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Eons of Hinduism 
By Heinrich Zimmer.
Edited by Joseph Campbell. "Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization".  Pg 11-21)

India’s 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.

From the second millennium B.C. the Indian traditions have been handed on in unbroken continuity. 

Since 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. 

This inheritance if both prodigious and fragmentary.

The  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.  

The 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 West. 

In “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.  

According to the mythologies of Hinduism, each world cycles is subdivided into four yugas or world ages. 

Krita    - 1,728,000
Treta    -  1,296,000
Dvapara  - 864,000
Kali.     - 432,000 

For 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.  

The Wisdom of Life: 

It 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.

 This 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.

 The 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 ever happened.  

This is precisely the idea of time underlying Hindu mythology and life.

The 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. 

This 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 birds). 

 India – 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 eternally young. 

We 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. Our 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 tenacity. 

As 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.  



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