The Seven Yugas

The Yugas in Theosophy

It is quite well known that Hinduism teaches the existence of four Yugas or Ages which together comprise the Maha-Yuga or “Great Age,” which is itself but an extremely minuscule and fleeting part of the entire Maha-Kalpa, the life cycle of the manifested Universe.

The names and durations assigned to the Yugas are as follows:

1st – Satya Yuga (also called Krita Yuga) – Golden Age – 1,728,000 years

2nd – Treta Yuga – Silver Age – 1,296,000 years

3rd – Dvapara Yuga – Bronze Age – 864,000 years

4th – Kali Yuga – Iron Age – 432,000 years

Total: 4,320,000 years (The Maha-Yuga)

According to Hindu tradition, we are currently in the Kali Yuga, which is said to have begun around 5,000 years ago with the death of Krishna, the great divine Teacher and Reformer who is the central figure of the Bhagavad Gita, and for whom there is evidence that he really once lived on Earth.

In the teachings of Theosophy, H. P. Blavatsky informs us in “The Secret Doctrine” that “The year of the Kaliyuga is said to have begun between the 17th and 18th of February in the year 3102 B.C.” (Vol. 2, p. 435) and clarifies that in fact “the instant of the beginning of Kali-Yuga” was “2h. 27m. 30s. a.m. of February 16th” of that year, 5,124 years ago as of 2022 (Vol. 1, p. 662).

It’s easy to work out that the Kali Yuga still has 426,876 years remaining, an almost unimaginably lengthy period of time!

But how literally are we to take these numbers? In his article titled “Cycles,” William Quan Judge shows the hidden numerical code present in the figures of the Yuga chronology.

The Satya Yuga is said to last for 1,728,000 years. Add 1+7+2+8 and the result is 18.

The Treta Yuga is said to last for 1,296,000 years. Add 1+2+9+6 and the result is 18.

The Dvapara Yuga is said to last for 864,000 years. Add 8+6+4 and the result is 18.

The Kali Yuga is said to last for 432,000 years. Add 4+3+2 and the result is 9.

Add 18+18+18+9 and the result is 63. Add those two numbers, 6 and 3, together, and the result is 9. Multiply 6 by 3 and the result is 18. Add that 1 and 8 together and the result is 9. This is undoubtedly of great significance but its real meaning has not been revealed, neither by Mr Judge nor by HPB nor by any of the Masters.

In his important book “The Ocean of Theosophy” (p. 126) Mr Judge writes that, “At the present time we are in a cycle of transition, when, as a transition period should indicate, everything in philosophy, religion and society is changing. In a transition period the full and complete figures and rules respecting cycles are not given out to a generation which elevates money above all thoughts and scoffs at the spiritual view of man and nature.”

Whilst the above figures from the chronologies of exoteric Hinduism are generally used and mentioned in the Theosophical teachings, HPB makes this statement in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 67:

“Such computations as are given in Manu and the Puranas [Note: These ancient Hindu texts are the main source for the figures of the durations of Yugas, Manvantaras, Pralayas, Kalpas, etc.] – save trifling and most evidently intentional exaggerations – are, as already stated, almost identical with those taught in esoteric philosophy.”

So within those figures there are indeed some “exaggerations,” she says, albeit – for whatever reason – “intentional exaggerations” but on the whole the figures are “almost identical” with those accepted by the Gupta Vidya or Secret Doctrine or Esoteric Philosophy of the Brotherhood of Masters of Wisdom. The fact that they are almost identical and thus not identical is good reason for Theosophists to not focus on or present these numbers as if they are literal, unquestionable, wholly accurate, absolute facts, which has unfortunately been the approach in many cases. But as the true figures or numbers are not given to the public, it appears the exoteric Hindu ones are considered by the Masters to be “close enough” to use, provided that one remembers that they are not the real, literal thing. As will be seen below, HPB says the figures given for the Yugas are only “an approximate duration.”

In “Isis Unveiled” Vol. 1, p. 587, however, when speaking about the Yugas, HPB readily acknowledges what she calls “the enormous exaggerations of Hindu chronology.” Not just slight exaggerations or “trifling” ones but “enormous exaggerations.” This makes the situation perhaps even less clear. 

We also have these words from “The Secret Doctrine”:

“It had been declared from the first and has been repeatedly asserted since that no Theosophist, not even as an accepted chela – let alone lay students – could expect to have the secret teachings explained to him thoroughly and completely, before he had irretrievably pledged himself to the Brotherhood and passed through at least one initiation, because no figures and numbers could be given to the public, for figures and numbers are the key to the esoteric system.” (Vol. 1, p. 164)

“The figures belonging to the Occult calculations cannot be given – as the Masters have many times declared – outside the circle of pledged chelas, and not even these can break the rules.” (Vol. 1, p. 170)

“We are not given the figures of the Great Kalpa, and are not allowed to publish those of our small Yugas, except as to the approximate duration of these.” (Vol. 1, p. 206)

We are not taught figures which are and will remain secret with the Masters of Occult Science, as justly stated in “Esoteric Buddhism.”” (Vol. 2, p. 251)

It is also important to remember that just as ancient esotericists sometimes used “blinds” to conceal, veil, or mask, the real details and data (something often pointed out by HPB), there are also likely to be numerous “blinds” employed by the great esotericists of recent times within the book “The Secret Doctrine.” It is also stated that even the Secret Book of Dzyan itself, on which “The Secret Doctrine” is based, contains “blinds”: “In the “Book of Dzyan,” as in the Kabala, there are two kinds of numerals to be studied – the figures, often simple blinds, and the Sacred Numbers, the values of which are all known to the Occultists through Initiation.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 66)

Another good reason for not categorically “nailing it down” is because a surprisingly little known article by HPB lifts the veil to some degree on the true esoteric system, revealing that there are in fact seven Yugas, a truth which should have already presented itself to the intuition of the student of Theosophy, who knows well that all manifestation is of a septenary nature and that the golden key to understanding the mysteries of the Universe is to apply the law of correspondence and analogy. It is also made clear in “The Secret Doctrine” and elsewhere that the Hindu system as a whole (i.e. not merely on the subject of the Yugas but on virtually every subject) is generally a fourfold system, rather than sevenfold, and that while the fourfold approach can make things simpler and easier to grasp, it is not the complete truth of things but rather a condensation or compression of the sevenfold reality.

Instead of passing through the Golden Age, Silver Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age (“an age BLACK WITH HORRORS” – “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 645) and then starting the fourfold cycle all over again by somehow jumping from the darkest depths of the Iron Age into a new Golden Age, it appears that the Maha-Yuga actually follows the same type of involutionary and evolutionary arc as the seven rounds of the seven globes of our planetary chain. There is a gradual arc of descent, beginning at a pure, high, but relatively unconscious and unintelligent state, which eventually reaches the very lowest point to which it can go, after which there is a gradual arc of ascent, back up the same scale through which it had descended, but this time with the invaluable addition of acquired consciousness, intelligence, and soul experience. This is described as “the shadowy arc” and “the luminous arc.”

This information comes from a brief article by HPB published in January 1884 under the title “Premature and Phenomenal Growths.” One might not expect an article with such a title to contain such an important key but this is all the more reason why – as the articles on this site frequently emphasise – we should always pay very close and studious attention to everything HPB has written, for there is not one single unimportant or irrelevant sentence or paragraph in all the many thousands of pages of her writings.

Towards the end of that article, which is published today in the first volume of “H. P. Blavatsky Theosophical Articles” by Theosophy Company for the United Lodge of Theosophists, she quotes the text of what she calls “a prophecy in certain Asiatic old books.” Its content and style can be seen to be of the exact same type as the many esoteric commentaries quoted from a few years later throughout the two volumes of “The Secret Doctrine,” particularly in the second volume which is titled “Anthropogenesis.”

We have put in bold the sentence which most relates to this present subject:

“And as the fourth (race) was composed of Red-yellow which faded into Brown-white (bodies), so the fifth will fade out into white-brown (the white races becoming gradually darker). The sixth and seventh Manushi (men?) will be born adults; and will know of no old age, though their years will be many. As the Krita, Treta, Dvapara and Kali (ages) have been each decreasing in excellence (physical as well as moral) so the ascending – Dvapara, Treta, and Krita will be increasing in every excellence. As the life of man lasted 400 (years in the first, or Krita Yuga), 300 (years in Treta), 200 (years in Dvapara) and 100 (in the present Kali age); so in the next (the 6th Race) (the natural age of man) will be (gradually increased) 200, then 300 and 400 (in the last two yugas).”

This is clear enough – there is a Krita Yuga, a Treta Yuga, a Dvapara Yuga, a Kali Yuga, and then another Dvapara Yuga, another Treta Yuga, and another Krita Yuga, which closes the sevenfold cycle. This has been illustrated in the diagram at the top of this article.

One thing which is curious about the above quote is that it equates the Sixth Root Race with the ascending Dvapara Yuga or Bronze Age. This is curious seeing as “The Secret Doctrine” states in several places that the Kali Yuga will not come to an end until the end of the Sixth Root Race, meaning that the next Yuga would not begin until around the start of the Seventh Race.

Could it be, therefore, that really the Kali Yuga will end before our Fifth Root Race comes to an end?

Raghavan Iyer believed so. In his article “Involution” (first published in the December 1982 issue of “Hermes” by the Santa Barbara Lodge of the United Lodge of Theosophists) he states, “. . . the present Kali Yuga. This yuga . . . will indeed end before the completion of the present Fifth Root Race, and be followed by an ascent through the yugas towards the Satya Yuga.” Due to HPB’s “Premature and Phenomenal Growths” article being so little known, this statement would probably be considered by many as “untheosophical” whereas in fact it is completely in line with the esoteric prophecy translated therein by HPB. Iyer – apparently the only Theosophical writer to have noticed or at least commented upon the doctrine of the Seven Yugas – continues: “The four yugas may be understood in terms of a descent from the most golden age to the most decadent, followed by a reascent to a golden age that represents a spiralling spiritual advance over the starting-point of the cycle.”

Interestingly, the event known as the “Coming of Maitreya” or “Coming of the Kalki Avatar” and which HPB always speaks of as being due at the end of the Kali Yuga and its coincident close of the Sixth Root Race and start of the Seventh is indicated in her “Theosophical Glossary” entry for “Maitreya Buddha” to be due instead “during the seventh (sub) race” rather than Root Race. Why “sub” is there in brackets and why that expression is not elaborated upon by her is unknown; most likely it is because no more can be revealed than this at this present time but it should hopefully make us realise that many things may not be as “cut and dried” as we would like them to be, hence the importance of our guarding against dogmatic assertions. In short, we as students of Theosophy should be very careful to not make definitive, categorical, authoritative statements about such matters as these, about which none of us, or next to none of us, can claim to truly and directly KNOW anything. That “Glossary” expression could however be further evidence that the Kali Yuga is indeed going to draw to a close by, or during, the seventh sub-race of this present Fifth Root Race.

Almost nothing about how the Yugas (whether four or seven in number) relate or correspond to the Seven Root Races is divulged in the Theosophical literature, with perhaps the most notable exception being the implication in “The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 2, p. 147, that the Dvapara Yuga or Bronze Age (which preceded our Kali Yuga) began around the start of our Fifth Root Race. We would all surely admit that even if we had been given more information on these points, we would not know what to do with it.

Yet although we cannot say for definite exactly how long the Kali Yuga or any Yuga actually lasts, nor at which precise point in the Races it will end, one thing which is made very clear and definite throughout the Theosophical literature is that the closing of the first 5,000 year cycle of the Kali Yuga would be an extremely serious, important, and momentous event in the evolution of humanity. There are many references to this in many places. In “Letters That Have Helped Me” (p. 97) William Judge writes, “The present cycle, which closes Nov. 17th, 1897 – Feb. 18th, 1898, is one of the most important of any that have been.”

Most Theosophical statements in this regard make clear that it is only the first 5,000 years of the Kali Yuga that have come to a close, not the Kali Yuga itself. H. P. Blavatsky usually worded her statements about this point very precisely but in two places she presents the matter as if it would be the entire Kali Yuga that would end after its first 5,000 years:

“We are at the very close of the cycle of 5,000 years of the present Aryan Kaliyuga.” (“The Secret Doctrine” Vol. 1, p. 612)

“There are several remarkable cycles that come to a close at the end of this century [i.e. at the end of the 19th century]. First, the 5000 years of the Kaliyuga cycle; again the [Age of Pisces] . . . lasting about 2,155 solar years . . . [the sun] enters, in a few years, the sign of Aquarius . . .” (“The Esoteric Character of The Gospels”)

Most would say that, in light of the rest of her statements, it is obvious that she here meant to say “the first cycle of 5,000 years” and “the first 5000 years of the Kaliyuga cycle.” But a few others make the point that surely she would have said that if that was what she meant but that these may actually be a subtle hint – subtle due to it not being permissible to openly state or reveal the whole truth of the matter at that time – that the Kali Yuga in its entirety would be ending then. As advised earlier, we as students of Theosophy should be very careful to not make definitive, categorical, authoritative statements about such matters as these, about which none of us, or next to none of us, can claim to truly and directly KNOW anything.

Near the end of her lifetime, at least, HPB wrote, “Has the “last age” – the Age of Iron, or Kali Yuga – closed since then? Quite the reverse, since it is shown to be in full sway just now, not only because the Hindus use the name, but by universal personal experience. . . . Is it this age of ours that is the promised “Golden Age” – in which neither the venom of the serpent nor of any plant is any longer lethal, and in which we are all secure under the mild sway of God-chosen sovereigns? The wildest fancy of an opium-eater could hardly suggest a more inappropriate description, if it is to be applied to our age or to any age since the year one of our era.”

On p. 377 of the first volume of “The Secret Doctrine,” she remarks that “It is curious to see how prophetic in almost all things was the writer of Vishnu Purana when foretelling to Maitreya some of the dark influences and sins of this Kali Yug.” She then quotes from this ancient Hindu scripture known as the Vishnu Purana, which in describing the development of the Kali Yuga says amongst many other things:

“Wealth and piety will decrease until the world will be wholly depraved. Property alone will confer rank; wealth will be the only source of devotion; passion will be the sole bond of union between the sexes; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation; and women will be objects merely of sensual gratification. ….. External types will be the only distinction of the several orders of life; ….. a man if rich will be reputed pure; dishonesty (anyaya) will be the universal means of subsistence, weakness the cause of dependence, menace and presumption will be substituted for learning; liberality will be devotion; mutual assent, marriage; fine clothes, dignity. He who is the strongest will reign; the people, unable to bear the heavy burden, Khara bhara (the load of taxes) will take refuge among the valleys. … Thus, in the Kali age will decay constantly proceed, until the human race approaches its annihilation (pralaya). … When the close of the Kali age shall be nigh, a portion of that divine being which exists, of its own spiritual nature … shall descend on Earth … (Kalki Avatar) endowed with the eight superhuman faculties. … He will re-establish righteousness on earth, and the minds of those who live at the end of Kali Yuga shall be awakened and become as pellucid as crystal.”

In the first of the two booklets titled “Conversations on Occultism,” Mr Judge presents a conversation between himself (as “Student”) and HPB (as “Sage”) under the title “The Kali Yuga – The Present Age.” In this, the Sage says, “There is one thing peculiar to the present Kali-Yuga which may be used by the Student. All causes now bring about their effects much more rapidly than in any other or better age. A sincere lover of the race can accomplish more in three incarnations under Kali-Yuga’s reign than he could in a much greater number in any other age. Thus by bearing all the manifold troubles of this Age and steadily triumphing, the object of his efforts will be more quickly realized, for, while the obstacles seem great, the powers to be invoked can be reached more quickly.”

The Student asks, “Even if this is, spiritually considered, a Dark Age, is it not in part redeemed by the increasing triumphs of mind over matter, and by the effects of science in mitigating human ills, such as the causes of disease, disease itself, cruelty, intolerance, bad laws, etc.?”

To this comes the answer: “Yes, these are mitigations of the darkness in just the same way that a lamp gives some light at night but does not restore daylight. In this age there are great triumphs of science, but they are nearly all directed to effects and do not take away the causes of the evils. Great strides have been made in the arts and in cure of diseases, but in the future, as the flower of our civilization unfolds, new diseases will arise and more strange disorders will be known, springing from causes that lie deep in the minds of men and which can only be eradicated by spiritual living.”

This particular dialogue ends with the question, “Are there any causes, other than the spread of Theosophy, which may operate to reverse the present drift towards materialism?”

The Sage replies, “The spread of the knowledge of the laws of Karma and Reincarnation and of a belief in the absolute spiritual unity of all beings will alone prevent this drift. The cycle must, however, run its course, and until that is ended all beneficial causes will of necessity act slowly and not to the extent they would in a brighter age. As each student lives a better life and by his example imprints upon the astral light the picture of a higher aspiration acted in the world, he thus aids souls of advanced development to descend from other spheres where the cycles are so dark that they can no longer stay there.”

But the present situation is not as gloomy as one might imagine, for there are cycles within cycles, and – Theosophy says – there is great potential for a type of golden age within the Dark Age of the Kali Yuga. Such a golden age will not be the Satya Yuga referred to in Hinduism but rather something else. It results from the fact that the Aquarian Age, the New Age of Aquarius, began very shortly after the 20th century began, just a few years after the second sub-cycle of the Kali Yuga was ushered in. This zodiacal or astrological Age of Aquarius will last for around 2,160 years. But that is another subject and explored in another article.

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