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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Doomsayers; Past, Present and Future?

Every now and again you are reminded that you have seen something somewhere at some time in your stumble through life and knowledge, and I had such a moment recently when clearing out some boxes I have carried around from house to house and even country to country. Opening a book at random I found myself rereading a current meme - only this is something from one of the oldest religious texts. From the Hindu Vishnu Purana, come the following prophecies: -
  • promiscuity will increase everywhere and marriage will decline,
  • lies will become the road to success,
  • causes of devotion will be confined to physical well being of self,
  • the only bond between sexes will be passion and the rites of marriage will cease,
  • men will be terrified of death and fear scarcity,
  • the wealthy will control men whose only interest is the gaining of wealth, however dishonestly,
  • the earth will be valued for its treasures only,
  • leaders will arise who are violent men who will seize the goods of their subjects, 
  • the ice caps will melt,
  • oceans will rise,
  • droughts will become normal and famine will prevail ...
Welcome to the Kali-yuga, the last of the four "Ages" set out in the ancient texts of the Vishnu Purana, which, according to the Hindu Calendar, we are currently living in. I first read this in the 1970s, and ever since the whole 'Climate Change' argument started, I have been wondering where I had heard or read the IPCC 'predictions' before. The rediscovery of the book, an otherwise amusing book which explores the world of predictions, prophecies and general 'doomsday' predictions is now long out of print I suspect, but some of the information in it can be found in the 1997 produced book "Predictions for the Millennium" published by Island Books (who I suspect are now out of business as well).

According to the Hindu text, this will be the shortest of the four 'ages' and though it will be troubled by violence, hardship, deceit and all things nasty (it is ruled by Kali, mother goddess and ruler of the night, and probably the nastiest of the Hindu goddesses), it is supposed to lead to 'rebirth' of a new and perfect world. This is a meme most prominently shared in Buddhist teaching which has a similar 'Great Year' (25,290 years) cycle in its holy books. I suppose it is a 'comfort' to know that the Kali-yuga is the shortest  of the four 'ages', only a mere 2,500 years in length and we are now supposedly entering the final years.

Anyone else recognise the meme?

Certainly, we are able to recognise the breakdown indications in any given society as being among those listed in this and, it must be said, many other 'prophecies' in a wide range of scriptures from an equally wide range of religions. many Christian 'Pentecostalists' and scriptural literalists, argue that this is what the 'Revelations' is all about and put forward their case for a final 'doomsday' and the Second Coming from their interpretation of passages from that book - which, though it does not carry any of the Hindu or Buddhist imagery, is being interpreted in the light of their teaching. Does this prove all such religious books, philosophies or scriptures to be 'false' as some would claim? 

In my view, no. What it does demonstrate is that ideas have been an interchangeable and influential currency across many cultures and across millennia. We can recognise strands of this and other 'Eastern Mystic' religious thinking in Greek philosophy, ancient Egyptian texts and in Hebrew writings - and in the Bible in spirit if not in concept. Even now it has currency in 'modern' writing and thinking. Take the current 'Climate Change' debate. Is it any surprise that the leader of the IPCC at the UN is from India? Even if he is not a Hindu, he will be familiar with their sacred texts, since some of this even crops up in the Quran, and in the Gnostic writings that provide a 'source' for much of that. Hence, if one reads the Vishnu Purana and the IPCC reports one can identify several parallels. Not least the fear of the melting ice caps and the rising seas. Then there is the emphasis on 'warming', increasing severity of storms, catastrophic events carrying off thousands of lives, famines, droughts and so on. The only difference is that the Hindu text says it is unstoppable, the IPCC says we can stop it.

Rereading this made me think about where else these (and a few other predictions) crop up today. Surprise, surprise, the same meme comes up in Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF and several more 'Green' proponents. It crops up in the ideologies promulgated by several left-wing political movements as well. Even some of the more radical evangelical Christian movements have eagerly espoused some of these, claiming 'it's in the Bible', which requires a bit of re-interpretation of some passages taken in isolation and out of context. The odd ones are the atheist figures who have taken it on, and I find some parallels among various humanist, secularist and 'New Age' neo-paganist utterances. I'm sure my friend Josephus will be able to suggest a few parallels from some of the fringes of Masonic offshoots from the 19th and early 20th Centuries. 

So we have an ancient text which some would claim is 'validated' by the 'proof' that the 'Global Warming' is 'real', that the breakdown we think we see in our society is evidence of its accuracy. On the other hand we have those who will deny that they are influenced by any of this 'religious stuff' and only believe in the 'science' that proves it. OK, if that 'floats your boat' it's fine by me. From my perspective, the most interesting factor is to ask the question; Just how much of our current doomsday thinking on Climate Change, societal collapse, rising crime, poverty and political chicanery is coloured by 'something we heard' or 'something we read' at school, university or at points in between?  How many of today's Doomsayers, are simply re-interpreting something they read in a religious text? 

It seems to me that some things make more sense, and others less sense when reread after a gap of 40 years, and this book certainly is one of those. Today the Kali-yuga is dressed up as 'Catastrophic Global Warming/Climate Change' and we are told that if we do exactly as the IPCC and its Green supporters tell us, we will emerge into a 'new world' with a better future which looks remarkably like - you guessed it - the Krita-yuga of the Vishnu Purana.  

Rereading this after forty years has been an amusing experience, partly because I have now recognised some things uttered by leading figures over that period that I am pretty sure they would deny come from this source. I've also recognised how some of my own thinking may have been influenced by some things I have read, experienced or been taught.

Perhaps the Ancient Greeks had a point. They believed humanity was here for the amusement of the gods ...

3 comments:

  1. There is a common thread through all of the portents of doom, from the texts you quote, probably preceded by Socrates “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.” Circa 450 BC, I think Vishnu Purana was around 320 BC and on to the babblings of today's fringe organisations who claim to be able to control the earth itself. The commonality is that of complaining about things that you do not like. It is a habit of people of a certain age to look back to the “good old days” which I repeatedly remind those people were a time and place where we were not good and we certainly were not old.

    It is when these thoughts are picked up by the “youth of today” that things get out of hand. I honestly wish that today's youth would get on with it and secure our future while they still know everything. Certainly since the emergence of the “sixties” from the gloom of post-war Britain it has been the position of “youth” to be left of centre and to be critical of all that their parents believed in and to ignore or belittle everything that their parents achieved. The basis of this has been practiced by us late baby-boomers, then Generation X, then Y, now Z and the connected generation of today simply cannot work out that it was people of my age that enabled the technology that they so fervently worship. It has been the rise of the individual, along with their “rights”, this may be one reason for the decline of the family as a functional unit of society and the rapid change in the use of the English language both spoken and written.

    The real challenge, though, comes when these otherwise entirely normal people decide that “something must be done”... They can plot and scheme, text and tweet to their hearts content, but when they emerge blinking into the sunlight, the dreaded spectre of “positive action” rears its head. History paints differing pictures of such events, but they are not new, Spartacus, Boudicca, Watt Tyler, Jethro Tull, Columbia University 1968, Paris 1968, Soweto 1976, Riot in Los Angeles, riots in London, it is how history records and presents these “uprisings” that accord them “good” or “bad” qualities. History however, is always written by those with power, with the upper hand, and rarely by the minority, irrespective of the justness or otherwise of their actions.

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  2. I became interested in matters ecological when at university, the fact that my “major” was biology probably helped, but I have great memories of a social studies fifth year group at Sale Moor Secondary Modern, the group were supposed to be “no hopers” so the student was given the task of policing them for a couple of hours each Wednesday afternoon. One day my tutor appeared to observe, fortunately, he was the one with imagination and was less interested in my lesson plans and visual aids and more in the fact that there was a constant trickle of kids coming in to the room as they finished other classes, my rambling tales, so familiar to a generation or two of fire safety officers, had their origins here and they fired the imagination of those kids who would normally have been trying to escape the school. We discussed ecological issues on several occasions, it is to my great disgust that since those days (1973) we have lost thousands of miles of hedgerow in our farmland, often replaced with sterile monoculture that fits the technical escription of “desert”, seen wild bird populations, bee populations and wetland fauna all decline dramatically, pesticide use increase, agricultural overuse of anti-biotics threatening to waste such a boon to humanity after only sixty years and don't even get me started on the quantity of the world's rain forest that has been lost forever since the early seventies.

    However, if the Faeroe Islanders want to eat whale, it is not a problem, they have done so for years, generations, I have a friend in Pangnurtang, Baffin Island, who is probably at this time hunting seal pups, they will be eaten, but if not controlled, they would devastate the fishing grounds as the species is highly successful with few natural predators since man has kept Nanuk in check. The Nunavat language gives him a god like status and Inuit tradition reveres the spirit of the polar bear as the master of bears and the controller of hunters' fortunes, however, his population is heavily controlled and as a result seal pups must be culled. If there are any “greens” out there who think this is inhumane, then go and live a year in Pang, I can assure you that you will be more blue than green and that if you are a vegetarian you will starve... If you know nothing of the culture, keep your nose out of their business. (Oh, yes and the communities are all dry.)

    I am totally unable to provide examples of world changing prospects from any of the mainstream masonic orders, they are inherently conservative and ban discussion of politics and religion in their dealings. They also have an inherently conservative in their moral view of civil doings, in fact the charge to the first degree recommends to the new apprentice several ways in which to carry out their civic duty with honour. I am certain that if one followed the fringe workings of Crowley at Thelema, then ararchy and a new world order would appear, but then so would some rather deviant sexual practices and a massive amount of illicit drug use. It is fair to say though, that he was a significantly successful mountaineer in his younger days and went further up Everest that anyone thereto recorded and played a huge part in the first (1902) attempt on K2, saving the life of one man by being the only person in the large team to recognise the symptoms of pulmonary odeama.

    All of the above is my way of looking at the world and its various conundrums, there are some things that you cannot change, the climate change is one of them, the climate has always been changing and always will. Anyone who thinks that our release of carbon dioxide from industry is the trigger factor has omitted volcanoes from their geography lessons, anyone who believes that the ice caps are melting needs to look at long term trends, not what happened last winter or the one before.

    By the way, are the “activists” trapped in the Antarctic ice back home yet?

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  3. Back to your quote "humanity was here for the amusement of the gods ..."... I think humanity is here for amusement of those of us who see it for what it is... ;-)

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