by Vishakha-devi dasi
In Ancient India’s Vedic literatures we find a cosmic calendar that shows the cycle of ages—and how to break out of it.
How long we live greatly depends on what kind of body we have. For example, an insect might stay around for only a month, while a human being sometimes lasts for 100 years. And as the time-honored Bhagavad-gita informs us, the inhabitants of planetary systems higher than ours have bodies of a still higher quality and so live much longer than we do here. In fact Lord Brahma, the administrative demigod who resides on the highest planet in the universe, lives not a moment less than 311 trillion 40 billion years.
Of course, modern scientists have some inkling that a single 24-hour span on some higher planets may equal an earth year or maybe more, but they have no idea just how much more. Bhagavad-gita ( 8.17) tells us this about the length of Lord Brahma?s day and night:
ahar yad brahmano viduh
te ho-ratra-vido janah
By human calculation, 1,000 great ages taken together is the duration of Brahma?s day. And such also is the duration of his night.?
Here's the calculation in detail. First, we add up the 4 yugas (ages) shown in the chart. This is 1 divya-yuga (great age), or 4.32 million years. Now, when we multiply by 1,000, what we come up with - and this is a mere 12 "hours" (1 daytime) in Lord Brahma's life - is 4.32 billion earth years. His daytime plus his nighttime comes to 8.64 billion years. What's more, 360 of these days and nights make 1 of Brahma's "years," and he lives for a full 100 of these "years."
All of this may seem fantastic to us, but as Einstein learned some years ago, time is relative. Take, for example, an amoeba, whose life span is less than an hour. If we could explain our life span to the amoeba, just think how flabbergasted he would be. In the same way, although we may be astounded by Brahma's life span, to him it seems quite normal and, if anything, rather short.
Understanding the Overseer
On a grand, cosmic scale, Lord Brahma is an overseer - he manages the process of creation within this universe. At the beginning of each of his days, all varieties of life forms appear, and when his night comes there is a partial annihilation until the next day, when he sets everything in motion all over again. Although Brahma lives for such a vast span of time and has such awesome responsibilities, we can get a rough idea what his life is like.
Brahma starts his day by meditating on the Supreme Lord. He prays that he may "engage in the Lord's service in the creation of the material world," and that "I may not be materially affected by my works, for thus I may be able to give up the false prestige of being the creator." ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.9.23)
Although he holds such an exalted place in our universe, Brahma acknowledges God's supremacy and does not want to become illusioned into thinking that he is independently powerful. He wants to remember always that the original cause of everything is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as a gardener doesn't create seeds but simply sows and waters them to make a garden grow, so Lord Brahma does not create life (the soul), but receives power from the Supreme Lord to place certain souls into certain types of bodies.
So at the beginning of his day, Brahma places each one of us - each individual spiritual soul - into a particular body. As Brahma's day wears on, we transmigrate from one body to another, sometimes to the upper planetary systems and sometimes to the lower ones; sometimes to the body of a pigeon and sometimes to that of a prince - until, after 4.32 billion earth years have passed, Lord Brahma's day ends. Then we go into a dormant state, until his next day begins and the whole cycle starts again.
We may take exception to all this information, since we can't recall any of it. But after all, what can we recall of even our present lifetime? For instance, we know for sure that we were once in our mother's womb, but can we remember that experience? And what to speak of past lifetimes in other bodies? Brahma, however, sees our futile wanderings and feels compassion. He sees us suffering from various types of miseries - anxiety, anger, disease, insomnia, natural disturbances - because of our forgetfulness. "The material miseries are without factual existence for the soul," he assures us. Still, many of us refuse to hear about our actual identity and our relationship with the Supreme Lord, and as a result, we keep on suffering in this material world.
A Look Inside 1 Divya-yuga (Great Age) in Lord Brahma?s Day
In Bhagavad-gita (8.16) Lord Krishna tells us exactly what our situation is and what we can do about it: “From the highest planet in the material world - Lord Brahma’s residence - down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated creation and annihilation take place. But one who attains to My abode never comes to this material world again.”
As long as we live here in the material world, we can know that we face three times of bodily annihilation: (1) the moment of our death, (2) the end of each of Brahma’s days (when there is a partial annihilation), and (3) the end of Brahma’s lifetime (when the entire universe becomes unmanifest for thousands of aeons, until the Lord again manifests Brahma and the rest of the universe).
This has been going on in the past, and it is still going on. “Again and again this multitude of living entities become active; and again and again they are helplessly dissolved.” (Bg. 8.19) No one can calculate how long we have been revolving in the cycle of creation and dissolution. But by using our intelligence properly, we can get out of this insane cycle and save ourselves from a bleak future.
“Yet,” Lord Krishna promises, “there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to the manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is. That supreme abode is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Bg. 8.20-21)
As we’ve seen, the soul’s sojourn from body to body throughout Brahma’s lifetime is pitiable and pointless. Now that we have the human form of life, we have a rare chance to understand our real situation—a chance to see that with each rising and setting of the sun, our inevitable demise is coming closer, and that all the wealth in the world can’t stop it. Lower life forms don’t have enough brain substance to understand this process, but human beings can read Vedic literature and take its advice: “Do not spend your time uselessly in mundane affairs; all these things will be finished at the time of annihilation. Instead, look toward the eternal world. Learn how to go back home, back to Godhead.”
As we can see on the chart, the age that we’re living in (the Kali-yuga) is an ocean of faults. But we have one exceptional opportunity: simply by chanting the names of God, we can become freed from Lord Brahma’s cycle of creations and then return home, back to Godhead. Five centuries ago the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and personally taught this sublime process of God realization. At that time even Lord Brahma came to this planet to take part in the Lord’s mission. And Brahma—along with Lord Chaitanya’s other followers to the present day—always chants the names of God recommended in the Vedic literature: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The Puranas describe a number of time cycles within cycles. Discussions of these cycles can become confusing because different cycles are measured in different types of units. For example, the cycles are often described in units of deva years
( years in the higher planets ), each of which equals 360 human years.
The following description starts with the smaller cycles and works up to the larger ones. The length of each cycle is given in ordinary human (earth) years, as well other units where appropriate. Large numbers are described using the conventions of American English: thus, a million is a thousand thousand, a billion is a thousand million, a trillion is a thousand billion.
The smallest cycle is called a maha yuga. A maha yuga is 4,320,000 human years. Each maha yuga is subdivided into the following four ages, whose lengths follow a ratio of 4:3:2:1:
Satya Yuga (also called Krita Yuga)
This first age is 1,728,000 human years. Also known as the Golden Age or age of Truth. The qualities of this age are: virtue reigns supreme; human stature is 21 cubits; lifespan is a lakh of years, and death occurs only when willed.
This second age is 1,296,000 human years. Also known as the Silver Age. The qualities of this age are: the climate is three quarters virtue and one quarter sin; human stature is 14 cubits; lifespan is 10,000 years.
This third age is 864,000 human years. Also known as the Bronze Age. The qualities of this age are: the climate is one half virtue and one half sin; lifespan is 1,000 years.
The fourth and last age is 432,000 human years. Also known as the Iron Age. This is the age in which we are presently living. The qualities of this age are: the climate is one quarter virtue and three quarters sin; human stature is 3.5 cubits; lifespan is 100 or 120 years.
Brahma Days (Kalpas)
A kalpa is a single daytime period in the life of Brahma, the creator god. Two kalpas are a day and a night of Brahma.
Each kalpa is composed of 1,000 maha yugas. A kalpa is thus equal to 4.32 billion human years.
At the end of Brahma's daytime period, the Three Worlds (Bhuloka, Bhuvarloka, Swarloka) and the seven underworlds (of the nagas) are temporarily dissolved (pralaya); that is, the same souls will be reincarnated when the next day of Brahma begins.
The Vishnu Purana states that at the end of the daytime period of Brahma, a dreadful drought occurs that lasts 100 years, and all the waters are dried up. The sun changes into seven suns, and the three worlds (Bhurloka or Earth, Bhuvarloka or the lowest heaven, and Svarloka or the next higher heaven) and the underworlds are burned bare of life. The inhabitants of Bhuvarloka and Svarkloka flee to the next higher heaven, Maharloka, to escape the heat; and then to the next higher heaven, Janaloka.
Then mighty clouds form and the three worlds are completely flooded with water. The lord Vishnu reposes on the waters in meditative rest for another whole kalpa (4.32 billion years) before renewing the creation.
The destruction that takes place at the end of a daytime of Brahma is referred to as naimittika, which is incidental or occasional. The characteristic of this destruction is that the three worlds continue to exist but are made uninhabitable. The souls of individuals also continue to exist to be reincarnated in the next daytime of Brahma.
A year of Brahma is composed of 360 day/night cycles of Brahma, or 720 kalpas, or 8.64 billion human years.
The lifespan of Brahma is 100 Brahma years, or 72,000 kalpas, or 311.04 trillion human years.
At the end of the life of Brahma, all worlds are completely dissolved (mahapralaya).
Another cycle that overlaps the others is that of manvantaras. Each kalpa is reigned over by a succession of 14 Manus, and the reign of each Manu is called a manvantara. A single manvantara is approximately 71 maha yugas.
Each Manvantara is followed by a Deluge, which destroys the existings continents and swallows up all living beings, except the few who are preserved for the repeopling of the earth."
We are located in the fifty-first Brahma year of the life of our Brahma.
Within that Brahma year, we are in the first Brahma day, called the Varaha kalpa.
Within that Brahma day, we are in the seventh manvantara, and in the 28th maha yuga of that manvantara. This would place us at about the 454th maha yuga of the 1,000 maha yugas that comprise this day of Brahma.
Within this maha yuga, we are in Kali Yuga. The 5100th year of Kali Yuga will correspond to the year 2,000 A.D. That means that we are fairly early in Kali Yuga and this age will continue 426,000 more years.