Follow along with Roger Gabriel, Chopra's Chief Meditation Officer, in this new article series on the Vedic Yugas.
I’ve written articles and recorded talks on the Vedic concept of evolution. Even though we call it a journey through time and recognize the great time periods known as Yugas, it is timeless, without beginning or end. It is a journey where the beginning is already the ending, a magnificent dream, some call it God’s dream, where every experience is ultimately the path to awaken us to the true reality. This is the journey through creation or life as we know it.
So why do we make this journey? Well because it’s fun or at least it starts out that way, until we take it seriously and lose our way. Like any journey, there are signposts along the way, pointing us in the right direction. These signs are the great teachers who have already completed the journey and left their wisdom for those willing to hear it. This journey is not without distractions, causing us to miss the signs or choosing to ignore them and deciding to go our own way. So far, for many of us, our journey has been one of missed or ignored opportunities, leading us away from our home of truth, joy and bliss and into a land of chaos and confusion. Now is the time to find our path, now is the time to come home.
In this series of articles, I would like to share the Vedic perspective of this journey delving deeper into some of the great teachings that have been left to illumine the way. Many of these teachings go back thousands of years, while others are relatively more recent. However, like our journey, this wisdom is timeless and can never lose its relevance.
We’ll follow the course of the great Vedic Yugas:
- Sat Yuga - The Golden Age of Truth
- Treta Yuga - The Silver Age of Separation
- Dwapara Yuga - The Bronze Age of Disharmony
- Kali Yuga - The Iron Age of Ignorance and Yet Hope
The Vedas tell us that each Yuga is progressively shorter than the preceding one, corresponding to a decline in the moral and physical state of humanity. Sat Yuga is an age of perfection, lasting 1,728,000 years. The fourth and most degenerate Yuga began in 3102 BCE and will last 432,000 years. At the close of the Kali Yuga, the world will be destroyed by fire and flood, removing the evil forces that rule it and bringing an immediate return to the purity of Sat Yuga.
Before the Beginning
Western science tells us that the universe as we know it, started with the Big Bang. Vedic philosophy says that it wasn’t just any old bang, it was actually the sound OM, or to be more precise AUM, emerging from a field of infinite silence. The Vedas go on to tell us that it wasn’t just a single AUM, that happened once, it is a continuous process of the unfolding of creation. Whether we believe it was a bang or an om, this was the start of space and time and life as we know it.
The question then arises, what was there before either of these happened? Science doesn’t really have an answer, although the physicist Stephen Hawking said that time didn’t exist before the Big Bang. The Vedas agree there was no time, but goes further to explain that beyond creation is the true reality, the Absolute. However, the Absolute not something and it’s not nothing and so can’t be conceived by a human mind. The mind is only capable of viewing objects and so describes it as nothing. While it is nothing in itself, it is the potential for everything, out of which everything arises. True reality is empty of objects but full of itself.
Because it’s indescribable, the Vedas refer to it as That and tell us I am That, thou art That and all this is That. he tenth mandala of the Rig Veda says, The non-existent was not, the existent was not, the world was not, nor the firmament, nor that which is above it. Death was not nor at that period immortality, there was no indication of day or night.
Within its eternity, the Absolute decided it wanted to experience, or essentially to play and enjoy itself. Again from the Rig Veda,
In the beginning there was desire, which was the first seed of the mind.
The Absolute moved within itself, to experience itself. From this movement, the original primordial sound AUM was created and emerged from the silent field of Pure Consciousness becoming conditioned consciousness or, all the manifest creation we experience every day.
The Rig Veda continues,
Whence was this creation, whence was it engendered? The gods were subsequent to the creation so who knows whence it arose? He from whom this creation arose, he may uphold it or he may not, no one else can. He who is its superintendent in the highest heaven, he assuredly knows or if he knows not, no one else does.
From AUM arose the gross physical, the subtle causal, and celestial universes. From them emerged the great Gayatri Mantra and its twenty-four seed syllable mantras
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bargo Devasya Dhimahi
Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat
From the Gayatri Mantra emerged knowledge of the transcendental nature of the Cosmic Being. From this emerged the entire meaning of the Vedas, from which Brahma created the manifest Universe.
The Universe is a projection of Consciousness. An evolution from Pure Universal Consciousness to individual consciousness, to the ego, to the intellect and mind, to the senses and finally to the physical body and material world. Meditation is an involution, a return journey from the gross, manifest world to subtler and subtler levels until we arrive back home in Pure Consciousness. Meditation is the return ticket home. Even though it may have been covered over and hidden beneath all the stories we have gathered during countless lifetimes, in our essence we are always that Pure Consciousness, perfect in every way.
When our individual, conditioned soul ventured out from the purity of Oneness, it took a spark of the Divine with it. There’s a story about when the Divine created everyone. The Divine wanted its light to always be available to guide the seekers of truth. But, the Divine said, it can’t just be left lying around it needs to be hidden so only those who are ready will find it. Should it be hidden amongst the stars or in the deepest oceans? No the Divine decided, I’ll place it deep in everyone’s hearts, where only the purest will think of looking.
The name of this spark of the Divine within each of us is AHUM, “I am”. Unfortunately, we nearly always immediately follow “I am” with a story and so, instead of expanding into eternity, we contract into limited reality. We forget our true selves. Our spiritual journey is therefore one of remembering. As the Bhagavad Gita tells us,
Strive to know that, by knowing which, there shall remain nothing more to be known.
The journey is that of the soul, which having stepped out of perfection, must now find its way home. Imagine that your soul is in a room. This room is perfect, everything you could want is here. You are blissful in this room but, after some time, you wonder, what’s outside the room? Maybe there’s something even better. Your soul steps outside and the door closes behind you. You realize that it’s far from blissful out there but you think you’ll look around before going back inside your room. Your soul takes on a physical form and starts exploring. You meet other forms, you have relationships, you visit different places, have good and bad experiences. The form gets old and dies, you take on another one. The memory of the perfect room gets lost, replaced by the memories of all your new experiences. These memories accumulate and get stored as karmic energy, which influences each new rebirth. After thousands, maybe millions of births and rebirths, something reminds you of the perfect room. You begin your journey homeward. That Divine spark, which has always been with you, begins to shine brighter. It guides you to meet other souls journeying in the same direction. You encounter teachers and practices to support you on the path. The memories and their karmic energy gradually dissolve until finally, your only memory is of the perfect room. You have arrived back at the door and enter. Home again.
In the next four articles, we’ll look at each of the different Yugas or Vedic “age of the world”, through which your soul has been journeying. By virtue of the fact that you are reading this article, something has reminded you of the perfect room. You are heading homeward. We’ll look at some of the great teachings which were presented along the way but your soul wasn’t ready to embrace. These teachings are still available, now it’s time to take advantage of them.
Let the journey begin.
The Vedas contain several Mahavakyas. These “great statements” were taught by enlightened teachers when they felt their student was ready to receive them. Just hearing them would expand the student’s awareness. Please use them during this journey through the Yugas and take a moment to close your eyes and connect with the wisdom of the ages.
TAT TVAM ASI (That is what I am. That absolute reality is the essence of what I really am)
Repeat it silently a few times.
Then bring your attention into your heart center and silently say, “That is who I am”.
Letting go of the false identities, everything created by the ego, hold in your awareness the essence of the truth that the Absolute, this Oneness, is who you really are.
TAT TVAM ASI