Some of the implications of the theory of general relativity, Einstein's great
modern discovery, were understood by Vedic sages long, long ago.

In referring to the scientific understanding attained by the sages of ancient India, the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi once wrote. "The quality of ancient India that is most striking is the breadth of its vision, its capacity to feel at home in vast spaces, to think of great stretches of time and astronomical numbers, a capacity matched only by the mathematicians of our age."

A Timely Trip

Even thousands of years ago, India's scientific understanding of the universe was highly advanced. It was common knowledge that the world isn't flat but round, that our planet isn't the center of the universe but a mere speck within it, and that the earth wasn't suddenly created on May 23, 5478 B.C., but had existed for billions of years. This is remarkable when we consider that in the West, these facts have been accepted for only the last few hundred years.

Fortunately, modern science has been catching up and continues to make further progress every day. One of the greatest achievements of this century is Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, which, among its postulates, describes the behavior and measurement of time under factors such as gravity and velocity. Surprisingly, even such advanced concepts of physics are also found in the Vedic literature, India's ancient books of wisdom.

In the Ninth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a revealing story on the workings of the theory of relativity. It is about a king named Kakudmi and his daughter Revati. When the king was planning for his daughter's marriage, he decided to go see Lord Brahma, by whose influence, he was sure, an ideal husband could be found. Lord Brahma is the chief demigod and occupies the post of the engineer-creator of this universe. His life span encompasses the duration of the entire universe. His abode, the planet Brahmaloka, is the highest in the universe. The inhabitants there are endowed with mystic powers; evil, pain, and anxiety are practically unknown; the potential for enjoyment is thousands of times greater than on earth; and spiritual advancement is easily attainable.

King Kakudmi took Revati with him and traveled to Brahmaloka, where he found that Lord Brahma was hearing a musical performance and for the moment could not talk to him. Therefore Kakudmi waited, and at the end of the show he approached Brahma, offered obeisances, and presented his request. After listening to Kakudmi, Brahma laughed loudly and said. "O king, all those whom you might have thought of as candidates for your daughter's hand died already a long time ago. Millions of years have passed since you left your kingdom. They are all dead and forgotten, and so are their sons, grandsons, and other descendants."

When the king heard this, he returned to what had been his domain and found it vacant. Just as modern archeologists discover the sites of ancient civilizations and determine the cause of their demise, such as famines, invasions, and natural disasters, Kakudmi returned to find that his descendants had long ago abandoned the kingdom because of the threat posed by their enemies.

While King Kakudmi was still in Brahmaloka, Lord Brahma advised him to offer his daughter in marriage to Lord Balarama. According to Vedic theology. Lord Balarama is an expansion of the Supreme Lord, Krsna, and assists Him in His mission to purify the entire world. After returning to his former kingdom, Kakudmi gave his beautiful daughter in marriage to Lord Balarama. Then he renounced worldly life and retired to Badarikasrama in the Himalayas, where many ascetics go to achieve spiritual perfection.

King Kakudmi experienced the influence of time in a way that agrees with Einstein's general theory of relativity. Normally we tend to regard time as absolute and constant throughout the universe. But the theory of relativity states that there is no absolute time: rather, each one of us is influenced uniquely, depending on our location and the speed with which we are moving in the universe.

To illustrate this point, there is the classic example of the twins. One twin goes off in a rocket to the nearest star outside our planetary system. Traveling at speeds near that of light (186.000 miles per second), the traveler will make the round trip in twenty-two earth years, but because of his high speed, time will affect him only partially, and upon his return he will find himself twelve and a half years younger than his brother!

Even on earth the same principle applies. A twin living at sea level will be after sixty years, six seconds younger than his brother living high in the mountains, because of the way the earth's gravity affects his own measure of time. But this variation is so negligible that it goes unnoticed.

King Kakudmi experienced the principles stated in the theory of relativity. On his journey to Brahmaloka, time influenced the king in a different way than it did his subjects and acquaintances back on earth, to the extent that he outlived generations of his descendants.

Histories like this, as found in works like the Srimad-Bhagavatam, aren't simply for supplying us with facts for a trivia game, nor are they armchair scientific statements. The overall purpose of these scriptures is to promote an existential understanding of life and to teach one how to act accordingly.

If we could make a trip in time similar to King Kakudmi's, disappearing from home and suddenly reappearing in the same place a few thousand years later, we would see everything so changed that we would be forced to see our lives in a completely different light. During such a journey, many nations would have been created and destroyed; whole dynasties and clans would have lived and died; life styles and popular notions would have come and gone; geological and ecological upheavals would have taken place repeatedly. Witnessing these changes, we would naturally ask, "What is there in life that is worth pursuing because it doesn't fade away with time?"

In the Bhagavad-gita (2.16). Sri Krsna says, "Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance, and of the existent there is no cessation. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both." We usually place too much value on the particular situation around us on our family, community, life style, skills and take our background and place in time in absolute terms. But Lord Krsna teaches us that these are all temporary and unimportant, and thus He describes them as "nonexistent."

Our trip in time would confirm the conclusions of learned sages, including King Kakudmi. By placing too much emphasis on our material life, we lose sight of our real self, the soul, which represents our real. eternal existence. By cultivating spiritual knowledge, we can awaken that real self, understand our nature beyond the "relativity" of this temporal world, and enter the realm of eternal spiritual existence. Attaining this is the purpose of life. And this is what the process of Krsna consciousness. beginning with the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, is meant to help us achieve.