Understanding the fleeting nature of time
All this talk about equality … the only thing people really have in common is that they are all going to die .. . " – Bob Dylan (Popular American singer, poet, and author)


Manora … who? Even my 75-year-old uncle, an avid moviegoer struggled to remember the 1940's beauty queen Manorama. Her death a few months ago went unnoticed by the glamour world. Only twelve people attended the funeral, and Cine and TV Artists' Association had nothing to say about her. Two other oldtimers, comedian Rajinder Nath and award winning film writer Suraj Sanim, passed away recently, and the Bollywood buffs couldn't care less. The movie world is busy celebrating the rise of macho men and sex symbols of the 21st century. As India feasts on the tabloids' sensational coverage of a young actress slapping and later reconciling with another actor, i attempted to rewind and fast forward life.
Six decades ago, the fledgling gossip media covered Manorama's on and off screen exploits with great delight. The young and starryeyed men wooed her. A few years later the spotlight shifted on Mr. Suraj Sanim, scripting Desh, ishq, Chupa Rustam one box office success after another. Rajinder Nath's histrionics too created a few laughs, and the party seemed to go on forever.
Return to 2008. Where are the cameras, fans and the press? Abhishekh and Rakhi Sawant's patch up, the Bachchan's wedding gala, and Sanjay 'Munna Bhai' Dutt's arrest make the headlines. Fast-forward 2080 A.D. The Bachchans are history, Munna Bhai is dead and gone, and new faces smile on the screen. Never mind the back stage it's a painful world of non-entities out there. Even as the young gyrate on the stage of time, the few older ones still hanging around cut a sorry figure, nursing alone their time-inflicted wounds.
Srimad-Bhagavatam reveals the debilitating power of time:
kapila uvaca
tasyaitasya jano nunam
nayam vedoru-vikramam
kalyamano 'pi balino
vayor iva ghanavalih
"The Personality of Godhead said: As a mass of clouds does not know the powerful influence of the wind, a person engaged in material consciousness does not know the powerful strength of the time factor, by which he is being carried." (Bhag. 3.30.1)
The lonely death of Manorama raises a discomforting question: "What significant difference am I making to this world?" And the harsh reality stares at us: "You mean nothing more to this world than a pebble on the beach." As huge waves of time throwaway the insignificant pebbles from the shores of this worldly ocean, we desperately seek to hold ground. History is filled with names, which are worthless to us. Our exploits too are no big deal to successive generations. Yet we long to etch our names in the pages of history and be loved and adored forever. Srila Prabhupada reveals the plight of an ambitious seeker who is on his deathbed:
" … but an attached family man wants his family members to carry him in a great procession even after his death, and although he will not be able ta see how the procession goes, he still desires that his body be taken gorgeously in procession. Thus he is happy without even knowing where he has to go when he leaves his body for the next life … " (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.30.15 purport)
Daily a thousand movie aspirants enter the big dream city of Mumbai. Most land up as roadside hawkers. A few who do manage to squeeze into Bollywood languish as unrecognizable "junior artists" a dignified term for extras. And for the one in a million rags to riches story, there is a big to lonely ending. Beauty and physical abilities dwindle due to the ravages of time, and fans seek new heroes, leaving the older ones wondering, "Was it really worth it?" Mr. Time treads his steps slowly but surely. Srila Prabhupada captures their painful moment in his Vrndavana Bhajan (1954):
… Everyone has abandoned me, seeing me penniless
Wife, relatives, friends, brothers, everyone.
This is misery, but it gives me a laugh. I sit alone and laugh.
In this maya-samsara, whom do I really love?
Where have my loving father and mother gone now?
And where are all my elders, who were my own folk?
Who will give me news of them, tell me who?
All that is left of this fami ly life is a list of names.
As the froth on the seawater mixes again in the sea,
Maya samsara's play is just like that. No one is mother or father, or personal relative;
Just like the sea foam, they remain but a short time .
Just as the froth on seawater mixes again in the sea,
The body made of five elements meets with destruction.
How many bodies does the embodied soul take in this way?
His relatives are all related merely to the temporal body …
Our attempt to seek self-worth through ephemeral worship and worldly honor is similar to a child's laborious drive to build sand castles on the beach. Tiny tsunamis crush these mansions to dust, and the optimists' are ready to make another one. The Bhagavad gita extols humans to stop such fruitless endeavors, and instead seek the permanence:
a-brahma bhuvanallokah
punar avartino 'rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
"From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, 0 son of Kunti, never takes birth again" (Bg. 8.16).
Human life is a type of imprisonment and also a rare chance for self realization to go back home, back to Godhead. For a spiritual aspirant, life in this world is a springboard to enter God's eternal abode. Thus a truly intelligent person searches for transcendental happiness. Devotional service to God, Krsna, in the association of sincere devotees provides one the opportunity to experience this sublime joy. This process of bhakti yoga also helps a spiritualist realize his/ her personal relationship with Krsna. Although all designations pertaining to this body are fleeting, the eternal soul dwelling within the body is special. Krsna cares for each soul and anxiously awaits their initiative to turn to Him. By regular chanting of Krsna's holy names, our dormant love for Krsna starts flowering. As our relationship with the Supreme Lord blossoms, it also lends freshness and excitement to our lives.
Then as inevitable death approaches, a devotee is not fearful of losing anything of this world. In a typical Hindu marriage, the newlywed girl cries piteously as she leaves her parents' house due to the familial attachments and the uncertain future waiting to unfold at her husband's home. However, if a long courtship precedes her wedding, she silently celebrates the parting from her loved ones. Similarly a devotee constantly associating with Krsna through service and remembrance fills his life with serenity and bliss.
The scriptures glorify the devotional service of Maharaja Pariksit who ruled the earth five thousand years ago. Despite receiving the news of his imminent death, he remained happy. Since his whole life was dedicated to the loving service of the Lord, he had no regrets leaving behind his kingdom and preparing for his untimely death. He took it as the Lord's blessing and completely detached himself from the unlimited wealth and opulence that governed his life. His attraction to Krsna was so strong that his attraction for royal opulence paled in comparison. He joyfully gave it all up, preferring to remember Krsna. Thus Krsna consciousness offers a panacea for all our sufferings and lends substance to our oth erwise dull, meaningless and bruised existence.
As governments collapse and earthquakes strike; as infamy and tragedies recur as superheroes meet with an inglorious end; we can seek solace and strength in our union with Krsna. This bonding only grows with time, uninfluenced by the changing fortunes of this world. Riding on the ups and downs of life, Krsna consciousness keeps us sane and joyful even as the scandal- hungry media hunts for yet another fading star.
Vraja Bihari Dasa, MBA, serves full-time at ISKCON Mumbai, and teaches Krsna consciousness to students in various colleges.