Tantra, the Kali Yuga, & the Occidental Traditionalist
Forthcoming, Tantric Traditions (Manticore Press 2018)
Tantrism reached its apex of popularity in medieval India—a time when two very important things occurred which helped to procure its remarkable ascent. One was the spread of alchemy and the other was increasing belief in the negative effects of the Kali Yuga. Hinduism adopts a cyclical perspective of time, from the Satya Yuga to the present Kali Yuga. It is a common misconception that the Kali Yuga is named after the Goddess Kālī. Instead, it takes its name from an extremely powerful male demon. This mistake occurs due to errors in English translations of the name Kali—in Sanskrit, the Goddess is named Kālī (with long vowels)—the name of the demon is spelled Kali (with short vowels). Whilst Tantra does have an intimate relationship with the nature of the Kali Yuga, it is not in the fashion that has been erroneously attributed to it. Rather, Tantrism was devised and constructed specifically to be the main religion in the Kali Yuga.
I. The Reign of Impurity
The demonic Kali takes his name from the Sanskrit root kad which means to “suffer, grieve, hurt, confound, or confuse”. Kali is the arch enemy of Kalki, the 10th avatar of the God Viṣṇu. When Viṣṇu incarnates as an avatar, so does Kali—in the Mahābhārata he is said to be Duryodhana, and in the Rāmāyaṇa he is Rāvaṇa. Kali is the great-great-grandson of Lord Brahmā, as well as Adharma who was originally created from Lord Brahmā’s back as a Maleen Pataka (a sinful object). This is found in the Śrī Kalki Purāṇa where it says that “After the annihilation, the secondary creator of the universe, Lord Brahmā, the grandfather of everyone, who was born on the universal lotus flower, created Sin personified, having a black complexion, from his back.” An alternate version of Kali’s origin states that he was born from the left-over poison that was drunk by Lord Śiva during the churning of the ocean of milk.
Depictions of Kali portray him as both revolting and terrifying. The Kalki Purāṇa describes Kali as huge and the color of “soot,” with a long tongue and a terrible stench. He carries a bone and has an abdomen that is said to be like that of a crow. Kali is sometimes portrayed holding his genitals in his left hand and he has a dark complexion, like a black ointment that has been mixed with oil. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa also describes him as a Śūdra wearing the garments of a king. Kali’s symbol is an owl and he rides a donkey instead of a horse. Kali is very fond of gambling, drinking wine, enjoying the company of prostitutes, and associating with merchants—his whole persona exudes an aura of extreme excess, gluttony, and greed. Kali is also presumed to be responsible for all evil scriptures and badly composed religious texts. The favorite residences of Kali are,
The playgrounds of ghosts, foxes, and jackals. These places were permeated with the foul odor of decaying beef, and they were infested with crows and owls. Kali’s domain can be found wherever there is gambling and intoxication, as well as where women constantly quarrel.
In sum, his domains are those which are deemed impure by Hinduism and are found wherever people lose their rationality, generating strife and conflict. It is the influence of Kali that distorts the perception of humanity and lures them from dharma. Kali’s association with negative human emotions and antagonism towards dharma is symbolized by the names of his destructive progeny.
Kali’s sister was Durukti, (Harsh Speech). From Durukti’s womb, Kali begot a son named Bhaya, (Fear), and a daughter named, Mṛtyu (Death). Bhaya begot a son named Niraya (Hell) from the womb of Mṛtyu and Niraya begot ten thousand sons in the womb of his sister, Yatana (Excessive Pain). Thus, I have described the destructive progeny of Kali, who were all blasphemers of genuine religious principles.
Kali’s reign, the Kali Yuga, commences within the Mahābhārata and this book is a pivotal text for understanding both the demon and the Yuga. The end of the Mahābhārata is traditionally believed to herald the dawn of the Kali Yuga, and it begins when Kṛṣṇa, the avatar of the God Viṣṇu, departs. Based on the astronomical observations of Parāśara, a date of c.1350 BC can be provided for the Mahābhārata.
Kali’s presence in the text is subtle, and for the most part, is revealed only through symbolism. Hints of the infernal origin of Duryodhana are hidden within the Mahābhārata. Vidura issues warnings of the inauspicious symbols which surround Duryodhana and link him to Kali, saying,
Listen to me, sire, even if my words are bitter, like medicine to a dying man. When Duryodhana was born he cried like a jackal. He will destroy us all. A jackal stalks our palace. Order Arjuna to kill him. Sacrifice a crow to get peacocks, sire; sell a jackal to buy tigers.
Jackals are one of the animals traditionally associated with both Kali and bad omens. In a different translation of the Mahābhārata, Kali’s presence is clearly stated.
Know that Pāṇḍu of unfading glory and distinguished above all others sprung from the Maruts. Kṣattri and Yudhiṣṭhira are both portions of the deity of Righteousness. Know that Duryodhana was Kali, and Śakuni was Dvāpara.
Just as the other main characters within the Mahābhārata are avatars of deities, so too is Duryodhana the avatar of Kali. The identity of Kali as the villain of the Mahābhārata also sheds much light on the actions of Kṛṣṇa, the avatar of Viṣṇu, and the role he plays in teaching Arjuna the Kṣatriya dharma. Kali also appears as Nala in the Mahābhārata, who he possesses via a dice game. During the dice game, Nala loses everything and is forced into exile. Kali’s possession of Nala ends when the Nāga Karkoṭaka bites him and the venom turns Nala into an ugly dwarf named Bāhuka, who eventually masters the dice game. Learning this enables Nala to exorcise the demon and he vomits Kali from his mouth. The story of Nala is a micro-version of the Mahābhārata itself—Duryodhana also lures Yudhiṣṭhira into playing the dice game, unaware that Duryodhana, aided by another demon Dvāpara (who has incarnated as Śakuni) is manipulating the dice so he can take over the kingdom.
“Challenged, I never retreat,” replied Yudhiṣṭhira. “We are pawns in the hand of fate. Let us begin. Who plays against me?” “I will supply the stakes,” Duryodhana said. “My uncle Śakuni will play.”
Yudhiṣṭhira loses the kingdom, his brothers, himself, and even his wife. The dice game is also of further importance because the Yugas were originally named after the four throws of dice—Krita, Trita, Dvita, and Kali—Krita being the best throw and Kali the worst. Therefore, Kali is not only winning the dice game, he is winning the Yuga and declaring it, albeit symbolically, as under his reign and preparing to engage in conflict with his traditional enemy, Viṣṇu who incarnates as Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-Gītā section of the Mahābhārata. Despite the defeat of Kali/Duryodhana in the epic, the end of the Mahābhārata is the beginning of the Kali Yuga, because it is believed that the very moment Kṛṣṇa left the earth, Kali became active in the world.
Kali will not leave the world again until his nemesis Viṣṇu incarnates as Kalki. The Kalki Purāṇa is set at the end of the Kali Yuga and narrates the battle between the final avatar of Viṣṇu and Kali, who is defeated one-third of the way through the text. As Kali’s connection to the Kali Yuga is much more explicit in the Kalki Purāṇa, the manner in which he influences humanity and dharma is also more obvious. The problems of the Kali Yuga are both moral and ethical, and the central issue of the Kalki Purāṇa is that society rejects dharma and Vedic teachings. This is portrayed in Kalki’s role vis a vis the mleccha. The mlecchas are understood to be,
Those who do not follow the Vedic principles. In former days, the mlecchas were fewer, and Visvāmitra Muni cursed his sons to become mlecchas. But in the present age, [the] Kali Yuga, there is no need of cursing, for people are automatically mlecchas. This is only the beginning of [the] Kali Yuga but at the end of [the] Kali Yuga the entire population will consist of mlecchas because no one will follow the Vedic principles. At that time, the incarnation Kalki will appear.
It is also stated that,
The pious Brāhmaṇa have left this country (India), having been chastised by the powerful Kali, who is envious of saintly persons, and who destroys the practice of religious principles.
In addition to the mlecchas multiplying and the Brahmin departing, the caste system also breaks down into a fifth caste that is a result of the other four intermingling, as stated in the Mahānirvāna Tantra: “In the Kali Age, however, there are five castes—namely, Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśya, Śūdra, and Sāmānya.” The effect of the lack of dharma in the Kali Yuga can, therefore, be interpreted as the collapse of traditional law and the negation of all things ethical, moral, or spiritual. The goal of Kalki is not merely to slay Kali, but also to restore dharma and to reinstate Vedic Traditions. Kalki, on the other hand, spreads adharma by perverting religious discourse and creating unscrupulous scriptures. This is undoubtedly what Guénon has in mind when he speaks of the “counter-tradition” in the context of the Kali Yuga.
The reign of the ‘counter-tradition’ is in fact precisely what is known as the ‘reign of the Antichrist’, and the Antichrist, independently of all possible preconceptions, is in any case that which will concentrate and synthesize in itself for this task all the powers of the ‘counter-initiation’, whether it be conceived as an individual or as a collectivity.
The adharmic counter-tradition of the Kali Yuga is also identified with rigid dogma and out of date fundamentalist thinking by Daniélou who writes that, “Visually symbols—that is, the various forms of writing—only begin to be used to fix certain elements of tradition when the evolution of the cycle announces the decline of knowledge.” He elaborates further on this stating that,
Writing is an urban phenomenon, characteristic of the Kali Yuga. To freeze the teachings of “prophets” in books regarded as sacred is to paralyze the spirit of research; it fixes so-called established truths and tends to create blind faith instead of the search for knowledge.
This is very much in line with depictions of Kali (metaphorically) possessing the minds of men to compose scriptures with ‘evil intent’. One only needs to read the daily news to see how ‘cherry-picked’ religious passages can be used to attack ethnic groups, sexes, and sexual orientations. The most obvious modern example would be the deliberate distortion of religious texts to perpetuate political unrest and persecution. But it is only when all spiritual teachings have been eradicated that Kalki will be born, for the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam says that “At the end of [the] Kali Yuga, when there exist no topics on the subject of God, even at the residences of so-called saints and respectable gentlemen of the three higher varṇas and when nothing is known of the techniques of sacrifice, even by word, at that time the Lord will appear as the supreme chastiser.” It is by restoring dharma, the moral and spiritual essence of society, that Kalki is able to end the Kali Yuga. Kalki says this himself when he announces that “I will then again establish Satya Yuga, and thus reinstate the principles of religion as they were before.”
In order to examine the role of Tantrism as a teaching designed specifically for implementation in the Kali Yuga, first of all, a brief explanation of the nature of cyclical time in Hinduism is required, and the respective differences between the ages, especially in relation to their role with regard to dharma, followed by an explanation of the integral role that the Kali Yuga plays within the Western Traditionalist school.
II. Traditionalism & Tantra
Ever since mankind discovered the concept of time, predictions of what lies ahead have provided us with a boundless source of fascination—the ability to see into the future. If we could but see forward in time, we could forge our own destinies and compensate for past mistakes. From the beginning of recorded history seers and shamans have crafted techniques to look into the future by means of visions and prophecies. A multitude of different predictions have been passed, some originating from dreams, some through prayer and still others have passed from the tongues of the Gods themselves. Each and every prediction tells a story—some tell tales of utopia, others of armageddon. Amongst all of these future events, perhaps none is quite as bleak as that which is drawn from the perspective of cyclical time, which portrays a fixed cycle of events that cannot be changed or prevented by the course of the human intervention. According to this vision of the future, civilization will gradually degenerate until it finally collapses so that the cycle of time may begin again.
The notion of cyclic time is also found in outside of the academic community, the idea of a ‘Primordial Tradition’ which is the core doctrine of the Traditionalist School and Perennial Philosophy. The cycle of Yugas was therefore studied by Traditionalists such as René Guénon, Julius Evola, and Alain Daniélou. Due to their influence, the Kali Yuga was successfully exported into a variety of Western movements and ideologies. According to the Primordial Tradition, the various epochs of human history are reduced to Four Ages, each of which gradually deteriorates. In Hinduism, these are known as the Yugas, respectively titled the Satya Yuga, Tretā Yuga, Dvāpara Yuga, and the Kali Yuga. Each age consists of the main period and two twilight periods. Each twilight period is one-tenth the duration of the main period. An especially interesting point in this system is the inclusion of the two twilight periods, one before and one after, each equal to one-tenth of the main period. These also correspond to the four eras symbolized by the myth of the metals found in Hesiod’s Works and Days—the Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Similar versions of this myth are also found amongst the Persians, Chaldeans, Egyptian, Aztec, and Norse Traditions. These Four Ages are part of a greater cycle of existence, known in Hinduism as a Manvantāra. Guénon notes that this division of the Manvantāra into four parts is a significant feature of many other cosmic cycles, notably the four seasons of the year, the four weeks of the lunar month, the four ages of human life and the four points of the compass. It is also common to liken the gradual process of degeneration between the cycles to the image of the Bull of Dharma, which loses its footing as the Ages pass, which symbolizes the collapse of dharma or Traditional Law. This example is found in its entirety in the Laws of Manu:
In the Winning Age, religion is entire, standing on all four feet, and so is truth; and men do not acquire any gain through irreligion. But in the other (Ages), through such wrong gained, religion is brought down foot by foot; and because of theft, lying, and deceit, religion goes away foot by foot.
Not only is the Bull of Dharma reduced to standing on one foot alone, this last hoof is also thought to collapse eventually. In the Kali Yuga, only one foot of Dharma remains and it is diminished by the ‘feet’ of adharma (unrighteousness) to such an extent that ultimately it collapses. The Winning Age here is used as another name for the Satya Yuga, for it is also common to compare the Ages to the gambler’s dice game, an event which occurs early within the Mahābhārata.
According to Hindu Tradition, the commonly accepted lengths of the Yugas are as follows: The Satya Yuga is generally accepted as being 1, 728, 000 human years in duration, the Tretā Yuga is 1, 296,000, the Dvāpara Yuga is 834,000, and the Kali Yuga, being the shortest of the four, is only 432,000 human years in duration. There is, however, some dispute not only as to the length of the Yugas but also the beginning and end points of the cycle. Alain Daniélou derives a different time span for the Yugas than that of the traditional Purāṇic model mentioned above. He explains his differences from the Purāṇic model as being based on adjustments made for the earth’s gradual orbital shifts:
The number of days in a year is not constant. The rhythm of the earth’s rotation varies over very long periods. A figure of 360 is considered to be average.
Joscelyn Godwin also adopts an astronomical perspective when he states that “one of the recurrent themes of the Golden Age is that during it the earth’s axis was perpendicular to the ecliptic … If this were so there would be no seasons, but equal day and night throughout the year.” An alteration in time is also noted by René Guénon for the Yugas themselves have “decreasing lengths of the respective durations of the four Yugas that together make up a Manvantāra.” The duration of the Yugas decreases proportionally with a ratio of 4:3:2:1. According to Guénon, with regard to the numbers given in different texts for the duration of the Manvantāra and consequently for that of the Yugas, it must be understood that they are not to be regarded as a ‘chronology’ in the ordinary sense of the word, but rather as expressing a literal number of years; and this is also why certain apparent differences in these numbers do not really imply any contradiction. In Daniélou’s version, the lifespan of the Gods is 4,320,000 human years. Eliade also relates the same time span (taken from Manu I, 69 et seq., Mahābhārata III, 12, 826) in which the Satya Yuga lasts for 4,000 years, the Tretā Yuga 3,000 years, the Dvāpara Yuga 2,000 years and the Kali Yuga being only 1,000 ‘Divine Years’ in duration—in human years the figure is the same as that derived by Guénon and Daniélou; the length of the total cycle is 4,320,000. This period is then divided into 71.42 Manvantāras. Each Manvantāra is divided into four Yugas; the length of the Yugas then change as follows: The duration of the Satya Yuga becomes 24,195 human years, the Tretā Yuga becomes 18,146 years, the Dvāpara Yuga becomes 12,097 years, and the Kali Yuga is drastically reduced to a mere 6,048 human years, placing in it the modern era. These calculations are extremely similar to those reached by Guénon: Expressed in ordinary years, these same durations of the four Yugas will be respectively 25,920, 19,440, 12,960 and 6,480, forming a total of 64, 800 years; and it will be recognized that these numbers are at least within perfectly plausible limits and may very well correspond to the true chronology of present terrestrial humanity. By Daniélou’s calculations, the Kali Yuga began in 3012 BCE and will end in 2442 CE.
The first of the four ages is the Satya Yuga, which corresponds to Hesiod’s Golden Age. During the Golden Age, presided over by the God Chronos, “mortal men lived as if they were gods” and no “miserable old age came their way.” This was the Age in which the great seers established the basis of their approach to the world’s deep reality, which is the foundation of the Primordial Tradition, the expression of universal laws. In other, non-Indian Traditions, this Golden Age is equivalent to the primordial, paradisiacal epoch. The Tretā Yuga or Age of the Three Ritual Fires, saw the constitution of human society, the family, tribe, hierarchy, and royalty—relationships were now formalized in an effort to conform to universal laws. The Dvāpara Yuga saw the birth of various mythologies, philosophical schools, and atheistic doctrines. It was during this period of history that urban civilizations and hierarchies of function developed. The Kali Yuga, or Age of Conflicts, saw the acceleration of the principle of cosmic degeneration. During the Kali Yuga humanity has abandoned its connections with the natural world; religion has deteriorated to the mere expression of social codes, the prophets of various sects war with each other. The essential quality of the Kali Yuga is said to be a climate of dissolution, in which all the forces—individual and collective, material, psychic, and spiritual—that were previously held in check by a higher law and by influences of a superior order pass into a state of freedom and chaos. This Age is named Kali after the demon of vice. During this period, the nature of Tradition will be esoteric, and passed between initiates only; it will survive but will remain hidden. The traditional spirit is already beginning to withdraw into itself, and centers where it is preserved in its entirety are becoming isolated and difficult to access; this generalization of confusion corresponds exactly to what must occur in the final phase of the Kali Yuga. During this Age, there will be many conflicts and much strife—there will be conflicts between mysticism and moralism, and also between the religions of nature and of the cities and civic duties. The middle of the Kali Yuga is marked by periods of great upheaval and civil unrest. It was the time of the destruction of Athens, Ur, Babylon, the Persian invasion of Egypt, and also the time during which Rome developed at the expense of the Etruscans. Guénon saw the effects of the Kali Yuga as inevitable, stating that: “we have in fact entered upon the last phase of the Kali Yuga, the darkest period of this ‘dark age’, the state of dissolution from which it is impossible to emerge otherwise than by a cataclysm, since it is not a mere readjustment that is necessary at such a stage, but a complete renovation.” According to Guénon, what characterizes the ultimate phase of a cycle is the realization of all that has been neglected or rejected during the preceding phases. Because of the influence of the Kali Yuga, today’s events unfold with a greater speed than in earlier ages, and this speed goes on increasing and will continue to increase up to the end of the cycle, which is something like a progressive ‘contraction’ of duration. According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the Kali Yuga began at the very moment Lord Kṛṣṇa retired from the earth. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa also places this squarely within an astronomical time-frame by stating that the earth entered the Kali Yuga at the moment the Seven Divine Sages (Ursa Major) entered the constellation Magha.
Many of the predictions held for the Kali Yuga arise from the Hindu scriptures known as the Purāṇas—in particular, the Linga and Bhāgavata Purāṇas provide lengthy descriptions of the events that will unfold as the Kali Yuga accelerates. An entire section of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa is devoted to the evils of the Kali Yuga. Some of the defining points of the Kali Yuga are described as follows:
In the Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be the deciding factor of [the] nobility of birth, righteous behavior or merits. And only brute force will be the only standard in the arrangement or decision of what is righteous or just. … When (in the Kali Age) religion will be predominantly heretical, and kings will be as good as robbers and men will be earning their livelihood by theft, (economic offenses), mendacity, wanton violence to life and such other pursuits. … Thieves function as kings and kings function as thieves. The chaste ladies cease to exist and wanton sluts increase in number. … As a result of Kali’s influence, mortal beings become dull-witted, unlucky, voracious, destitute of wealth yet voluptuous, and women, wanton, and unchaste. … In the Kali Age, men will abandon their parents, brothers, friends, and relatives and establish their friendliness on a sexual basis. Their affection being centered on their relation with women, they will seek consultations from their wives’ relatives (such as sisters and brother-in-laws) and will be miserable. … Killing of fetus and murder of heroes become prevalent. … In Kali Age men excited by tamoguna adopt māyā (deception) and jealousy. They do not hesitate to kill ascetics. They are always tormented by jealousy. … In Kali cooked food will be kept for sale in living places. The selling of Vedas and other sacred literature will occur in cross streets; young women will even sell their honor. … Women will be short-statured but voracious, noted for fecundity and shameless. They will be harsh-speakers, given to theft, fraud, and daredevilry.
From these extracts it is clear that a significant amount of the negativity embodied in the Kali Yuga originates from humanity itself under the influence of the tamas guṇa (a materialistic component of existence). In the Kali Yuga, we see an increasing trend towards indulgence on the material plane, such as the abandonment of religion, obsession with sex, and jealousy over the wealth of others. People are respected by their wealth alone, and not for deeper personal qualities such as character or personal achievements. Under the reign of the tamas guṇa, only materialistic pleasures such as sex and money are accorded merit by society in the Kali Yuga. This materialism is also expressed in the passage regarding the abandonment of aged parents and the killing of fetuses—which can be seen in today’s increasing trend towards placing one’s parents in Retirement Homes, to die amongst strangers rather than accepting responsibility for the elderly. The killing of fetuses can likewise be interpreted as a reference to abortion. Other symptoms include the moral degeneration of the female to a purely sexual role and a corresponding increase in the growth and social acceptance of prostitution. Perhaps the most unusual prediction here, though, is the one that cooked food will be kept for sale in living spaces—a clear reference to fast food, and the mass consumption of it by the populace at large. A similar picture of civilization slowly decaying from within can be found in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa. The Viṣṇu Purāṇa (IV, 24) also tells us that the Kali Yuga is the only age in which property alone confers social rank; wealth becomes the only motive of the virtues, passion and lust the only bond between the married, falsehood and deception the first condition of success in life, sexuality the sole means of enjoyment, and external ritualistic religion is confused with genuine spirituality. The problems brought by the Kali Yuga are not entirely brought about by moral collapse, however—there are also a set of predictions relating to environmental problems.
Being oppressed by droughts or famines and heavy taxation and being subjected to excessive cold, biting winds, [blistering] sunshine, [driving] downpour of rain, snowfall, mutual rivalry, the people are going to perish. … As the Yuga draws to a close, men become reduced in number while women increase in proportion. … The earth will be devoid of kings, riches and food grains will not flourish; groups of conspirators will be formed in the cities and countries. The earth will have a short supply of water and will be deficient in fruits. … Suffering from colic they will have their hairs disheveled. Towards the close of the Yuga, people will be born who will be only sixteen years.
The references here to fluctuating extremes of temperature and shortage of water are suggestive of global warming. The mention of blistering sunshine likewise suggests the depletion of the ozone layer, making even the sunshine dangerous in the Kali Yuga. It seems likely that the mention of colic and disheveled hair refer to forms of sickness which originate from the effects of the harsh weather and poor diet caused by adverse agricultural conditions. Most disturbing of all is the prediction that at the end of the Yuga, people will die at the tender age of sixteen.
The Kali Yuga also causes moral corrosion, most noticeably in personal behavior and also with bad government. The Mahānirvāna Tantra also states that “Those born in the Kali Age are by their nature weak in intellect, and their minds are distracted by lust”, implying that the character of people is what causes them to adopt practices which are essentially harmful to both themselves and others. Due to the growing influence of materialism, greed will also become a source of admiration, and only those who are wealthy will be deemed worthy of respect. The Kalki Purāṇa states that,
In [the] Kali Yuga, a person with a lot of money will naturally be respected as a great soul. If a twice-born person earns his livelihood by lending money on interest, he will be considered a pillar of society.
Other human created disasters associated with the Kali Yuga are clearly the result of bad governments. Taxes will increase and political figures will be self-serving rather than protectors of the people. There will also be mass migrations—something that is currently happening as people leave regions for more prosperous and stable countries.
According to the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, the Kali Yuga will draw to a close at the occurrence of a specific astronomical event. When the Moon, the Sun, and Jupiter are in conjunction in the same zodiacal house and the star Puṣya is in attendance, the Kṛta (Satya) Yuga dawns. These planets must also enter the zodiacal house simultaneously, otherwise, this phenomenon would transpire on a twelve year cycle in the sign of Cancer. It is, therefore, the defining point of this prophecy that the three astronomical bodies must enter the zodiacal sign simultaneously to herald the dawn of the new Yuga. Before this occurs, however, the final avatar of Viṣṇu, known as Kalki or Pramiti (Wisdom or Knowledge of Truth) will incarnate at the close of the Kali Yuga, and cleanse the earth to punish those who have fallen prey to the materialistic impulses of the Kali Yuga. Pramiti is the equivalent of Kalki, the last of the ten incarnations of Viṣṇu are mentioned in the Matsya Purāṇa (285.67. ).
When the Yuga has come to a close and the period of junction to has arrived, the chastiser of the wicked people will rise up in order to kill all the bad living beings. He will be born in the family of the Moon. He will be called Pramiti by name … He will be surrounded by hundreds and thousands of Brahmins wielding weapons. He will kill the Mlecchas (outcast people) in thousands … he will kill those who are not pious and virtuous. He will kill those who are born of different castes and those who depend upon them … He will be killing hundreds and thousands of living beings. By means of this cruel act, he will reduce the entire earth to the seeds … The subjects who survive the Kali Yuga will be devoid of physical features and mental peace. At that time, the Yuga changes for them overnight, after creating illusion in their minds as in the case of a sleeping or mad man. Thanks to the inevitability and force of future events Kṛta Yuga will set in. When thus the Kṛta Yuga is ushered in, the subjects surviving from the Kali Yuga become those belonging to the Kṛta Yuga.
There is a shred of hope here. Kalki/Pramiti will not slay all beings, just those who have erred from the path. Those who are not judged as sinful by Kalki/Pramiti will survive the onslaught and, after an initial period of suffering as the Age draws to a close, they will survive into the dawn of the Satya Yuga. Furthermore, they will be endowed with the mystic powers known as siddhi which is a normal occurrence for all inhabitants of the Age. Their life thereafter shall be long and prosperous. But what of those people who are alive now, who have no prospect of living into the next Satya Yuga? Is there any hope for humanity in the Kali Yuga, given the corruption present in the Yuga? Both Daniélou and Evola saw the path of Tantra as a way to control the currents of the Kali Yuga. Daniélou says that “it is the only method which may bring actual results in the difficult conditions of the age of strife, in which we live.”
III. Julius Evola & the Export of Tantrism to the West
Daniélou’s influence over Traditionalism, however, is dwarfed by that of Julius Evola. Born in Rome during 1898, Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola was the son of an aristocratic Sicilian family, and like many children born in Sicily, he had received a stringent Catholic upbringing. Evola was a supporter of traditional aristocracy and one would have to be particularly naive to argue otherwise, given that his theory of culture (which he refers to in the terminology of the era as the “race of the spirit”) is designed to subvert any form of biological racism and manipulate Fascism to conform to his own ideas. The myth that Evola was a ‘racist’ is only spread by the willfully ignorant, on both the political Left and the Right. Since he happened to live in Fascist Italy, his political options were severely limited and he had little choice but to conform with the government—even advocating traditional aristocracy was enough to put him on the official watch list.
As Evola recalled in his intellectual autobiography, Il Cammino del Cinabro (1963, 1972), his favorite pastimes consisted of painting, one of his natural talents, and of visiting libraries as often as he could in order to read works by Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Otto Weininger. During his youth, he also studied engineering, and received excellent grades. Evola discontinued his studies prior to the completion of his doctorate, however, because he “did not wish to be bourgeois, like his fellow students.” He was also an associate of the Tibetologist Giuseppe Tucci, Tantric scholar Sir John Woodroffe (Arthur Avalon), and an Indian alchemist by the name of C. S. Narayana Swami Aiyar of Chingleput. During this period of history, Indian alchemy was almost completely unknown to the Western world, and it is only in modern times that it has been studied in conjunction with Occidental texts.
Taking issue with René Guénon’s (1886-1951) view that spiritual authority ranks higher than royal power, Evola wrote L’uomo come Potenza (Man as Power). In the third revised edition (1949), the title was changed to Lo Yoga Della Potenza (The Yoga of Power). This was Evola’s treatise on Hindu Tantra, for which he consulted primary sources on Kaula Tantra, which at the time were quite obscure. Decio Calvari, president of the Italian Independent Theosophical League, had introduced Evola to the study of Tantrism. Evola was also granted access to authentic Tantric texts from the Kaula school of Tantrism via his association with Sir John Woodroffe, who was not only a respected scholar but was also a Tantric practitioner himself, under the famous pseudonym of Arthur Avalon. Even today Woodroffe is regarded as a leading pioneer in the early research of Tantrism. A substantial proportion of The Yoga of Power is derived from Sir John Woodroffe’s personal notes on Kaula Tantrism.
Evola is of the opinion that the royal or Kṣatriya path in Tantrism outranks that of the Brahmin or priestly path. In this regard, the heroic or solar path of Tantrism represented to Evola a system based not on theory, but on practice—an active path appropriate to the degenerate epoch of the Hindu Kali Yuga, in which purely intellectual or contemplative paths to divinity have suffered a great decrease in their effectiveness. Evola’s theories concerning the role of the Kṣatriya varṇa in antiquity are both a ‘progression on’ and a ‘refutation of’ René Guénon’s work. Despite their sharing the same foundational source in perennial philosophy, there are a number of points on which they differ, the most obvious point of contention being the role of the Kṣatriya in relation to a hierarchical model of civilization. Guénon held that the textual model in Hinduism was correct, with the Brahmin holding all power as the priests/philosophers. Evola, however, declared that this model was theoretical only—in practice the Kṣatriya varṇa held all the power. Normally associated in the West with the military, Evola instead offered a paradigm which depicted the Kṣatriya as the aristocratic caste, composed of the nobility as well as the warriors. Because Evola links the Kṣatriya to the aristocracy, this becomes a central motif in his work. The context of this dispute with Guénon is usually misunderstood, even in Traditionalist circles. The nature of this debate is best explained by Evola himself in The Path of Cinnabar,
Yet, Guénon argued in favor of the legitimate pre-eminence, in the present age, of the priesthood (here associated with ‘wisdom’ and ‘knowledge’) over kingship and the warrior caste of the Kṣatriya (associated with action). By contrast, I argued that both poles being the product of recent dissociation, one cannot be regarded as possessing greater dignity than the other: for both poles, I suggested, are equally remote from primordial unity. I also suggested that an orientation towards sovereignty might provide a better foundation for my attempt to reintegrate that condition of centrality (i.e. the condition of the Absolute Individual) which Guénon himself had described as the primordial condition of humanity. To describe the achievement of this reintegration ‘by means of action’ (i.e. on the basis of a warrior, vital disposition), I used the term ‘heroic’ (in the sense in which it was used by Hesiod).
It is clear that Evola is not arguing about the varṇa system simply based on historical evidence, but rather as a medium by which to connect his earlier theory of the Absolute Individual with Tradition. Seen in this light, the Evolian model of sovereignty also borrows from European Traditions. The two aspects of his philosophical predisposition Evola is conveying here are, in his words, “an impulse towards transcendence”, and the “warrior spirit” (Kṣatriya), which is deﬁned as “a human type tending to action and aﬃrmation”. To Evola, this active path to the divine and the model of sovereignty represented the via umida, the wet path, which suited the active Western character. It is only in relation to this facet of Evola’s philosophy that the emphasis in Men Among the Ruins on obedience, loyalty, and the warrior caste can be understood. To a certain extent, these ideas are also supported by the texts themselves, such as the Laws of Manu and the Bṛihādāranyaka Upaniṣad, which states that: “This is why nothing is greater than the warrior nobility; the priests themselves venerate the warrior when the consecration of the king occurs.” This is the concept which Evola grafts onto the Tantric Tradition, which he consequently adapts to his own philosophy. As Evola says,
During the last years of the 1930s I devoted myself to working on two of my most important books on Eastern wisdom: I completely revised L’uomo come Potenza (Man as Power), which was given a new title, Lo Yoga della Potenza (The Yoga of Power), and wrote a systematic work concerning primitive Buddhism entitled La Dottrina del Risveglio (The Doctrine of Awakening).
Another of Evola’s books, Eros and the Mysteries of Love, could almost be seen as a continuation of his experimentation with Tantrism. Indeed, the book does not deal with the erotic principle in the normal sense of the word but rather approaches the topic as a highly conceptualized interplay of polarities, adopted from the Traditional use of erotic elements in both Eastern and Western metaphysics. These utilize the erotic principle to transcend the normal limitations of consciousness. Evola describes Eros and the Mysteries of Love in the following passage.
But in this study, metaphysics will also have a second meaning, one that is not unrelated to the world’s origin since “metaphysics” literally means the science of that which goes beyond the physical. In our research, this “beyond the physical” will not cover abstract concepts or philosophical ideas, but rather that which may evolve from an experience that is not merely physical, but transpsychological and transphysiological. We shall achieve this through the doctrine of the manifold states of being and through an anthropology that is not restricted to the simple soul-body dichotomy but is aware of “subtle” and even transcendental modalities of human consciousness. Although foreign to contemporary thought, knowledge of this kind formed an integral part of ancient learning and of the traditions of varied peoples.
Following this Evola composed Ride the Tiger, which is complementary to this work, even though it was not published until 1961. The title of this book also holds a strong connection with Tantrism and, in many ways, this work is the culmination of Evola’s thought on the role of Tradition. The Traditional approach advocated in the East is to harness the power of the Kali Yuga, by ‘Riding the Tiger’—which is also a popular Tantric saying. To this extent, it is not an approach of withdrawal from the modern world Evola advocates, but instead a mastery of the forces of darkness and materialism inherent in the Kali Yuga. Riding the Tiger, therefore, deals with the practical ‘existential perspective for the individual who wants to preserve his hegomonikon or inner sovereignty. It is the final combination of Evola’s ideas and the full evolved theory of his earlier Absolute Individual. Underlying the more obvious sources which Evola cites within the text, such as Nietzsche, Sartre, and Heidegger, there are also connections with Hindu thought on the collapse of civilization and the Kali Yuga. Evola is promoting Tantrism to an overtly European audience as a method to deal with the Kali Yuga, which is expressed in the following statement.
Tantrism may lead the way for a western elite which does not want to become the victim of these experiences whereby an entire civilization is on the verge of being submerged (What Tantrism means to Modern Western Civilization, 1950).
Evola expands on this by demonstrating the relation between Tantrism and the Kali Yuga. For Evola, Tantrism offers something which is missing in all other existing Traditions—it is the only genuine esoteric Tradition with a legitimate and unbroken claim to the solar Āryan mythos. It is also known that Evola was not only a Tantric in theory but also practiced certain techniques, some which were appropriated from the Tibetan Buddhist school of Tantra known as Vajrayāna. When speaking of Tantra in a Traditionalist context, Evola says that,
The teachings … that would have been viable in the first age … are no longer fit for people in the following ages, especially in the last age, the dark age … mankind in these later ages may find knowledge … not in the Vedas, but rather in the Tantras.
Furthermore, not only does Evola affirm the role of Tantra in the Kali Yuga, he goes one step further in claiming that Tantrism should be regarded not as Eastern, but as a Western Tradition—more Western than Christianity.
It is clear with Tantrism the differentiation between liberation and liberty no longer subsists, since, as a general rule Tantrism, in its spirit—leaving out of consideration the framework of local traditions—should be considered distinctly Western. It is more conspicuously Western than Christian soteriology, which proclaims an ideal of salvation from a world that is looked upon as a “veil of tears” and contemplates the destiny of a human nature that has been infected with sin and that stands in need of redemption.
The essence of this is then summarized by a clarification from Evola that he does not intend to proselytize Tantra in the Occident, and is aware that it is bound up with cultural concerns which are not especially relevant to Europeans, but what he is advocating however is that the fundamental concepts employed in Tantrism can be applied to other Traditions in the broader spiritual narrative, all of which are summarized in his major work Ride the Tiger: A Survival Manual for Aristocrats of the Soul.
We may well say that the essence of the way to be followed in the Dark Age is summed up in the saying “riding the tiger.” I am not even dreaming of proposing Tantrism to the Western world, or of importing it here in the West so that people may practice it in its original aspects. These aspects, as we have seen, are strictly and inseparably interwoven with local Hindu and Tibetan traditions and with the corresponding spiritual climate. Nonetheless, some of Tantrism’s fundamental ideas may be considered by those who wish to deal with the problems encountered in a new and valid syntheses.
It is perhaps a great irony that Tantrism is today the fastest growing religious movement in the United States, albeit in a non-Traditional fashion. It was, after Evola’s death, most definitely imported into the West, but divorced from both the cultural aspects and spiritual aspects (as ‘Californian’ or ‘Pop’ Tantrism), thus its import into the Occident remains incomplete. Nevertheless, Tantra is now a rapidly growing Tradition in the West and with correct guidance should be able to evolve beyond the current rudimentary stage of development.
Evola’s explanation of the appropriateness of the Tantras as a mode of teaching in the Kali Yuga, is also echoed by Hindu philosophy, whereby the Hindu Śāstra (scriptures) are classified into Śrūti, Smṛti, Purāṇa and Tantra—Śrūti for the Satya Yuga, Smṛti for the Tretā Yuga, Purāṇa for the Dvāpara Yuga, and Tantra for the Kali Yuga. Tantra is the universal scripture (Śāstra) for this Age, and it is therefore considered a Yuga Śāstra, for it is only a reinterpretation of the Veda for modern man and therefore is frequently called the Fifth Veda. The implication of this statement is that Tantra is the mode of spiritual learning appropriate to the Kali Yuga, due to its emphasis on controlling the forces of materialism. If we are to accept this as true, then our only hope is to ‘ride the tiger’—a popular Tantric saying for controlling the dark forces of the Kali Yuga, rather than avoid them. The Mahānirvāna Tantra, one of the most widely obtainable Tantric texts repeatedly asserts its dominance in the Kali Yuga, declaring its methodology to be more appropriate for practitioners because of the nature of the age.
In the Kali Yuga, the mantras revealed in the Tantras are efficient, yield immediate fruit, and are recommended for all practices, such as recitation, sacrifice, rituals, and so on. The Vedic practices are powerless as a snake lacking poison fangs or like a corpse, though in the beginning, in the Satya Yuga, they were bearing fruit.
The Mahānirvāna Tantra says that “when the Kali Age is in full sway for all castes, commencing with the Brāhmaṇas, Tāntrika rites are alone appropriate.” Daniélou repeats this sentiment stating that “Only Tantric Yoga methods are efficacious in this age in which values are lost; the rites, asceticism, and virtues of other ages are ineffective.” He also believes that the “teachings of Lakuliśa expose the principles of the Darśana (the paths of knowledge) in a simple and popular form full of imagery, and suggest patterns of behavior suitable for the final stages of the Kali Yuga.” The most simple and effective method of resisting the influence of the Kali Yuga, however, is actually very easy and can be practiced by anyone, for the Mahānirvāna Tantra says that,
In the Kali Age alms are efficacious in the accomplishment of all things. The proper objects of such alms are the poor devoted to meritorious acts.
What is in Tantra that renders it appropriate for practice in the Kali Yuga where other traditional forms of religion fail to thrive? Firstly, due to events cited earlier resulting from the breakdown of dharma in the Kali Yuga, there are a number of social implications as well as religious one. Dharma plays a part in relation to the laws that govern human society, the nature of the civil duty to society, and even how people interact with one another. Therefore, its effects are both multiple and all encompassing. The Kali Yuga is not merely the end of a cycle it is the end of civilization. Therefore, any weakening of dharma can have a devastating effect. One of the first things to collapse is the ‘caste’ or varṇa system because it represents social order. In the Mahānirvāna Tantra, the beginning of the breakdown is predicted via the creation of a fifth varṇa—the Sāmānya. The Sāmānya is a hybrid varṇa arising in the Kali Yuga when varṇa rules and regulations are disregarded, and it is formed by the intermingling of the castes. Because of their hybrid classification, they may adopt any profession, except those reserved for the Brahmin, who retains his role as a ritual specialist as is stated here, “O Devī members of the Sāmānya class may for their maintenance follow all occupations except such as especially reserved for the Brāhmaṇa.” The Sāmānya therefore, are not a varṇa in their own right, but rather a mixture of individuals who belong to the other four.
O thou of auspicious vows! In the Satya and other ages there were four castes; in each of these were four stages of life, and the rules of conduct varied according to caste and stages of life. In the Kali Age, however, there are five castes—namely, Brāhmaṇa, Kṣatriya, Vaiśhya, Śūdra, and Sāmānya.
Here Tantric thought goes beyond the religious aspects and into the cultural defining itself as a Yuga Śāstra, because it is written for practice in this era, an epoch of degeneration where civilization begins to break down, and dharma no longer operates as it did in earlier ages. Instead of being counter-traditional, Tantra is therefore extremely traditional and because it retains the Vedic Tradition it also serves to maintain Traditional social roles. What it does do, however, is relocate the impetus of the rituals themselves from orthodox Hinduism to Tantrism by stating that is not a rejection of Vedic thought, but rather a natural progression thereof, designed specifically for the Kali Yuga.
Understanding the role that the Kali Yuga plays in Tantric Traditions is absolutely vital to interpreting the nature of Tantrism itself. Contrary to being opposed to Vedic teachings, Tantra is merely an extension of them (as is implied by the root tan ‘to extend’) that has been created for the conditions of the Kali Yuga. It is this element that is the defining element of Tantrism, and not any of the ‘transgressive’ practices which effectively act as a red herring for Occidental scholars, leading to endless over-sensationalism and further misinterpretation by Western audiences. However, certain elements of Tantrism, namely the belief in the Kali Yuga, have penetrated deep into the West via the Traditionalist school—not only through Guénon and Daniélou, but more specifically through the writing of Julius Evola. Whilst his Yoga of Power demonstrated a considerable knowledge of Tantra, there are also other factors to consider. For example, there is substantial evidence to suggest that Evola was not merely a scholar, since he practiced a substantial amount of the material that he studied and there is no reason to assume that he did not do the same with Tantra. Belief in the Kali Yuga has become extremely widespread through a variety of groups connected with Evola and Traditionalism. Other elements have also entered into the Traditionalist school via Hinduism, but by far the most pervasive is the belief that the Kali Yuga is the darkest era of all.