Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: The Yugas by Joseph Selbie & David Steinmetz

Although I spend a good deal of my free time working through the original text of the Mahabharata and producing the podcast, I also read quite a lot.  Not long ago, I was lent a copy of The Holy Science by Swami Sri Yuktesvar.  Mostly, it was in line with a lot of spiritual literature from early 20th century India: the author demonstrates the ultimate unity in the world's religious teachings.

While I agree with the sentiment, it is also quite commonplace in our day and age for any spiritual seeker.  It comes as little surprise to us that the deepest messages of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism & Hinduism are all pretty much the same.

But this little book also contains a chapter on revising the traditional interpretation of the Yugas.  Sri Yuktesvar brought the Yuga system in line with the 25,000-year Precession of the Equinoxes.

I have long been fascinated by this astronomical phenomenon, because there are so many hints at this secret knowledge hidden in our most ancient legends and structures.  For instance, the beautiful Hindu legend of the Gods & Asuras churning the cosmic ocean to produce the Amrit, or Elixir of Immortality.  The way the Amrit was produced was by looping the Cosmic Snake around the base of Mount Meru, and using the mountain as a vast churning stick, the cosmit ocean of milk was churned like butter to produce the Amrit.  The Gods were unable to accomplish this alone, so they requested the aid of the demonic Asuras, promising to share in the Amrit for their assistance.

The Asuras joined in, and together they churned the ocean of milk and produced the Elixir, but then the Gods reneged on their promise, and kept the Amrit to themselves.  What followed were many exciting battles over possession of this most sacred substance.

This mythology underlies the entire epic of the Mahabharata, in that, once the Asuras were finally defeated, they flocked to be born on the earth, and it was these evil incarnations that lead Mother Earth to request the help of Vishnu and the Devas to come to earth and eradicate them.

This myth has long been important to me because the imagery of the northern-most peak revolving like a butter churn matches precisely what one's observations of the Precession of the Equinoxes would look like.  If viewed over the course of 25,000 years, we would see the earth's axis of rotation wobbling from one pole star to the next.

There is no question in my mind that the legend of the Amrit is referring to the reality of the precessional cycle, so then why was this subtle phenomenon so important to our ancient storytellers?  Furthermore, this is just one legend among many.  The book Hamlet's Mill includes numerous references to this phenomenon from all over the ancient world.  It is abundantly clear that the slow wobble in the earth's polar axis was something extremely important to our ancient forbears.  I have long suspected that we might better understand our ancient stories if we could just crack the code.

The recent interest in the Mayan calendar has also sparked interest in the nature and secret of the Precessional Cycle.  For one, there is no question that the Mayan calendar is based on the precession of the equinoxes, and that according to it, we are currently crossing an important landmark in our journey through the cycle.  Western Astrology has always been aware of Precession as well, and that is where we get the notion of leaving the Age of Pisces and entering the Age of Aquarius.

I have had an interest in the precession ever since I read Hamlet's Mill in college.  Thus, the traditional Yuga system always seemed a bit odd to me, in that it was the only ancient system that seemed to ignore the precessionary calender and instead talked of period of time in the millions of years.  

So, when I read Sri Yukteshvar's Holy Science, I was impressed that he was able to reconcile the two systems.   This was not the first time that I came across this timing however.  Back in Episode 30, Markandeya also described the four Yugas as taking 12,000 years to complete.  I even commented at the time that it meant that we are no longer living in the Kali Yuga, which is comforting to know!

Thus, it was serendipitous that I came across a new work, based on Sri Yukteshvar's analysis, that tries to explain our history in terms of the precessionary cycle, the four Yugas, and the mechanism behind each of these ages.  The authors of The Yugas, starting from this thin chapter out of a thin book by Sri Yukteshvar, provide the framework for a new theory of history which explains many of the conundrums of ancient history and may even be able to predict our future!

What I find that is important for our subject here, the Mahabharata, is the way the Yuga cycles run forward and then in reverse.  This is the revolutionary part of Sri Yukteshvar's work.  The traditional, descending four Yugas from Satya to Kali, is only half the story.  The trip from Kali Yuga back to Satya Yuga is not immediate.  Nothing in life works that way.  Instead, we creep our way slowly back up the Yugas in reverse!

Accepting Sri Yuktesvar's calculation of AD 500 as the beginning of the present ascending Kali Yuga, time has an unusual way of running in circles.  Thus, the descending era's ancient awakening of Confucius, Buddha, and Socrates coincides with the same time as the ascending era's Renaissance.

Amazingly, it looks like the senseless violence of the Mahabharata War coincides with World War II!  Both wars involved senseless slaughter of vast numbers of fighters.  As the authors in The Yugas argue, the descending era is about the decline in the power of magic, while the ascending era is about the increase in the power of technology.  Thus, just as modern man found himself in the 20th century AD with more technology to kill than they had sense not to fight, in the 10th century BC, an insanely violent war broke out among people with more magic than then had sense not to kill each other with it.  The connection is my own, but the coincidence is uncanny.

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