"Among subduers I am time." Bhagavad-gita
MODERN MAN is preoccupied with time. Big time. We race against it. We try to "kill" it. We create unlimited gadgets to save it. We assault it with aerobics and face lifts.
But like a 98-pound nerd who challenges a big prizefighter in his prime, we're in a losing battle. Time is going to beat us till we keel over and puke.
Now the advertising gurus for "The Personal Life Clock" claim their product can help us get a handle on time. Their new electronic clock has an unusual feature: enter your age and sex, and not only will the clock tell the time, but it will calculate how many hours, minutes, and seconds are left in your statistical life for Americans, seventy-some years.
"It is the most profound number you will ever see," an ad for the clock announces. "By monitoring every precious minute, it arouses the joy of living."
The idea didn't excite bliss in Rebecca McPhail, a writer for the student newspaper at the University of Houston.
"Who could watch the seconds ticking away from their life without getting at least a little jittery?" she writes. "Aaarghh! I'm down to 432,534 hours, 34 minutes, and 21 seconds somebody get me a Valium!"
She's got a point. For most people impermanence is a bummer, not a joy.
Like almost everyone in the material world, Ms. McPhail wants to forget time. She advises readers, "Want to really live life to the fullest? Put away your Personal Life Clock, grab a friend and head to the zoo for a day … and become so fully absorbed in the beauty of the present moment that the future isn't important."
The zoo? Is that the best advice she can come up with?
Well, if we do visit the zoo we can find an animal there, the noble ostrich, said to hold a philosophy surprisingly akin to Ms. McPhail's. Just as the ostrich is famed for trying to avoid hungry tigers by putting its own head in the sand, most people try to hide their intelligence from the significance of time. Try to ignore time. Maybe it'll go away. But nothing can fend off the tiger of time.
One person who didn't stick his head in the sand was the great king Pariksit, who learned five thousand years ago that he only had seven more days to live. What was his response? Did he grab a friend and go to the Delhi zoo? Did he catch a quick flight to Las Vegas?
No. Maharaja Pariksit faced the deadline in full awareness and asked a highly relevant question to the sage Sukadeva Gosvami:
"Please, after proper deliberation, tell me of the unalloyed duty of everyone in all circumstances, and specifically of those who are just about to die. Please let me know what a person should hear, chant, remember, and worship, and also what one should not do."
What we should not do is emulate the reputed behavior of the ostrich and ignore the reality of time, for the deadlines time presents are problems only if we don't properly respond to them. For a fool, time may seem to give only problems, but to a wise person time gives untold opportunities.
For example, let's say a man wins a million dollars in a lottery and must claim his money by Friday noon or lose his fortune. If he claims his prize the Tuesday before, the deadline is no longer a problem. But if he wastes his time at the zoo and forgets about his prize, time is a big problem.
The Vedas tell us human life is a rare boon, far superior to winning a lottery. And death is the deadline. Will we claim the prize of self-realization a human birth can afford, or will we die like cats, dogs, or zoo animals, ignorant of the science of self-realization?
To ask questions about solving life's problems is the sign of real intelligence. Why would a seemingly bright college writer be reluctant to confront the problem of time? Because without spiritual vision one cannot realistically face the problems of time and death. Unless we rise to a higher level of consciousness, they're overwhelming. In the face of death, we all must admit our utter frailty and weakness.
If Rebecca McPhail's article is characteristic of present collegiate thinking, it seems that today's educational system is turning out herds of animalistic simpletons more interested in wasting time than in genuine human pursuits.
For human beings serious about using time profitably, Sukadeva Gosvami gives King Pariksit the way to surmount all material distresses, including the specters of time and death:
"O descendant of King Bharata, one who wishes to be free from all miseries must hear about, glorify, and remember the Personality of Godhead, who is the Supersoul, the controller, and the savior from all miseries."
Any approach to time short of these activities is a copout, an ostrich approach to reality.
Sarvabhauma Dasa joined the Hare Krsna movement in 1981. He lives in Texas, where he spreads Krsna consciousness by selling Srila Prabhupada's books.