The Enigma Of The Universe : Kāla (Time) Substance

Published: 31.10.2014
Updated: 02.07.2015

Out of the six substances, time is one about whose nature there is no unanimity amongst Jain Acharyas, though they all are in agreement about the nature of the remaining five substances.

The word “kāla” has different meanings but in Jain philosophical discussion of substances, kāla is used as a synonym of “samaya”(time). However, as per Jain philosophy, samaya is an indivisible unit of kāla. (Kāla usually means a period of time of some length of which samaya is the ultimate indivisible unit.) But, in common parlance, the word samaya is indicative of kāla. While enumerating substances, kāla has been counted as a substance whereas describing astikāyas, kāla is not counted as an astikāya. Shvetambara and Digambara traditions agree that kāla is not an astikāya. While defining astikāya, it is said that jīva, pudgala, dharma, adharma and ākāśa persist and are, therefore, asti (being, exist) and each of them consists of many units and therefore they are called kāya. Adding these two attributes, each of them is called astikāya, thus, meaning that each of these five not merely exist or not only has kāya (aggregate of units), but has both these attributes and that is why they are designated as astikāya.[1]  Because they consist of aggregate of units, they are in the form of teriyaki- pracaya-skandha[2]  (that which can extend in three dimensions is called tiryaka-pracaya)  and extension becomes their natural attribute. If imaginary divisions of dharma, adharma, ākāśa and jīva are made, then ākāśa has infinite divisions while rest three has innumerable divisions. Each of these divisions is called pradeśa (space-point).[3] Thus, ākāśa consists of infinite number of pradeśas while dharma, adharma and jīva consist of innumerable number of pradeśas. When atoms of pudgala combine, a skandha (aggregate) is created. Just as combination of two atoms creates dvipradeśī skandha (aggregate of two pradeśas), combination of infinite number of atoms creates ananta-pradeśī skandha (aggregate of infinite number of pradeśas). Thus, excepting kāla, all the remaining five substances have pradeśas.  Only kāla is without pradeśa. Only the present moment of kāla has existence. Past is already extinct and future has still not come into existence. Present moment (samaya) is a single unit and therefore cannot expand in three dimensions, came into existence means that kāla is not an astikāya.

Although both Shvetambara and Digambara Acharyas have divided time in two kinds-empirical time and transcendental time, there is difference of opinion among them regarding its nature.

According to the former, empirical time is the cause of transmutation. Substances like jīva, pudgala etc. undergo trans- mutation every moment, that is, their modes go on changing every moment; this is caused by transcendental time. In other words, transcendental time is the mode of jīva, ajīva. This is supported by āgamas. “Kāla is jīva as well as ajīva.”[4]

That which is a mode of a substance is an integral part of that substance. That is why mode of jīva is jīva and mode of ajīva is ajīva. That is how transcendental time is jīva as well as ajīva

When seen from niścaya naya (transcendental standpoint), time is called transcendental time. Therefore transcendental time is considered real time. On the other hand, when the time is considered from the empirical standpoint, it is called empirical time. The reason for considering time as a substance from empirical standpoint is as follows: Some functions or characteristics of time are extremely useful and so the time can be termed as a substance.[5] The functions, because of which time is accepted in the category of substance, are mainly five in number. They are vartanā (duration), pariṇāma (change), kriyā (action), paratva (priority), an aparatva (posteriority).

Vartanā (Duration):

Vartanā is duration for a period, which means existence for certain period of time. The word ‘duration’ is indicative of kāla. Though kāla cannot bestow status of existence on any substance, even then, the period, for which the substance lasts (exists) denotes the total duration of time in which the existence of the substance persists.

Pariṇāma (Change):

Just like vartanā, pariṇāma also cannot be understood without kāla. Whenever any substance undergoes transmutation, we naturally get indication of its time-duration of transmutation.

Kriyā (Action):

Action includes motion etc. Motion (gati) means: orderly changing of positions in space. That is why in motion of any matter; the thought of changing of positions is associated with the time for which it takes place. Similarly, all other actions are also associated with the lapse of time in which it takes place.

Paratva (Priority) and Aparatva (Posteriority):

Paratva means antecedence and aparatva means succession or ‘new’ and ‘old’ respectively. These concepts also cannot be grasped without taking time into consideration.

That is why, for explanation of vartanā etc. kāla is accepted as ‘substance’.

Empirical time which is computable is of various types,[6] varying from samaya (the minimum unit of time which is indivisible) up to pudgala parāvartana. This includes ghadī, muhūrta, ahorātra, month, year etc. (or second, minute, hour, etc.) which all are types of kāla. These all can be computed on the basis of motions of sun and moon. But according to Jain philosophy, in certain parts of the universe sun and moon are not in motion. Except a limited region of universe, the rest of the universe where ākāśīya piṇḍa (spatial bodies) are stationary, there is no unit of time such as day, night and the like. That is why, it is accepted that empirical time prevails only in a ‘time-zone’.[7]

The essence of all this discussion is that kāla itself is not objective reality but is a part of objective reality, i.e., a mode.

According to some Acharyas, transcendental time is a real substance while empirical time (kāla) is a mode of transcendental time.

What is propounded by Digambara tradition is entirely different from above propositions. Digambara Acharyas, though having accepted two types of time-transcendental time and empirical time, have, even then, given different definitions of them. Famous Jain Acharya Shri Nemichand Siddhant Chakravarti (10th Century A.D.) writes about kāla:

 “What is seen in the form of a transmutation of a substance is empirical time and that which is possessed of the characteristic of vartanā is transcendental time. That which pervades on each pradeśa of cosmic space (lokākāśa) like a heap of gems, remaining discrete from each other, are time-atoms (kālāṇus) and are innumerable substances.[8] Transcendental time which is in the form of kālāṇus is real substance and is innumerable from the point of view of number, because there are innumerable pradeśas of cosmic space and there exists one kālāṇus each on each pradeśa. These kālāṇus are independent of each other and not in aggregate form (i.e., not a kāya) and therefore time-substance does not become astikāya.

Transcendental time in the form of kālāṇus is recognized by its characteristic of vartanā. Each substance itself becomes the material cause of transformation taking place in every samaya, but the auxiliary cause of this transformation is kālāṇu and this assistance of kālāṇus is known as vartanā.[9] According to some Acharyas, the experience of persistence of substance in the transformation of paryāya taking place every samaya is vartanā.[10]

Thus, the kālāṇus substance, which is possessed of the characteristic called vartanā, is the transcendental time. It implies that the changes (paryāyas) take place in the substances on account of the instrumentality of kālāṇus and at the same time the eternality of the existence of the substances is maintained. The kālāṇus themselves are also possessed of the trinity of origination, cessation and persistence. The present samaya (instant) is originated (i.e., comes into existence), the past samaya ceases to exist, but the kālāṇus which are the substrata of both these instants continue to persist all throughout. Thus, the definition of real substance (sat)[11] which propounds that sat is that which is possessed of origination, cessation and persistence, applies to kālāṇu, and consequently the kālāṇu is believed as a real substance. The term empirical time signifies the duration such as samaya, ghadī, muhūrta etc. or the paryāyas (modes) like new, old etc. of the substances.[12] It means that the periods like instant, hour etc. which are related with the modes of the substances are designated as the empirical time and not the modes themselves. The empirical time is recognised through the characteristics of pariṇāma, kriyā, paratva, aparatva etc.; it is with a beginning and an end; whereas the transcendental time (kālāṇu) is eternal-without beginning and without end. The empirical time itself is not a substance.

Thus, on account of the instrumentality of the transcendental time (kālāṇu), (which itself is an independent substance) the changes in the form of paryāyas (modes) take place in other substances and the empirical time is recognised as the duration of these modes.

We may conclude thus: In the Shvetambara tradition transcendental time (kāla) is believed to be in the form of the modes of the jīva and the ajīva; in the Digambara tradition, the transcendental time is considered to be an independendent objective reality.


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Title: The Enigma Of The Universe Publisher: JVB University Ladnun English Edition: 2010 HN4U Online Edition: 2014

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Acharya
  2. Acharya Mahaprajna
  3. Acharyas
  4. Adharma
  5. Ajīva
  6. Aparatva
  7. Astikāya
  8. Astikāyas
  9. Chakravarti
  10. Dharma
  11. Digambara
  12. Dravya
  13. Gati
  14. Jain Philosophy
  15. Jambūdvīpa
  16. Jīva
  17. Kriyā
  18. Kāla
  19. Lokākāśa
  20. Naya
  21. Niścaya Naya
  22. Paratva
  23. Pariṇāma
  24. Paryāya
  25. Pradeśa
  26. Pradeśas
  27. Pudgala
  28. Samaya
  29. Shvetambara
  30. Skandha
  31. Soul
  32. Space
  33. Sūtra
  34. Tattvārtha Sūtra
  35. Vartanā
  36. Vṛtti
  37. ūrdhva
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