Dharma and the Yugas—Is the World Getting Better?
Excerpted from an upcoming book by Purushottama Selbie and Byasa Steinmetz.
In The Holy Science Sri Yukteswar describes a recurring cycle of human development called the cycle of the yugas (or ages). He tells us that we are in the ascending half of the cycle, in the second age or Dwapara Yuga. [See chart]
Sri Yukteswar explains that the cycle of the yugas is caused by influences from outside our solar system that affect the consciousness of all mankind. As the yugas advance, mankind increasingly manifests its higher potentials and expresses dharma (divine virtue) more and more completely.
According to Sri Yukteswar, with the start of ascending Dwapara Yuga in 1900, mankind as a whole is developing toward greater dharma. To fully express dharma is to express our highest divine potential.
Today, when many are turning a blind eye to exploitation, inequity, and injustice, it may not seem that the world is actually getting better! However, through the cycle of the yugas and the evolution of dharma, Sri Yukteswar offers a profoundly reassuring vision of where mankind is heading.
Ignorance, passivity, and fatalism
In 500 A.D. at the start of ascending Kali Yuga, mankind as a whole was in a low state and dharma was only one-quarter developed. The intellect of mankind was dull and the average man could only comprehend gross matter, which led to an experience of life lived through and for the senses.
The motivation of the average person was passive acceptance, which expressed itself as a fatalistic acceptance of circumstances, without the will to change, or even the belief that circumstances could be changed. Most people made only simple, basic choices to minimize pain or maximize pleasure.
Human rights as we understand them today did not exist. More often than not people were considered property, either as outright slaves, or virtual slaves, such as serfs, who were tied to the land and subject to the lord of the land. Women were subject to their husbands and fathers. Owners had the power of life and death over their slaves.
Most of the world religions existed during Kali Yuga – Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity. Though exalted in their origins, the common man’s practice of them was very ritualistic. Religions demanded exclusive adherence. Priests insured obedience and rival religions were abhorred.
Higher spiritual knowledge existed, but it was hidden away and protected in convents and monasteries, temples and ashrams. Only a few were able to understand and use inner-directed spiritual practices.
Though Kali Yuga did produce its high-minded poets, philosophers, noble statesmen, and erected beautiful churches, temples and monuments, the experience of the average man was that of passive and ignorant acceptance of simple, hard and basic lives. The oppressive and materialistic mores of the age meant that each person sought primarily to physically survive and maximize the pleasures of the senses.
The transition to Dwapara Yuga
At the twilight of Kali Yuga and the beginning of Dwapara Yuga, people began to awaken to their higher potential. As Sri Yukteswar puts it, people began to have respect for themselves once more. The brutal ways in which man had treated his fellows, gave way to an appreciation of the dignity of man, humanism, and enlightenment.
We see evidence for this in the timing of the Enlightenment (1600A.D-1800A.D.), involving a switch from a reliance on commandments and authority, religious authority especially, to a reliance on reason and science. The intellect of man had awakened and reason had come to the fore. By the start of Dwapara Yuga in 1900, dharma was one-half developed.
The discovery of personal energy
While mankind’s awareness was limited to matter in Kali Yuga, the advent of Dwapara Yuga brought with it the knowledge that energy is the underlying reality of matter. Just as science has now separated the concepts of energy and matter, so also have many people discovered a subtle energy within the physical body, their life force, and with the discovery comes a greater ability to transform themselves.
With this new awareness comes the conviction that a person can, using one’s own energy, affect one’s circumstances and achieve one’s goals. Thus, with the start of Dwapara Yuga, the motivation of man has been to break free of the passive acceptance of the past, to develop self-will, and to try to shape the world to his liking.
The pursuit of happiness
Today, the average citizen in one of the world’s prosperous nations has more wealth, education, and thus more freedom to follow his or her interests, than nearly anyone who lived during Kali Yuga. With their basic needs assured, many are able to make life choices purely for the sake of their individual happiness.
This may well be the single most powerful drive shaping the actions of billions of people around the world today. And people are taking advantage of their freedom to pursue their happiness with dedicated zeal!
Today’s predominant pursuits are: accumulating wealth, property and other objects; experiencing endless variations of sensory and mental experiences; gaining and using personal power; and striving for personal achievement. And people are pursuing personal happiness without much regard to others.
Not a pretty picture
Like watching a child grow up, we may lament some of the “phases” the child must go through on its way to maturity. So, too, the results in this “phase” of ascending Dwapara Yuga are lamentable: self involvement, personal excess, self-destructive behavior, extreme accumulation of wealth at the expense of others, and greed and self-interest untempered by ethical considerations.
Much of Dwapara Yuga, so far, does not paint a pretty picture, and one can sympathize with those who think the world is going to the dogs.
In our society today, however, there are those who seek a more lasting happiness and fulfillment in selfless pursuits, such as serving others or seeking inner joy, born of meditation and inner experience. Currently, such people tend to stand out significantly from mainstream society, precisely because most people tend to follow their self-interests.
Yet, according to Sri Yukteswar, man is developing toward greater dharma. It is as if mankind as a whole is conducting an ongoing experiment in how to find happiness. Like Thomas Edison, who experimented with thousands of different types of filaments for the light bulb before finding the right one, mankind is also experimenting, and through trial and error will eventually learn to seek happiness in ways that give more lasting results.
Two over-arching lessons
Through mankind’s search for outward happiness, and before Dwapara Yuga reaches its end in 4100 A.D., mankind will learn two over-arching lessons:
One – the experience of happiness, the feeling of being happy, is the result of movements of our life force in our bodies.
There is a hypnosis, a mass conviction, that if we can just accumulate enough things— enough money, enough pleasures—we will break through into feeling truly happy. But if things outside ourselves actually possessed the power to make us happy we would stay happy as long as we had those things.
Seeking happiness outside ourselves, more often than not, makes us unhappy. Most things outside ourselves are beyond our control, and the perfect consummation of most of our definitions of happiness never occurs.
The truth is, it’s our inner reaction to things that makes us feel good, because our reaction releases a flow of our own life force in the body. The great news is that mankind’s newly emerging awareness of energy, of life force, is the seed that will grow and eventually bestow the understanding that happiness and well-being are the result of our life force flowing positively and abundantly through our bodies.
Learn to properly direct your life force and you will be able to experience positive feelings at will. Increase the flow of energy and you will experience them even more generously — which brings us to the second overarching lesson of Dwapara Yuga:
The experience of happiness is enhanced through the expansion of one’s awareness and sympathies.
Once people become more aware of their life force, they will discover that to focus only on one’s own happiness contracts the flow of life force. A generosity of spirit, an open-hearted way of dealing with others, an awareness and concern for the welfare of others, a willingness to sacrifice for the benefit of others—these expand the flow of life force.
Even now we recognize this. People honor Mother Teresa not just because of her accomplishments, but because they recognize the wisdom of her life, and they recognize that wisdom through having seen her shining eyes and joyful face. As the lessons of the years are learned, people will eventually take it for granted that the wellbeing of others is as important to their happiness as their own circumstances.
Dharma’s steady advance
Many people alive today already know this simple truth, but for mankind as a whole, alas, it will take centuries to learn. But the ascending yuga’s effect is inexorable.
According to Sri Yukteswar, the minutely changing awareness of mankind, brought about by dharma’s steady advance, can have no other outcome.
Author and lecturer, Joseph Selbie, studied ancient Western cultures at the University of Colorado and ancient Eastern cultures at UC Berkeley. He has had a keen interest in ancient history since grade school. He has taught and lectured on the principles of Eastern philosophy for over thirty years.
He lives with his wife at Ananda Village, a spiritual community in Northern California. Joseph, also known as Puru, is a founding member of Ananda Sangha and has served in many leadership and teaching roles. Joseph is also the founder and CEO of Tristream, a web development, marketing and application design firm.
Co-author David Steinmetz. David’s background includes forty years of scientific work, including astronomy at the University of Arizona and optics at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Currently, he teaches about the yugas, ancient world cultures, astronomy, and physics at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom. He has been writing and lecturing on the topic of the yugas for more than a decade. David is a teacher at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom and was instrumental in developing a curiculum based on key aspects of the yuga cycle. He lives with his wife at Ananda Village, a spiritual community in Northern California.
Resources: Religion in the New Age