Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Kali Yuga

According to Bhagavata Purana (1, 14:1 ff), the advent of the present Kali–yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, was heralded by portents of a terrifying nature: the sacred images in temples seemed to weep and mourn, deception and misunderstanding polluted the dealings among relatives, and everywhere people became increasingly greedy and violent. Above all this, there prevailed severe disruptions in the characteristics of seasons.

This would have occurred in 3102 BC as the Dvapara–yuga (or third yuga) of the twenty-eighth “millennium” of the seventh and present Manu, Vaivasvata, came to an end.

Confirming the starting date, Aryabhata, a famous Hindu astronomer born in 476 BC, writes that he was 23 years old when 3,600 years of the present Kali–yuga had elapsed, which yields 3,600 – 23 – 476 = 3101 BC. The difference of one year can be accounted for by the use of a “zero” year in the conversion to the Western calendar.

Now as I said in a previous post (“More about Maha-yugas and Kalpas”) the precise start, on the midnight of 18 February in 3102 BC, was presided by an alignment of the seven traditional planets, including the Sun and Moon. According to the jyotisha–shastras, the texts of astronomy of the old Hindus, this is perfectly normal: the Surya–siddhanta, for example, which measures the time in days from the beginning of the Kali–yuga, assumes that the positions of all planets, in their two cycles, are aligned at “zero” day in relation to the star Zeta–Piscium, which is used by the said shastras to measure the celestial longitudes. Such alignment would have had minimal deviations and anyway, it would be a very rare phenomenon, as from that date to our days were only found three intervals of ten years in which there had been such exact alignment.

Here the question arises: why should the passage from one age to the next be determined by an alignment like the one depicted, if it is rather the cycle of precession of equinoxes the key factor for determining the length of the human cycle? To give a precise answer is not very easy; but if we consider that the circumference described by the Earth’s axis does not have a real starting point (since, as in a common year, it is actually conventional), it is very likely that some triggering factor, like the planetary synods or grouping of all the planets on one side of the sun while the Earth is on the other (which occur every 180 years approximately) could cause additional climatic disturbances to precipitate the passage from a yuga to the next. With regard to this, there is a suggestive connection with the fact that the "El Niño" phenomenon, which such dreadful disorders caused in recent years, appears to have begun in the year 3100 BC approximately; and we may also remember the concept of a “perfect year,” the time the planets take to align themselves back again at their startup point, which coincides with the “great year” of 12,960 common years of the Greek and Roman traditions.

In connection with the probable starting point of the present Kali–yuga, some authors have highlighted the fact that, at some time in the sixth century BC, the traditional doctrines underwent diverse re-adaptations and reformulations in several key areas of the world: in Greece by Pythagoras, in Persia by Zarathustra, in China by Confucius, etc., re-adaptations which, given the universality of the phenomenon, would have been a sort of preparation for the start of a new Era. We must admit that this date around the sixth century BC, while imprecise, sounds more plausible as a starting point than 3102 BC, which crashes frontally with the believe in an uninterrupted progress of humanity from the development of agriculture and the invention of writing onwards. Yet in favor of 3102 BC can be argued, apart from the unusual planetary alignment depicted, the singular coincidence with the “zero year” of the start of the Mayan and Egyptian civilizations (in 3113 BC the former, around 3100 the latter), without a doubt significant as such start coincides with the beginning of writing around the world and seems to draw, for the same reason, a veil between history proper – the written history – and pre-history, about which virtually nothing is known with absolute certainty. In the other hand, it has been suggested, based on astronomical calculations, that the great epics Mahabharata would date back from 3100 BC as it would be partially contemporary of Satapatha Brahmana, where it is said that the Krittikas (the Pleiades) «do not turn from the East» – i.e. they were on the celestial Equator. Add to all this the persistent allusions, both in oral and written tradition, to ancient, highly sophisticated civilizations that were spiritually more advanced than ours and disappeared as a consequence of dreadful cataclysms which erased all traces of their passage on Earth, and the picture becomes more complete: if one or more of these civilizations existed before our written history, it would push the specific weight of history back by several millennia and turn the year 3102 BC into a comparatively recent date.

But let us deal with the difficulty that is obviously central in our study: ¿Are we really in the Kali–yuga, the age of quarrel and darkness? If so, ¿in which phase of it? And, ¿is it possible that we have been in it for so long?

I will try to answer these questions on my next post. Stay tuned please.

(First published Qassia 25 Feb 2008)

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Manvantara

I would like to talk a little bit more about the Manvantara, the ancient Hindus’ measure of time, and how it can help find out the real (and not symbolic) length of the present human cycle. To this end, a quick look into my three previous posts may be in order for an easier grasp of what follows.

Let’s therefore consider the Manvantara, in as much as a strictly human earthly cycle governed by a particular Manu, as a small-scale image of the maha–yuga of 4’320,000 common years. Irrespective of the number of zeros that complement this figure, its symbolic length will then be 4320 and, always following the proportion 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 10, those of the corresponding yugas will be 1728, 1296, 864 and 432 respectively, all of them circular numbers – because the sum of their digits is nine – and therefore submultiples of 25,920, the length of the cycle of precession of the equinoxes – which likewise is a circular number.

In the other hand, if we additionally consider that on the cosmic level it is precisely the precession of the equinoxes which most strongly influences the length of the human cycle, it will be legitimate to assume that this length should comprise a whole number of such cycles. The question that arises then is, which can be that number?

In his extraordinary article Some Remarks on the Doctrine of Cosmic Cycles, originally published in French in 1937, René Guénon proposes an answer to this question. Assuming that rather than the cycle of precession of the equinoxes it is its half, or “great year” of 12,960 common years which, given the particular importance it has for such traditions as the Greek and the Persian, makes up the main foundation for the cyclic ages, Guénon suggests that such number should be five, mainly by virtue of its relationship with the duration of the reign of Xisuthrus (the biblical Sisera, a character manifestly identical to Vaivasvata, the Manu for the present Era), a duration that the Chaldeans established as 64,800 common years (5 x 12,960). To support this thesis, Guénon, on top of noting that the real age of the Earth’s present humanity may well be represented by a duration of 64,800 years, proposes quite reasonable correspondences for five such as the five bhutas or elements of the material world, etc.

Now, while this sort of calculation has never been encouraged by ancient traditions, if we accepted 64,800 common years as the total length of the present Manvantara, the length of the Kali–yuga – the fourth and final age of the present human cycle – would be 6,480 years, or a tenth of that; and if we stick to 3102 BC as its starting point, a simple subtraction (6,480 – 3,102) would produce the year 3378 AD as its ending date – without doubt a reassuring date for times of severe global crisis as those we are living now (though not quite so as the one anticipated by the orthodox Hinduism in about four hundred twenty thounsand years from now), but which does not agree at all with certain data from other traditions which, as has been mentioned previously, announce an imminent end for our degenerated civilization.

It should be noted that these calculations are all subordinated to admitting the year 3102 BC as a likely starting date for the present Kali–yuga, which despite of all the arguments that may be put forward for it, will hardly be by many critics. Even so, let’s accept for a moment such date and go on with our line of speculation: Assuming the yugas to be four and not five, would it not be more natural that the duration in question should comprise four equal periods, that is, to multiply 12,960 by four? After all, the arguments for five periods are not conclusive, as the material proper elements are only four (as the fifth, ether, is non material). And on the other hand, should we use four – the number of seasons in a year – as a factor, the total length of the Manvantara would then be 51,840 years (4 x 12,960), therefore comprising two full precessional periods assimilated respectively to Day and Night. Again, 4,320 being a third of 12,960, the real lengths of each yuga would be given by the product of the symbolic durations by twelve, which is the number of months of the year and of the signs of the Zodiac, so that in a way we would be converting the symbolic durations – based on the linear scale 4 + 3 + 2 + 1 = 10 – into circular proper, i.e. based on a twelve-month cycle. In either case, the length of the Kali–yuga would become 5,184 years (72 x 72), whether we divide 51,840 by ten or multiply 432 by twelve; and so, by means of a subtraction similar to the one above (5,184 – 3,102) we would get 2082 as the final year of the present human cycle, a date that unfortunately is more akin than the previous one with the ominous course of the world’s current events and the severe, all-pervading climatic disturbances in our days that might be announcing a global, profound, irreversible, and perhaps not very distant, disruption.

And although I do not pretend to play the soothsayer as I am certainly aware that such forecasts can do more harm than good, it will not be superfluous to insist that the end of an astronomical cycle can overlap that of another and strongly influence it, maybe attracting it towards itself, thus rendering the date for border line events even closer.

(First published Qassia Feb 19, 2008)

Sunday, March 2, 2008

The three great astronomical cycles

I have previously alluded to the dramatic contrast between the Zodiacal Year of 25,920 common years, which for the hermetic tradition would match a human cycle of four ages, and the length of 4’320,000 years that the Hindu tradition in turn assigns to the cycle of four yugas – a length that might appear to be excessive and even arbitrary at first sight as, unlike the former, bears no relation with any known astronomical cycle. However, I have already noted that the key to this issue would be to consider the latter symbolically, at least in connection with the human proper cycle – i.e. the one of the most recent humanity, or Homo Sapiens Sapiens.

With this in mind, I will endeavor now to bring both ends together and establish the real length of the human cycle thus considered by approaching the problem from a new point of view: that of the so-called Manvantara, or “shift” of Manu (the “Father of Mankind”), an ancient Hindu measure of time that in spite of its being primarily septenary and having a length that, as derived from the texts, would be nearly 72 maha–yugas – which apparently increases the difficulty – actually is for the scholarly, with the exception of those who insist on taking these data literally, identical to what I have described as a single maha–yuga.

In effect, the connection with the duration of the human cycle is obvious: the term Manvantara more precisely means “the shift to a new humanity,” in this case our humanity, apart from the fact that from the related word Manusya, which literally means “mankind”, there derive the Latin humanitas, the German mann, the English man, etc., etc., Man being, on its part, “Mankind” proper, the Universal Father, the Adam of the Nordic legends. On the other hand, it is interesting that in the world history there exist variations of the name, Manu, applied to founders of diverse cultures such as the Egyptian (Menes), the Cretan (Minos) and even the Inca, whose first monarch, Manco Capac, was the head of a lineage which extended over fourteen kings – that is, the same number of Manus appearing in a Brahma’s day. For the rest, it is important to note, as indicated by René Guénon, that a Manu is not a mythic, legendary or historic character but, rather, the “prototype of Man” for any cosmic cycle or state of existence to which he gives his Law.

All this sheds light over one of the most impenetrable issues connected with the cycle of four yugas, i.e. the apparent contradiction between multiple human cycles, on the one hand, and a single human cycle on the other – a problem that was pending solution until now. Now we can say that as concerns at least our planet, it is not accurate to speak of a succession of human cycles but of a great “general” human cycle, that of the present mankind, which encompasses all other human cycles whatever their order or magnitude.

Now, since we are assuming that this “general” human cycle – the length of which we are endeavoring to find out – approximately represents the age of the present human race and not of its more or less remote ancestors, the best course will be to previously determine which astronomical cycles are likely to influence it. The problem identified in such terms, such cycles can only be the following:

(I) The Earth’s eccentricity cycle, which results in ice age cycles that approximately occur every 100,000 years and are separated by interglacial periods of 10,000 years. This cycle, which appears to be the main framework within which the present mankind has evolved on Earth, is produced by the lengthening of our planet’s orbit around the sun, which changes every 90,000 to 100,000 years from a circular shape to a more elliptic one and back to start again. When the orbit is circular, the distribution of heat over the Earth during the year is uniform, and when it is more elliptic the Earth is closer to the sun and therefore warmer at some times of the year, the seasons accentuating on a hemisphere and waning on the other due to the modulating effect of the two cycles that are mentioned below.

(II) The cycle of precession of the equinoxes or Zodiacal Year, the length of which is usually rounded as 26,000 years but, as we know, has traditionally been calculated as 25,920 years. What makes this cycle particularly important as a most likely trigger of the human phenomenon on our planet is the fact that when a half of a wobbling period of the Earth’s axis has elapsed, i.e. after 13,000 years approximately, the seasons become reversed: for example, 10,000 years ago, when the Earth was at its farthest from the Sun, in the northern hemisphere it was summer and not winter, as is today (and vice versa).

(III) The cycle of variation of the Earth’s axis tilt over the course of approximately 40,000 years from a minimum of 21.5 degrees to a maximum 24.5 degrees, a variation that obviously accentuates or moderates the overall effect of the precessional period; currently the angle of tilt is 23.4 degrees and decreasing, thus attenuating the difference between summer and winter.

Acting coordinately, these three great astronomical cycles – named “Milancovitch cycles” after the Yugoslavian astronomer who first studied them – subject the Earth to a very complex astronomical pattern that has produced the ice fluctuations throughout the ages, although out of all three it is the period of precession of the equinoxes the one which, by leveraging the combined effect of the other two, seems to have played the main role in the development of the current earthly humanity. Thus, some scientists estimate that approximately 40,000 years ago, when the southern hemisphere was the nearer one from the Sun, and as ice gravitated on the North, at various places, probably in Central Asia, there appeared tribes united by their need to face the hard geophysical conditions that prevailed at that time; and thirteen thousand years later, when the northern and southern hemispheres exchanged their positions before the Sun, some tribes appeared also in the southern hemisphere.

Approximately 18,000 ago, on the other hand, the Earth began to come out of the last ice age responding to a combination of all three astronomical factors, although the inter-glacial proper period did not commence until approximately 10,000 years ago. Now, there is every reason to believe that this inter-glacial period is about to end, and many scientists claim that within a span of time that may range from a few to a thousand years from now, the Earth will have entered a new ice age of 100,000 years; to trigger the process there will only be required a summer with a very weak solar glow, unable to defrost the Northern hemisphere glaciers. And irrespective of the signs of an imminent catastrophic defrost caused by the so-called “greenhouse effect” – the planet warming caused in turn by the excess of industrial emissions – the predominant view appears to be at best (maybe we should say at worst) that this factor would only lengthen the process.

Be it as it may, at this point it should be obvious that, by interlacing and influencing one another, all three great astronomical cycles exert a decisive impact on the life on Earth, an effect that can at times be beneficial and other times devastating. At times, for example, the end of one of them will match the end of another, which will make it particularly severe. Of course, the scenario is even more complicated, for it includes the effect of other minor cycles such as the so-called “small ice ages” or cycles of very strong winters occurring unexpectedly every 180 years approximately, which are apparently caused by the so-called “planetary synods” – the grouping of all the planets on one side of the sun while the Earth is on the other – which occur every equal number of years approximately; or like those cycles of great solar activity that occur every 11 and 80 years mainly (the 11-year cycle has later on been specified as 11 years and 29 days), which appear to influence markedly on the occurrence of draughts, volcano activity and the shifts in the Earth’s magnetism; or again, like the maximum and minimum solar cycles of 500 years each, mentioned in some recent works, which would have furthered the emergence, by turn, of the great historical civilizations. All this without doubt is an engrossing subject, a study of which would require, however, a lengthy space; so for the moment I will stop here and will be back with more in a few more days.

(First published Qassia Feb 17, 2008)