“O learned one, in this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10)Download this episode (right click and save)
kalāv asmin yuge janāḥ
manda-bhāgyā hy upadrutāḥ
Today, using only a small device we can speak to someone situated thousands of miles away. As soon as we say something, they hear it. That sound travels incredibly fast. The same can be done with video images. On television we watch a live sporting event occurring so far away from our home. We have a wealth of information available at our fingertips. We can get food made and delivered to us with a few swipes of the finger. Now, does this mean that we are more advanced than our predecessors? Did generations past suffer because they lacked these things?
According to the Shrimad Bhagavatam, man today is most unfortunate. Though we think we are living longer, the average duration of life is actually much shorter than in ages past. The qualities in the population of the universe change over time. From the beginning to the end, there is a gradual decline in dharma, or virtue. With this decline, the conditions for living become more difficult. As an example, in the beginning period, man lived for thousands of years. If the time from beginning to end were divided into four periods, a zero would get dropped from the average duration of life with each successive period.
“In the Satya-yuga people used to live for one hundred thousand years, in the Treta-yuga people lived for ten thousand years, in Dvapara-yuga they lived for one thousand years, and in this age, Kali-yuga, people may live up to one hundred years. With the progressive advance of each new yuga, the duration of human life is reduced by ninety percent - from one hundred thousand to ten thousand, from ten thousand to one thousand, and from one thousand to one hundred.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.62 Purport)
The first period is known as Satya Yuga. Another name for it is Krita Yuga, as it is the age of purity. The present age is the last one, known as Kali. The marks of Kali Yuga were predicted beforehand, in the aforementioned Bhagavatam. In the age of Kali, man quarrels over anything. As an example, driving is routine business for going to and from places. Yet due to road rage it could be the cause of a great disagreement. There are arguments over what celebrities wear to awards shows and which player is the best in a particular sport.
In Kali Yuga man is less fortunate. The quarrel and hypocrisy contribute to this for sure. There is also the shorter duration of life. Since life is shorter, old age approaches more quickly. Because aging takes place faster, abilities within the body diminish more quickly. Therefore we see that memory is not as good. In this age particularly, things need to be written in order to be remembered.
We see this decline even within a single lifetime. Fifty years ago, math equations were memorized, as were speeches. Now there are pocket calculators and smart phones to do equations for you. There is the teleprompter that displays your words to speak. Thus memory power diminishes through changing necessity as well.
The self-help expert advises to write down good ideas. This is a way to organize your life as well. If you have to do ten things tomorrow, it’s better to make a written list so that you don’t forget. The same recommendation can be used for remembering, appreciating and remaining always conscious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The idea is to first learn about God from an authority figure. The Bhagavatam already accurately predicted the circumstances of the present age, so we can validate its authority from that alone. Someone who faithfully follows the teachings of the Bhagavatam is known as a bhagavata. The Bhagavatam is also known as the Bhagavata Purana. So there is the book bhagavata and the person bhagavata, with no difference between the two in terms of philosophy.
The person bhagavata can explain the esoteric truths presented in that ancient work. They can tell us who is God, what He looks like, where and when He appears, what He looks for in the conditioned souls of the material world, and what is the way towards forming a relationship with Him. For our benefit, the person bhagavata may write down their instructions. This way we can have those words of wisdom even after the person has left this world.
The truths accepted from the spiritual master, the teacher following the Bhagavata Purana, can be realized through practice. Those realizations can then be written down, to be reflected on later. The written word can also be passed on to others. In the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the author relates a story of how a certain prominent preacher visiting town had his popularity limited due to things he had authored. Franklin makes the point that if the preacher had simply avoided writing down anything, he would have become even more popular through being less vulnerable to his critics. He quotes the latin phrase, litera scripta manet, which means “the written word remains.”
That truth can be flipped around to be used as a positive. If you have good thoughts about the Supreme Lord, when you write them down they can become your savior in the future. They can help others as well. The Supreme Lord Krishna has been so kind to the souls in Kali Yuga, despite their general misfortune. In the form of the sankirtana movement started by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the volume of literature that appreciates God and describes Him has greatly increased.
The short-lived man has ample opportunity for learning of his true mission, that of devotion practiced purely. The same man who quarrels over trivial things can instead spend the entire day in contemplation of the all-attractive features belonging to the Personality of Godhead. The man with poor memory can read the same verses from the Bhagavatam and their appropriate commentaries, day after day. So even with the degraded conditions of the present age, there is a path to rescue.
Good idea coming to mind,
But then later how to find?
Since birth in Kali’s age set,
Important things easily to forget.
Saved when on paper to write,
From sound coming again to life.
In bhakti-yoga having great application,
Benefitting valuable Krishna meditation.