Living In The Kali-Yuga by Andy Fraenkel
(Copyright 2022 Andy Fraenkel)
(This article is included in upcoming book – Good News Bad News Who Can Tell? Growing from the pandemic and other life changing experiences edited by Dr. Don Worth)
People seem to relish dystopian books and movies, but find it unsettling to live in a dystopian world for very long. At the beginning of Covid, it was the eerily empty streets and wild life in places they’re not suppose to be. And there was the President’s proclamation that it would be over soon. Later came the fatigue from the constant divisiveness, the lies, and a floundering economy. People have learned to live in fear that someone or some event will take away our jobs, our savings, our health, our guns, and our freedoms. We are afraid that our government will become too powerful, or too weak, or not do the right thing by us and give someone an undue advantage. We are certainly alarmed by the continued attacks on the innocent: at schools, churches, on our streets, and at malls and concerts.
The beginnings of the Kali-yuga, the age of Kali, are described in the first canto of the ancient text, Bhagavat Purana. King Yudhisthira was concerned about his citizens. He went incognito amongst his people. He wanted to understand their mood. He wandered through the streets and market places, and what he discovered alarmed him. In the market places, the King noticed odd behavior. The merchants sought to cheat their customers. The King saw that his citizens’ anger was easily aroused over the slightest things. Ill words, even foul words, were exchanged. He saw that even friends and family members could no longer agree with one another.
Once, Yudhisthira inquired from a sage, “You know past, present, and future. Pray tell, what will the world look like in the end days?”
The sage explained, “As the Kali-yuga progresses people will lose their civility, their patience, and their sense of empathy. In the future no one will know how to speak or act properly. The people will become addicted to many bad habits. Low-class men will become leaders of kingdoms and will only exploit the citizens they lead. People will become physically diseased and mentally troubled. As the age advances, the sky will become overcast and no one will see the sun for years. Fruits and vegetables will become scarce. To be thirty will be considered old. In the end times, it will be survival of the fittest. Kill or be killed. Eat or be eaten. Take heed, the dangerous Kali-yuga will soon be upon us.”
King Yudhisthira was dismayed and continued his inquiry. “How did all this come about?”
The sage replied. “There are four great ages: Satya, Treta, Dvapara and finally the Kali yuga. They come and go, rotating like the four seasons of the year. The first age, Satya, or also known as Kriya, was an age of plenty. People were self controlled and lived pious lives. Their needs and wants were simple, and easily fulfilled. No danger loomed on the horizon, and no one required the protection of governments or walled cities. There was no concept of buying or selling.
“But the world is influenced by the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion and ignorance. And so, as the ages proceed, in the Treta and Dvarpa yugas, the people’s thoughts and lifestyles became polluted and diminished. Finally, the Kaliyuga is topsy turvy. In the previous ages the pious and demoniac lived separately in different tribes or as different nations. But in the Kali-yuga, they grow up in the same families, and pious and demonic tendencies very often reside in the very same heart.
“The Kali-yuga is the time of winter for the soul. Humanity is on a suicide course. The mode of ignorance becomes predominant. People will lose their good qualities. It’s an age of deception, of hypocrisy, of confusion, of anger and lies. The contamination that surrounds their hearts will be reflected by the pollution of the Earth itself. The Kali-yuga will be a world of the cheaters and the cheated. The ignorant will be mighty, and the most sinful will be the most rich and powerful.”
The King was forlorn. “So there is no hope?”
The sage smiled and continued. “There is always hope,” he assured the King. “Yoga and meditation is the process meant to help us distinguish our divine selves from our mundane, egotistical tendencies. By meditation we learn how to regulate our daily activities. We learn how to regulate our senses and engage our intelligence, words, wealth, and our very lives for the supreme good.
“By hearing from the ancient Vedic teachings, we can begin to understand the condition of the world. We can see the beginning of the Kali-yuga, and we can see it in full bloom. And we can also learn about the cure for this age. It is explained in the Padma Purana:
hari nama hari nama hari namaiva kevalam
kalau nasti eva nasti eva nasti eva gatir anyatha
“It is stated three times for emphasis, hari nama, ‘chant the holy name.’ And in this age of Kali, nasti eva, ‘no other way.’
“In the previous ages, one had to meditate for hundreds and even thousands of years to build up shakti, the potency of a yogi. But in the Kali-yuga, one can achieve this in a short time simply by meditating on the holy names of God. There are numerous names all over the world: Jehovah, Elohim, Allah, Buddha, Vishnu, Rama, Krishna, and many others. Meditating on the holy names can help us to understand what should be done and what should not be done. This meditation will help us revive our loving relationship with the Lord Within the Heart.
“Otherwise, the Kali-yuga is a insurmountable ocean of faults. We become overwhelmed by fear or anxiety, and the goal of life will be forgotten. This age can be said to be the best of times and the worst of times. People will live more degraded, materialistic lives and be burdened with heavy taxes. And yet, people can also have a greater opportunity for spiritual realization. In previous ages the yogis and saints went into the mountains or forests for meditation. In the Kali-yuga, meditation is available to every man, woman, and child. It will be easy: simply raise a joyful voice unto the Lord Within the Heart.
“But eventually, no one will care if the good or innocent are harmed. Indeed, the good will be condemned as trouble makers. Those who oppose the rich and powerful had better watch out. These type of men are only interested in satisfying their senses. They want to make sure there will be ample opportunity to indulge themselves in comforts and fancy homes, and in wines and plush beds. All they want from you is your money and your loyalty.”
* * * * *
The Kali described in this context, in the Bhagavat Purana, is a low man, a cheater, who appears in the guise of a king. But he is no king, only a pretender, and he is mercilessly beating a cow and bull in the forest, striking their legs again and again. The cow cries piteously.
This occurred after the rule of Yudhisthira. The succeeding king is named Pariksit. And Pariksit, hearing the cries and commotion, rushes forward with his sword drawn. Pariksit is aghast when he encounters this horrific scene. The cow and bull are considered to be like a mother and father, the nurturers of human society. The cow provides society with milk, and also manure to continually enrich the soil. The bull provides his strength in tilling the land to help produce rice, grains and vegetables.
The animals had never been treated like this before. The King’s eyes are ablaze. Kali trembles, seeing the King ready to strike. The imposter immediately rips off his crown and falls at the King’s feet, begging for mercy. Pariksit, being magnanimous, spares Kali’s life. Nonetheless, Kali is spiteful and seeks his revenge upon the good King.
Soon afterwards, Pariksit is cursed by a boy. The boy’s arrogance is his flaw. Kali takes advantage of it, and he mentally penetrates the boy’s psyche and influences the boy to do his bidding. The boy is the son of a brahmana, and has the mystical potency of his father. Kali makes the boy conjure up a curse that will bring about Pariksit’s death in seven days. And afterwards, Kali begins to influence the entire world.
In the ancient texts, the bull represents dharma, And the four legs of the bull represent the four pillars of dharma: compassion, cleanliness, self-sacrifice and truthfulness. The Sanskrit word dharma is an important word to understand at this time. We need the vocabulary that can identify both today’s problems and solutions. Dharma has various nuanced meanings. It could mean one’s religion, or occupation, or moral responsibilities to family and society. It could mean ‘the Path.’ On a deeper level, it means who we are and our purpose in life, and our eternal relationship with the Lord Within the Heart. Sva-dharma connotes our personal calling in life. What do we see as our contribution to society? When we lose sight of dharma then lust, greed, and anger become dominant and society begins to unravel. Understanding the dharma is pivotal to our stability.
The purpose of Vedic knowledge, the ancient teaching of India, is to educate the populace to recognize and practice these qualities of dharma. The functioning of dharma requires good leadership on many levels. The spiritual, political, business, cultural and scientific leaders especially have to lead the way for a viable solution to emerge in the Kali-yuga. This is one of the important generational concerns before us today. We need to educate ourselves in the principles of the dharma. Thus, everyone, the citizens and leaders, can understand and properly address the formidable challenges of our time.
* * * * *
Today, the Kali-yuga is plagued with constant argumentation and strife, leading to polarization: red state and blue state tensions; the masked/unmasked, vaccinated/ unvaccinated tensions of Covid; tensions with school boards and what will be taught; tensions between religions; and tensions between conservative and liberal communities. Difficulties abound: environmental, economic, educational, rampant greed and moral bankruptcy. The so-called leaders of the previous decades have only kicked these issues down the road, and today we are mired in very serious problems that are not going to go away soon. Problems that will take patience, humility, truthfulness and wisdom to overcome.
In any real culture, the leaders are the first ones to make sacrifices for their nations and communities. In a time of famine, the Vedic kings were the first to fast and to open their storehouses to the people. If someone’s property was stolen, the leaders had to retrieve it, or if they couldn’t, they would have to replace it. If leaders declared a war, they would have to lead the army. And the battles were fought far away from the towns and cities, and the innocent, non-combatant population. The Bhagavad Gita (18:43) states the qualities of a leader: courageous, decisive, resourceful, and generous. One had to lead by example. Leadership demanded responsibility and accountability. But where are such leaders at this time? It seems we are bereft of proper leadership and guidance.
It’s quite unsettling to comprehend the nature of this age. We want the stability which the pervious ages, for the most part, had to offer. But we’re in the midst of something very different. Besides the incessant quarreling and cheating, at anytime our fortunes can change. Sometimes in a personal way, with terminal disease, the foreclosure of our home, or a death in the family. And sometimes with a tsunami-like, abrupt force that can create havoc in the lives of many: wars, plagues, weather disruptions, and economic collapse.
In the Kali-yuga, everyone, especially big industry, is clamoring for deregulation. But in a responsible society, we see regulation everywhere: on the roads we travel, in the administration of justice, in the plants and companies where we work, and in the way we educate our children. Everyone wants a safe, regulated environment. We also see regulation in nature: in the rising of the sun, the tides of the ocean, the coming and going of the seasons, and the phases of the moon. The laws of the land require regulation. And dharma also expects people to be intelligent enough to impose regulations on themselves. Regulation is required in a civilized society.
But today we are alarmed to find that many of our laws are weak, and can be manipulated; that our jobs are often at risk; and so very often our leadership is incapable to meet the challenges of the day. Working people are retiring earlier if they can. Younger people coming out of college are wondering what type of a society are they walking into and if they have the spending power of previous generations. Couples postpone getting married, and families postpone having children. We find ourselves barraged with a constant stream of troubled news. We are in anxiety when we have a job, as well as when we find ourselves out of a job.
If we can understand the nature of this degrading age, then everything that’s happening around us begins to makes sense. It leaps out at us: the negativity, cynicism, frustration, indifference, violence, and anger. We are overburdened with stress and anxiety. This is the nature of a “greed is good” society. And what can you say about the best country in the world, the beacon of freedom, but whose wealth was acquired by slavery and by ripping land away from its Native peoples.
We live in a world where we can point out so many paradoxes, inconsistencies and injustices. But the last thing we want to do is to look at ourselves and examine our own motives and our own souls. Change must begin with ourselves. In this age there are endless problems and anxieties to keep us constantly distracted. When we resolve one problem another quickly pops up. And if we’re doing okay ourselves, we still live in a world of turmoil. In our hearts we feel a sense of foreboding.
Indeed, we have the choice whether to focus on the negative or on the positive, to focus on that which is destructive or that which is healing and nourishing.
The powerful Kali-yuga has the ability to dangle above our heads so many alluring, shiny, and captivating images to entice us and keep us struggling in our same old patterns and habits. Ultimately, this age lures us away from the path of true wisdom. This is why we must look deep into our hearts. We must see the connectedness of all life: that we are all the sons and daughters of one Divine, All-knowing, Supreme God. That Lord is patiently and lovingly residing within all of our hearts as our dear friend and guide. We must certainly have this spiritual foundation as the basis for our lives. Only in this way, personally and collectively, can we overcome the ill effects of the Kali-yuga.
Bio: Andy Fraenkel is an award-winning author and storyteller. He is a teacher of the Vaishnava/Krishna tradition which is an expression of Sanatana Dharma. For our spiritual wellbeing, this tradition encourages meditation on the prayer: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare (My dear Lord, please allow me to serve You). Andy’s previous publications include Mahabharata: The Eternal Quest which is acclaimed by scholars, and which Kirkus Reviews describes as: “keeps its heroic figures, mystical deeds, and philosophies on justice, honor, and perseverance at the forefront while relating the story with a lighter pace and a visually rich prose style that recalls Western works like The Lord of the Rings trilogy.”