Eons of Hinduism
By Heinrich Zimmer. Edited by Joseph Campbell.
"Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization".
treasure of myths and symbols is immense. In the teeming texts and multitudinous
architectural monuments eloquent details so abound that, though scholars since
the end of the eighteenth century have been editing, translating, and
interpreting, it is by no means an infrequent experience to come across tales
hitherto unnoticed or unknown, images undeciphered, expressive features not yet
understood, esthetic and philosophical values uninterpreted.
the second millennium B.C. the Indian traditions have been handed on in unbroken
the transmission have been mainly oral, there is left to us only an imperfect
record of the long and rich development: certain periods, long and fruitful, are
barely documented; much has been irretrievably lost. Nevertheless, though tens
of thousands of pages remain in manuscripts still waiting to be edited, the
great works already published in printed Western and Indian editions are so many
that no individual may hope to cover them in a lifetime.
inheritance if both prodigious and fragmentary.
wonderful story of the Parade of Ants opens before us an unfamiliar
spectacle of space and throbs with an alien pulse of time. The time and space
conceptions of India will at first seem to us of the West unsound and bizarre.
The fundamentals of the Western view are so close to our eyes that they escape
our criticism. They are of the texture of our experience and reactions. We are
prone, therefore, to take them for granted as fundamental to human experience in
general, and as constituting an integral part of reality.
astounding story of the re-education of the proud and successful Indra plays
with visions of cosmic cycles-eons following each other in the endlessness of
time, eons contemporaneous in the infinitudes of space-such as could hardly be
said to enter into the sociological and psychological thinking of the
“timeless” India these extensive diastoles give the life-rhythm of all
thought. The wheel of birth and death, the round of emanation, fruition,
dissolution, and re-examination, is a commonplace of popular speech as well as a
fundamental theme of philosophy, myth and symbol, religion, politics, and art.
It is understood as applying not only to the life of the individual, but to the
history of society and the course of the cosmos. Every moment of existence is
measured and judged against the backdrop of this pleroma.
to the mythologies of Hinduism, each world cycles is subdivided into four yugas
or world ages.
Dvapara - 864,000
the Western mind, which believes in single, epoch-making historical events (such
as, coming of Christ, or the long development of invention during the course of
man’s mastery of nature) this casual comment of the ageless god has a gently
minimizing, annihilating effect. It vetoes conceptions of value that are
intrinsic to our estimation of man, his life; his destiny and task.
Wisdom of Life:
is easy for us to forget that our strictly linear, evolutionary idea of time
(apparently substantiated by geology, paleontology, and the history of
civilization) is something peculiar to modern man. Even the Greeks of the day of
Plato and Aristotle, who were much nearer than the Hindus to our way of thought
and feeling and to our actual tradition, did not share it. Indeed, St. Augustine
seems to have been the first to conceive of this modern idea of time. The
Augustinian Society has published a paper by Erich Frank, in which it is pointed
out that both Aristotle and Plato believed that every art and science had many
times developed to its apogee and then perished. “These philosophers,”
writes Frank, believed that even their own ideas were only the rediscovery of
thoughts which had been known to the philosophers of previous periods.
belief corresponds precisely to the Indian tradition of a perennial philosophy,
an ageless wisdom revealed and revealed, restored, lost, and again restored
through the cycles of ages.
Greeks had great historians who investigated and described the history of their
times; but….the history of the universe they considered as a natural process
in which everything recurred in periodical cycles, so that nothing really new
is precisely the idea of time underlying Hindu mythology and life.
history of the universe in its periodic passage from evolution to dissolution is
conceived as a biological process of gradual and relentless deterioration,
disintegration, and decay. Only after everything has run its course into total
annihilation and been then re-incubated in the boundlessness of the timeless
cosmic night, does the universe reappear in the perfection, pristine, beautiful,
and reborn. The perfection of life, the human capacity to apprehend and
assimilate ideals of highest saintliness and selfless purity-in other words the
divine quality or Dharma – is in continuous decline. And during the process
the strangest histories take place, yet nothing that has not, in the endless
wheelings of the eons, happened many, many times before.
vast time-consciousness, transcending the brief span of the individual, even the
racial biography, is the time-consciousness of Nature herself. Nature knows, not
centuries, but ages, geological, astronomical ages- and stands, furthermore,
beyond them. Swarming egos are her children, but the species is her concern, and
world ages are her shortest span for the various species that she puts forth and
permits, finally to die (like the dinosaurs, the mammoth, and the giant
– as Life brooding on itself-thinks of the problem of time in periods
comparable to those of our astronomy, geology, and paleontology.
India thinks of the species, not of
the ephemeral ego. The latter becomes old: the former is old, and therewith
of the West on the other hand, regard world history as a biography of mankind,
and in particular of Occidental Man, whom we estimate to be the most
consequential member of the family. We think of egos, individuals, lives,
not of life.
will is not to culminated in our human institutions the universal play of
nature, but to evaluate, to set ourselves against the play, with an egocentric
yet our physical and biological sciences – which, of course, are comparatively
young-have not affected the general tenor of our traditional humanism. So
little, indeed, are we aware of their possible philosophical implications that
when we encounter something of their kind in the eons of the Hindus, we are
left, emotionally, absolutely cold.