Over the last year, I’ve thought a lot about the idea of cyclical time, time without beginning or end, as opposed to the view time as linear, which implies a start and an ending.
Time as a never ending series of cycles is a core feature of eastern cosmology, but has also shown up in the west. The Greek deity, Aion, representing “unbounded” time, was associated with the Hellenistic mystery religions.
Time without beginning or end is also feature of more recent western esoteric groups, such as The Golden Dawn, a secret society founded in the 19th century, that sought to restore the knowledge and practice of western mystery traditions. W.B. Yeats was an initiate, and his visionary poem, The Second Coming, (1919) gives a vivid picture of time as a rising and falling series of spirals, or “gyres:”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The tone of The Second Coming is consistent with all sources, eastern and western, that deal with time cycles. They are unanimous in saying this is the dark time, the Iron Age, the Kali Yuga, and in Buddhist terms, the time of “Five Degenerations.”
The point of these stories for me is not to find literal explanations for current events but to look for mythic / imaginal truths that underpin these events. We have forgotten a lot of ancient wisdom, like that of Homer, who reminded us that when empires fall, there are always invisible forces at play behind the human drama.
For 20 years, I studied the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, who taught at length about the yugas a series of four world ages that correspond to the Greek idea of Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron ages. The yugas turn in slow progressions from higher to lower and back again. Though some ancient teachings describe them as millions of years in length, Yogananda worked with the calculations of his guru, Swami Sri Yuketeswar Giri, who propounded a shorter cycle with a duration of 24,000 years. He said the Kali Yuga ended during the 18th century, as marked by humanity’s ability to comprehend invisible forces (electricity, gravity, etc.), but that what we are witnessing now is a kind of inertia as the negativity of the dark age acts as a drag upon the start of an ascending cycle. The bad news is, in Yogananda’s view, this will continue for a few more centuries.
In a talk he gave in 1940, (a transcript of which is available in a pamphlet called World Crisis) He said:
“A great crisis is going to come, a crisis such as never before has hit this country…There is a world revolution going on. It will change the financial system. In the karmic firmament of America I see one beautiful sign; that no matter what the world goes through, she will be better off than most other countries. But America will experience widespread misery, suffering, and changes just the same. You are used to the better things of life, and when you are obliged to live simply, you won’t like it. It is not easy to be poor after being rich. You have no idea how this change is going to affect you through the years. Never before in the history of this land has there been so deep a contrast in living standards as will visit this country – the contrast between riches and poverty.”
One of Yogananda’s successors made an even more ominous prediction. In 1955, three years after Yogananda’s passing, Faye Wright (1914-2010), whose monastic name was Sri Daya Mata (Mother of Compassion), became the third president of Self-Realization Fellowship, the organization Yogananda founded to continue his teachings.
In 1963 she made a pilgrimage to the cave of a famous yogi in the Himalayas. The night after her visit, she had a frightening vision, what she called a “superconscious experience.” In Only Love, a collection of her talks, she describes the vision:
“A huge black cloud suddenly swept over me, trying to engulf me. As it did so, I cried out to God…Through the practice of meditation, the all-knowing power of intuition develops in each one of us. I had intuitively understood what the Divine was telling me though this symbolic experience. It foretold a serious illness I was soon to undergo; and it also indicated that all mankind would face a very dark time during which the evil force would seek to engulf the world. Because the cloud did not completely envelope me – it was repulsed by my thoughts of God – the vision signified that I would come through the personal danger, which I did. Similarly, it showed that the world would ultimately emerge from the threatening dark cloud of karma, but mankind would first have to do its part by turning to God.”
Later, Daya Mata underwent a serious illness and a near-death experience. And now that the effects of climate changer are upon us, we can make out the features of the near-death experience that she and Yogananda predicted for the human race.
Back in the 80’s, when I first heard this prediction, it seemed comfortably far away – something to worry about in the next life, perhaps. But now that that climate change is at hand, and the disruptions and displacements it will cause are only beginning, any honest person who paying attention can see that the storm clouds Sri Daya Mata predicted are already gathering on the horizon.
One of the other topics Yogananda discussed at length was the Bhagavad Gita, the most famous Hindu scripture, which is part of Mahābhārata, the longest epic poem known. Peter Brook created a stage production in 1985 and a television mini-series in 1989. A vast cosmology, social, and spiritual teaching is found within this story of two families in conflict which leads to a great civil war. The culmination, in the 18 day battle of Kurukshetra, was thought to mark the start of the Kali Yuga.
In this clip from Brook’s film, Yudhishthria, the leader of the Pandava clan, gives a frightening account of the coming dark age:
The final question the young man poses is what I want to address in the next part: “You said everything will be destroyed. So what’s the use of fighting?”