
8. adyhaahitakalaam yasya kaalashaktimupaashritaaH |
janmaadayo vikaaraaH SaD bhaavabhedasya yonayaH || Bk. 3||
9. pratibandhaabhyanujNaabhyaam tena vishvam vibhajyate || Pk. 9.4 ||
10. tamasya lokatantrasya sUtradhaaram pracakSate (loc. cit).
11. Mishra K. K. "Time according to Bhartrhari," Vishvesvaraanda Indological Journal, Vol.xix , 1981 , p. 9.
12. cirakSipravyavasthaanam kaalaadhikaraNam tathaa || Pk 9.47||
13. tamasya lokayantrasya sUtradhaaram pracakSate.|| Pk. 9.4||
14. gurutva parimIyeta kaalaadevam kriyaagatiH || Pk. 9. 28||
15. mUrtInaam tena bhinnaanaamaacayaapacayaaH prthak |
lakSyante pariNaamena sarvaasaam bhedayoginaa || Pk. 9.13||
16. tatastu samavaayaakhyaa shaktirbhedasya baadhikaa
ekatvamiva taa vyaktIraapaadayati kaaraNaiH || Pk. 9.18||
17. kecit kaaraNavyatiriktam kaaryam necchanti |
bhyo vastuto'bhedaannaikatvamiti iva shabdaH || Prakaasha on Pk.9.18:||
18. jalayantrabhramaaveshasadrshíbhiH pravrttibhiH |
sa kalaaH kalayansarvaaH kaalaakhyaam labhate vibhuH || Pk. 9.14||
19. See vrtti on Bk. 3.
20. ekasya shaktayaH tisraH kaalasya samavasthitaaH |
yacchambandhena bhaavaanaam darshanaadarshane sataam || Pk 9.49||
21. tasya kramavadbhirmaatraarUpaiH kartrshaktiH pravibhajyamaanaa
vikaaramaatraagatam bhedarUpam tatraadhyaaropayati tulaasUtra iva
samyogidravyaantaragurutvapratibandhakaale daNDalekhaavacchedam ||
Vrtti on Bk.3||
22. Mishra K. K. "Time according to Bhartrhari", Vishvesvaraanda Indological Journal, Vol.xix, 1981, p.7.
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Anirban Dash, Ph.D.