A correspondent is confused on this subject from the statement in What is Theosophy by Mr. Old, that we are in the midst of the Iron or Black Age. Doubtless his sentence, which is on page 28 of the book, is misleading, because “kali” means “black,” and hence it would seem that he meant we are now in the middle of Kali Yuga, but reading further it is seen that he refers only to the first part of the Age. Kali Yuga is in length 432,000 years according to the old Indian calculation, and we are now coming to the end of its first five thousand years, that preliminary period being reckoned from the death of Krishna. In passing, it may be justly thought that this five thousand year period is the origin of the idea of the Hebrews that the world is about that age, just as the Greeks in the time of Solon imagined that all things had to count from their former great cataclysm, but which the Egyptian priests showed to Solon was incorrect, for, as they said, “There had been many great cataclysms before that.”
In the Secret Doctrine is to be found this: “The fourth sub-race was in Kali Yuga when destroyed.” This is not amenable to objection on the ground that we who are not that race are in Kali, for each race goes through the various Ages for itself; hence the former races, both primary and sub-, go through all the four periods from the Golden to the Black.
It must follow from this, and such is the oldest teaching on the subject, that at one and the same time races may be on the earth running each for itself through one or other of the periods. Some might be in the Golden Age and others in the Black. At present it is admitted that the Aryans are in the Kali Age, but certain childlike races are not so. Within the present five thousand year period we know that races have absolutely finished their Kali Yuga and gone out of existence. This happened to that which ruled a part of the American continent, and hence for them in particular their Kali Yuga must have begun earlier than ours did. The Hottentots also disappeared during our memory. This method of considering the subject will clear it up, leaving only to be settled for each race the period which they are in, or the beginning and ending of it. And, as said, for the Aryans the great Kali Yuga began five thousand (odd) years ago.
To find out when the great Kali Yuga for the major race, including all its sub-races, began would be impossible, as there are no means, and H.P.B., the only one for the present who had access to those who held the records, said precise figures on those heads would not be given out. But she and also those behind her who gave her so much information laid it down, as in accord with the philosophy of nature given out, that a division into four was the order for evolution in respect to the life of races, and hence that each great race, whatever its number in the whole seven, would be compelled to go through the four periods from the Satya to Kali, while at the same time the minor races had the same division, only that each part would be shorter than those pertaining to the great race as a whole. For that reason it seems plain that the figures for the various Ages (or Yugas) are only such as relate to and govern the sub- or minor races.
The overlapping of races as to their particular Yuga (or Age) can be easily seen in history. When the whites came to America the Indians were in their stone age in some places, using stone hammers, spears, knives, and arrows. Even in cultured South America the priests used stone knives for use at the sacrifices. We, however, had gone far beyond that. The red Indian of North America would have remained wholly in the stone age had we not altered it to some extent while we proceeded as instruments for his annihilation. Therefore in our own period we have examples of two races being in different Ages while living at the same time on the globe.
The foregoing is the general scheme outlined in the Secret Doctrine, where there are numerous pages showing that when a new race, whether a sub or a major one, comes in it does so while many of the old race still exist, the one gradually rising in development while the other falls. They shade into one another as night does into day, until at last either night or day predominates. This period of shading is allowed for in regard to the Ages, and in the Brahmanical calculation we find that they add twilights and dawns, since preceding a new Age there must be the dawn as following it will come the twilight. The twilight of the one will be the dawn of the other.
Using the Zodiac for the purpose of considering the question of the Ages, we find that, roughly speaking, the time taken by the sun to go round the whole circle is 25,800 years, as shown by the retrograde movement of the equinoctial points. This is the type for the yearly circle, which makes the four seasons and the four seasons in their turn symbolize the four Ages. Their length will be in proportion to the greater swing of the sun. Among the seasons the winter corresponds to the Kali Age, for then all is turned hard and cold, just as in the Black Age, the light of the Spiritual Sun being dimmed, the hardness and coldness of materiality appear in the moral life. Now if the sidereal period be divided by four, we have the figures 6450 years, or the five-thousand-year period with the requisite twilight or dawn added. And it was taught by the Egyptians that with every quarter of the circle of the Sun’s great path there were changes caused physically by the alteration of the poles, and spiritually there must be changes due to the inner development of the human race as an entirety. While the materialistic philosopher thinks the changes would be due to the movement of the poles, the teaching from the Lodge is that the spiritual inner changes cause the physical ones through the appropriate means; in this case those means are in the movements of the great heavenly bodies. This is because the whole Cosmos is on the same grand plan, with all its parts working together, each in its own way.
For the present, students will have to be satisfied with the general statement that we are in Kali Yuga. The characteristics of the present time show it clearly enough, for while physical civilization is high the spiritual side of it is low and dark, and selfishness is the prevailing order. None of us can really pretend to know more than this, for while we have the Brahmanical calculation and the words of the Secret Doctrine, yet that is taking the word of another, plausible, of course, and also concordant with all other parts of the system, but still not of our own knowledge. The beginning of this Age and the time of its ending are dark to us; but the general theory, sufficient for our present needs, is perfectly clear, and as good an assumption as any of those indulged in by science certainly better than the incredible ideas of the theologian. Of one thing we are getting more and more proof each day, and that is of the immense period during which man has been on the earth, and with that admitted all the great cyclic lengths given by the ancient and modern Theosophists of weight are entitled to credence.
We can also get great comfort from the theory given out at various times, that in Kali Yuga a small effort goes farther for results than the same when made in a better Age. In the other Ages the rates of all things are slower than in this; hence, evil now seems quick; but in the same way good is also much quicker in effect and reach than in a slower time.