The Age of Darkness: Traditionalism and the Prophecies of the Kali Yuga

02/12/2013 10:28

Midnight in the garden of good and evil.

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the metaphysical philosopher René Guénon (b. 1886). To commemorate this, here is a look at one of the concepts that Guénon was most interested, the Kali Yuga.

Ever since mankind became aware of the passage of time, predictions of the future have provided us with a boundless source of fascination – especially in regards to what may lie ahead. If we could but see forward in time, we could forge our own destinies and compensate for past mistakes. From the beginnings of recorded history seers and visionaries have crafted techniques to do precisely this by means of visions and prophecies. A multitude of different predictions have been passed, some originating from dreams, some through prayer, and still others have passed from the tongues of the gods themselves. Each and every prediction tells a story – some tell tales of earthly utopias, others of Armageddon. Amongst all of these foretold events, perhaps none is quite as bleak as the image which is drawn from the perspective of Traditionalism, which establishes a fixed cosmic cycle of future events that cannot be changed or prevented by the course of human intervention. According to this vision of the future, our time on the earth is cyclic, and our civilization will gradually degenerate until it finally collapses so that the cycle may begin again.

Traditionalism bases this premise of cyclic time on the core teachings of major religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Heathenism, to name but a few. The idea of this Primordial Tradition on which cyclic time is based evolved out of the concept known as philosophia perennis, or prenennial philosophy, which in itself is a development from the prisca theologia of the Middle Ages.[1] Both Traditionalism and the philosophia perennis attempt to establish common factors amongst different Traditions, with the goal of producing a superior gnosis or level of wisdom than that which would have been obtained by the study of a single Tradition. This is remarkably similar to the mode of study used in comparative mythology and the history of religions. In this sense, the term ‘Primordial Tradition’ is utilized to describe a system of spiritual thought and metaphysical truth that overarches all the other religions and esoteric traditions of humanity. The idea of the Primordial Tradition was well received by the academic community and its development was actively endorsed by the International Conference of Religions in Chicago, 1893.[2] Outside of the academic community, the idea of the Primordial Tradition received an even better reception, and was advocated by the Traditionalist school – notably Rene Guénon, Julius Evola, and Alain Daniélou. Basing their descriptions of the future and the modern world on predictions found in Traditional teachings, the image of the future portrayed by each of these three figures is pessimistic in outlook and describes the current era in which we live as the Age of Darkness.

According to Tradition, the various epochs of human history are reduced down to Four Ages, each of which deteriorates in a state of gradual degeneration. In Hinduism, these are known as the Four Yugas, respectively titled the Satya or Krta Yuga, Tretā Yuga, Dvāpara Yuga, and the Kali Yuga. These also correspond to the four eras symbolized by metals found in Hesiod’s Works & Days, being the Gold, Silver, Bronze and Iron Ages.[3] Similar versions of this myth are also found in the Persian, Chaldean, Egyptian, Aztec, and Norse Traditions. These Four Ages are part of a greater cycle of existence, known in Hinduism as a Manvantāra. Guénon notes that this division of the Manvantāra into four parts is a significant feature of many other cosmic cycles, notably the four seasons of the year, the four weeks of the lunar month, the four ages of human life and the four points of the compass.[4] It is also common to liken the gradual process of degeneration between the cycles to the image of the Bull of Dharma, which looses its footing as the Ages pass. The depiction of the Bull losing one of the four hoofs in each Yuga, symbolizes the collapse of Dharma or Traditional Law.[5] This example is found in its entirety in the Laws of Manu:

"In the Winning Age, religion is entire, standing on all four feet, and so is truth; and men do not acquire any gain through irreligion. But in the other (Ages), through such wrong gained, religion is brought down foot by foot; and because of theft, lying, and deceit, religion goes away foot by foot."[6]

Not only is the Bull of Dharma reduced to standing on one foot alone, this last hoof is also thought to collapse eventually. In the Kali Age, only one of the four feet of Dharma remains. And that too goes on diminishing day by day by the powerfully increasing ‘feet’ of Adharma (unrighteousness) to such an extent that ultimately it becomes extinct.[7] The Winning Age here is used as another name for the Satya Yuga, for it is also common to compare the ages to the gamblers dice game, a theme which occurs early within the Mahabharata.

According to Hindu Tradition, the commonly accepted lengths of the Yugas are as follows: The Satya/Krta Yuga is generally accepted as being 1, 728, 000 human years in duration, the Tretā Yuga is 1, 296,000, the Dvāpara Yuga is 834,000, and the Kali Yuga, being the shortest of the four, is only 432,000 human years in duration.[8] There is however, some dispute as to not only the length of the Yugas, but also the beginning and end points of the cycle. In Alain Daniélou’s book While the Gods Play, Daniélou derives a different time span for the Yugas than that of the traditional Purānic model mentioned above. Daniélou explains his differences from the Purānic model as being based on adjustments made for the earth’s gradual orbital shifts, saying that;

"The number of days in a year is not constant. The rhythm of the earth’s rotation varies over very long periods. A figure of 360 is considered to be average."

Therefore as Daniélou’s system of calculation is based on a more advanced understanding of mathematics, it may well be accurate. According to Guénon however, in regards to the numbers given in different texts for the duration of the Manvantāra and consequently for that of the Yugas, it must be understood that they are not to be regarded as a ‘chronology’ in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather as expressing a literal number of years; and this is also why certain apparent differences in these numbers do not really imply any contradiction.[9] In Daniélou’s version, the lifespan of the gods is 4,320,000 human years. Eliade also relates the same time span (taken from Manu I, 69 et seq., Mahabharata III, 12, 826) in which the Krta Yuga lasts for 4,000 years, the Tretā Yuga 3,000 years, the Dvāpara Yuga 2,000 years and the Kali Yuga being only 1,000 ‘Divine Years’ in duration – in human years the figure is the same as that derived by Guénon and Daniélou; the length of the total cycle is 4,320,000.[10]

This period is divided into 71.42 Manvantāras. Each Manvantāra is divided into four Yugas; respectively the length of the Yugas then change as follows: The duration of the Satya Yuga becomes 24, 195 human years, the Tretā Yuga becomes 18,146 years, the Dvāpara Yuga becomes 12,097 years, and the Kali Yuga is drastically reduced to a mere 6,048 human years, placing in it the modern era. These calculations are extremely similar to those reached by Guénon: Expressed in ordinary years, these same durations of the four Yugas will be respectively 25,920, 19,440, 12,960 and 6,480, forming the total of 64, 800 years; and it will be recognized that these numbers are at least within perfectly plausible limits and may very well correspond to the true chronology of present terrestrial humanity.[11] By Daniélou’s calculations, the Kali Yuga began in 3012 BC and will end in 2442 AD.

The first of the four ages is the Age of Truth or Satya Yuga, which corresponds to Hesiod’s Golden Age. During the Golden Age, presided over by the god Chronos, “mortal men lived as if they were gods” and no “miserable old age came their way.”[12] This was the Age in which the great seers (rishis) established the basis of this approach to the world’s deep reality, which is the foundation of the Primordial Tradition, the expression of universal laws (Sanatana Dharma).[13] In other, non-Hindu Traditions, this Golden Age is equivalent to the primordial, paradisiac epoch.[14] The Tretā Yuga or Age of the Three Ritual Fires saw the constitution of human society, the family, tribe, hierarchy and royalty – relationships were now formalized in an effort to conform to universal laws.[15] The Dvāpara Yuga or Age of Doubt saw the birth of various mythologies, philosophical schools and atheistic doctrines – it was during this period of history that urban civilizations and hierarchies of function developed.[16] The Kali Yuga or Age of Conflicts saw the acceleration of the principle of cosmic degeneration fully in action. During the Kali Yuga humanity has abandoned its connections with the natural world; religion has deteriorated to the mere expression of social codes, and the prophets of various sects war with each other.[17] The essential quality of the Kali Age is said to be a climate of dissolution, in which all the forces – individual and collective, material, psychic, and spiritual – that were previously held in check by a higher law and by influences of a superior order pass into a state of freedom and chaos.[18] This Age is named after the male demon Kali and not the Goddess Kālῑ whom English speakers often confuse together due to the similarity of their names when translated.

During this period, the nature of Tradition will be esoteric, and passed between initiates only; it will survive but will remain hidden. The traditional spirit is already tending to withdraw into itself, and centers where it is preserved in its entirety are becoming more and more closed and difficult of access; this generalization of confusion corresponds exactly to what must occur in the final phase of the Kali Yuga.[19] During this Age there will be many conflicts and much strife – there will be conflicts between mysticism and moralism, and also between the religions of nature and of the cities and civic duties.[20] The middle of the Kali Yuga is marked by periods of great upheaval and civil unrest. It was the time of the destruction of Athens, Urartha, Babylon, the Persian invasion of Egypt, and also the time during which Rome developed at the expense of the Etruscans.[21] Guénon saw the effects of the Kali Yuga as inevitable, stating that: “we have in fact entered upon the last phase of the Kali Yuga, the darkest period of this ‘dark age’, the state of dissolution from which it is impossible to emerge otherwise than by a cataclysm, since it is not a mere readjustment that is necessary at such a stage, but a complete renovation.”[22] According to Guénon, what characterizes the ultimate phase of a cycle is the realization of all that has been neglected or rejected during the preceding phases; and indeed, this is exactly the case with modern civilization, which lives as it were only by that for which previous civilizations had no use.[23] Because of the influence of the Kali Yuga, today’s events are being unfolded with a rapid speed compared to earlier ages, and this speed goes on increasing and will continue to increase up to the end of the cycle; there is thus something like a progressive ‘contraction’ of duration.[24] According to the Bhāgavata Purāna the Kali Age began at the very moment Lord Krishna retired from the earth.[25] The Bhāgavata Purāna also places this squarely within an astronomical timeframe by stating that the earth entered the Kali Age at the moment the Seven Divine Sages (Ursa Major) entered the constellation Magha.[26]

Many of the predictions held for the Kali Yuga arise from the Hindu scriptures known as the Purānas – in particular the Linga and Bhāgavata Purānas provide lengthy descriptions of the events that will unfold as the Kali Yuga accelerates. An entire section of the Bhāgavata Purāna is devoted to the evils of the Kali Age. Some of the defining points of the Kali Yuga are described as follows:

"In the Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be the deciding factor of nobility of birth, righteous behavior or merits. And only brute force will be the only standard in the arrangement or decision of what is righteous or just.[27] […] When (in the Kali Age) religion will be predominantly heretical, and kings will be as good as robbers and men will be earning their livelihood by theft, (economic offences), mendacity, wanton violence to life and such other pursuits.[28] […] Thieves function as kings and kings function as thieves. The chaste ladies cease to exist and wanton sluts increase in number.[29] […] As a result of Kali’s influence, mortal beings become dull-witted, unlucky, voracious, destitute of wealth yet voluptuous, and women, wanton, and unchaste.[30] […] In the Kali Age, men will abandon their parents, brothers, friends and relatives and establish their friendliness on sexual basis. Their affection being centered on their relation with women, they will seek consultations from their wives’ relatives (such as sisters and brother-in-laws) and will be miserable.[31] […] Killing of fetus and murder of heroes become prevalent.[32] […] In Kali Age men excited by tamoguna adopt Māyā (deception) and jealousy. They do not hesitate to kill ascetics. They are always tormented by jealousy.[33] […] In Kali cooked food will be kept for sale in living places. The selling of Vedas and other sacred literature will occur in cross streets; young women will even sell their honour.[34] […] Women will be short-statured but voracious, noted for fecundity and shameless. They will be harsh-speakers, given to theft, fraud and dare-devilry."[35]

From these extracts it is clear that a significant amount of the negativity embodied in the Kali Yuga originates from humanity itself, under the influence of the tamas guna (materialistic component of existence). In the Kali Yuga we see an increasing trend towards indulgence on the material plane, such as the abandonment of religion, obsession with sex, and jealousy over the wealth and acquisitions of others. People are respected by their wealth alone, and not for deeper personal qualities such as strength of character or personal achievements. Under the reign of the dark material strand of existence, only materialistic pleasures such as sex and wealth are accorded merit by society in the Kali Yuga. This materialism is also expressed in the passage regarding the abandonment of aged parents and the killing of fetuses – this can clearly be seen in today’s increasing trend towards placing ones parents in Rest Homes or Retirement Villages, left to die amongst strangers rather than accepting responsibility for the elderly. The killing of fetuses can likewise be seen to relate to today’s increased abortion rates. Other symptoms include the moral degeneration of the female to a purely sexual role and a corresponding increase in the growth and social acceptance of prostitution. Perhaps the most unusual prediction here though, is the one that cooked food will be kept for sale in living spaces – a clear reference to fast food, and the mass consumption of it by the populace at large. A similar picture of civilization slowly decaying from within can be found in the Vishnu Purāna. The Vishnu Purāna (IV, 24) also tells us that the syndrome of the Kali Yuga is marked by the fact that it is the only age in which property alone confers social rank; wealth becomes the only motive of the virtues, passion and lust the only bonds between the married, falsehood and deception the first condition of success in life, sexuality the sole means of enjoyment, while external, merely ritualistic religion is confused with spirituality.[36] The problems brought by the Kali Yuga are not entirely brought about by moral collapse however – there are also a set of predictions relating to environmental problems.

"Being oppressed by droughts or famines and heavy taxation and being subjected to excessive cold, biting winds, (blistering) sunshine, (driving) downpour of rain, snowfall, mutual rivalry, the people are going to perish.[37] […] As the Yuga draws to a close, men become reduced in number while women increase in proportion.[38] […] The earth will be devoid of kings, riches and food grains will not flourish; groups of conspirators will be formed in the cities and countries. The earth will have short supply of water and will be deficient in fruits.[39] […] Suffering from colic they will have their hairs disheveled. Towards the close of the Yuga people will be born who will be only alive sixteen years."[40]

The references here to fluctuating extremes of temperature and shortage of water are suggestive of global warming. The mention of blistering sunshine likewise suggests the depletion of the ozone layer and skin cancer. It seems likely that the mention of colic and disheveled hair refer to forms of sickness which originate from the effects of the harsh weather and poor diet caused by adverse agricultural conditions. Most disturbing of all is the prediction that at the end of the Yuga, people will die at the tender age of sixteen.

According to the Bhāgavata Purāna the Kali Yuga will draw to a close at the occurrence of a specific astronomical event. When the Moon, the Sun and Jupiter are in conjunction in the same zodiacal house and the star Pusya is in attendance, the Krta (Golden) Age dawns.[41] These planets must also enter the zodiacal house simultaneously, as otherwise this phenomenon would transpire on a twelve yearly cycle in the sign of Cancer. It is therefore the defining point of this prophecy that the three astronomical bodies must enter the zodiacal sign simultaneously to herald the dawn of the new Golden Age. Before this Golden Age occurs however, the final Avatar of Vishnu, known as Kalki or Pramiti will incarnate at the close of the Kali Yuga, and cleanse the earth to punish those whom have fallen prey to the materialistic impulses of the Kali Yuga. Pramiti is Sanskrit for Wisdom or Knowledge of Truth. Pramiti is the equivalent of Kalki, the last of the ten incarnations of Vishnu mentioned in the Matsya Purāna (285.67. [277])[42]

"When the Yuga has come to a close and the period of junction too has arrived, the chastiser of the wicked people will rise up in order to kill all the bad living beings. He will be born in the family of the Moon. He will be called Pramiti by name […] He will be surrounded by hundreds and thousands of Brahmins wielding weapons. He will kill the Mlecchas (alien outcast people) in thousands […] he will kill those who are not pious and virtuous. He will kill those who are born of different castes and those who depend upon them. [..] He will be killing hundreds and thousands of living beings. By means of this cruel act he will reduce the entire earth to the seeds [..] The subjects who survive the Kali Yuga will be devoid of physical features and mental peace. At that time, the Yuga changes for them overnight, after creating illusion in their minds as in the case of a sleeping or mad man. Thanks to the inevitability and force of future events Krta Yuga will set in. When thus the Krta Yuga is ushered in, the subjects surviving from the Kali Yuga, become those belonging to the Krta Yuga."[43]

Thus there is a shred of hope here – Kalki/Pramiti will not slay all beings, just those who have erred from the path during the Age of Conflicts. Those who are not judged as sinful by Kalki/Pramiti will survive the onslaught, and after an initial period of suffering as the Age draws to a close, they will survive into the dawn of the Krta Yuga. Furthermore, they will be endowed with the mystic powers known as ‘siddhis’ which are a normal occurrence for all Golden Age beings. Their life thereafter shall be long and prosperous. But what of those people who are alive now, whom have no prospect of living into the next Krta Yuga? Is there any hope then for humanity in the Kali Yuga, given the corruption expressed by the Age? Both Daniélou and Evola saw the path of Tantra as a way to control the currents of the Kali Yuga. Daniélou says that “it is the only method which may bring actual results in the difficult conditions of the age of strife, in which we live.”[44] Evola also expresses this sentiment;

"Tantrism may lead the way for a western elite which does not want to become the victim of these experiences whereby an entire civilization is on the verge of being submerged." – Julius Evola, "What Tantrism means to ModernWestern Civilization" (1950)[45]

He also expands on this by stating that:

"The teachings […] that would have been viable in the first age […] are no longer fit for people in the following ages, especially in the last age, the dark age […] mankind in these later ages may find knowledge [..] not in the Vedas, but rather in the Tantras."[46]

Evola’s explanation regarding the appropriateness of the Tantras as a mode of teaching in the Kali Yuga, is also echoed by Hindu philosophy, whereby the Hindu Sāstras (scriptures) are classified into Sruti, Smrti, Purāna and Tantra - Sruti for the Satya Yuga, Smrti for the Tretā Yuga, Purāna for the Dvāpara Yuga, and Tantra for the Kali Yuga.[47] The Tantra is the universal scripture (Sāstra) for this Age, and it is therefore considered a Yuga Sāstra - it is only a reinterpretation of the Veda for modern man and therefore is frequently called the Fifth Veda.[48] The implication of this statement is that Tantra is the mode of spiritual learning appropriate to the Kali Yuga, due to its emphasis on controlling the forces of materialism. If we are to accept this as true, then our only hope is to ‘Ride the Tiger’ – a popular Tantric saying for controlling the dark forces of the Kali Yuga, rather than avoiding them.
 

Notes

[1] Faivre, A., & Voss, K. C., Western Esotericism and the Science of Religions in Numen Vol. 42 (E. J. Brill, Leiden 1995), 50-51
[2] Ibid. 56
[3] Evola, J., Revolt Against the Modern World (Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1995), 177
[4] Guénon, R., Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles (New York: Sophia Perennis, 2004), 5
[5] Evola, J., Revolt Against the Modern World, 177
[6] Donniger, W., & B., K., The Laws of Manu (London: Penguin Books, 1991), 12
[7] Tagore, G. V., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vo. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1978), 2139
[8] Daniélou, A., Hindu Polytheism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd, 1964), 249
[9] Guénon, R., Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles, 6
[10] Eliade, M., Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism (New Jersey: Princeton University Press) 64
[11] Guénon, R., Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles, 8
[12] Evola, J., Revolt Against the Modern World, 185
[13] Daniélou A., & Jean-Louis Gabin, J. L., Shaivism & The Primordial Tradition (Vermont: Inner Traditions International , 2007), 101
[14] Eliade, M., Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, 63
[15] Daniélou, A., & Gabin,J. L., Shaivism & The Primordial Tradition, 101
[16] Ibid., 102
[17] Ibid., 102
[18] Evola, J., Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for the Aristocrats of the Soul (Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 2003), 9
[19] Guénon, R., The Crisis of The Modern World (New York: Sophia Perennis, 2001), 98
[20] Daniélou, A., While the Gods Play: Shaiva Oracles and Predictions on the Cycles of History and the Destiny of Mankind (Vermont: Inner Traditions International, 1987), 25
[21] Ibid., 26
[22] Guénon, R., The Crisis of The Modern World, 17
[23] Ibid.,19
[24] Guénon, R., Traditional Forms & Cosmic Cycles, 42
[25] Tagore, G. V., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V, 2134
[26] Ibid., 2134
[27] Ibid., 2130
[28] Ibid., 2131
[29] Shastri, J. L., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 5, Linga Purāna Part I (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1982), 156
[30] Tagore, G.V., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V, 2140
[31] Ibid., 2140
[32] Shastri, J.L., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 5, Linga Purāna Part I, 156
[33] Ibid., 156
[34] Ibid., 157
[35] Tagore, G.V., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V, 2140
[36] Eliade, M., Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, 64
[37] Tagore, G.V., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V, 2131
[38] Shastri, J.L., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 5, Linga Purāna Part I, 156
[39] Ibid., 158
[40] Ibid., 158
[41] Tagore, V. G., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. II, Bhāgavata  Purāna Part V, 2133
[42] Daniélou, A., Hindu Polytheism, 165
[43] Shastri, J.L., Ancient Indian Tradition and Mythology, Vol. 5, Linga Purāna Part I , 160-162
[44] Daniélou, A., Hindu Polytheism, 382
[45] Urban , H.B., Tantra (California: University of California Press), 175
[46] Ibid., 176
[47] Bernard, T., Hindu Philosophy (Jaico Books), 27
[48] Ibid., 27



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