I’ve occasionally mentioned the Yugas here. Basically, it’s a Vedic understanding of the cycles of time. Just as we have a cycle of hours, days, years, and centuries, the Vedas also chart ages (as in Age of Aquarius), yugas, cycles of creation, and more.
In the West, we have a rather heavily embedded meme telling us we started out as hunter-gatherers/cavemen and have evolved linearly from there into progressively better life. This worldview informs historic researchers, who almost always ascribe prior cultures as more primitive, sometimes in spite of evidence to the contrary. If we don’t understand it, it’s considered myth and superstition. But would a person of 200 years ago believe or understand a description of today’s typical living-room?
Yogananda’s master Swami Yukteswar was a renowned jyotishi. When he studied the ancient texts, he found that during the dark age Vedic scholars had made a small error in calculating the length of the yugas. They’d added a multiplier to adjust time to Deva (angel) years. This was a small error with a big impact. Common understanding is that Kali Yuga (the dark age) is 432,000 years long with a complete cycle of yugas lasting over 4 million years. By this calculation, we’re still only a few thousand years into the worst life has to offer.
Yukteswar’s correction* brought the Yugas back into a rising and falling cycle that aligns with the cycle of the ages and with what we call The Great Year in the west, the approx. 25,000 year cycle of the precession of the equinoxes**. In this model, Kali is only 1,200 years long. We passed through the trough in 500 AD (the Dark Ages) and are now about 311 years into the second age, Dwapara Yuga, the bronze or energy age***.
I recently finished reading a fascinating book called The Yugas, by Joseph Selbie and David Steinmetz. They took what Yogananda and Yukteswar had said on the subject and extrapolated out the dates, then compared them to history. It’s a pretty fascinating re-examination of our past and coming future. And it addresses many of the curious historical anomalies we’re all familiar with. I wouldn’t say I’d agree with all of their interpretations and the book is organized a little curiously but the research is diverse and largely well done.
The key detail to understand about the yugas is that it’s a cycle of expression of consciousness. (this cycle was known in most ancient cultures, like the Golden, Silver, Bronze and Iron ages of Greece) During the golden age or Sat Yuga, about 40% of time, most of us live at our full potential and enjoy “heaven on earth”. 30% of time we live close to that. 20% of time we feel individual and get into commerce and cities (like now) and for just 10% we go through a night and become quite dull, seeing only the physical world as real.
He summarizes the memes with 3 terms: (dates are for the current ascending cycle)
Satya – Golden: (7700 – 12,500 AD ascending, then a similar period descending)
Self realization, direct intuitive perception, consciousness
Treta – Silver: (4100 – 7700 AD)
Self-mastery, intuitive attunement, thought awareness
Dwapara – Bronze: (1700 – 4100 AD (current))
(enlightened) Self-interest, awakened intellect (science), energy (flow, intuition)
Kali – Iron: (500 – 1700AD ascending after a similar decent from 700 BC)
Passive acceptance, dull-mindedness, matter awareness
This period was more uncultured than now. But not before that.
They have a chart here illustrating the current rising and prior falling cycle with the shift dates. It should be noted that each yuga has a “Sandhi” or transitional period of about 10% that adds to the time of that yuga. By that calculation, we’re just over a hundred years out of the transition from a material paradigm. In many ways, the transition is still underway as we hold to the old while we rediscover who we are and what we’re capable of. Self-interest has become dominant and they suggest it will become “enlightened” over time when we find our own happiness is supported by self-awareness and caring for others. They suggest this shift from passive acceptance to self-interest is what has driven us into commerce, “civilization” and city dwelling.
The book goes into the tone and characteristics of the developing and future ages, then looks into the last 14,000 years of our past. As historians can trace the development of language and writing, they suggest this illustrates our evolution. The book suggests this actually illustrates our devolution in consciousness. They observe that the worlds proto-languages all appeared fully formed around the same time and suggest this was an adaptation to losing the ability to communicate mentally with others. As we lost the connection, our world culture and languages became fractured and increasingly isolated.(think Tower of Babel) We adapted first by developing oral language and traditions, then when consciousness dropped into Dwapara, the written word. The Yuga dates correspond to the known arising of the Vedic oral tradition and the later compiling and writing of the Vedas. Also the evolution from mantras into rituals.
Another example suggests why the Egyptian pyramids begin with the best work and slowly degrade. (book excerpt) The book goes into many such examples.
Yogananda indicated there had been many such yuga cycles, saying civilized man has been around for 50 million years. The book talks about why we see little evidence of that. But not none.
Finally there is an interesting discussion about Yukteswar’s reference to the sun’s “dual”. I’ve usually heard this to mean an unknown binary star around which our sun is orbiting. (The vast majority of stars have now been found to be binary) This 25,000 year orbit is what is said to cause the earths slowly rotating tilt and thus the cycle of the ages and yugas. They note that while this might be what he was referring to, both the Sanskrit term for the orbital point and the word “dual” may actually be a geometric term for the axis of the ecliptic. It’s an obscure thing from projective geometry but if you’ve ever explored Buckminster Fuller, you’ll have seen the models where there are forms within forms. The inner form is the inverse or dual.
I appreciate the work they’ve done to compile all this research to corroborate the idea. It’s certainly a very different take on our history, where we are and where we’re going. Happily, the news is largely good.
The book’s web site, with articles (book excerpts), blog, and references.
* Yukteswar reviews his discovery in the Introduction to his 1894 book, The Holy Science. It’s still in print. The correct numbers are also in the Manu Samhita. (ever heard of the Laws of Manu?)
Curiously, I’d actually noticed the error myself when trying to reconcile Vedic time with astronomical and experienced time.
**Dr. David Frawley suggests both cycles could be correct. One is human scale, one Devic. This is similar in idea to the dasha and bhukti cycles in jyotish, one within the other.
***It should be noted that this model shows the Sat yuga/golden age/Age of Enlightenment as rising in about 7700 AD. Krishna’s (and others) out-of-cycle prediction of a Sat Yuga in the current time is a different subject. This book is about the underlying cycle.