The Kali Yug — A Homily
According to Hindu mythology, we are living in the Kali Yug, the last quarter of a great cycle of time lasting 432,000 years. The ancients had a very deep sense of time, of everything having all been done before, over and over again.
This age is named for Kali, the dark mother, often depicted as an angry, black, ghoulish thing with a necklace of skulls and blood dripping from her fangs as she dances on the prostrate corpse of Siva. Unpacking the code within this image is good meditation.
This is the darkest of times, a time when truth, light and goodness in man has been diminished to one-fourth what it was at the outset. Trump is the perfect manifestation of the age. And it’s not going to get better. The light will continue to dim as the cycle winds down. Sure, like all dying things, there will be spasms, gasps, moments of seeming reprieve from the encroaching darkness. But these won’t last. It’s Kali’s age, and time is running out.
It’s tempting to provide here a list, something like “Five Ways to Get Through the Dark Days of the Kali Yug.” A title like that makes good click-bait; but the prescriptive solutions one finds dominating yoga cyberspace offer little more than a glimpse of the work most traditions lay out as necessary, if not sufficient, to realize the equanimity and acceptance — the grace — these purport to provide.
So what is it that can be done? If the days are so dark and the ways — the yogas — offered so difficult, why bother at all? What’s the point? How do you find any light in all this darkness? Why not just give up?
Simply put, there are no easy answers, and looking for one is symptomatic of the age. To begin with, if the universe is realized as a radically free consciousness expressing itself as unbridled diversity, giving up on it all is a perfectly valid option. In the end, however, that’s just another way of being in the world, one that’s not very interesting, misses the point of incarnation, and suggests a serious lack of capacity when it comes to making meaning.
But how do you make meaning during these dark times? Having something to work with helps. One needs to fill the cup, the kumba, before drinking from it. Begin with study, with jnana yoga. Find an inspired teacher. Do a study of the Bhagavad Gita, perhaps Hinduism’s most sacred text. That’s a good place to look for guidance during the Kali Yug.
It’s easy to make a case that the conflict in the Bhagavad Gita took place in their Kali Yug and is commensurate with what we’re experiencing now. The civil discord, the backstory where these 700 lines appear within the epic tales of the Mahabharata, will ultimately destroy nearly everyone and everything in the kingdom. The first day of battle begins with a listing of the combatants. It might as well be an obituary.
Before the battle begins, Arjuna, a mashup of Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt, the ultimate warrior, has a nervous breakdown and collapses in a weeping heap while his charioteer, Krishna, one of Vishnu’s ten avatars, looks on.
When Arjuna’s done, Krishna says, “Get up, you eunuch. Stop whining and pay attention.”
Arjuna is the original action-figure; he is quintessentially karmic. That is his dharma: it is his duty to act, and up to this point in the story he’s been impeccable. But as we listen in on this conversation with Krishna, we see he’s taken his eye off the ball. Confused by the complexity and the complications of the coming battle, he’s forgotten who he is. Krishna upbraids him, calls him that thing he is most not, in order to get him to pay attention to what’s happening. As onerous as it is for him to fight and kill men who are family, friends and teachers, it is both his duty and the right thing to do under the circumstances. Arjuna recovers his identity, fulfills his dharma and achieves his destiny.
If only Krishna would appear and make clear to each of us our dharma during these dark times. Or if like Arjuna’s elder brother, Yudhishthira, the god Dharma himself were our father. How easy then would it be for us to come into our heritage and our identity, to know our source and the depth of who we are so clearly as these two do. That’s not likely to happen. In any case, these are archetypes, exemplars of behavior meant to instruct on the perils of ignoring and the rewards for following one’s dharma, what comes of doing or not doing one’s duty.
Most of us rarely face world-shattering duties the likes of those faced by the Pandava brothers; yet within our experience of experience it may seem like that every day now. Others, feeling unmoored by the age, say they don’t know what their dharma in life is. But is it really that hard? Isn’t knowing our dharma, our duty in any situation, much like knowing the difference between right and wrong? Didn’t we all learn that by the age of twelve?
Dharma isn’t some monolithic duty or single destiny we’re born to or that we have thrust upon us as was the case with Yudishthira and Arjuna. But we each do have dharmas, plural. And these exist in states of flux. Our dharmas are tantras — webs of relationship — of duties to ourselves, to those close and to larger, all encompassing communities. If you’re paying attention to what’s happening during these dark times, you know of what these duties consist. You shouldn’t have to be told. The real question is: What are you doing about it? Are you, like Arjuna, lying in a crumpled heap, whining over every little slight, triggered in every instance till you’re immobilized by your sensitivities? You’re free to do that; still, this is no one’s dharma.
In the dark age of Kali, shit’s happening. Be ready. Krishna’s advice is good meditation: Stop whining. Pay attention.