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Follow along with Roger Gabriel, Chopra's Chief Meditation Officer, in this new article series on the Vedic Yugas.
Read previous articles in the series:
The bull, representing dharma, the true purpose in life, which had stood on four legs during Sat Yuga and three during Treta Yuga, now balances on two legs. Less than half the people followed moral lives. Ego, trickery, fraud, disease, and disharmony all began to dominate everyday life. People became more competitive causing a rise in conflicts and war. Spiritual practices declined as love for the Divine was replaced with sensory gratifying, pleasure-seeking. Virtue and sin were now measured equally as adherence to a yogic lifestyle decreased. Humankind was now in the Bronze Age.
Recognizing and following one’s dharma, or true path, is the way out of the downward decline through the yugas. The four legs of dharma are austerity, cleanliness, kindness, and truthfulness. In Sat Yuga austerity predominated with practices to free the soul from the body. Cleanliness through the performance of strict rituals was the focus during Treta Yuga. These greatly declined during Dwapara Yuga, where for most people intense austerity and rituals became too difficult. For those who followed dharma, kindness, compassion, and charity to others while addressing their own flaws took precedent. Unfortunately, most ignored their dharmic path.
Vedic texts tell us that during Treta Yuga the average height of a person was eight feet. This reduced to seven in Dwapara Yuga.
Up until now, the Vedas had existed as one body of knowledge. During Dwapara Yuga they were categorized into the four parts of Rig, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva, creating different lifestyles and activities. The caste system came into being and people were defined as Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, or Shudras.
Brahmins were the priestly class who performed the rituals, gave the teachings, and were considered as the custodians of the knowledge. Those who were pure of heart engaged in religious practices, had restraint and control of their senses, and served the people.
Kshatriyas were the ruling and warrior class, whose job was to protect the people and maintain law and order. The pure ones remained humble and performed their duties honestly without anger or cruelty.
Vaishyas were mostly the landowners and merchants. They engaged in trade, shopkeeping, and agriculture, and those spiritually inclined provided charity and hospitality for their communities.
The Shudras performed the more menial tasks that generally involved physical work.
However, the Vedas say that everyone is a born shudra but through pure actions and deeds, we can become a vaishya, kshatriya, or brahman.
This was also the time of the great battle of light versus darkness, between two factions of the same family, as told in the Indian epic The Mahabharata. The battle lasted for eighteen days during which most, who were not in their dharma perished.
As in every age, there were those who came and attempted to restore balance and harmony to the world. This was the time of the great teachers of the Old Testament and other ancient religions.
In the Vedic tradition, we now have the Divine incarnation of Krishna. Stories of the exploits of Krishna as a child and youth are still enjoyed today. However, what is most remembered and revered is the teaching that Krishna gave to Arjuna, leader of the righteous army, on the battlefield just as the battle described in the Mahabharata was about to begin. Seeing many of his relatives and friends gathered in the opposing army, Arjuna was reluctant to fight. Krishna, as Arjuna’s charioteer and advisor, then gives his teaching, which is known as the Bhagavad Gita or the Song of God. Krishna tells Arjuna to fulfill his warrior dharma and that those who act selflessly for the right cause and strive to do their dharmic duty, do God's work. Dharma is one’s lifelong role and karma is the actions necessary to complete it. As long as the actions are unattached to any rewards, they are free from any karmic effects. True happiness will always come from within.
The Bhagavad Gita is like a spiritual map or guidebook to help us remember who we really are and escape from the prison of ignorance and suffering we have created for ourselves. We are given a foundation for spiritual practices (Sadhana) which could be practiced by everyone. It can be thought of as an internal conversation between our personality or ego and the divinity of our higher Self. As it tells us, In the still mind, in the depths of meditation, the Self reveals itself and the student knows the joy and peace of complete fulfillment
Krishna’s great statement, Yogastha Kuru Karmani, Established in Being, perform action is the foundation of today’s meditation practices. He is telling us that our lives will only be true and effective when we are firmly grounded in our essence.
As everyone’s temperament is different, Krishna suggests four possible styles of spiritual practice. These are what’s now known as the Four Paths of Yoga
Bhakti Yoga - the path of love and devotion; If you see God within everyone, then you can never do harm to anyone. If you see God within yourself, then you attain perfection.
Karma Yoga - the path of selfless service, The ignorant work for their own profit, the wise work for the welfare of the world, without thought for themselves.
Gyana Yoga - the path of knowledge and self-reflection; Strive to know that, by knowing which, there shall remain nothing more to be known.
Raja Yoga the path of techniques, including meditation, explained in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga The yogi is greater than men of austerities, greater than men of knowledge, greater than men of action. Therefore be a yogi.
The Bhagavad Gita taught us that Yoga isn’t about creating a union of body, mind, soul, and spirit, they are and always have been One. Yoga brings the realization that individuality is an illusion and reveals to us the Oneness of all things.
Dvapara Yuga lasted for 864,000 years. Those who heard and followed Krishna’s teachings returned to the higher planes. Sadly the majority of people slipped deeper into ignorance. The sacred Saraswati River on whose bank the Vedas had supposedly been compiled, disappeared. At the end of the Mahabharata battle, the sun was eclipsed by the sudden appearance of a cloud. Darkness fell, wolves and jackals could be heard howling as vultures flew overhead. The cloud showered pebbles and meteors fell to earth.
Krishna’s homeland of Dwaraka was flooded and he finally left his mortal body once again merging with the Absolute.
The final age of Kali Yuga dawned
Silently repeat the following Mahavakya a few times.
Ayam Atma Brahm [Text Wrapping Break] Atman and Brahman are the same. The individual Self is one and the same with the absolute
Be aware of the universal essence in that all exists,
Everyone is one with Brahman
Continue your journey with the four Yugas and the history of Vedic meditation in From OM to Home: A Vedic Journey Through Time, a four-part series with Roger Gabriel, available now on the Chopra App.