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31 December, 2020

The illusion of time, the season of superstition

So many legends and superstitions come together at this time of year, from Santa Claus to Jesus, from good will to false promises. But perhaps the most resilient of them all is the illusion of the orderly measure of time; it's something even hardened atheists seem to cling to. As if there are really beginnings and endings of years, years that are favourable or unfavourable, lean or fat; auspicious or inauspicious. For Christians, the year ends and begins in mid-winter; just as the day ends and begins at midnight. For Jews, the year ends and begins in the fall; just as the day ends and begins at eventide. For Hindus, the year ends and begins in the Spring; just as night ends and day begins at the dawn. I've always thought Hindus have the most sensible approach. Mid-winter, just like midnight, seems a rather arbitrary time for beginnings and endings - as if the week should begin on Wednesday or something. Maybe it should.

In Indian philosophy, the pause between beginnings and endings is the time to watch. It is a feature of the Sanskrit language that the place of transition, the sandhi, where words end and begin, affects the sounds that precede and follow the sandhi. The time just before the day begins is the "hour of God", the Brahmamuhurti; the most auspicious time for meditation. The time between the in- and the out-breath, the kumbhaka, is similarly special in yoga. And at the end of every vast cycle of time comes the pralaya, the time of absorption, out of which enough energy is generated for a new cycle to be born.

Every moment is, or can be, a new beginning. If we are present for it, time can actually mean something.

Links blog

✭ Indian state bans government-run Islamic schools from teaching religious scripture - CNN
 the law is passed, the madrassas will become "secular schools" which will not teach students about the Quran, officials said. Opposition politicians have criticized the move, alleging it is reflective of hardening anti-Muslim attitudes in the Hindu-majority country."

✭ Mob attacks and sets fire to Hindu temple in Pakistan | World news | The Guardian
"Crowds reportedly led by Islamic clerics attempt to destroy ancient shrine in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region"

✭ How has Israel launched the world’s fastest Covid vaccination drive? | World news | The Guardian
"Israel on track to have vaccinated 10% of citizens by weekend but Palestinians might wait months"