Q. I understand that for many years you have had a deep interest in the yugas as the key to making sense of the turmoil in the world today.
Byasa. Yes I have. Today there are two conflicting ideas about where all the tumultuous change in our present-day world is leading. One is that we are descending into a moral abyss that will lead to self-destruction or, possibly, the end-of-the-world.
The other is that we are steadily advancing toward greater technological power and control. One perspective offers global darkness and decay, while the other envisions a world characterized by a sterile, super-advanced material technology.
The concept of the yuga cycles offers something much more hopeful than either of these two views—a world of expanded consciousness in which people are becoming more in tune with God and nature.
Q. What is the source of our knowledge of the yuga cycles?
Byasa. Sri Yukteswar wrote about the yugas in The Holy Science in order to give us an alternative framework for understanding the present-day world. He explained that mankind’s ability to grasp spiritual knowledge varies according to which yuga we are in.
There are eight yugas, four descending yugas and four ascending yugas, which make up a full 24,000-year cycle. The world goes through these 24,000-year cycles repeatedly, much as we repeatedly go through the seasons of the year.
During a descending cycle of 12,000 years, the consciousness of humanity becomes increasingly limited and materialistic, whereas during an ascending 12,000 year cycle, humanity gradually increases in awareness and understanding.
According to Sri Yukteswar, the first yuga, Satya Yuga—the age of truth, lasts 4800 years. This is the golden age of consciousness in which man, because of his spiritual development, lives in tune with the Divine. Following Satya Yuga is Treta Yuga; the age of mind, which lasts 3600 years; then Dwapara Yuga, a 2400-year age of energy, followed by Kali Yuga or “dark age” of 1200 years, in which the human intellect can only comprehend the gross material creation.
After the world descended to the lowest point of Kali Yuga in 500 AD, the sequence began to repeat itself in reverse order, starting with a 1200-year period of ascending Kali Yuga. In 1700 AD we began a 200-year transition into Dwapara Yuga. Dwapara Yuga began in 1900 AD.
Q. Dwapara Yuga is known as the “age of energy.” What does this mean?
Byasa. In the age of Dwapara, energy will be seen as the reality behind all appearances, not matter or form. According to the yuga timetable, we entered fully into the age of Dwapara in 1900 AD. Six years later, Einstein published his papers showing the equivalence of matter and energy, which revolutionized our concept of the physical universe and laid the foundations for modern science.
Q. Yet, materialism and attachment to form are still very strong. How do you explain this?
Byasa. There are energies everywhere that want desperately to turn back the clock and hold onto the values of Kali Yuga. The forces moving us forward into Dwapara Yuga are doing battle with these energies. We see an expression of this conflict in religious fundamentalism, terrorism, political corruption, greed—those elements in society that want to keep us attached to materialism and outward form.
Of course, some of these things are part of the transition—the destruction of the old to make way for the new. One of the consequences, however, is that many people are confused about what our new values should be.
Q. Is this type of societal tumult characteristic of the transition between the yugas?
Byasa. Indeed it is! The collapse of civilizations seems to be one of the hallmarks of this changeover. For instance, the Egyptian dynastic civilization, which was founded at the beginning of descending Dwapara Yuga in 3100 BC, lasted only during that yuga. It collapsed with the opening centuries of descending Kali Yuga, in 750 BC.
The Roman Empire, which was founded in 753 BC, lasted only during that period of descending Kali Yuga. It was destroyed at the lowest point of Kali Yuga, 500 AD, which also saw the destruction of civilizations in India and China. These changes cleared the way for the beginnings of an ascending Kali Yuga.
The transition into ascending Dwapara Yuga, which began in 1700 AD, saw the birth of the European Industrial Revolution, which was the first major manifestation of Dwapara Yuga consciousness. The period 1700-1900 AD witnessed the French and American political revolutions—radical movements away from oppressive systems of government. In our own century we have seen the dissolution of great empires like those of Britain and the USSR, and the ending of colonialism throughout the world. These changes have helped clear the way for ascending Dwapara Yuga.
Q. What further changes do you see in the near future?
Byasa. Already we have seen great advances in the fields of electronics, air travel, medicine, and communications. Along with that we will see the continued breakdown of established institutions, national boundaries and cultural groupings. In science and religion there will be shattered dogmas and disillusionment. People will be confused, angry, searching. Kali Yuga will not go away peacefully. However, after a period of chaos, people attuned to the Dwapara energies will pick up the pieces and build a society appropriate to this new age.
Q. What is the greatest challenge of Dwapara Yuga?
Byasa. The major challenge of Dwapara Yuga is to learn how to use energy wisely. An age of energy gives people of Kali Yuga consciousness the power to realize their most evil dreams.
The first major application of our new understanding of energy was the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. This was a momentous step in warfare and certainly the fulfillment of the dreams of military leaders for thousands of years. However, once we had developed such a bomb, we then had to face the ethical question of whether or not to use it.
Q. Does the yuga concept challenge basic assumptions in Western science?
Byasa. Very much so. Western science is loath to admit that there may have been civilizations in the past more advanced than we are today. Among the so-called primitive cultures of 10,000 years ago, war was unknown and they lived in harmony with their environment.
Can we really say that they were less “advanced” than we are today? We are wedded to the idea that humanity has made steady progress from ape to astronaut, a notion that has blinded us to evidence that people in ancient times understood the world in a different and deeper way than we do today.
Q. In what ways can knowledge of the yugas help us to grow spiritually?
Byasa. Right now the changeover to Dwapara Yuga is a period of turmoil and change, bringing tests directly into our daily life. If we can approach this new age with a joyful, positive attitude and really understand the deeper meaning behind it, then the seeming chaos will be easier to accept and will, in fact, help us to move forward spiritually.
Sri Yukteswar explains that it is possible for devotees in any yuga to experience the same levels of consciousness enjoyed by people in the higher yugas. In other words, liberation may be easier to attain in Satya Yuga, but we don’t have to wait ten thousand years for that opportunity.
Byasa Steinmetz, a Lightbearer and resident of Ananda Sacramento, is currently working on a book about the yugas. His scientific career has included optical engineering and astronomy.