Question: Why is the Kali-yuga (the present age) considered the most sinful of ages.
[Note: Kali-yuga means the “age of quarrel” and refers to the 432,000 year period we are presently in. It began approximately 5,100 years ago. For those who are unfamiliar with this terminology, the Kali-yuga has no connection with the deity Kali (who is a goddess).]
Of all the yugas the Kali-yuga has been described in the shastras as the worst. The Bhagavata Purana describes and defines the qualities of Kali-yuga as follows:
yada mayanritam tandra
nidra himsa vishadanam
shoka-mohau bhayam dainyam
sa kalis tamasah smritah
“When there is a predominance of cheating, lying, sloth, sleepiness, violence, depression, lamentation, bewilderment, fear and poverty, that age is Kali, the age of the mode of ignorance.”
Why these qualities develop is further explained:
prayena martya bhagavantam acyutam
“In the Kali-yuga the human beings will not offer sacrifice to God because their intelligence will be diverted by atheism.”
dharmam vakshyanty adharma-jna
“Those who know nothing about religion will mount a high seat and presume to speak on religious principles.”
“The Vedas will be contaminated by the speculative interpretations of atheists.”
Thus with the degradation of religion, and the rise of atheistic thought, all sacrifice to God will be stopped. Human life is unique among all forms of life in that it alone offers the opportunity for spiritual advancement. Due to the fully blossomed mental faculties, the human is able to inquire into the source of everything, the absolute truth. Without this inquiry, the human being is essentially no better than a common animal. The scriptures describe such people as dvi-pada pashu, or “two legged animals”). Thus such a society without spiritual endeavour is nothing more than an animalistic society of cats and dogs. Among the cats and dogs we do not expect there to be peace and harmony. Likewise, when human beings live in animalistic consciousness, we cannot expect there to be any peace in the society – there will be only war (kalih). Thus the situation becomes the “age of war”, or kali-yuga.
Some of the other qualities of the age are described as follows:
na rakshishyanti manujah
sthavirau pitarav api
“Men will no longer protect their elderly parents.”
“The people will become emaciated by famine and taxation.”
“Their minds will constantly be disturbed and agitated.”
rajanash ca praja-bhakshah
“The politicians will virtually eat their citizens.”
“The cities will be dominated by theives.”
vittam eva kalau nrinam
karanam balam eva hi
“In the Kali-yuga, wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man’s good birth, proper behaviour and fine qualities. And law and justice will be applied only on the basis of one’s power.”
vipratve sutram eva hi
“One will be known as a brahmana simply by wearing a thread (not by one’s qualities or knowledge).”
tatash canu-dinam dharmah
satyam shaucam kshama daya
kalena balina rajan
nankshyaty ayur balam smritih
“Truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day because of the powerful influence of the age of Kali.”
The four yugas (satya, treta, dvapara, and kali) rotate like seasons. Just as certain seasons have particular qualities (summer is hot, winter is cold), so each cosmic age has particular qualities. In the Satya yuga (the age of truth) the entire population is religious and self-satisfied. Their aim is only self realization. All of the godly qualities are present in the Satya yuga.
Due to the influence of time, all things degrade and decay. Thus as the age passes from Satya-yuga to Treta-yuga, the subtle qualities of people degrade, and thus there is a loss of truthfullness, austerity, mercy, etc. As the time passes from one age to the next, one quarter of all good qualities and religion are lost. Thus as the Treta-yuga begins, only 75% of the people are interested in spiritual activities. Then as the Dvapara-yuga begins, only 50% of the population is interested in God consciousness. Finally as the Kali-yuga begins, only 25% of the population is interested in religion, and this number gradually reduces to zero, at which time the Lord incarnates as the Kalki avatara to put an end to the Kali yuga and bring about a new cosmic cycle of time beginning again with the Satya-yuga.
Just as the good qualities of the people degrade, in the same way their life spans also decrease from age to age. In the Satya yuga, the life span is 100,000 years. In the Treta yuga, the life span is only 10,000 years, or one tenth that of the Satya-yuga. In the Dvapara yuga the life span is only 1,000 years, or one tenth that of the Treta-yuga. And in the Kali-yuga the life span is only 100 years, or one tenth that of the Dvapara-yuga. Gradually the maximum life span decreases to less than 50 years: trimshad vimshati varshani paramayuh kalau nrinam.
As people give up religious principles, which are based on sacrifice to God, the nature withholds her natural resources. As a result of degradation of one’s mental and environmental states, the life spans of the people automatically decrease. Along with the decrease of life, all major qualities, such as strength, health, memory and intelligence likewise decrease. As such the scriptures describe the inhabitants of Kali-yuga as unfortunate and unlucky: mandah sumanda-matayo manda-bhagya hy upadrutah
As people give up sacrifice, which is based on dharma, there will be a scarcity of water, resulting in famine. The scriptures state:
annad bhavanti bhutani
parjanyad anna sambhavah
yajnad bhavati parjanyah
yajna karma samudbhavah
“All living entities subsist on food grains, and all food grains come from rain. Rain is due to sacrifice, and sacrifice is based on prescribed duties.”
As sacrifice is stopped, the rain will cease to fall. When the rain stops, the grains will not grow. Without grains, the people will turn to eating the flesh of other humans. Such will be the situation in the age of Kali.
ittham kalau gata-praye
“Thus when the age of Kali is almost finished and the people have assumed the qualities of asses, the Lord will incarnate for the deliverance of the eternal religion (as Kalki Bhagavan).”
Yet, despite all of these faults, the scriptures declare there to be one great quality of Kali-yuga:
kaler dosha-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko maha gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet
“Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: simply by chanting the names of Krishna, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.”
In other yugas, the yuga-dharma (process of self-realization for the age) is much more difficult. For example, in the satya-yuga, the yuga-dharma is ashtanga-yoga. People would have to live alone in the forests and engage in severe austerities and meditation for thousands of years to come to the platform of self-realization. Such a process is difficult even in the exalted age of satya-yuga. In the kali-yuga the Lord gives us one very special benediction. Since we have lost all good qualities, and since we have no proper qualification, the Lord gives us the simplest and quickest method for self-realization – chanting His holy names.
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nastyeva nastyeva
nastyeva gatir anyatha
“In the age of Kali there is no other way to attain the supreme destination of life except the chanting of the names of Sri Hari. There is no other way, no other way, no other way.”
Thus despite all of the sinful qualities of this age, we have the greatest opportunity to advance spiritually. What the sages and rishis spent thousands of years meditating for, we can attain simply by mantra japam (chanting the Lord’s name):
hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare,
hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare
For this reason the great sage Narada Muni has actually glorified the age of kali as the best of all the yugas. The negative qualities are no comparison to the great spiritual opportunity we are given in this age. Please take advantage of this special mercy given by the Lord and chant His holy names daily.