According to the Jewish Bible the world was created about 6000 years ago. According to contemporary cosmologists, the Big Bang dates back 14 billion years. But the Universe could actually be older. The Big Bang is not necessarily the only, original event. Many other universes may have existed before, in earlier ages.
Time could go back a long way. This is what Vedic cosmologies teach. Time could even go back to infinity according to cyclical universe theories.
In a famous Chinese Buddhist-inspired novel, The Peregrination to the West, there is a story of the creation of the world. It describes the formation of a mountain, and the moment « when the pure separated from the turbid ». The mountain, called the Mount of Flowers and Fruits, dominates a vast ocean. Plants and flowers never fade. « The peach tree of the immortals never ceases to form fruits, the long bamboos hold back the clouds. » This mountain is « the pillar of the sky where a thousand rivers meet ». It is « the unchanging axis of the earth through ten thousand Kalpa. »
An unchanging land for ten thousand Kalpa.
What is a kalpa? It is the Sanskrit word used to define the very long duration of cosmology. To get an idea of the duration of a kalpa, various metaphors are available. Take a 40 km cube and fill it to the brim with mustard seeds. Remove a seed every century. When the cube is empty, you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa. Then take a large rock and wipe it once a century with a quick rag. When there is nothing left of the rock, then you will not yet be at the end of the kalpa.
World time: 6000 years? 14 billion years? 10,000 kalpa?
We can assume that these times mean nothing certain. Just as space is curved, time is curved. The general relativity theory establishes that objects in the universe tend to move towards regions where time flows relatively more slowly. A cosmologist, Brian Greene, put it this way: « In a way, all objects want to age as slowly as possible. » This trend, from Einstein’s point of view, is exactly comparable to the fact that objects « fall » when dropped.
For objects in the Universe that are closer to the « singularities » of space-time that proliferate there (such as « black holes »), time is slowing down more and more. In this interpretation, it is not ten thousand kalpa that should be available, but billions of billions of billions of kalpa…
A human life is only an ultra-fugitive scintillation, a kind of femto-second on the scale of kalpa, and the life of all humanity is only a heartbeat. That’s good news! The incredible stories hidden in a kalpa, the narratives that time conceals, will never run out. The infinite of time has its own life.
Mystics, like Plotin or Pascal, have reported their visions. But their images of “fire” were never more than snapshots, infinitesimal moments, compared to the infinite substance from which they emerged.
This substance, I’d like to describe it as a landscape of infinite narratives, an infinite number of mobile points of view, opening onto an infinite number of worlds, some of which deserve a detour, and others are worth the endless journey.