That leaves only one fundamental belief of Hinduism without a publicly argued rational explanation: the long four-stage moral cycle from a golden age of virtue to the dank corruption of the Kali Yuga.
This lack of argument should be seen as part of our general cultural amnesia, for our ancients never postulated anything without reason. Indeed, it does not require much analysis to reveal the rationale for the four yuga cycle.
The first phase, when virtue is “firmly founded on four feet,” harks back to the time when humanity was part of Nature and cultural behavior closely reflected the instinctive. Ideas of the “Noble Savage” and “primitive communism” reflect somewhat similar thinking in the West. This was the time when the Saptarishis, seeking peace among the many tribes of India, assembled all their sacred lore into the Vedas, thereby underlining large commonalities among the groups and creating a common object of veneration.
The second phase of reduced but still excellent virtue was the time of the Upanishads, when rishis in their forest abodes agreed on the existence of a Paramatma universally immanent as the Eternal Law (Sanathana Dharma). The idea that a firm and unbreakable chain of karmic causality controlled individual destiny countered the tyranny of the tribe and gradually reduced groups to vague caste identities associated with specialized functions in an interdependent society.
The third era, the time of the Mahabharata, saw the lust for power explode into great imperial conflict. Sri Krishna, acknowledged as the only “purnaswaroop” of Vishnu’s incarnations, set right the growing imbalance of the age and, in the Bhagavad Gita, instructed the virtuous how to endure the Kali Yuga to come.
That final age of overweening corruption can be seen rationally as the shadow of material progress in the preceding Yugas.
The specialized division of labor and the freedom of individuals to make moral and economic choices – a combination that Adam Smith in 18th Century England would describe as the essential attributes of a wealth-creating free market – had made India an immensely rich country. Its luxurious products, ranging from spices that preserved food to fine cotton cloth and diamond jewelry, attracted traders from the far ends of Eurasia and further added to the country's fabled wealth.
As imperial power had corrupted older ideals of governance, so wealth and luxury undermined the spiritual value system founded on the teachings of the Upanishads.
Interestingly, India did not attract invaders just with its wealth; its religious concepts -- or rather, incomprehension of them -- were key factors stirring them into action.
Within India, the concept of a Universal Spirit was firmly anchored in the concepts of Dharma and Karma, both preventing any individual or group from setting rules on behalf of the Almighty. Those anchors were lost as monotheism made its way from India to the philosophy of Plato. and then into the first Greek translation of the Jewish Bible three centuries before the advent of Jesus.
Within the Jewish fold the loss of constraints on the concept of God had little negative effect because of the belief in Israel’s exclusive covenant with YAHWEH; but as the messianic faiths of Christianity and Islam advanced exclusive claims on God that delegitimized each other and all other religions, the result was unending conflict.
The economic and political fallout was heavy. As Islamic conquests around the Mediterranean cut off Christian Europe’s access to the Indian spice trade it inspired an ongoing search for alternate routes to India. Marco Polo skirted north of Muslim lands to China, and his book describing a return to Europe via India, gave Christopher Columbus the idea that another path to the Orient might lie across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, an old Phoenician legend recounted by Herodotus that Africa was an island led the Portuguese to explore a southward sea route.
I have described in an earlier post the horrendous consequences of European expansion for the people of the newly discovered regions. In India the European intrusions were preceded by those of Arabs, Turks and Afghans occurring as it were, in slow motion over the period of a millennium. There was no concerted response even though Guru Nanak went throughout the country seeking to spark a renaissance. It took the mass murder and dire poverty inflicted by the British to bring his efforts to fruition four centuries later.
As the country now looks to a period of sustained economic growth it is well to remember that the path out of the Kali Yuga must be essentially spiritual and that enormous challenges face us. Our political elite is sodden with corruption, our policing authorities are wolves, the intellectual leaders who should be helping India recover its true self are in the pay of our most bitter enemies, and even some of the leaders of our fighting forces, men who should value honor above life itself, have sold their integrity for that most pitiable of rewards, money.
I firmly believe that our exit from the Kali Yuga is unstoppable. The power of the bhakti of the great mass of Indians – certainly the only thing that has kept the country on an even keel through the worst disasters – will ultimately cleanse the elite. However, there is no predicting the pace of change. It will depend entirely on the moral conduct of younger generations. If they are committed above all else to personal integrity and sacrifice in the service of the country India can recover itself swiftly. If not, we could linger for generations in the current bewildered and weakened state at the mercy of brutal foreign forces.
There are many signs those forces are strengthening. The latest is the announcement of an Indian chapter of Al Qaeda, which has from its inception been under British control. I take it as an indication that the British incubus is readying like some real life Voldemort to return from the realm of the undead.
As with the evil Lord of the Harry Potter stories, Britain has a range of allies awaiting the return, from corporate leaders, media houses and poisonous advertising agencies to openly anti national A-list film stars and of course, the corrupt in every field with black money under British management.
Also, a slow coup d'etat seems to be gathering strength from within the civil service that runs everything from elections to our unconstitutional and out of control Intelligence Bureau. The death of a popular BJP politician in a car accident in Delhi, the fall that put another outspoken leader into a coma in Rajasthan, the attempt to tar the most active environmental activists in the country, and now the bid to bring the judiciary under bureaucratic control, are not incidental straws in the wind. .
They should put everyone on alert. In fact, everyone should be prepared for a 9/11 type attack that will justify declaration of an Emergency and suspension of civil rights and procedures.