Does Dharma have Ascent and Decline?
DHARMA IS THE MAIN ELEMENT in our conception of Yugas. That falls in the realm of spirituality. True spiritual power is an accurate understanding of the essential philosophy of the universe and a firm conviction to order our lives in tune with it. However, is this spiritual power too, subject to Time? Is it also subject to the natural and inevitable cycles of growth and decline? Yes, say our ancients.
The divisions of Time into Krta and other Yugas are merely symbolic. In reality, Time is an indivisible flow. It has been classified into four categories for ease of discourse or understanding. On the plane of philosophy, the flow of time remains indivisible and continuous. In the human world, the chain of Karma and its fruits is similarly indivisible and incessant. Ascent and decline are fruits of Karma.
The seed of downfall (or sin) is hidden somewhere in the kernel of the fruit of puṇya or virtue. The person who is watchful during the course of enjoying the fruit of puṇya will first cast away this seed of sin. Others, whose tongues are engrossed in enjoying the fruit will forget this danger inherent in it. It is human nature to lose consciousness in moments of happiness.
The Consequence of triguṇas
There is another point that we need to keep in mind in this context. The three guṇas or attributes of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are ever-present in human nature. Their proportion varies in each person. That is, one or two of these attributes might be present to a greater or lesser degree.
In the Kr̥ta Yuga, the Sattva attribute will flourish in each person naturally. That Yuga is where puṇya fully manifests itself. This is why happiness and joy are boundless among the people. However, while steeped in this joy, some people will become unvigilant. When that happens, the attributes of Rajas and Tamas—which were lying latent till then—will slowly but steadily raise their head. Thus, everything that was imbued with Sattva eventually becomes mixed with desire, craving, and carelessness. That in turn paves the way for the Trētā Yuga.
In the Trētā Yuga, although puṇya is not all-pervasive, it is dominant and therefore happiness is largely the general condition of the people. In such a condition, larger numbers of people will become unvigilant and fall in the clutches of Rajas and Tamas. This in turn paves the way for dvāpara.
In the Dvāpara Yuga, both puṇya and papa, and joy and sorrow are in equal proportion. When this Yuga arrives, Rajas and Tamas would have acquired greater strength. When soul-attributes begin to descend, the pace of Rajas quickens and steals a march over Sattva. However, the innate speed of Tamas is greater than Rajas.
The Dvāpara Yuga is one where the bandit and the policeman are constantly out on the hunt for each other. Kali is roaming around, awaiting the perfect time for netting the hunt. The divine power stands to protect Dharma. The human world has now been cleaved into two, standing between these powers but trembling in fear. Just like how the river enlarges as it flows on, Tamas grows in power in the Dvāpara Yuga and eventually dominates over Sattva and Rajas. The culmination of full-blown Tamas is the Kali Yuga.
The triguṇas in human nature further vary owing to the influence of the larger world in which the human lives. Human nature is milk while the world is sour curd. A drop of buttermilk added to the milk that is optimally boiled gives us sweet curd after a few hours. Few more hours later, the same thing gives us sour curd. Give it even more hours, it stinks. None needs do anything with respect to such differences in innate nature. The very operation of Time causes variations in the innate nature of things. Thus, the four milestones in the natural decline of guṇas constitute the Four Yugas. In reality, this is the “transaction” of Nature itself.
On one hand is human nature. On the other is the Cosmic Order. When the two get in touch with each other, the inherent elements of human nature become transformed owing to Time. This is truly the sport of nature. It is what is known as Lōka-līla.
Lōkavattu līlā kaivalyaṁ || (Brahmasūtra)
Duty of the Present Era
Given all this, what is our duty in the Kali Yuga? If decline is the work of nature, is it possible for the human to stop it? The answer to this question is as follows:
Firstly, it is not said that Dharma itself will be annihilated in the Kali Yuga. Although crippled, a quarter of Dharma will remain – like a seed that will eventually usher in Krta Yuga. In that tiny portion, we must be steadfast and must not aspire to succumb to the majority.
Secondly, that minority which is wedded to Dharma will become the natural order of things in the ensuing Krta Yuga. The nature that causes downfall is the same nature that uplifts us.
The person who wishes to be born as a human being in the Krta Yuga must have earned birth at least as a lower being in his previous birth in the Kali Yuga. Whether the human ascends or falls down, Dharma will never be destroyed completely. Just as there is a peak for the human Sattva, there is also a trough for it. The head is the Krta Yuga, the bottom of the foot is the Kali Yuga. In this manner, the principle that there is indeed a limit to destruction is a matter of great motivation for all of us. There is anyway the divine assurance that the Bhagavan himself will take an Avatar each time Dharma is on the verge of destruction: Yadā yadā hi dharmasya, etc, (Bhagavad Gita).
This then is the chain of cause and effect operating behind the system of Yugas. It is fully evidenced by human experience.
Sunrise of Kali Yuga
At present, the matter before us is the Dvāpara Yuga. We can call it the sunrise of the Kali Yuga. The sort of doubts, confusions, critical junctures, the gamut of tribulations and tumults that are taunting us in their perverse forms in our own time—all these intense questions of Dharma are the knotty points of the Mahabharata. Therefore, from one perspective, the Mahabharata is contemporary history.
yadihāsti tadanyatra yannehāsti na tat kvacit ||
To be continued