Kali Yuga

Prahlada Maharaja“Shri Rama’s holy name is like Narasimhadeva to the Hiranyakashipu-like Kali Yuga. For those who chant the holy name, the Lord offers them all protections and crushes their tormentors, just as He did for Prahlada Maharaja.“ (Dohavali, 26)

rāma nāma nara kesarī kanakakasipu kalikāla |
jāpaka jana prahalāda jimi pālihi dali surasāla ||

Kali Yuga, the last of the four time periods of creation as explained in the Vedas, is characterized by the rampant impiety that pervades society. In times previous to the age of Kali, deference to religious practice, which is the single engagement that best distinguishes the human being from the animal species, was at much higher levels; therefore man could be considered less fallen. But as more time elapses from the beginning of creation, which happens to follow growth cycles similar to the rising and setting of the sun or the coming and going of living beings, acknowledgment of a higher power and the need to serve Him dwindles. Therefore Kali Yuga is considered the dark age, one full of quarrel and hypocrisy. Nevertheless, there is still a chance for spiritual enlightenment, a way to gain salvation that breaks through the nescience of darkness. Though this method is specifically tailored for the dark age, it was actually practiced a long time ago when the inhibiting effects prevalent in Kali Yuga took on their greatest magnitude through the efforts employed by a powerful king, one who was insistent on ensuring that his young child not turn into a saintly character.

Prahlada MaharajaThough the tendency of the human being is to think in the here and now, taking its current life to be the only one it’s ever had, a more rational approach considers the eternality of spirit, and therefore also humbly acknowledges that man has lived before. When we say “man”, we refer to the spirit soul residing within a particular form, for life exists in all spheres of creation. A dog and a cat may not be able to speak or do quantum physics, but they nevertheless have spirit souls residing within them; otherwise they would not be capable of growing, performing action, leaving byproducts, or even dying. The event of death signals that life existed at some point; therefore through simple logic and deduction we can understand that spirit is not exclusive to the human form. The particular living being may grow for some time and then decay upon the exit of the soul, but the spiritual spark remains in existence for all of eternity.

In a similar manner, the entire cosmos, which consists of gross matter, exists perpetually, but it is not always manifest; it has cycles of creation and destruction. The shifts occur at the behest of the Supreme Ruler, that person most of us refer to as God. Based on His choosing, the material creation can come into existence or it can remain in a dormant state, wherein the matter doesn’t take any shape. When there is creation, the duration of existence is set on a timeline, operating like clockwork through management by higher authorities, entities that are godlike, but not God Himself.

Not surprisingly, the first time period, Satya Yuga, is the age of purity. Therefore it is also known as Krita Yuga. Satya means truth, so the people living in this age are very pious and highly aware of the Absolute Truth. The Vedas are so nice because they not only give details into the nature of the Supreme Lord, the eternality of spirit, our relationship to the Supreme Spirit, and what it takes to connect with Him, but they also provide information as to the reason for the material creation’s existence. Indeed, to the keen observer the path towards salvation simultaneously reveals the purpose of the creation.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord KrishnaAttaining salvation in spiritual life is quite simple. “Love God with all your heart, be always conscious of Him, and thus think of Him at the time of death.” Whatever state of mind the departing individual has at the time of death, that state he will attain without fail in the next life. Obviously it’s impossible to predict the state of mind one will have at this most difficult of life’s moments, when the vital force is about to forcibly exit the body the individual has grown accustomed to and called home, but the thoughts actually arise involuntarily at this moment, as they are shaped over the course of one’s lifetime, through the different events and desires. Therefore if one ensures that they are always thinking about God, serving Him, remembering Him, and honoring His devotees during their lifetime, the chances of being God conscious at the time of death greatly increase. Religion’s very purpose is to reawaken this dormant consciousness in the spirit soul, for the sparks of spiritual energy emanate from the original gigantic spiritual fire. Therefore there is an inherent link to the Supreme Person. Only through religion, which is the exclusive property of the human species, can the dormant love for the Supreme Lord be awakened.

The people in the Satya Yuga are very pure, but nevertheless they somehow made it to the material creation. This means that at some point unknown to them, they wanted separation from the graces of the spiritual land, where association with the Supreme Lord in one of His personal forms, including the original of Lord Krishna, was enjoyed. If Krishna is so attractive and beautiful, why would anyone want to leave Him? The spirit souls are endowed with free will and independence, and for these features to be valid in their implementation and existence, the avenues for their exercise must be multifarious. Therefore there must be a set of individuals who are given to using their independence towards advancing a bogus cause, one that seeks to imitate Krishna in His abilities at creating, maintaining and destroying.

Lord KrishnaSince these desires cannot be acted upon in the spiritual realm, a temporary land is required, one where forgetfulness of Krishna, His warm embrace, and His sweet vision is facilitated. Just as we cannot force anyone to love us, Krishna cannot compel anyone to take to His service, for there would be no enjoyment felt in the resulting relationship from either party. But the Satya Yuga is still very pure, since the spirit souls have just been placed in a newly created land, where knowledge of dull matter and activities not related to Krishna’s service is not very developed. Because of this, man in the Satya Yuga has a very good opportunity for returning back to Godhead through religious practice.

The Treta Yuga brings about a decline in dharma by one quarter in society; thus new social divisions are introduced as a way to manage affairs. The Satya Yuga sees everyone belonging to one class, one that is ever dedicated to spiritual affairs. In the Treta Yuga, brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras are assigned occupational duties. Similar to how a company will give specific tasks to different workers to ensure the success and profitability of the business venture, society is divided up to see to it that all the facets of material life are taken care of in an orderly manner. The brahmanas are considered the brains of the operation, for they guide everyone else in their prescribed duties. The kshatriyas are the arms; they provide protection and handle administration. The vaishyas take care of food production, so they are likened to the stomach. The shudras are important as well, as every engagement needs dedicated workers capable of performing basic tasks. With every person abiding by their prescribed duties, there is ample time left for spiritual advancement. Indeed, the very existence of dharma, or occupational duty, is to see to it that activities in maya, or material nature, can be accepted without attachment, while attachment to the Supreme Lord is fostered at the same time.

The Dvapara Yuga sees another quarter reduction of dharma in society; therefore the influence of the nefarious element then equals the presence of the pious. The number of wars increase, as conflict and struggle is always there. The miscreants don’t just sit back; they instead create their own dharmas, which by definition can’t lead to any benefit. Dharma is not something that can be concocted; it is a system of occupational duty tied directly to the soul’s intrinsic characteristics. A concocted dharma is one that is shaped by the illusory energy of the material world, one that seeks to cloud the natural intelligence and the knowledge of the Supreme Lord found within everyone.

Sita and Rama marriageThe Kali Yuga is considered the most fallen age, because dharma only exists at one quarter strength. Naturally this means that finding a truly religious person, one who is seriously interested in purifying their consciousness and remembering Krishna at the time of death, is very rare. There are many other such symptoms that highlight the disdain felt towards established dharma. We can think of the Kali Yuga as the “bizarro” age, where everything is done opposite to the way it should be. Men and women marry at their own whim, sometimes in defiance of the parents’ wishes, rather than through an organized arrangement made by the parents aimed at fostering a peaceful coexistence. The Vedas are so nice that even sex life, which is considered the antithesis of religious practice, is aimed at furthering one’s God consciousness. Through regulated sex in a marriage institution, the man and woman can live peacefully, abide by their respective duties, and make steady progress in life’s primary mission.

The other “bizarro” effects are plainly visible throughout society. Those with no understanding of the differences between matter and spirit, who identify solely with the gross body – a lump of matter that is subject to decay at the time of death – assume leadership roles, while the brahmanas, the priestly class who act by the brahminical principles, are considered extremists following ancient traditions which no longer apply. Indeed, even if you do find brahmanas, they probably don’t follow the principles enjoined them by the shastras, or scriptures. Taking their high family lineage as a license for behaving any way they see fit, they don’t make the best use of their birthright, as they forego taking spiritual instruction from one who knows the Absolute Truth.

At first glance, it may seem a little too easy for the spiritual leaders to claim that the current age, Kali Yuga, is the most fallen one. After all, doesn’t this make their preaching efforts easier? By saying that we’re suffering through Kali Yuga, aren’t they just trying to further their own interest of spreading religion? Could it be that they just witnessed the effects in society and then somehow claimed that it’s the Kali Yuga, an age that is so fallen? Actually, just by studying recent history we can see evidence of the dwindling influence of dharma as time passes. For instance, the population of men and women that grew up in America during the 1930s and 40s is considered the “Greatest Generation”, for they suffered through a Great Depression and two world wars. They are considered great because of their level of piety and dedication to their fellow man, not necessarily for their technological advancements or level of enjoyment. Indeed, they suffered through much more austerity and hardship than any generation that followed them.

World War IIAnd what happened as a result of their brave sacrifice? As time went on, the prosperity of the nation increased, so much so that the traumas today deal with things like eating too much food and not having enough tangible work to perform on a regular basis. Hardships have to be invented now because life is so excessively peaceful. In this way we see that in modern times deference to piety and religion has a direct correlation to the level of sense gratification available. Sadly, the linearity travels in the wrong direction, as the increase in opulence has led to an almost hatred for religion and anyone who even mentions the word “God” with any sincerity in public.

The Greatest Generation, though they may not have been aware of it, had higher levels of piety and respect for religion because of their simplified lifestyle, where they weren’t overly engrossed in sense pleasures. Their tapasya, or penances, brought on by harsh conditions actually helped them maintain a more pious way of life. If such drastic shifts in piety levels can occur over sixty years, just imagine what takes place over hundreds and thousands of years. Thus we see that the statements of the Vedas pertaining to the gradual diminishing of deference to religion are not merely hyped up mythology or self-serving statements aimed at bringing about a spiritual revolution. Man always thinks he knows better than God, for that is the very cause of his fall down to the material creation. As they drift further and further away from real dharma, the mental speculators and fruitive workers think they are making progress, finding a better way to manage affairs and society. Regardless, they will still have to abide by some rules and regulations, with the only difference being that the rules put into place by the Vedas are authorized and have passed every quality control test, while the modern day movements and their ideals are based solely on ignorance, with knowledge of the real identity of the individual as spirit soul completely removed from the picture.

Of all of Kali Yuga’s negative effects, the most formidable is its ability to squelch religious practice. Not only is deference to dharma not widespread in the least bit, but anyone who wants to take up service to the Supreme Lord is not encouraged to do so. So many impediments are thrown their way, with the strongest inhibiting influences coming from the allures of the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. But despite the impediments and the horrible conditions of Kali Yuga, just one simple practice, which when adopted in earnest, can save the sincere devotee from all perils. Indeed, the beneficiary of such service will take it upon Himself to rip apart the impeding influences, thus allowing for the seed of devotional service to grow into a full blown tree of transcendental love, one that produces fruits that others can enjoy.

Lord KrishnaThis singular process is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Lest we think this is a sectarian mantra or some formula concocted by the Hindus who worship many gods, the names “Krishna” and “Rama” are Sanskrit words that very nicely and accurately describe the features of the Supreme Absolute Truth. If there is a God, He most certainly must be attractive, and He must also be able to provide the highest transcendental pleasure to anyone who connects with Him in a mood of pure love. Therefore Krishna and Rama are two wonderful names that directly represent the Supreme Person that we are all inherently connected to.

Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, especially prefers chanting the name of Lord Rama, for the Supreme Person’s descent on earth as the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya named Rama during the Treta Yuga is the highest source of pleasure for millions of devotees around the world. Since the name is a direct incarnation of the Supreme Person it addresses, all the potencies of the Lord are available to one who regularly chants it. Tulsidas says that Rama’s name is so powerful that it acts like Narasimhadeva to the Hiranyakashipu-like Kali Yuga. This comparison is wonderful because the thwarting efforts employed by Hiranyakashipu, the most powerful of demon kings, directly match up with the influences of Kali Yuga affecting the devotional efforts of sincere souls.

Prahlada with NarasimhadevaHiranyakashipu was a king ruling the world a long time ago. He was extremely powerful, but since he was born in a line of daityas, or demons, he was predisposed to hating the Supreme Lord. Lord Vishnu is another non-different form of Godhead. Worship of Vishnu, Krishna or Rama is all the same, for the three entities represent the same person, with specific spiritual traditions accepting one of the forms as the original. Hiranyakashipu hated Vishnu, for that is the nature of the atheists; they view God as their number one competitor. The demon had a son who was to be groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps. But unfortunately for the king, this little boy, who was named Prahlada, had divine qualities from birth. He was given to  worshiping Vishnu and no one else. He listened to everything that was taught to him about administrative affairs and how to conquer the world, but he nevertheless took bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to be the primary task in life.

You would think this would be a cause for celebration. The aim of having children is to produce progeny that are God conscious, for otherwise the opportunity of the human form of life is not properly utilized. The human being that behaves like an animal will have to risk rebirth after the current life is over; so there is no telling what kind of species will be accepted next, for the workings of karma are very complicated, as the aggregate of all actions and reactions are taken into account. Hiranyakashipu should have been thrilled that his son was devoted to Vishnu without having to be cajoled. But just as the Kali Yuga is the “bizarro” era, so the atheists always act in a way directly opposed to how one should behave. Hiranyakashipu was so irate that his son was worshiping his number one competitor that he couldn’t stand to see his son alive. He ordered his palace guards to kill the five year old child by attacking him with weapons.

Narasimhadeva killing HiranyakashipuBut Prahlada was no ordinary devotee. When one’s consciousness becomes enveloped in loving feelings of devotion towards Vishnu, the effects of the material nature are drastically reduced. Therefore these weapons couldn’t harm Prahlada in any way. Indeed, it was the very same Vishnu protecting the young child, for the ability in man and the potency in weapons only come about through the Lord’s influence. Subsequent attacks, which increased in intensity, were perpetrated on Prahlada to take his life, but none of them worked. Being thrown off a cliff, put into a pit of venomous snakes and thrown into a raging fire could not get rid of the young child. Finally, the Supreme Lord had enough of these vile attempts, so He personally came and killed Hiranyakashipu. Death can be very quick and painless depending on how it is administered. Hiranyakashipu wasn’t so lucky. Vishnu came in the form of a half man/half lion to maintain the boons of safety previously granted to the king. This wondrous form took Hiranyakashipu – whose name ironically means a soft, golden cushion – and placed him on His lap. Vishnu, in the form of Narasimhadeva, then ferociously bifurcated the demon, thus giving him the most painful death. In this way the greatest impediment towards Prahlada’s devotional efforts was removed.

Lord RamaTulsidas accurately notes that Rama’s name has the same effect on the thwarting influences of Kali Yuga imposed on the devotees. Rama is the very same Narasimhadeva, so by chanting the Lord’s name, all perilous conditions can be avoided. The purpose of chanting the Lord’s name is also revealed through this one simple verse. While neophyte spiritualists may take to chanting to alleviate some distress, to receive a material reward, or to gain ascension to a higher realm, the bhakta only chants to be allowed to remain in Krishna consciousness. This wonderful attitude represents the height of purity and thought; therefore it is not surprising to see that the object of worship will Himself ensure that the impediments to such a sublime engagement are removed. Whether we find ourselves in the most pure circumstances or in the most rotten area not conducive to spiritual life, by following Prahlada’s example and remembering the Supreme Lord through chanting His name constantly, the forces of darkness will never stand a chance.

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