In the 15th century, a powerful spirit of inquiry swept across Europe, bringing with it the Italian Renaissance and later, the Protestant Reformation. As Kali Yuga receded, minds were open to new possibilities. In nearly every area of life, there were new discoveries and developments, all heralding the coming of Dwapara Yuga.
The advent of brave, seafaring adventurers
In Religion and the New Age, Swami Kriyananda tells us that this powerful new spirit of inquiry “led to the voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the universal shock of realizing that the world is round.”
By the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a steady stream of brave seafaring adventurers were sailing out across the Atlantic in wooden ships, hoping to discover the vast riches of the Orient — Vasco Da Gama (1497-1498), Amerigo Vespucci 1499-1502) and Ferdinand Magellan (1520-1521).
The astronauts who visited the moon could at least see where they were going, whereas the sailors on these early seafaring voyages were quite literally heading into the unknown, at tremendous risk. When Magellan set out to circumnavigate the earth, only 18 of the 270 sailors would return and Magellan himself was killed in the Philippines.
The rapid development of world trade and conquest that followed these courageous beginnings reflects the expansive energies of Dwapara Yuga. The time had arrived for nations to reach out and exchange goods, ideas, and religious traditions.
In Religion and the New Age, Swami Kriyananda writes that one of the main trends in Dwapara Yuga will be “a renewed emphasis on the individual human being and a return to the simple wisdom inscribed at the Delphic oracle— ‘Know thyself.’”
One of the first writers to insist that his search for truth must begin with himself was Michel de Montaigne (1533- 1592), the French essayist. Rejecting the theoretical way of philosophizing that dominated the Middle Ages, Montaigne, in his essays, reflects on his readings, travels, and personal experiences. In one of his most famous essays, Of Experience, he writes of the need to go within:
We seek outer conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use our mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting on our own behind.
Montaigne was the first to use the term “essay” to describe the new literary form, which Francis Bacon in England would later adopt in his own writings.
Flesh and blood human beings
In the English theater, we see this “renewed emphasis on the individual human being” reflected in the plays of William Shakespeare (1533-1592). Plays such as Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Richard III, explore in depth the personal qualities and challenges of men and women with whom the audience can readily identify.
This marked a radical departure from the drama of the Middle Ages, which tended to be allegorical in nature and dominated by religious themes. Typical was the well-known morality play, Everyman, in which angels and demons battle for possession of “Everyman’s” soul.
Art becomes three-dimensional
In art, the new importance of the individual was reflected in the introduction of linear perspective, a geometrical system for creating the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. This discovery is attributed to the Florentine architect and builder, Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446), renowned for the soaring, expansive dome over the Cathedral of Florence.
In the Middle Ages, art typically depicted religious scenes with stylized figures of saints as flat objects against a flat surface. Since art served mainly to affirm church dogma, realism was unimportant.
As the individual became important, the artist’s focus shifted from the church and its dogmas to the person looking at the painting. Artists now needed a way to paint pictures that looked the same as real life.
Linear perspective accomplished this objective. It enabled artists to accurately represent on canvas the three-dimensional world around them, and also to influence where the viewer focused his attention.
Leonardo Da Vinci — a genius ahead of his times
No single person embodied the 15th century’s powerful spirit of inquiry more completely that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), whose genius and diversity placed him well ahead of his times. A painter and sculptor, as well as a mathematician, engineer, and scientist, DaVinci approached both art and science with inexhaustible study and experimentation.
His habit of rigorous observation and study is reflected in the notebooks he carried throughout his life. In them he recorded his ideas on hundreds of subjects, often accompanied by diagrams and sketches, including drawings of objects in motion (physics), and detailed anatomical drawings made from the study of actual cadavers.
Though clearly attuned to the energy of Dwapara, Da Vinci never published most of his findings. Indeed, had he done so, his fate might very well have been the same as Galileo’s. Nonetheless, Da Vinci’s many inventions and discoveries anticipated the revolution in scientific thought that would occur in the next century.
Demolishing old earth-centered theories
In Religion and the New Age, Swami Kriyananda writes: “the major blow to what we may now call the ‘old age’ came from the findings of modern science — the discoveries of Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, and others.”
Like Columbus, who disproved that the earth was flat, the Polish astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), was unwilling to accept the prevailing belief that the earth was the center of the universe. His great work, On the Revolution of the Heavenly Bodies, transformed our understanding of the location and motion of the sun and the planets.
Copernicus proposed that the earth is not firmly fixed at the center of the universe but moves around the sun. Little attention was paid to his ideas, however, until a hundred years later when the Italian astronomer, Galileo (1564-1542) built a telescope and discovered evidence to support them.
Galileo’s discoveries practically demolished the old earth-centered theories. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) later added his contribution by discovering, among other things, that the planets move in elliptical orbits, not perfect circles — the official church view.
In the next 500 years, these earliest glimmerings of Dwapara Yuga would burgeon into fuller expression. Adventurous explorations would reach every corner of the earth and expand into outer space. The new emphasis on individual experience and scientific observation would give rise to the advent of spiritual explorers, eager to explore the inner Self.