The Reality of the Kali Yuga

  • By Bhaskar Menon
  • September 2014

The  transmigration of individual souls, long derided as the most  fantastic of Hindu beliefs, has in the last century been made  irrefutable by the scientific discoveries of the matter-energy  continuum and the genetic code. When a person dies the indestructible  energy pattern of the body floats free and transports the unique soul  to a new material form, much as a radio wave carries a human voice to  a rightly tuned antenna around the world.

That  leaves only one fundamental belief of Hinduism without  a publicly argued rational explanation: the long four-stage moral  cycle from a golden age of virtue to the dank corruption of the Kali  Yuga.

This  lack of argument should be seen as part of our general cultural  amnesia, for our ancients never postulated anything without reason.  Indeed, it does not require much analysis to reveal the rationale for  the four yuga cycle.

The  first phase, when virtue is “firmly founded on four feet,” harks  back to the time when humanity was part of Nature and cultural  behavior closely reflected the instinctive. Ideas of the “Noble  Savage” and “primitive communism” reflect somewhat similar  thinking in the West. This was the time when the Saptarishis, seeking  peace among the many tribes of India, assembled all their sacred lore  into the Vedas, thereby underlining large commonalities among the  groups and creating a common object of veneration.

The  second phase of reduced but still excellent virtue was the time of  the Upanishads, when rishis in their forest abodes agreed on the  existence of a Paramatma universally immanent as the Eternal Law  (Sanatana  Dharma).  The idea that a firm and unbreakable chain of karmic causality  controlled individual destiny countered the tyranny of the tribe and  gradually reduced groups to vague caste identities associated with  specialized functions in an interdependent society.

As  hunter gatherer tribes settled into agricultural existence a  protective monarch became necessary; the Ramayana captured and  promoted the ideal of that new political reality. The change caused a  drop in virtue from the previous era because the concentration of  political power and land ownership inevitably introduced a  considerable measure of negotiation and thus guile into social  relations.

The  third era, the time of the Mahabharata, saw the lust for power  explode into great imperial conflict. Sri Krishna, acknowledged as  the only “purnaswaroop” of Vishnu’s incarnations, set right the  growing imbalance of the age and, in the Bhagavad Gita, instructed  the virtuous how to endure the Kali Yuga to come.

That  final age of overweening corruption can be seen rationally as the  shadow of material progress in the preceding Yugas.

The  specialized division of labor and the freedom of individuals to make  moral and economic choices – a combination that Adam Smith in 18th  Century England would describe as the essential attributes of a  wealth-creating free market – had made India an immensely rich  country. Its luxurious products, ranging from spices that preserved  food to fine cotton cloth and diamond jewelry, attracted traders from  the far ends of Eurasia and further added to the country's fabled  wealth.

As  imperial power had corrupted older ideals of governance, so wealth  and luxury undermined the spiritual value system founded on the  teachings of the Upanishads.

The  tamasic qualities of greed, jealousy and anger unmoored “practical”  men and women from the fine concern with the truth founded in concern  for karmic consequences. As that phenomenon grew it led to a larger  closing of the Indian mind, preventing the society from perceiving  and responding to internal and external threats. The ineffectiveness  of leadership resulted in things falling apart at the slightest  challenge; every invader found Indian allies and  collaborators.

Interestingly, India did not attract invaders  just with its wealth; its religious concepts -- or rather,  incomprehension of them -- were key factors stirring them into  action.

Within  India, the concept of a Universal Spirit was firmly anchored in the  concepts of Dharma and Karma, both preventing any individual or group  from setting rules on behalf of the Almighty. Those anchors were lost  as monotheism made its way from India to the philosophy of Plato and  then into the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible three  centuries before the advent of Jesus.

Within  the Jewish fold the loss of constraints on the concept of God had  little negative effect because of the belief in Israel’s exclusive  covenant with YAHWEH; but as the messianic faiths of Christianity and  Islam advanced exclusive claims on God that delegitimized each other  and all other religions, the result was unending conflict.

The  economic and political fallout was heavy. As Islamic conquests around  the Mediterranean cut off Christian Europe’s access to the Indian  spice trade it inspired an ongoing search for alternate routes to  India. Marco Polo skirted north of Muslim lands to China, and his  book describing a return to Europe via India, gave Christopher  Columbus the idea that another path to the Orient might lie across  the Atlantic. Meanwhile, an old Phoenician legend recounted by  Herodotus that Africa was an island led the Portuguese to explore a  southward sea route.

Six  years after Columbus made landfall at Hispaniola, Vasco da Gama  rounded the southern cape of Africa and a Gujarati pilot took him  across the Indian Ocean to Calicut. A later Portuguese expedition to  India was blown far off course by a storm off the western coast of  Africa and landed up in Brazil. Within a matter of decades Europeans  moved from belief in a flat earth to circumnavigating the globe.

I  have described in an earlier post the horrendous  consequences of European expansion for the people of the newly discovered regions.  In India the European intrusions were preceded by those of Arabs,  Turks and Afghans occurring as it were, in slow motion over the  period of a millennium. There was no concerted response even though Guru  Nanak went throughout the country seeking to spark a renaissance. It took  the mass murder and dire poverty inflicted by the British to bring  his efforts to fruition four centuries later.

As  the country now looks to a period of sustained economic growth it is  well to remember that the path out of the Kali Yuga must be  essentially spiritual and that enormous challenges face us. Our  political elite is sodden with corruption, our policing authorities  are wolves, the intellectual leaders who should be helping India  recover its true self are in the pay of our most bitter enemies, and  even some of the leaders of our fighting forces, men who should value  honor above life itself, have sold their integrity for that most  pitiable of rewards, money.

I firmly believe that our exit  from the Kali Yuga is unstoppable. The power of the bhakti of the  great mass of Indians – certainly the only thing that has kept the  country on an even keel through the worst disasters – will  ultimately cleanse the elite. However, there is no predicting the  pace of change. It will depend entirely on the moral conduct of  younger generations. If they are committed above all else to personal  integrity and sacrifice in the service of the country India can  recover itself swiftly. If not, we could linger for generations in  the current bewildered and weakened state at the mercy of brutal  foreign forces.

There  are many signs those forces are strengthening. The latest is the  announcement of an Indian chapter of Al Qaeda, which has from its  inception been under British control. I take it as an indication that  the British incubus is readying like some real life Voldemort to  return from the realm of the undead.

As  with the evil Lord of the Harry Potter stories, Britain has a range  of allies awaiting the return, from corporate leaders, media houses  and poisonous advertising agencies to openly anti national A-list  film stars and of course, the corrupt in every field with black money  under British management.

Also,  a slow coup d'etat seems to be gathering strength from within the  civil service that runs everything from elections to our  unconstitutional and out of control Intelligence Bureau. The death of  a popular BJP politician in a car accident in Delhi, the fall that  put another outspoken leader into a coma in Rajasthan, the attempt to  tar the most active environmental activists in the country, and now  the bid to bring the judiciary under bureaucratic control, are not  incidental straws in the wind. They should put everyone on alert. In  fact, everyone should be prepared for a 9/11 type attack that will  justify declaration of an Emergency and suspension of civil rights  and procedures.

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