The Yugas

There is a lot of fear rising to the surface right now. Fears of disease, death, and an uncertain future. Fears of having our freedoms taken away, fears of loneliness, poverty, collapse.

The rug has been pulled from underneath our feet and beneath it is something new, unstable and rough. It‘s not surprising we are anxious, desperate and often hopeless.

But maybe it‘s not all as bad as it seems?

Every transition comes with a certain amount of pain and suffering. Every birth is a painful squeeze through a dark tunnel into the unknown. What if the light at the end of the tunnel is only the beginning? What if it‘s actually getting better instead of worse?

As usually, the ancient wisdom of the Vedas provide some kind of answer and guidance in these trying times. This answer is hidden in the concept of the Yugas. The Vishnu Purana and the Upanishads describe the cycles of human evolution in interesting detail.

As opposed to being lineal and limited to the evolution of matter, as we are used to learning in our modern history lessons, the ancients see all of history as cyclical, just like everything else in nature. Our concept of time is determined by the cyclical movement of the stars and planets:

One rotation of the earth in relation to the sun is a day.
One orbit of the moon around the earth is a month.
One orbit of the earth around the sun is a year.

We all can clearly recognise these cycles and their effects on nature. But what about other planetary movements? What about things like the earth’s obliquity and axial precession and the rotation of the solar system around
the galactical centre and around itself?

It seems that the ancients had a profound understanding of these cycles and equated them with much larger and larger cycles of time – the Yugas. But furthermore, they did not limit evolution to the mere physical realm. Being a holistic culture with a much more refined understanding of the subtle realm, they were quite aware of the greater powers at work in our life. They knew that everything around us was alive and full of consciousness, intelligence and personality. This understanding formed the basis for their culture of ritual and sacrifice, and the art of giving in order to receive. They knew that, just like in any other relationship, we have to offer something freely from our hearts, before we can hope to get something back in return.

Below is an image of a spiral galaxy, similar to our Milky Way. A spiralling force of the most unimaginable source of power. A churning ocean of vast energies, full of potentiality. Our solar system isn‘t even recognisable on it, never mind the earth. Who – whether you are religious-minded or a hard-shelled scientist – would deny that we – the tiny humans somewhere submerged in these powers, swallowed up by the radiating, unimaginable forces that are at work here – are utterly affected by it? And of course, the effect does not limit itself to our physical biology or our climate and seasons. It affects our consciousness too. How could our tiny little minds not be influenced by the workings of something so vastly greater than us?

We are the universe.

Not only are we made up of the particles that once were distant stars but our consciousness expresses the consciousness of the stars that surround us. And if the movement of the stars and of the earth and our sun is cyclical and therefore predictable – could we not predict, to some extent at least, the evolution of our collective consciousness?

The Vedas describe these different cycles as Yugas (ages) in great details and Swami Sri Yukteswar (Paramhansa Yogananda’s teacher) offers some interesting interpretations of the calculations in his book „The holy science“, (written in 1894).

According to these calculations, the time frame of one full cycle of Yugas is 24 000 years.

This matches quite closely with Nasa’s calculations of the adjusted axial precession of the earth of 25 000 years, although I‘m not sure if this is actually the same event or if there is another, unknown orbiting or rotation at work. Either way, these time frames have a lot to offer in terms of the development of human consciousness and it seems that they can give us hope especially in these trying times.

The four Yugas

According to the Vedas, all of life, time, history, past and future, is cyclical, moving in and out, contracting and expanding, rising and falling, like the inhale and exhale of the universe of which we are a part. Both its rise and fall are divided into four distinctive parts, or ages, from the highest to the lowest, and then up again. David Steinmetz and Joseph Selbie expand further on Sri Yukteswar‘s interpretation in their book „The Yugas“, to describe, what human life during these ages would look like. I have found this book to be invaluable in understanding our greater human history.

Kali Yuga

As our human consciousness is only a reflection of the consciousness of the universe it is part of, it expresses the evolution of the Yugas accordingly. At its most contracted point, human consciousness also becomes contracted.
Not able to grasp and understand anything beyond the physical world, living a life dependant on faith and fear, and hard, physical labour, people of this age are reduced to only one fourth of their full capacity of awareness (the „bull of dharma“ stands on one leg). Very few people have access to any kind of knowledge other than what is needed for survival. In fact, knowledge is hardly questioned. Hearsay (especially if it comes from an authoritarian source) is mostly enough. It would have been a very difficult time to live in for any freethinker and curious mind.

Life span is also short and never exceeds 100 years, mostly it is much less than that. Quality of life is also questionable, except perhaps for a minority of wealthy people who are holding the power over everybody else. Mostly they rule through fear. According to Yukteswar‘s calculations, the last Kali Yuga, or Iron Age, happened not too long ago.

At a double-length of 2400 years, it began around the year 700 BC and lasted until the year 1699 AD, with its darkest time around the year 500 AD – right in the middle of our „dark ages“. This time marked the lowest point in human consciousness and it’s not hard to see why – slavery, book burnings, witch burnings, and many other brutalities mostly driven by fear and a blind faith in the powers to be, these times were not exactly easy for most common people. But from this point on, the movement of the solar system is – according to Yukteswar is getting closer in proximity to the galactic centre (Brahman) and with this proximity comes a closeness to our own true spirit. Slowly, we were ascending again, until finally, around the year 1700, we would have entered Dwapara Yuga.

Dwapara Yuga

The age of energy, during which humanity will begin to grasp finer, more subtle truths than matter alone. After a 200 year period of transition, since the year 1900, we have fully entered Dwapara Yuga, the Bronze Age. But at a
duration of 2400 years in total, we are still only at the beginning. Right from the start, with the invention of electricity and the light bulb, things were moving in the direction of discovering a world beyond matter, and the
further we progress, the more it accelerates. Only a relatively short time in, we’ve already built our whole lives on electricity and added other sources of energy to it, which have contributed to overcoming many obstacles, including large distances through flight, phone, internet, radio and TV. Maybe it is even the beginning of transcendence of space. Our lifespan will increase over time until some of us reach the age of 200. The bull of Dharma will learn to stand on two legs again.

It‘s also interesting to note the rise of practices of subtle energy like Yoga, acupuncture, ayurveda, reiki and Tai Chi which are coming from an age considered to be the last Dwapara Yuga (3100 – 700BC). Our perception of reality is beginning to grow.

The blind faith of Kali Yuga is replaced by reason. Scientific methods evolve to open up a world of knowledge to be accessed by the masses. But even this is only a small part of what we are truly capable of.

With our limited minds, we probably can’t even imagine yet what else we will have explored in another few hundred years – nobody in Kali Yuga would have had the capacity to imagine airplanes, internet or moon landings either. No transition however – especially one out of Kali Yuga – goes smoothly. But knowing that this is the ascending Dwapara Yuga gives me a lot of hope – we are moving upwards, toward greater and more refined awareness, not away from it. And the worst is already over.

Treta Yuga

As we are only in the beginning phases of Dwapara Yuga now, it is quite impossible to imagine the extent to which we will have evolved by then. Beginning in the year 4100 (if we even still count the years in the same way by
then), we will enter the age of thought. While during Dwapara Yuga we still rely on technology to explore the realm of energy, here we may be able to operate through our minds alone. Telepathy and intuitive knowledge will be only some of the more common traits of humanity and our lifespan will have evolved to last up to 300 years. At least these are some speculations as mentioned in „The Yugas“ and „Holy science“. The aim of people, in general, will be a higher knowledge and with that comes an intuitive understanding of the consequences of our actions. I don‘t know when the Vedas truly originate but their written version would mostly fall into this time frame (6700 – 3100BC). It would explain the language used in the old forms, the use of mantra, chanting and the language of sanskrit, to have evolved from a higher, more holistic language that came before. The vedas have been transmitted orally for a long time, very likely for good reason. The written word has at that time been seen as a step down, a narrowing of the scope of possibility.

The further up we evolve, the more holistic our understanding will be, at least that‘s my own belief and understanding. Steinmetz and Selbie speak of the age of magnetism and the understanding of the deeper levels of it. An understanding of the workings of an atom, and, at the same time, of love. Not tied to logic and reason alone, we are moving closer to our authentic being, trusting our intuition and inner knowledge. Meditation will be the norm and compassion a valued trait. In this sense, the importance of images, dreams and stories may too be valued more and used as means to convey important messages – a language of the soul, rather than only of the mind.

Satya Yuga

The Age of Enlightenment. Here, we were – and will be again – at our most evolved, have reached our fullest potential as human beings. Grasping not only mater, energy and magnetism, we have a more complete understanding of the universe as a whole. The movements of the stars, the atoms, the macro and microcosm, as well as our own soul, which is no different to all else. We will reach the spiritual heights of the ancient rishis who conceived the vedas for the first time, and were connected to the gods and devas and all of natures divine forces through their consciousness. Direct perception was the way to learn about the world, direct connection with everything around us. But I don‘t believe that our minds are in any way ready to grasp this state quite yet. Some might even think of it as delusional or impossible and those who do experience glimpses of it, may feel as thought they are losing their minds. But I do believe that it is deeply engrained in our nature. We only have to observe our children. They are born with the innate ability to love unconditionally, to feel connected to the world and see that there is soul and consciousness in everything around us. They still understand the language of dreams, of stories and of images and symbols, they don‘t yet tear it apart by cold, analytical thinking. That comes through conditioning and adaptation into our current age and consciousness. But the seed is there. The seed to be perfect, to be divine. To love and be compassionate and live simply and with joy. I‘ve always believed that we could learn so much from our children if we could allow it.

As stated in „The Yugas“ – and I fully believe it – the evolution of our consciousness will not lead us, as many science fiction fans may think, to more and more technology and complexity, but to more simplicity and harmony with nature. Evolution does not mean more gadgets. It means more happiness, contentment and understanding of who we are.

The practice of Yoga is designed to lead us from the physical world of matter, through our posture practice, to the world of energy, through pranayama, and further into the world of intuition, through meditation, and into direct
perception, in Samadhi. But we have to start from where we are at. There is a reason why Yoga has become more physical now that it was before. It‘s where we can grasp it‘s teachings best. From there, we can continue to evolve. We truly have to thank the Indian culture for their incredible gift to the world without their preservation of these ancient scriptures, and the age-old tradition of reciting mantras, we would be much more in the dark today. The vedas – as difficult to understand as they may be to our modern minds – are like a manual for us to guide us through the dark times of Kali Yuga, up, through the ages, until we will be fully formed again one day. I find it very comforting to think that we are on the rise right now, and that, wherever we are at in this dance of life, we are all an expression of the universe.

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