Kalpa is the creature of stillness. There is a large amount of them existing but rarely seen. Their bodies are too small to be noticed by human eyes but they have an extremely strong sense of any kind of movement around them.
They gather and reproduce only in a still environment. A slightest change can stop them from reproducing and kill them very quickly. Therefore, even though they reproduce surprisingly fast, the ever changing nature of the world makes them ephemeral and become extinct.
Fortunately, except for having a still environment there is another way to keep kalpa alive.
The first person who discovered this was Sri Aurobindo. Aurobindo was born in a noble family in India. He went to London for education at seven. Being always passionate about politics, he dropped out of school when he was 20, went back to India to join national independence movement. By late 18th century when the revolution was suppressed by the government, downhearted Aurobindo ended his 17-year political life and started seclusion. During the seclusion, he read a lot ancient Indian, Syrian and European manuscripts and became interested in the Absolute Stillness Theory in alchemistry.
During an austerity practicing at the age of 58, he claimed that he felt the mysterious creature that had written records only in ancient manuscripts. He then named it “Kalpa” and implied in his book On Bhagavad Gita that the ancient Hindu prophets achieved immortality through concentration and having kalpa gather around their bodies. In the following 80 years, Aurobindo practiced four times. The last one lasted for 40 years without him eating anything. Just when others believed he was dead, he walked out his chamber and peacefully passed away in the sun.
When Aurobindo’s book spread to Japan, it was treated as The Criterion of Immortality by local monks. Combined with Tao Theurgy of ancient China, they created a new sensational approach. The devoted ones must do the following steps. The first step is to become empty in three years. They should exercise everyday to burn out all the body fat first and then eat only nuts and seeds to minimize the movements of their stomachs and to slow down the metabolism. The second step takes another three years. They eat only tree barks and grass roots and drink only a thimbleful of water. They meditate instead of exercise to become sweeny in order to maximize the reduction of metabolism.
Before the last step, they need to drink a kind of tea that is specially made of sumach extracts to extrude body water and so to minimize fluid movements inside their bodies. Then they go into a small basement to practice austerities. According to master Yentao, this brutal and suicidal approach can help the gathering of kalpa around their bodies so for them to achieve immortality. It was banned by the government in late 19th century.
Sociologist David Philips from University of California San Diego (UCSD) was the first one who associated kalpa with time. In his 1970 doctoral thesis paper Death as a Form of Social Activism he pointed out that “to defer death by controlling body movement is actually a common phenomenon although the amount of time earned is limited…”. The cases he collected suggested that in a lot of areas, dying elderly people were able to defer their deaths until after major festivals merely by reducing the amount of food they eat, body movements and using a lot of will powers.
Inspired by Aurobindo, Philips proposed his new theory about time in the Annual North America Psychology Conference (ANAPC) in 1991. He believed that not only physical stillness but also concentration can increase the reproduction speed of kalpa and what is more important is that at the same time the gathering of kalpa can also help reinforce the stillness, meaning when they reach a certain amount, they could actually stop time. But unfortunately there was no evidence to prove the existence of kalpa so the theory was called ridiculous, and Philips was considered a lunatic. Philips was not able to get any funding and had to stop the research on kalpa. In 2005, he spent his last days in a nursing home in Connecticut and did not leave behind any empirical record on kalpa.
A couple of years later, almost when everyone has forgotten about this academic farce, two young art students claimed that they managed to capture kalpa. They made a wood box, in which they placed a specially made clock. They brought the box into a quiet room, stared at it for 10 minutes and then quickly sealed it with plaster. So they have a living sample of kalpa trapped in the box. Nobody would believe it was so easy to capture this legendary creature until after they stare at the box for a while, they were all surprised to see the time slow down. This specimen was later brought to NASA and became the first cornerstone in the making of time machines.
Kalpa is my collaborative project with Li Li and was shown at ITP Winter Show 2009. More information at http://j.mp/kalpa-project