By David (Byasa) Steinmetz
Ananda College Professor and co-author of “The Yugas: Keys to Understanding Our Hidden Past, Emerging Present and Future Enlightenment”
The places we visit on a pilgrimage tour are beautiful windows into a variety of cultures and times, but is there a larger picture, one that helps us see how it all fits together? Yes, there is. It is called the Yuga Cycles of Time. Based on ancient knowledge preserved in India and expounded by Swami Sri Yukteswar over a century ago, this model of the evolution of human consciousness provides a framework on which we can hang all sorts of things. The prevailing consciousness of a people finds enduring expression in their art and architecture, history, mythology, language, and literature. We can use these clues and our knowledge of the evolution of consciousness to help us attune to the people and times associated with each place that we visit.
For instance, when we visit Byzantine monasteries, realize that they come from a time, called Kali Yuga, when the general population had a lower, more material consciousness than most people do today, so these monastics isolated themselves to seek a higher consciousness. We can tune into the depth of devotion and strength of determination these people had to have to remove themselves so completely from society.
Most of the sites on this tour are from the age called Dwapara Yuga which preceded the Kali Yuga and followed an age of higher consciousness called the Treta Yuga. Today we are in the lowest part of an ascending Dwapara Yuga, so we might get a glimpse of our own future by tuning into cultures from the higher (i.e. earlier) part of the descending Dwapara Yuga. In general, that age corresponds to the Bronze Age of archaeology.
These considerations enrich our appreciation of the artifacts we see. For example, we might look at the famous Minoan fresco that depicts acrobats gracefully vaulting over the horns of a bull and compare that sport from the early Bronze Age (higher consciousness part of descending Dwapara) with the bloody bull fight spectacles left over from the lower consciousness of Kali Yuga.
(The above image is from a fresco in the Knossos Palace on Crete. Today some say these bull acrobats would never have been able to grab a bull by the horns, let alone participate with it, because it would have gored the participants to death. However, in the higher yugas of Treta and even Descending Dwapara Yuga, people would have had much higher consciousness and attunement with all life, including with animals, trees, plant forms, etc. In Treta Yuga, people and potentially animals communicated telepathically. Therefore, even in descending Treta and Dwapara Yuga, this higher consciousness would have allowed interactions like these that were more harmonious, perhaps even entertaining. We know Dwapara Yuga was the age of energy. The acrobat on the right hand side of the fresco appears to be using hands—possibly to move energy. In Minoan Art, men were depicted as red, women as white. As we descended down to the Dark Ages of Kali Yuga, both humans and animals lost their connection to higher consciousness and their awareness dropped significantly. Humans began killing and eating animals, animals fought to protect themselves. During the ages of higher consciousness, the bull was revered, even honored, much as they are today in places like India. – Nayaswami Nischala)
(A closer look at this ring from a tomb next to the Knossos Palace on Crete shows a Goddesses like figure descending from the heavens. In other rings found in tombs nearby, women appear to be invoking a Divine Mother figure from above, also showing attunement with the plant and animal kingdom. Some art historians claim the Minoan Civilization provided proof of the first matriarchy, where women were priestesses, lived harmoniously with all nature and animals, and was essentially a spiritual civilization. – Nayaswami Nischala)
Whenever we investigate the ancient civilizations of Greece, Anatolia, the Aegean Sea, and Egypt we encounter a blank wall around the time of transition from Treta Yuga to Dwapara Yuga c. 3100 BC. That is largely due the nature of Treta Yuga. It was a mental age, with little emphasis on building the physical structures that archaeologists love. The artifacts of the Treta will be found in the oral traditions and myths that have been handed down to us over the millennia. When those civilizations disappeared, much of those precious traditions were lost. India is the one culture that has a continuous history dating back even beyond the Treta Yuga to the highest of all ages, the Satya Yuga. We can get clues from Indian Vedic traditions and literature as to the history and consciousness of those times. The Vedic knowledge was spread westward toward the Aegean and beyond in ancient times and traces abound in mythology and placenames. Mostly what this tells is that the ancestors of the cultures we know have their roots deeper in antiquity at least back to the end of the last ice age c.12000 years ago.
Something catastrophic happened in the Eastern Mediterranean c.1200 BC. as the end of Dwapara approached. All the prominent civilizations in the region collapsed in a very short window of time. Greece was thrown into a Dark Age period, the Hittite empire of Anatolia (modern day Turkey) failed, the Mycenean civilization collapsed, many kingdoms were no longer. Those who survived, notably the Egyptians were much weakened. Many scholars have sought for a single cause, to no avail. It seems that a series of earthquakes, uprisings, migrations, climate changes, trade disruptions and more contributed to the collapse. If we are to look for a single overreaching cause it would be the change of consciousness between the Dwapara and Kali Yugas. Such a change has myriad manifestations in both human and natural realms. As the poison of dark Kali Yuga consciousness begins to mix with the dynamic energy of Dwapara the consequences are bound to be cataclysmic. A sobering thought is the realization that we are a few hundred years into the Dwapara Yuga now and seem to be approaching a similar flash point and collapse. The good news is that we are on the upward arc of the Yugas and can look forward to a few hundred years of peace and prosperity similar to the corresponding period of the Bronze age preceding its collapse.
The chart shows the relationship of our time to the ancient times associated with the sites visited on the tour. You will be visiting archeological sites mainly of three different cultures:
- Mycenaean and Minoan – Bronze Age cultures of the mid Dwapara Yuga. The roots of these cultures are hidden in time, but probably extend from as far back as the Treta Yuga.
- Ancient Greek and Roman – After the Bronze age collapse these cultures flourished in the descending Kali Yuga. Note that the Roman empire ended with the transition between the descending and ascending Kali Yugas.
- Byzantine and Ottoman Empires – These were the dominant Western cultures during the ascending Kali Yuga but ended with the return of Dwapara Yuga.