It has been said that the modern world was defined when a poet-philosopher stood upon a stump and decried “God is dead!” This declaration, whatever its original intent, has been fundamentally embraced by modern, secular culture, from Darwin to Heisenberg, from Freud to Russell, as an underpinning to the very idea of the Age of Reason: humankind does not need God; we can create our own paradise. Indeed, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the popular idea of the scientific community was that the Golden Age was just around the corner–Reason had created industry, technology, modern economy, and science, of its own standing and natural course, and would eventually solve all problems and suffering. This humanistic belief in god-is-dead-ology persists today, in some ranks, ironically, with wholesale blind faith.
Yet, as a rising body of social and scientific critique emerges from the horizon, with such titles as Dark Age Ahead, The Coming Plague, Twilight of American Culture, Twilight of Common Dreams, The End of Education, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, and many more, a new cultural consciousness is emerging which recounts the old words of Marcellus, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Hamlet 1.4). It seems from circumference to center the Age of Enlightenment is dimming down, and the neo-post-deconstructionist age may well be defined by another poet-philosopher standing on the self-same world stump declaring, “Man is an idiot!”
In the rush towards interminable material progress humankind has stifled their true nature, which has always been inexhaustible spiritual potential (Tillich 104). Living within this contradiction–the material versus the spiritual, gain versus authentic growth–humankind lurches forward, from age to age, raising up as standards of both gain and growth one dogmatic neurosis after another. Religion, science, psychology, ethics, philosophy, or any other epistemological paradigm held as the center axis of being unattached to the universe as it really is can only lead to endless suffering.
Curiously, in mythologic systems the nature of consciousness was well observed, and even tracked in grand cycles of time. Nearly every mythic tradition held a belief in a series of world ages which transcribed these cycles. The very word “world” identifies this ancient eschatology: wer-auld literally means “man-age” and refers to the long cyclical ages of consciousness in which humankind participates.
In mythic time, there are generally denoted four world ages. The Greeks declared that there was a golden age, a silver age, a bronze age, and an iron age. Each age was aligned with a form of consciousness which, in the golden realm of being, was akin to the gods. The iron age, on the other hand, is an age of stifling lust and pride and the current age in which we live. These ideas of time were themselves thought to parallel the rise and fall of civilizations, where each civilization went through four epochs of consciousness–in the Greek terms: olbus, koros, hubris, and ate. As Hugh Nibley notes, olbus means filled and fulfillment, having everything that is needed; koros is taking more than is needed, overeating or over filling; this leads to hubris which is overconfidence in self and a total disconnect from nature as it is, placing self above all else; which terminates in ate or the point of no return, things break down and run out and nothing can stop the entropy cascade of destruction (Nibley 41).
Both Buddhist and Hindu cosmology also express the four world ages. In a treasury of Buddhist teachings entitled The Encompassment of All Knowledge the four world ages are clearly named: “formation, abiding, destruction, and vacuity” (Taye 62). In Hindu cosmology the four ages are Krita, Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kali (Zimmerman 13). These ages in many ways parallel the Greek understanding, for they both address a physical creation as well as an evolution (or de-evolution) of consciousness. As Zimmerman explains, the Hindu ages exist upon Dharma, “the moral order of the world” (13). With each successive age there is a decrease in Dharma until the Kali age, where “man and his world are at their very worst. […] ‘when society reaches a stage, where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union […], falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion […]’ then we are in the Kali Yuga […]” (15).
So it is that the so called Age of Enlightenment has proved to be nothing but eye wash and special effects–a spectacular opening act invariably leading to a final culmination of hubris whose closing curtains are cued by a dirge for inner awareness. Despite the vast armada of technical doohickeys with which we append ourselves with great self-congratulations, these accouterments are a horse and pony side-show preventing true awareness of the disproportionate state between man as he is and the universe as it really exists. The greater the distance between these nodal points of consciousness the greater the neurosis that develops. Indeed, the hubris of modern homo sapiens is a neurosis constructed to obfuscate the famine ever growing within the psyche. As Carl Jung observes, “Modern man believes that he can do as he pleases and is perturbed that inexplicable anxieties plague him. True to his rationalistic bias, he has tried all the usual remedies–diets, exercise programs, studying inspirational literature–and only reluctantly admits that he can’t seem to find a way to live a meaningful life” (Sabini, ed. 16).
Not surprisingly, the cycles of the world ages and the forms of consciousness that go with them have been the subject of immense examination by those seeking a way out of the horse and pony show. Leaving this circus is no easy task. It turns out every exit offered by the world leads back on itself in a spinning wheel motif that counterfeits the Dharma of the cosmos. Escape has been replaced by escapism–which is ironically just more of the same.