A Study of Time In Indian Philosophy

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Item Code: NAB920
Author: Anindita Niyogi Balslev
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9788120833746
Pages: 208
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 10.0inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 520 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

Since its first publication A study of Time in Indian philosophy has been acclaimed as having successfully shown the simple falsity of such clichés that the Indian view of time is cyclic or that it is exclusively illusory. Given the variety of views discussed in this work it is evident that the theme of time is intimately related to such basic concepts as being and becoming change and causality creation and annihilation. It has been therefore observed that this book makes an excellent introduction to the heart of Indian thought.


From the Jacket

Based on Sanskrit source material, this book is a unique attempt at presenting a comprehensive review of the widely divergent views about time in Indian thought. Clearly written, it succeeds in setting out the issues of 4discussion pointedly and cogently. Since the concept of time interwines with such major concepts as that of causality, being and non-being etc. this book also "serves as a general introduction to the classic heart of Indian philosophy." The author “has demonstrated a rare ability to translate technical doctrines from one tradition of thought into the language of another", and thus has made it possible—for all those who are concerned with the question of time but do not have access in the Indian conceptual world to appreciate the contributions of Indian thought with regard to this complex question. Noteworthy is the fact that this book is the first attempt which successfully exposes the simple falsity of such clichés as that the Indian view of time is cyclic as opposed to the Judaeo-Christian understanding of linear time. A study of Time in Indian philosophy therefore renders a valuable service to all those who are concerned with cross cultural and interreligious exchange.


About the Author

Anindita N. Balslev holds an M.A. Degree from Calcutta University and a Ph.D. from University of Paris. She has published widely in the areas of Indian Western and comparative philosophy as well as in the fields of culture studies and science religion dialogue. With educational and professional background in India, France Denmark and USA she has initiated a program entitled Cross cultural conversation.

She is the co-author of Cultural Otherness correspondence with Richard Rorty (1999, 2nd edn, Oup, USA) and co-editor of Religion and time (1993, E.J. Brill, The Netherlands). She is also the editor of the volumes entitled Cross Cultural conversation (1996, OUP USA) and Toward greater Human Solidarity (2005, Kolkata). She has been engaged in consciousness studies and her new book A Search fro the source of I-Consciousness is to be published shortly.


Preface to the First Edition

"There is no cognition in this world where time is not manifest"‘—thus goes the famous saying. It seems evident that any attempt at a philosophical interpretation of human existence—be it ultimately religious or secular in import—will eventually have to face the problem of time. Being a central issue, the multi-faceted problem of time can be explored in various directions. Thus it is found to be a proper subject for an inter-disciplinary study. In recent years efforts have already been made towards this? Again, the intercultural perspective of a study of the problem of time is by no means insignificant as it provides a common theme which is central to philosophical investigations, viewed globally. Moreover, for the question of the encounter of religions, it is highly important that the theological considerations which operate behind the various doctrines of creation are brought into full focus with their implications for the problem of time as well as their understanding of the transcendent as timeless. The impact of the study of time in this direction is not merely of historical interest. It has its bearing on the present day meeting of cultures as well. It is pointed out that a principal clue for understanding a culture-pattern lies in a proper grasping of its theological foundations. It is even said that ideologies which claim to break away from the theological framework of a given culture yet may be found to bear characteristics of the same. In all cases, however, a philosophy of time remains an indispensable and an integral part of a coherent picture of human existence.

The spectrum of views about time that has emerged in the philosophies of India, is thus of interest also for an appraisal of Indian religions as well as for an understanding of Indian culture in general.

I take this opportunity to record my thanks due to B.B. Bhattacharya, Reader, Sanskrit Department, Jadavpur University, for the fruitful discussions pertaining to the analysis of the relevant Sanskrit texts used for this work. I would also like to thank the Danish Research Council for the Humanities for providing support for this project during the years 1977 and 1978 as well as for a grant covering a substantial part of the printing cost. This support has enabled me to carry out there search both in Denmark and in India, utilizing the library facilities at Statsbibliogteket, Aarhus, and the National Library, Calcutta. Finally I want to thank Lissi Daber for her excellent work in typing the manuscript.


Preface to the Second Edition

I write this new preface for my book, entitled A Study of Time in Indian Philosophy, with a deep sense of satisfaction that is derived from engaging in a work that does not end with the writing of a single monograph. My endeavor to uncover the distinctly different views on time in the Indian philosophical traditions has led me to appreciate the rich, multiple dimensions of this large theme that are manifested in the network of ideas constituting the core of philosophical, religious and scientific thinking across cultures.

This monograph was first published, now fifteen years ago, by the German publisher Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden in 1985. Since then, the book has been much reviewed and discussed. However, it has been now quite sometime—since the first edition was sold out—the book has not been available in the market. Although many have enquired about a new edition, especially an Indian edition, I have been unable to attend to that task due to various other commitments that kept me busy. I am indeed pleased that the Indian publisher Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, has taken the initiative to bring out this new edition.

Time, being a multi—dimensional issue, is of interest to a wide range of disciplines belonging to both humanistic and natural sciences. Since the first publication of this study, I have continued my research work concerning this large theme and have become more aware of its multi—disciplinary and intercultural dimensions. Consequently, I feel that my intellectual involvement with this topic has only increased over the years. Moreover, I have been invited to deliver a number of talks in international forums and in this process have not only gained deeper appreciation of the bearing that philosophical thinking on time has for the Indian culture as a whole but have also learnt more about this multifaceted problem from scholars who work in fields that are different from mine. In this connection, mention may be made that my further contributions concerning time and related issues have been published in various journals and are available in print.

These days when attempts are being made to initiate a conversation among science, philosophy and religion, I am very pleased that this book has been looked upon by scholars to be useful in that context. The major streams of Indian philosophical thought have flown through a vast territory and have given rise to an opulent diversity in the interpretations of time—experience. These reflections forma significant part of the philosophico-religious as well as scientific narratives that have encircled the global history of ideas. As author, I am indeed grateful that my work has not been considered to be of interest only and exclusively for the indologists.

During the years preceding the actual writing of this book I struggled strenuously in order to obtain a broad, comprehensive view of the Indian philosophical scene that forms the necessary background for a study of the various conceptual models of time. As I scanned, through primary and secondary sources with the goal of discerning the overt and subtle implications of this diversity in interpreting time-experience, it gradually became clear to me how time as a theme plays a crucial role in the making of distinct cultural traditions. Myths and symbols, philosophical views and religious ideas concerning time endow a distinctive flavor to a cultural traditions as a whole which is singularly of its own.

It seems to me that one of the outstanding characteristics of the conceptual world of India, which has been consequential to the thought traditions outside of her geopolitical boundary as well, stems from the varied expressions of her pro-found time-consciousness. This is exemplified not only in philosophical texts but also in cosmology and mythology as well. Indeed amazing is the manner in which the ramifications of such ideas about time are incorporated into the Puranic narratives. The philosophical schools are of course fully aware of the implications of the diverse views about time. The network of ideas woven by specific schools of philosophy not only combines distinctly different views of time with various con-tending notions of creation and annihilation, being and becoming, space and causality, etc., but also puts forward notions concerning timelessness, and eternity. It is a philosophical vista that inspires awe and demands that it is comprehended in its complexity. Indeed, I am tempted to remark that a careful study of this important theme in the context of Indian traditions augments one’s sense for philosophical acuity, as one notices the conceptual strategies that lie embedded in the diverse attempts to explore time-experience along different lines. We begin to perceive more and more poignantly why the Brahmanical tradition, for example, for which the idea of Atman is of pivotal concern cannot but reject a position for which the distinction between time and being [more precisely, the moment and the momentary is seen merely as a linguistic convention. Thus, it is a kind of an intellectual adventure to investigate why—despite the fact that the Brahmanical tradition has given rise to a wide variety of conceptual models regarding time-a conceptual space is maintained by all the Brahmanical systems for an ontological category that remains outside the influence of time [kalaprabhava-mukta]. Such an investigation unveils primarily the Brahmanical philosophical conviction that the Atman or self cannot be sublated and discloses the argumentations supporting that claim. However variously conceived by the different schools within that tradition, attempts are made to demonstrate why time can by no means negate the immutability of the Atman or the self and in which sense the latter as a category retains its foundational character. Thus, the theme of time can be seen as vital not only for a study of nature i.e., for analyzing matter, space, causality etc. but also for a number of issues connected with the idea of self and consciousness. These questions which always fascinated me have been touched upon in this book briefly but will reappear in greater detail in the study of self and consciousness in which I am at present engaged. I indeed share the observation made by Charles She rover, when he remarked that "whether we are thinking of the nature of nature or of the nature of the self, we cannot escape thinking of the nature of time."

The readers will come across in the pages of this book not only an account of the diverse ways in which the Brahmanical philosophers have looked at time but will also have the occasion to ponder on the philosophical reasoning’s for depicting the self in relation to time. We find that in the Nyaya-Vaisesika structures, self and time are conceived as independent of one another, but classified as belonging to the same ontological category of eternal entities [nitya-padartha]. As a contrast, one finds that in their treatment of time, both the Sankhya and the Yoga schools reject the view of absolute time that is shared by the Nyaya-Vaisesika and Mimarhsa' schools while maintaining the phenomenon of change as ontological. The challenge is to decipher the steps in their reasoning’s that led the schools to accept Purusa and Prakrti as two independent ontological categories that support the notions of matter as ever changing and consciousness as immutable. In the school of Advaita Vedanta, still another distinctive pattern emerges. Here the Atman alone is granted ontological reality, the category of time qua change being reduced to having merely empirical status. The intriguing question is, how the differences in their views regarding time actually shape their modes of conceiving the self and/or consciousness. The records of the long story of repeated attempts to abandon stereo typed modes of thinking and the endeavors to restate and reformulate the question of time and consciousness disclose that these concerns are of fundamental importance to Indian thought.

Given that reflections on the idea of the unchanging, unchangeable Atman has preoccupied the Brahmanical mind, the challenge has also led to explorations of the phenomena of change and impermanence. The Buddhist tradition deals with these latter themes in a strikingly different manner. The notion of moment, for example in such Brahmanical schools as in Vaisesika, Sankhya and Yoga knows of important differences? However, in the pale of Buddhist thought we encounter the rise of an altogether novel model where time as moment and being as momentary is claimed to coalesce ontologically, implying that all that is real must necessarily be momentary in character (yat sat tat kasanikam). We follow with an augmented philosophical sensitivity the radical consequences that the Buddhist tradition draws from the perception ‘all is impermanent’ [sarvam anityam], a fact which knows of no exception. A perusal of the long history of Buddhism unfolds the steps by which the tradition gradually carves out its original path validating its claim in the epistemological, metaphysical, ethical and stereological levels of enquiry. The tremendous impact of this idea on the development of Buddhist thought as well as the way it provoked centuries of debates among the ancient Indian philosophers is a matter that can keep a scholar engaged for many years. This book contains some of these stimulating exchanges.

While sharing the story of the Brahmanical and Buddhist reflections, one also becomes aware of the conceptual space for one more distinct tradition of thought viz. jainism. It was for the jaina tradition to take up the challenge and arrive at a position where the idea of an unchanging core of reality could be combined with that of the changing aspects of ourselves and things around us, providing a logic in support of such a position.

In fact, these basic philosophical preferences have deservedly earned the Brahmanical, Buddhist and the jaina traditions the designations of Atmavada, Anatmavada and Anekantavada respectively.

An effort to understand the great variety of views concerning time that have emerged in the history of Indian thought demands that we grasp the significance of these views not simply in isolation but in relation to the other major concepts such as that of being and non-being, space and causality etc. that have emerged in each of these traditions of thought. This is also why comprehending a specific notion of time in depth calls for taking into account both the expository and the polemical aspects that are documented in the relevant literature. All these shed light on the amalgam of observations and reasoning’s that have gone into the making of specific theories and how such theories are philosophically defended in the face of attack from their adversaries. Through this process of intellection, one deepens one’s understanding regarding the central role that the theme of time plays in a given conceptual system and what makes it impossible to substitute one view by another in a given network of ideas without damaging the identity and distinctness of that specific schools of thought. The reader will come across adequate examples that support these observations.

It seems obvious that in any appraisal of the Indian conceptual experience of time, all these details needs to be considered. Unfortunately, what has been in vogue in an intercultural context can be described not only as an over simplified picture of the Indian philosophical scenario but a projection of an entirely distorted one. It is commonplace to come across opinions that ascribe a ‘cyclic’ view of time to the Indian culture. I have brought this misleading metaphorical designation of ‘cyclic time` to the attention of the reader in the last chapter of this book. I have also repeated this tirelessly, with more detailed arguments, on many occasions. I believe that I have succeeded in uprooting this distorted view in certain circles and hope that a wider distribution of this book will promote that cause. At this point, it is amusing to share with my readers the circumstances that led me to examine the theme of time-metaphors and how that eventually has inspired me to take up ‘cross-cultural conversation" as an indispensable program of studies. During the years when I was looking into the Sanskritic philosophical tradition in order to make a study of the principal conceptual models of time that developed in the course of history of Indian thought, the question that was most frequently posed by my interlocutors was why the Indian conceptual world projects a ‘cyclic’ view of time. At first I took that as a populist query but I was intrigued by the question and wanted to search for the reasons why this was assumed to be a dominant feature of the Indian conceptual world. As I began enquiring how this idea has received so wide a publicity, I was amazed to come across in the writings of culture—historians (such as Arnold Toynbee and others) and theologians (such as Paul Tillich and others) as well as of some anthropologists, all claiming that the Indo-Hellenic time is ‘cyclic’ as opposed to the Judaeo—Christian understanding of ‘linear’ time.

As I have discussed these issues elsewhere, I will not recapitulate the arguments here} However, let me restate briefly that this unwarranted use of time-metaphors has created serious obstacles for cross-cultural understanding and has blocked interreligious exchanges What is even more disturbing in the context of these improper metaphorical designations of cultural experience of time, is to note how the expressions ‘linear’ and ‘cyclic’ have gradually ceased to be simple time-metaphors and have come to be associated with such concepts as that of history, that of progress and even that of salvation. What is needed is a creative conversation, which by consciously avoiding these age-old clichés can make room for fresh exchanges enabling the participants to appreciate the inner dynamism of alternative modes of thinking about this multi—faceted problem.

Finally, let me observe that if no major culture is monolithic, no major philosophical tradition—as the global history of ideas bears witness to cherishes anu nanimous view about time. This should be evident not only from a careful perusal of the philosophical accounts in the Indian context, but also from a study of time in western philosophy, just as in the history of Indian thought one comes across a variety of views, similarly western thought discloses a spectrum of views about this fundamental topic, such as the notion of absolute time, time as a relational concept, time as process and so on and so forth. Thus, seen in a cross-cultural context, this wide range of interpretations of time-experience expose to our critical gaze the various strata of complexities pertaining to cosmological, meta physical, epistemological and stereological enquiries.

What is also of great importance in this connection is to note, that the early formulations of philosophers and theologians are not merely of antiquarian interest, these are still forces to reckon with as these have strongly shaped the contemporary conceptual worlds in which we are participating and struggling to comprehend the raison d'étre of plurality of traditions.

Given that human reflections on the theme of time has a very long history-perhaps longer than most other themes-taking place already in a period when there was no well—drawn line demarcating the areas between philosophy and science, it has been very unfortunate that the major philosophical and theological traditions have often been set up against each other because of their supposedly distinct cultural experience of time.

The project to understand and ppreciate traditions of thought in and through their respect time models is a fascinating enterprise. The diversity of views is to be noted and registered not only while distinguishing one tradition that splits itself into various schools and sub-schools. As one becomes keenly aware of the internal differences that are there with regard to time, it also enables us to detect where lies the basic thrust of a specific tradition despite its internal variations.

I am persuaded to think as I have repeatedly said on many occasions that more involvement with these issues both inside and outside the academia can considerably improve the present state of crisis in interreligious communication. A repetition of clichés only vitiates the possibility of exploring the overall messages of traditions of thought. If this book restrained to a modest size can be seen as a contribution in that direction I will consider all the pains that I have taken to sort out from the vast material that I had collected to be worthwhile


Preface to the Third Edition

It is a pleasure for me that a third edition of A Study of Time in Indian Philosophy is now ready to go to press. It is indeed a remarkable fact that although time is often depicted as an enigma, it nevertheless retains a place of central interest in multiple academic disciplines, be that in the domain of humanities, science or religious studies. Indeed, the theme remains a subject of continued intellectual scrutiny and concerned readers keep exploring the range of views held on this topic.

Since the second edition of this book, published by Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, New Delhi, was sold out in 2006, there has been many enquiries about it. The Indian publisher Motilal Banarsidass deserves my thanks for bringing out this new edition and for making it again available to students and scholars interested in the areas of Indian and comparative philosophy, culture-studies, religious studies as well as in science-religion dialogue.

Based on original Sanskrit sources, this book seems to have succeeded in showing that the treatment of time in Indian thought is not exclusively a matter of interest for indologists but for anyone who is curious to learn about this topic from the history of ideas in the global context. Apart from referring to and analyzing the impact of a wide variety of views on time that are documented in the highly articulate traditions of ancient India - the importance of which, unfortunately, was previously underplayed in philosophical renditions as well as in culture studies dealing with the Indian conceptual world - this study has also demonstrated in a separate section how one can gradually construe a common frame of enquiry by bringing in ideas from the European philosophical literature on time. This has led to a deeper appreciation of the cognitive approaches associated with secular as well as religious traditions of thought cutting across cultures. In that process, the book has drawn attention to the abuses of metaphorical designations of conceptual interpretations of time as cyclic and linear. In the preface to the second edition, included here, l have discussed briefly the issue of how these misleading metaphorical designations cause havoc in cross cultural settings and in the context of encounter of world religions.

Some of my readings and observations made in this book have in the course of years led to many discussions since it was first published by Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, Germany (1983). Consequently, l conceived and co-edited a volume, entitled, Religion and Time (1993, E. j. Brill, The Netherlands). This collection of essays was particularly deemed to be fruitful as a preparation for an authentic encounter of world religions. The paper that l contributed to this volume viz. Time and the Hindu Experience is reprinted here in the appendix with permission from the aforesaid publisher.

Given that disciplinary boundaries are generally recognized in academic endeavors it is important to recall that the roots of conceptual preoccupation with the question of time can be traced back both within the frame of Indian and western thought to a period when a clear cut disciplinary boundary between scientific philosophical and religious thinking was yet to drawn. A perusal of the global history of ideas shows the differences in the interpretations of time experience in the theory making effort. These differences as expressed in diverse traditions call for a careful examination especially because the theme of time is vital not only for the study of nature but also for that of cultures. It is specially noteworthy that as history of Indian philosophy amply demonstrates. It is concern for time has played an important role not in the context of nature entailing physical processes but also as well in the attempts to explore a range of issues including the large theme of metaphors of cyclicity and lineratiy that have been utilized in natural and human sciences as well as in the discourses of religious tradition so that their significance is properly grasped.

To summarize it may be observed that the complexities of time experience need to be appreciated in physical cosmological as well as in metaphysical and soteriological transparency through open discussions regarding the multiple dimensions of this complex theme form part of the ultimate striving for obtaining deeper insights into our own time bound existence.




  Preface to the third edition 1
  Preface to the Second edition 3
  Preface to the first edition 9
  Introduction 11
  General Background 15
  Creation, causality and time 19
I (i) On the Reality of Absolute time the Nyaya vaisesika view 25
  (ii) An exchange regarding the idea of present time (vartamana kala) 36
  (iii) Is time perceived or inferred? A bebate amongst the Indian realists 39
II (i) Time as aspect of concrete becoming the Sankhya view 44
  (ii) Time as instant the Yoga view 48
  (iii) Sankhya and Vaisesika on time a comparative note 53
III (i) On time as appearance the advaita Vedanta Appraisal 57
  (ii) On refutation of the reality of time 64
  (iii) Being as timeless in advaita Vedanta 69
IV (i) Time in Jainism 73
  (ii) The Jaina challenge to the Nyaya Vaisesika conception of singular ubiquitous time 77
V (i) The Buddhist idea of instantaneous being 80
  (ii) Some internal differences regarding the doctrine of momentariness within the Buddhist tradition 85
  (iii) Controversies centering on the Buddhist doctrine of momentariness (ksanikavada) 90
  (iv) Annihilation and time a Nyaya Buddhist controversy 96
VI A note on the problem of time in the perspective of philosophy of language and the idea of the timeless as inexpressible 101
VII An overall view of time in Indian philosophy  
  (i) Time and consciousness 107
  (ii) A Comparative note on the concept of instant (ksana) 113
  (iii) The Views about time and the problem of change 117
  (iv) Being and time 123
VIII (i) The Problem of time an inter cultural perspective 129
  (ii) A note on the cyclic and the linear notions of time 140
  (iii) Some Parallel ideas in the investigation on time in western philosophy 151
  (iv) The Timeless and the temporal paradox and predicament 159
  Time and the Hindu Experience 165
  Philosophers discussed in this work and their approximate dates 185
  Bibliography 187
  Index 193

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