“Formerly, before Vyasadeva, say, five thousand years ago, before that time there was no need of written literature. People were so sharp in their memory that whatever they would hear from the spiritual master they would remember for life. The memory was so sharp. But in this age—it is called Kali Yuga—we are reducing our bodily strength, our memory…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 790902.VP.NV)
According to the shastras, or Vedic scriptures, the earth doesn’t come into being just once, but rather is created and destroyed in repeating cycles. Each creation exists for a fixed time period, which is divided into four ages known as Yugas. The four Yugas are Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali.
Satya Yuga is the first time period beginning at creation. Satya means “truth” so the people living in this age are known for being strictly dedicated to dharma. Dharma means occupational duty or religion, and people abide by it at almost a one hundred percent level in the Satya Yuga. Which each successive Yuga, dharma diminishes in strength by one quarter, thus causing a rise in irreligion. We are currently living in the last Yuga, known as Kali. Kali Yuga is famous for the widespread presence of adharma, or activity which is against the scriptural injunctions. Dharma exists only at one fourth its original strength in the Kali Yuga.
In the classic Vedic system, society is to be managed according to varnashrama dharma. There are four varnas, or societal divisions based on a people’s qualities. The brahmanas are the religious class of people, who are viewed as the highest class members of society. Kshatriyas serve as the warriors and administrators, providing protection to the other three classes of society. Vaishyas are the merchants and businessmen who are entrusted with cow protection, farming, and general economic development. The shudras are the last group, and since they receive no formal training from a spiritual master, their duty is to serve the other three varnas. Shudras are traditionally those of the laborer class. Just as there are four varnas, there are also four ashramas, or stages in one’s life. The first ashrama is known as brahmacharya and it is the time period when one is living a life of complete celibacy and taking instruction from a spiritual master. After completing one’s training under a guru, one then enters the grihastha ashrama, which is married householder life. Then after twenty five years, one retires from family life and enters the vanaprastha ashrama. Finally, the last stage of life is known as sannyasa, where one completely renounces all family attachments and material possessions and lives completely at the mercy of God.
In the Kali Yuga, this system is virtually nonexistent. Shudras are praised and held in high regard, while brahmanas are vilified. The most sinful among us serve as our exalted leaders, preaching irreligion as a way of life. We see evidence of this everywhere today, especially with the widespread practices of animal slaughter and abortion. One of the most harmful side effects of Kali Yuga is the overall loss of intelligence and brain power in people. Though we may think that the overall life expectancy is rising, in actuality in previous Yugas the average duration of life was much greater than it is today. This is all a result of overindulgence in sense gratification. When one is constantly hankering after satisfying the needs of the stomach and the genitals, intelligence will be clouded. One is left no time to contemplate the real problems of life, which are birth, old age, disease, and death. When people’s lives revolve around eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, then naturally their intelligence will suffer.
One need only look to the advent of the teleprompter to see a glaring example of how the brainpower of man has rapidly declined. Used by everyone from politicians to television reporters, the teleprompter is a device that provides an electronic visual of the text of a speech given by a speaker. With a teleprompter, one isn’t required to commit a speech to memory. One need only focus their attention on the device while making a speech, for the prompter will scroll through the text at the speaker’s pace, guaranteeing that the speaker will never forget what to say next. Teleprompters are positioned in such a way that the audience usually can’t tell that the speaker is using it. For speeches that are delivered to television audiences, the prompter is usually aligned with the television camera, so the speaker can read the text of the speech while pretending to look directly at the audience watching on their televisions at home.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with teleprompters, since they allow for the smooth delivery of speeches. However, what has happened is that speakers have become lazy as a result of using them. One doesn’t even have to be familiar with the subjects they are talking about since they can just read whatever is put in front of them. As recently as twenty years ago, speakers at least had to memorize the speeches they gave, thus allowing the subject matter to be retained in their minds where it could be processed and pondered over. Today, many speakers, including the President of the United States, have committed embarrassing blunders such as reading the wrong speech or talking out of order due to malfunctions with the teleprompters. There are many world leaders who are great at delivering speeches, but when asked questions on policy in interviews, they stutter and stammer due to lack of knowledge on the subjects they are being questioned on.
In previous Yugas, people’s brains were so sharp that they could memorize millions of Sanskrit verses after only hearing them once. The great Maharishi Valmiki committed the entire Ramayana to memory and would recite it perfectly to others. He even taught it to Lord Rama’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, who would regularly recite it in front of gathered assemblies in their father’s kingdom. Vyasadeva, Lord Krishna’s literary incarnation, authored eighteen Puranas, the Vedanta-sutras, and the Mahabharata all from memory. The Mahabharata itself is probably the longest book ever written so it is amazing to think that one man could commit that entire work to memory. But it wasn’t only Vyasadeva, for he had many disciples who also became expert orators. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, also known as the Bhagavata Purana, was recited by Shukadeva Goswami, Vyasadeva’s son. These people were all exalted brahmanas, who had dedicated their lives to serving Krishna, or God. Their intelligence was top notch as a result. These sages didn’t limit themselves to just memorization, for they had a deep understanding of the topics and stories they would recite.
There is no denying that Kali Yuga is in full force, with its effects seen everywhere. Obviously it is not possible for people to commit such great works to memory anymore. Luckily for us, all hope is not lost. In this age, all the wisdom of the Vedas has been summarized into one short phrase, the maha-mantra:
“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”
Krishna and Rama are names of God, and Hare is His energy. There is no knowledge or truth higher than God. Committing this mantra to memory and regularly reciting it in the presence of others will make us the greatest of orators.