Joined: 03 Dec 2018
|Posted: Mon Nov 23, 2020 9:30 pm Post subject: A Hindu Wisdom: We Are In An Upward Cycle Of Progress
|A Hindu Wisdom: We Are In An Upward Cycle Of Progress
For this address, we are going to be free from contemporary concerns. We are intentionally taking our attention away from everything that is recent or current, and away from anything that may be happening this year, next year, or sometime soon. My intention is for us to focus on a much bigger picture, the picture that is shaped over centuries or thousands of years.
One important thing about Hinduism is its great antiquity. The other major faiths were all created by definite founders within the past 2600 years. We know their names - Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. We know roughly when they lived. By contrast, Hinduism was already ancient when Buddha walked the Earth. Its origins are lost in the mists of time – surely 5000, maybe 10,000 – years ago. Its own traditions say that what it teaches as Truth is eternal. Hinduism is a foreigners’ word; Hindus’ own name for their faith can be translated “what is eternally right”.
They also say that these eternal verities were discovered in the deep spiritual experience of wise women and men in a long-ago Golden Age. They were then transmitted down the generations by pure intuition, down through increasingly darker, more impure, ages before any of the teachings were written down in what are now known as Hindu scriptures.
The idea of a long-ago Golden Age is not unique to Hinduism: it has been found in the writings of Plato and other ancient Greeks, and the Assyrians and Egyptians before them.
It also impressed the 19th-Century American Unitarian minister Edmund Sears, who was influenced by the mystical school of thought called Transcendentalism that was led by his contemporary, and fellow-graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Emerson. Sears wrote the words of the lovely Christmas carol “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”. Surely we have all sung the last verse, with the words
For lo!, the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold,
When peace shall over all the Earth its ancient splendours fling....
Three points to notice here. Sears proclaimed the existence of a cycle: “the ever-circling years”. Secondly, he wrote of a Golden Age of peace whose “ancient splendours” in the past will be matched “over all the Earth” in the future. And thirdly, he observed that it is sages, people he poetically called “prophet bards”, who assure us that all this is indeed so.
The deterioration of religion a few millennia ago from spiritual awareness to dogmatic religions, and the subsequent reawakening of spirituality in recent decades - centred not on assertions and beliefs but on practices, such as meditation and contemplative prayer - all this is understood as aspects of a 24,000-year cycle in human consciousness, a cycle that is connected to the astronomical cycle identified by the sun’s changing position relative to the distant stars in the Zodiac.
The basic idea is simple. There are eight ages of Earth in every 24,000 year cycle. The higher ages are blessedly much longer than the lower ones. There are four ascending ages, whose Hindu names are Kali (meaning “dark”), Dwapara (meaning “second”), Treta (“Third”), and Satya (meaning “Truth”). Satya is the Golden Age when moral integrity and wisdom prevail, and deep spiritual truths are intuitively accessed by the mass of ordinary people.
From the most recent apex of the cycle, calculated by a Hindu sage as 11,500 BCE, the Golden Age lasted until 6700 BCE. The descending Treta or Third age followed; then the descending Dwapara or Second age; and the world entered the lowest, Kali, ‘dark’ age in 700 BCE. It is no coincidence that all three major dogmatic religions were founded during this dark age.
In 500 CE the upward phase of the cycle began; and in 1700 the world entered the scientific age of progress. The underlying trend of progress will continue, both materially and spiritually, until the zenith of the next Golden Age in 12,500 CE - ten thousand years from now.
How might this understanding influence the way we think and act?
I offer three aspects to reflect on.
Firstly, the conviction that we are in an ascending age supports a confident belief in progress. In about 1840, the prophetic poet Alfred Tennyson expressed “the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be” in “the long result of time”, where he foresaw progress such as world trade by air, and in time a politically united world.
Obviously, with two world wars, various civil wars and famines, and the Great Depression, the world didn’t feel like it was progressing between 1914 and 1950. And with Covid-19, progress isn’t front and centre in everyone’s mind today, either.
But these are relatively short-term things. We need to stand back from immediate concerns to recognise the long, strong trend of progress. The scale over which progress is easily observed is far larger and more substantial than a few decades. It is Tennyson’s “long result of time”.
Think of the things that have changed over 50, 100, 200 years, even in the political sphere. All the old empires have gone. They have been replaced with independent countries, many of them democracies. Wars for conquest, like the two World Wars, are rare now; and since the mid-1970s almost every attempt to conquer has failed.
Think of the growth in international connectiveness and understanding and co-operation.
And think of the progress in medical care, and in psychotherapy, this past fifty years. Think how rare famine is nowadays. Think how much material prosperity there is compared with 1950 or 1900; and in so many more countries, too.
Most fundamentally of all, think of the improvement in the spiritual domain. No longer does geography and culture dictate what religion you belong to. No longer, in the West and in India, are religious organisations able to bully people through government-level power.
And notice the shift from passive religiosity towards dynamic, personal-growth-oriented, spiritualities. Still young as a change, but advancing across the globe.
However, it would be prudent to accept and adapt to the ongoing fading out of churches and traditional organised religion as we know them.
The upward path is erratic, and if you fill your mind with The News day by day, rather than with deeper trends, you might not see it at all. The News is biased towards the sensational; it doesn’t notice, to speak of just one example, the invention of small robots for agriculture which stand to shrink the use of chemicals in the fields by 90%. Stand back from The News and take a 50 year or 100 year view, and the positive trend of progress is clear.
In this perspective, we can see our world through the lens of the predominance of progress. And Hindu sages say this progress will continue for the next 10,000 years.
Firstly then, an important implication of Hinduism’s Eight Ages of Earth is to look for and expect progress – improvements in nearly every aspect of human life.
A second implication is that our own lives make a difference. How we live them matters. You and I help to advance human progress by all that we do and are that is good - as of course also everyone else who thinks and feels and acts on the side of the angels at least sometimes. Our compassion, our gentleness, our peacefulness - all our good qualities - are in harmony with the upward cycle of the centuries. They have been and will be our part in bringing about Tennyson’s prophetic “Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be”.
And thirdly: we are in a favourable time for our own spiritual advancement. Though each of us can move only from where we are now, our choices in the spiritual aspect of our lives are as good as limitless. And hopefully we choose - at least we predominantly choose - moving in the direction of our highest aspirations.
I conclude with the voice of Rev Carl Scovel, who perhaps shines a light on why this is the prophecy. Scovel was Unitarian Minister at the central-Boston King’s Chapel from 1954 to 1999, a visually very distinctive chapel that I visited last time I was in the States.
Scovel affirmed that “at the heart of all creation lies a good intent, a purposeful goodness, from which we come, by which we live our fullest, and to which we shall at last return.
This is the supreme mystery of our lives.
This goodness is ultimate.
This good intent in creation is our source, our centre, and our destiny. Our work on earth is to explore, enjoy, and share this goodness.”