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How to Check the Age of Kali

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by Satsvarupa dasa Adhikari (ISKCON Boston)

The followers of Krsna consciousness are aware that at present the universe and the earth are in the age of Kali. Vedic culture calculates the long duration of time between the creation and annihilation of the cosmos according to repeated cycles of the following four seasons: Satya-yuga, Treta-yuga, Dvapara-yuga and Kali-yuga. Of the four, the last, the Kali-yuga, is noted for being the fallen age, the age of hypocrisy and quarrel. Aside from the evidence of Vedic literature, one can observe the fallen condition of the present civilization in everyday common affairs. In Kali-yuga the basic principles of religion are abandoned by a majority of the people, the government is ruled by the lowest class of men, and society lives on the basis of animal life for the goal of sense gratification. Huge quarrels are predicated on various minor pretexts. Kali-yuga lasts for 432,000 years and is supposed to get increasingly worse, until finally men will be eating their own sons and finding sport in hunting down the devotees of God. Let us therefore examine the history of the influx of Kali-yuga 5,000 years ago and try to understand how its degrading influence can be checked.

This information regarding Kali-yuga is recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the transcendental literature which depicts the pastimes performed by the Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna when He appeared on the earth. Srimad-Bhagavatam relates that Krsna appeared on this earth for a period of 125 years during the end of the Dvapara-yuga, and when He disappeared from the earth the age of Kali entered. The personification of Kali, the agent for all irreligion and vice, was kept in check, however, even after the disappearance of Krsna, due to the presence of a very strong and pious ruler of the earth, Maharaja Pariksit. His life is described as being wonderful in its birth, wonderfulin its duration, and wonderful in its completion. We may at this time examine the life of Maharaja Pariksit as the background to understand the strength of Krsna consciousness even in the midst of Kali-yuga.

Maharaja Pariksit’s strength was due to his being completely surrendered to the word of Krsna. And as we shall see, Krsna was pleased to work His will through this surrendered soul. Maharaja Pariksit was the posthumous child of Abhimanyu, who was the son of Arjuna, the famous hero of the Battle of Kuruksetra. While he was still in the womb, Maharaja Pariksit was struck by a nuclear weapon detonated by an enemy of his family, and yet due to the mercy of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, who entered the womb of his mother, Uttara, and protected him, Pariksit was not burned. When he grew up and began to rule the kingdom, he was always conscientiously surrendered unto the Personality of Godhead and was never afraid nor overwhelmed, even up to his death.

Kali Enters

One day Emperor Pariksit was traveling through his kingdom, and he met the personality of religious principles, Dharma, in the form of a wounded, wandering bull. He also met the personality of the earth, in the form of a cow who had tears on her face and who appeared to be greatly aggrieved, like a mother who had lost her child. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, Seventeenth Chapter, relates that Maharaja Pariksit observed a lower class laborer, dressed like a king but with a large stick in his hand, beating the bull and the cow as if they were without a protector. The bull was as white as a lotus flower and was terrified of being beaten. It was trembling from fear and was standing on one leg urinating. Cows are beneficial because one can draw out religious principles from them, but this poor cow was being beaten by the lower class laborer and appeared very distressed.

Maharaja Pariksit became furious upon seeing this scene. Seated on his golden chariot and equipped with arrows and bows, he came upon the cow’s persecutor. “Who are you!” he demanded. “You appear to be strong enough, and still you dare to kill, within my protection, those who are helpless. By dress you pose as a manly king, but by your deeds it is clear that you are against all fighting principles. You rogue, do you dare to beat an innocent cow simply because Krsna and Arjuna are out of sight? Since you are beating the innocent in a secluded place, you stand as a culprit and therefore deserve to be killed.” Maharaja Pariksit then turned to the bull and said, “O bull, you are as white as a lotus. Who are you?” The ksatriyas or rulers such as Maharaja Pariksit are meant to protect the innocent, and therefore Pariksit Maharaja was outraged to see this brutality taking place in his kingdom.

Religion Personified

Before the arrival of Maharaja Pariksit, the bull, the personification of religion, Dharma, had inquired of the cow, “Why are you lamenting? Are you unhappy because people in general do not follow the rules and regulations for eating, sleeping, drinking, and mating and are inclined to do these things without regard for time and place?” In the age of Kali, because the tendencies of sense gratification are not regulated, illicit sex, intoxication, and so many preliminary vices are being engaged in everywhere. When Pariksit arrived he said, “For the first time I see you lamenting with tears in a kingdom which has always been well protected by the arms of the kings. Before this I have never seen anyone shed tears because of royal negligence.”

The Emperor could see that the bull was standing on only one leg. Dharma explained that his four legs were austerity, cleanliness, mercy, and truthfulness, and three of these legs had been broken because of the people’s rampant irreligion, characterized by pride, affection for women, and intoxicating habits. He was left on only one leg, truthfulness. The Emperor took his sword and prepared to kill the personality of Kali who, posing as a ruler, was beating the bull and thus causing all irreligion and causing the cow of the earth to shed tears. In the dress of a king, this lower class man, Kali, was simply gratifying his senses and thinking that there was no suitable king to curb him down. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, in which the narration of Maharaja Pariksit is given, is itself the systematic propaganda for educating people in general how to clean up the atmosphere of corruption. Maharaja Pariksit, the ideal executive, was about to kill Kali, but when Kali saw that the King was willing to kill him, he at once gave up his false kingly attire and with great fear completely surrendered unto him.

According to the Vedic culture of the four orders or qualities of occupation, a real warrior never surrenders in a fight. Therefore, when this lower class laborer or sudra surrendered himself, he disclosed his real identity by not accepting the challenge. When he saw that Maharaja Pariksit was ready to fight and that the king was beyond his power to defeat, Kali bowed down his head as a subordinate and gave up his royal dress. Maharaja Pariksit did not want to kill a surrendered soul such as the fallen Kali because he was always compassionate and kind to the poor. Thus the personality of Kali, who was entering earth for the first time to cause corruption and irreligion, was saved by the will of providence.

Out of chivalry and compassion, Maharaja Pariksit said, “Do not fear. You have no need to fear for your life, but you cannot remain in any land of my kingdom.” So Kali was allowed to live, but he was afraid that wherever he went he would see the King with his bows and arrows. Therefore he asked for special places where he could live, and Maharaja Pariksit then gave him permission to reside in four places—places where gambling, drinking, prostitution and the slaughter of animals take place. In this way he intended to confine him. The principle was to restrict Kali to these places so that those addicted to irreligious habits might be regulated and not encouraged by the state. Maharaja Pariksit showed the simple way to categorically stop war and vice. He announced that he would collect all the illicit gold collected by exploiting the propensities of the age of Kali and employ it in sankirtana propaganda for the glorification of God. He made sufficient plans so that Kali would have little chance to infiltrate the sound structure of human society. Thus the influence of Kali was checked as long as Maharaja Pariksit himself was present to drive him away and uphold the principles of religion for the spiritual enlightenment of all people.

Krsna Conscious Politics

In the present day we lament that lower class men are voted in and voted out of high posts of political power, but in Maharaja Pariksit we can see the example of a practical king who could progressively advance society and who was intolerant of all kinds of corruption. Often people ask if the Krsna Conscious movement is apolitical, but the answer is no. Krsna consciousness offers the political principle followed by rulers such as Maharaja Pariksit, and the Krsna consciousness society wishes to put such a God conscious man in office.

Further activities of Maharaja Pariksit show how, because of the King’s complete surrender to the Absolute Truth, the Lord used him as an instrument to bring about the narration of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which, after the departure of Krsna and after the death of Maharaja Pariksit, was to be the standard of religion for all people in the midst of the age of Kali. Srimad-Bhagavatam is declared to be the transcendental literary incarnation of the Personality of Godhead, and it is only because of Maharaja Pariksit’s relationship to Krsna that this story is narrated. All Krsna conscious activities are meant to help us remember Him. The purpose of Srimad-Bhagavatam and all spiritual literature is to continually glorify God. To hear these literatures is purifying and sublime. When spoken, especially by pure devotees of the Lord, these narratives carry the full potencies of bhakti-yoga, or devotion to Krsna.

Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, Chapter 18, text 26, relates: “Once upon a time, Maharaja Pariksit, while engaged in hunting in the forest with his bows and arrows, became extremely fatigued, hungry and thirsty while following some stags. In search of a reservoir of water, he entered the hermitage of the well-known Rsi Saunaka and saw the sage sitting silently with closed eyes.” The birth of Maharaja Pariksit is wonderful because Pariksit was saved in the womb by the Supersoul when the demon Asvatthama sent a fire weapon to kill him. His career as king was wonderful, for he upheld religious principles and drove out Kali. This present description of Maharaja Pariksit’s becoming thirsty begins the story of his death, which proved to be most wonderful because it was engineered directly by the will of the Lord in order to bring about a much greater transcendental event—the narration of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

As a man of controlled senses, Maharaja Pariksit would never have been disturbed by thirst or hunger. His hunger and thirst on this occasion were irregular in that he became perturbed by these bodily demands. It is therefore explained that the situation was created by the Lord in order to bring about Pariksit’s renunciation of worldly activities. As a worldly king, even though a great king, Maharaja Pariksit was necessarily involved in much worldly diplomacy, and the Lord was making it possible for him to be forced into complete state of renunciation. The awkward situation by which the devotee Pariksit was obliged to renounce all worldly affairs is to be taken as the grace of the Lord and not as a matter of unfavorable frustration.

Arranged By Krsna

Pariksit Maharaja entered the muni’s hermitage and saw that the muni, longhaired and covered by the skin of a stag, was in transcendental meditation. The King, however, being thirsty, asked the sage for water. Not having received any formal welcome seat or water or sweet words of address, the King felt neglected, and he became angry. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that this lack of sense control—his immediate anger at not being properly received by the yogi—is the same as Arjuna’s becoming bewildered on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Had Arjuna not been overcome by illusory family affection by the will of God, there would have been no chance for the Bhagavad-gita to have been spoken because Arjuna would not have asked Krsna his questions of doubt, to be answered for all mankind. Similarly, had Maharaja Pariksit not been fatigued, hungry, thirsty, and then angry, there would have been no chance for Srimad-Bhagavatam to have been spoken by Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, who was the prime authority on Krsna. Pariksit’s improper behavior is actually the prelude to Srimad-Bhagavatam, which is itself a counteraction to Kali, as much as the upraised sword of Pariksit on Kali’s neck.

The insulted King took up a dead snake which he found in the front of the cave. Picking it up on the front part of his bow, he placed it on the shoulder of the sage as an insult and then left. He accused the sage of not actually being in meditation on the Supreme but of putting on a false show of trance just in order to avoid receiving him.

Srimad-Bhagavatam goes on to describe that the sage had a son, who was immature but, because he was a brahmana’s son, very powerful. While he was spending his time playing with other inexperienced boys, he heard of the King’s insult to his father, and he therefore became furious and cursed Maharaja Pariksit to die. It was through this inexperienced boy that Kali found an opportunity to ruin the entire cultural heritage of the four orders of life and bring about the corruption which now exists in India as the caste system. In the perverted caste system, one order of life tends to lord it over another by birth, and enmity is thus created among the orders. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, because these orders are created by the Lord, they are naturally existing in every society. There is always an intelligent class, a warrior or administrative class, a mercantile or agricultural class, and a laborer class which serves the other three orders. By corruption, individuals claim to possess the qualities of a particular position simply by birthright, and then there is no cooperation among the natural orders, but rather there is friction. The first victim of brahminical injustice was Maharaja Pariksit, and after the incident of His being cursed, the intelligent class was not protected properly by the warrior class, the mercantile class began outright exploitation of the other classes, and the lower classes became dissatisfied because of not being protected and cared for. Because these events occurred at the dawn of Kali-yuga, they are understood to be most significant in ushering in the corruption and degradation which characterize this fallen age.

The warrior class is supposed to protect and not insult the brahmanas; therefore the son of the sage, acting immaturely and rashly, used his brahminical power to curse the King. The brahmana boy, Srngi, cried, “The warrior class is supposed to act as watchdogs. Since when does a watchdog enter the house of the king, sit in the house of the master, and eat with him on the same plate?” In that way he tried to explain away the incident of the yogi’s not receiving the King. In those days the brahminical class had powers to curse, but the boy committed a great mistake in using this power. Touching the water of the River Kausiki, he discharged a thunderbolt of words: “In seven days a snakebird will bite the wretched King on account of his breaking the law of etiquette and insulting my father.” The boy then returned to the hermitage, and seeing his father with the snake draped on his shoulder, he began to cry loudly. His father gradually opened His eyes and found the dead snake on his neck, but he did not take it very seriously. On hearing what his son had done, He very much regretted the whole incident. He said to his son, “What a greatly sinful act you have performed over such an insignificant offense by the King. He then chastised his boy and warned him that the King, as a representative of the Personality of Godhead, is never to be placed on an equal footing with common men. The sage foresaw the downfall of cooperation between the orders, the end of the pious monarchical regime, and the plundering of the people’s wealth by rogues and thieves. He told his son, “Without protection there will be great disruption and social anomalies in the future, and there will be killing and stealing of animals and women. And we shall be responsible for the reaction of all these sins. Without protection of a good king, the people will be scattered like lambs.” The rsi then prayed to the all-pervading Personality of Godhead to please pardon his boy who with no intelligence had committed the great sin of cursing a person who was completely sinless. Kings were considered subordinate to the intelligent or brahminical class, and therefore they should have been protected and not cursed.

King Pariksit returned home, but he regretted insulting the brahmana for his inauspicious act, and he hoped that whatever reaction there might be would come at once. While the King was thus repenting, he received the news of his imminent death. He accepted this news as good and used it at once to detach himself from his worldly kingdom. According to the Vedic system, a man is expected to detach himself from family affairs in the latter part of his life because old age is the notice of death. A householder should leave home and go to the forest and live there in seclusion in order to obtain knowledge from the sages about the real purpose of life, spiritual progress, and about how to prepare for the next life.

Seven Days To Live

Rather than lamenting that he was to die within seven days, Maharaja Pariksit took it as auspicious in that he knew that for at least seven days he would live. He utilized this accurate notice of death so that he could perfect the responsibility of life before the day of his death. Turning the reign of the kingdom over to His son Janamejaya, bidding his family goodbye, and giving up all royal paraphernalia, Maharaja Pariksit went toward the bank of the Ganges to observe fasting unto death, and he gave himself up unto the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead Krsna, who alone is able to award liberation. In this way he accepted the curse of the brahmana boy and used it to achieve the ultimate goal of spiritual advancement. At that time, because Maharaja Pariksit was such a great personality, both as a king and as a saint, many greatly learned figures arrived with their disciples on the bank of the river where Maharaja Pariksit was fasting and praying. They were of such an elevated status that the places of pilgrimage they visited became sanctified by their presence.

Thus the scene was set for the recitation of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The great sages who were present included Bhrgu, Vasistha, Parasara, and Parasurama. The King received them by bowing his head to the ground. Then the rsis took their seats, and the King expressed his decision to fast until death. He then stood before them humbly with folded hands and made his spoken obeisances. He began by saying that he understood that the sages generally did not like to associate with kings and that he therefore felt himself greatly fortunate. Sages usually reject royal personalities and keep them at a distant place like garbage. Pariksit said, “O brahmanas, just accept me as a completely surrendered soul, and let the mother Ganges accept me because I have taken up in my heart the lotus feet of the Lord. Let the snake or anything magical created by the brahmana bite me at once. All I want is that you sages may go on singing of the deeds of Lord Visnu.” Because Maharaja Pariksit was actually surrendered to the feet of the Supreme Lord, he was not afraid of death. Conditions were very auspicious for the sages to speak about Krsna.

It is seen that Maharaja Pariksit was not striving for ordinary spiritual knowledge or merely practicing yoga techniques to gain liberation. He said, “I do not even care if I take my birth in this material world again, as long as I have attachment for Lord Sri Krsna, who has unlimited potencies.” Maharaja Pariksit, being a very advanced king and saint, was, at the time of his death, already beyond inquiring about liberation or trying to free himself from return to birth and death. He simply wanted to hear the glorification of God or even to be assured that after his demise the glorification of God, the highest pleasure, the highest satisfaction, and the prime benediction for all humanity, would go on. This example is so wonderful that even the demigods in the higher planetary systems scattered flowers over the earth and beat celestial drums to praise the actions of the King. The sages said that they were not astonished to see Maharaja Pariksit give up his throne, which was decorated with the helmets of many other kings, in order to obtain eternal association with the Personality of Godhead. And they declared that they would wait there in the King’s presence as long as he did not go back to the supreme planet, which is free from all material contamination.

Maharaja Pariksit congratulated the great sages and again expressed his desire to hear of the activities of Lord Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. Pariksit then asked them the following question: “What is the duty of people in general and specifically of those who are about to die immediately?” The sages, however, did not answer unanimously in their decision as to what was to be done. In fact, they offered many different prescriptions. It was at that time that the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami, the sixteen-year-old son of Vyasadeva arrived. Despite his young age, he is described by the Bhagavatam as being most experienced in knowledge. All the sages present stood up and offered him obeisances.

Sukadeva

The great devotee Maharaja Pariksit went near the sage Sukadeva Gosvami, who was sitting perfectly at peace and who was prepared to answer everything. Bowing down before him, Pariksit said, “You are sanctified. This place is a place of pilgrimage due to your presence.”

This wonderful meeting of Maharaja Pariksit and Sukadeva Gosvami is glorified by a whole disciplic succession of spiritual masters because Sukadeva Gosvami was authorized by Krsna to speak about the pastimes of the Lord, and Maharaja Pariksit, because of his eagerness to hear, was the perfect audience to receive that message. Maharaja Pariksit had just been expressing to the sages that he wanted to hear about the pastimes of Krsna and nothing else, and when he expressed this to Sukadeva Gosvami, Sukadeva said, “This is very nice because I just was going to tell you that you should hear the pastimes of Krsna.” This is the perfect combination for Krsna consciousness: a bona fide spiritual master and an eager and qualified student.

The teachings of Sukadeva Gosvami to Maharaja Pariksit are the subject of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the most elevated of all Vedic literatures. Simply to hear this most authoritative Srimad-Bhagavatam can bring one to the stage of devotional service to the Lord. Maharaja Pariksit’s death was great because he was able to achieve the ultimate success of going back to Godhead by being favored by Krsna, who sent him His true representative. As soon as a devotee meets a true representative of the Lord, he is guaranteed to go back to Godhead after leaving the present body. This depends on the sincerity of the devotee himself. The Lord is seated in the hearts of all living beings, and he knows well the movements of every individual person. And to that particular soul who is eager to go back to Godhead, He sends a bona fide spiritual master. When Maharaja Pariksit was hearing from Sukadeva Gosvami, he was receiving the direct help of the Lord Himself in the form of the instructions of his spiritual master. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, it is stated that after Krsna left the earth. He remained present in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, so hearing the Srimad-Bhagavatam can be taken to by all peoples as the panacea for the age of Kali. Hearing about the pastimes of the Lord and chanting His holy names will free everyone from the attack of maya, the illusory energy of the Lord.

All of us should follow in the footsteps of the pure devotee Maharaja Pariksit and glorify the Lord by hearing from the bona fide spiritual master. This was the answer given by Sukadeva to Maharaja Pariksit’s question. “What should we do at the time of death?” One should glorify God by hearing of His pastimes, as described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Surely that is the highest occupation for mankind. If one can simply do that, then there will be peace and prosperity, just as in the days when Maharaja Pariksit ruled the earth. Maharaja Pariksit controlled the corruption of the age of Kali, and there is every reason to believe this can be effected again today. By vigorous distribution of Krsna conscious literature, prasadam, and sankirtana or chanting the holy names, the age of Kali can be transformed into the golden age.

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