Cycles: ancient or modern thought?

I was told in university that one of the differences between western civilization and all other cultures is that in Western civilization cyclical thought is replaced by linear thought. This transition, so the experts say, was started by the Jews who invented the idea of an end time, a messiah, who would change things.

Ancient thought is cyclical. It starts with the premise that all that happens is basically the same as what has happened before. The seasons are one example of that. Another example is the cycle of human life. Each of us starts out as a baby, grows into an adult and at some point dies. Nothing too new about that, except that in India and ancient Greece larger cycles were insisted upon. Civilizations grow strong and die. First one country dominates the world, and culture, then the next. Europe dominated, then the USA did and now China and India are making themselves felt (though they haven’t quite replaced the USA yet).

Cycles have also been observed in economics. In fact it is clear to me that one reason we are currently in an economic crisis because the US economy has been prevented from going into its normal temporary slump earlier on.

Blavatsky wrote at a time when the linear thought of western civilization wasn’t yet tempered by such insight into cycles. Western optimism ruled supreme. There was a belief in eternal growth. Sound familiar? It should – it was until very recently the philosophy of our Western economies. My otherwise quite moderate parents were convinced buying a house was the most stable investment I could do. I already saw the writing on the wall and knew there was no such certainty to be found. Of course the current credit crunch might be followed by the usual growth, but I’m only keeping my fingers crossed out of personal practical considerations.

So – cycles. There are long cycles and short cycles. I started with some short ones. Let’s talk about some longer ones before I start quoting Blavatsky – as I always do on Friday.

Longer cycles include the transition from the age of Pisces to the age of Aquarius. While the precise transition point isn’t clear, the consensus is that we have passed it. I’ll leave speculation about what that means to those who care. I’m personally more interested in an even larger cycle: the idea that we are at present in Kali Yuga. In theosophical terms we are in the fourth Round – which is the most materialistic round. However much we may find, in this Aquarian age, a new spiritual inspiration, the main focus of our culture will remain material for the time being. Combined with the mind developed at this time, this could well mean destruction at unprecedented scale. Unfortunately that isn’t a prediction that requires clairvoyance.

This should not make us just accept that situation and leave things be. This is also said to be a time when action is of the utmost importance. The point? A bit of optimism is fine, but let’s keep track of the realities of our situation.

Blavatsky notes that a recent (in 1880) scientist expected for our time:

“if it is permissible to prophetize, then, about the year 2,000 Western Europe will have lived one of those periods of culture and progress so rare in history.” The Russian press, taking the cue believes that “towards those days the Eastern Question will be finally settled, the national dissensions of the European peoples will come to an end, and the dawn of the new millennium will witness the abolishment of armies and an alliance between all the European empires.” The signs of regeneration are also fast multiplying in Japan and China, as if pointing to the approach of a new historical wave at the extreme East.

All this is reasonably correct, excepting the abolishment of armies in Europe, but they are mostly used at the borders (recently Georgia where only Russian armies were deployed) or further away like in Iraq and Afghanistan. And speculation is in our time already pointing towards economic growth and growing cultural influence of civilization in China, Japan and India.

Blavatsky ends her article with words which can also rightly end my column for today:

Enough has been shown, however, to prove that neither the ideas of Pythagoras on the mysterious influence of numbers, nor the theories of ancient world-religions and philosophies are as shallow and meaningless as some too forward free-thinkers would have had the world to believe.

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