This morning, while reading this simple sentence: “One civilization arises, flourishes, and falls, and another takes its place.” (Caring, Page 191), I realized that the world I grew up in has almost completely disappeared.
Buddhist writings tell us that we are living in a time of gathering darkness, called the Kaliyuga. I don’t know how long this era is said to have been underway, but it must have been in evidence to the Buddha 2500 years ago. In any case, anyone with eyes to see can see that if our human presence here was a pot of water on the stove, there are now bubbles of steam starting to rise to the surface. All the ardent utterances of hope notwithstanding–all the diagnoses of what we and our governments need to do in order to restore human decency and the awareness of consequences in our society–proposed improvements for the future increasingly sound like the string quartet playing one more sad piece of music on the tilting deck of the Titanic.
While it continues to feel important that we do our best with the precious gift of our lives, evidence of the Kaliyuga is no longer just peeking through the dusty pages of ancient Buddhist tomes–no longer hidden in an awareness only accessible to enlightened beings. It is clearly visible in the faces moving through the crowds who have no discernible purpose in their movements but to get through their weary days.
This is not the time to allow discouragement to deep six our hearts. This is a time when understanding, honesty, and caring are more needed than ever. After all, we are still human beings living on a beautiful planet that inspires and puts to shame all our inventions, our virtual realities, and our dreams of overcoming adversity.
But it seems that now our task is to build a bridge of courage and honesty to link our hopes and aspiration with the suffering of the world that greets our discouraged and fearful eyes. Our visions of hope and our perceived daily realities must find a quiet place to meet, like spies exchanging strategies on a rainy night in the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge.
As our American culture unravels, and a dream founded on ideals of freedom and diversity turns nightmarish, it is clear that the consequence of pettiness, intolerance, and the failure to support authentic education, is no longer getting a free ride on the back of this continent’s unprecedented space and abundant resources. It is also clear that the mistakes of the past cannot be wished away. They have happened and now we must live with them.
Perhaps the meaning of the Kaliyuga is that the times in human societies in which creativity and generosity of spirit have flourished–when a renaissance has arisen in the sciences, arts, and the exploration of new frontiers–are bound to fade when the enthusiasm and delight in discovery that launched them lose their connection to the human spirit—like an arrow launched over open water will disappear beneath the passing waves, not to be found for another thousand years, unless it floats, at one with the waves around it.
In our modern society, if there can be a renaissance similar to the one in which an old understanding (preserved in Persia, now called Iran) made its way to a depressed and stagnant European society–thereby stimulating a rebirth of science, art and culture—it is the arrival in the middle of last century on the shores of the materialistic Western world, of Eastern spiritual understandings. This reseeding of appreciation for the inner flow of our human being, still holds great promise.
It is through this rekindling of awareness of our inner being–which meditation, mindfulness, simple kindness, and recognition of the vital importance of wisdom and compassion in human life has stimulated–that the future still holds out the possibility of recovering our role as stewards of this earth. But we have not yet learned to build a bridge that can connect our inner capacity to care with an effective reaching out to the far shore of our suffering world.