The End of the World
Or a New Beginning?
A recent article by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists brings forth an alarming headline “100 Seconds to Midnight” highlighting the possibility that humanity today stands at the edge of a precipice, the closest it has ever been to a civilizational catastrophe. Normally such sensational soundbites are relegated to easily ignored fringes of society, prophets of doom and gloom, and perhaps the religiously overzealous. But coming from a well respected scientific body, it offers a reason for pause and thought. In this article, we explore the possibilities and repercussions of such events in our time, especially in the light of tradition and current events.
A detailed reading of faith traditions tells us that such statements and prophecies of impending doom are hardly new. Humanity has waited with bated breath at the end of every millennium, century, and even decade, for its inevitable end. As recently as 2012, many were under the impression that the end of the world, with all its vivid imagery, was at hand. However, incredibly, somehow it seems humanity persists. Does this persistence then belie ancient (and hopefully) modern prophecy and warning?
Not really. There is little doubt that as a species we have in some ways reached a low point in our existence on this beautiful and fragile planet. The threat of climate disaster, increasingly cavalier attitudes towards nuclear weapons and nationalism, and a highly polarized and cynical perspective towards almost all aspects of life are indicative of this nadir. At the same time, over the last 200 years, much progress has also been made. In terms of health, social equality, justice, wealth, and almost every human development metric there is measurable progress, at least as compared to the medieval era. For more on this progress, readers are encouraged to read Steven Pinker’s bestseller, Enlightenment Now (2018).
Are these hopeful longer term trends at opposition to the dangerous trends pointed to by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, and the suggestions of ancient prophecy? How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory and confusing conclusions? We suggest that a greater meaning can be derived if these are seen from a holistic, spiritual perspective.
It is true, as Pinker points out, that we have come far from the dark ages. But there is little doubt that there remains much room for improvement – in fact, a philosophy of holistic development that views human beings more as spiritual beings, is crucial for our evolution. While material progress has reached a zenith, it seems almost as though this has been achieved at the cost of spiritual and even, emotional development. It is time to catch up.
As indicated by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists and coincidentally, the Prophets of yore, there is only so far that we can go in a one-pointed pursuit of materialism. In this sense, we truly stand on the edge – there is nowhere to go but down. Unless we turn inwards and, in the process, realize the interconnectedness of all things, living and non-living. If we can do this, we can get past this darkness, and usher in a great Golden Age. For more on this, see “Spiritual Pluralism: How Universality leads to Empathy,” which explains the need for a universal and pluralistic perspective going forward.
Perhaps more relevant and urgent, are the advantages (apart from the obvious material ones) of living in these times, which are rarely studied in a spiritual context. Tradition suggests that those who harbor a spiritual attitude in a materialistic age, will see tremendous evolutionary and spiritual gains. It is this recompense of the Kaliyug (or epoch of vice and misery) that is referred to in the cryptic parable of the vineyard, “And the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:1-16). The same benefit is echoed in a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, where he explains to his companions that those who hold on to faith (spirituality) in the times to come, will be the greatest of all. In the ancient Vedic tradition a similar lesson is found in the tale of the last King of the previous age (Dwapar Yuga), King Pariksheet who, knowing well the materialistic age to follow, wishes to destroy time itself, but is corrected by the sages, who explain that the times to come will be extremely rewarding to those who practice spirituality.
It is with these thoughts in mind that we recommend the following action steps:
- Persevere in spirituality and spiritual effort
- Seek knowledge and reach out to those who resonate with you
- Get in touch with like-minded seekers who will help support you on the spiritual journey