About ten years ago I read a book authored by a wise man who said that in or around 2012, around the time of the end of the Mayan calendar, a great shift in consciousness will occur on this planet, ushering in an inconceivably different world, and that higher beings are already here to help bring it forth. One of the many reasons I came back to America when I did was, just in case, to be ready to participate in this shift if possible. I wanted to be where the action is, so to speak, and to contribute to it if I could. I joined a group which follows the guidance of the wise man who authored the book, and entered an email correspondence with them. A few months ago I reminded them of the predictions of the teacher and asked what we ought to do now that the time has come…and there was a resounding silence. One person noted what I had said, but all I heard on the issue from the others was nothing, and very little even of that. (Perhaps there was some discomfort or embarrassment over the teacher's possibly inaccurate prediction? I don't know.) The teacher himself seems to imply that the time is not yet quite ripe.
Now the winter solstice, and the end of the Mayan calendar, is drawing near, and I continue to consider what our prospects are as a species on this planet. I read a book recently (The Vanishing Face of Gaia) by James Lovelock, the scientist who came up with the Gaia Hypothesis, claiming that pretty much no matter what we do at this stage in the game, the earth's overall temperature will still increase by several degrees, resulting in the ecosphere entering a "desert phase," and also resulting in a massive population crash within the next several decades, largely through our inability to grow food on cropland turned to desert. Jerry-rigging the situation, for example by blasting aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reduce solar radiation warming the Earth, may buy us some time, but…Lovelock is not optimistic. His book has been called a "jeremiad." Meanwhile, the population continues to increase, the U.S. economy, and other economies throughout the world, are floundering and based more and more on imaginary money, governments gain greater control over us through electronic surveillance and control of information, big business gains greater control over governments, big banks gain greater control over big business, and a few astronomically rich people retain control over the banks, and allegedly are attempting to increase their power even further. Forests are disappearing, species are becoming extinct, and mainstream world culture becomes more consumeristic as developing nations try to catch up with the West. And so on.
All of this rather grim information is well known to most of us. On the other hand, the instability of the present situation presents itself as a golden opportunity for positive change. So, what can we expect? It appears that we have a number of options.
Everything will blow over, and there's nothing to concern ourselves with. It may be that panicky environmentalists are ignorant of something vital that will render the global warming crisis a mere flash in the pan; for example it may be that the world's climate will warm up nicely, rendering the whole world much like Southern California. (Scientists say that some 50 million years ago the world was much warmer than now, with tropical temperatures in the Arctic, and everything was verdant and jungly, not a desert at all.) Or maybe the increased temperature will cause increased evaporation from the oceans, causing increase in global cloud cover, causing more radiation from the sun to be reflected back out to space, causing the earth's temperature to regulate itself no matter how much we burn fossil fuels. But even if this is true the fact remains that the world is grotesquely overpopulated, the global economy is on the rocks and in danger of worse, there are nuclear weapons on the ready all over the place, and the predominant social system, which is taking over the Earth, is based largely on hedonism and selfishness. We really shouldn't count on an effortless happy ending, even though it is conceivable.
We will destroy ourselves. This is of course an option, and has the advantage of requiring no careful planning or deliberate effort. It is, however, probably not our best bet.
We will receive unexpected intervention on our behalf. This could take the form of technological innovations which fix the environment, say by removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere, and reduce our odds of wrecking it again, say by generating energy without burning fossil fuels (if the petrochemical companies will actually allow that). Or, the intervention could be from extraterrestrial beings. This may seem far-fetched to many, but the chances that we are the only intelligent race in the galaxy are presumably small, and after all, we are pretty interesting as a species; so compassionate beings who have been watching us for centuries may take pity on our foolishness and step in, preventing us from destroying life on our planet. Or, possibly the religious people are right, and beings essentially like gods or angels may step in on our behalf. The Christian Book of Revelation predicts that this will be the case, although they won't step in until the world is already almost completely destroyed (so that the wicked may be sufficiently punished, and that the rest of us may learn our lesson that turning away from the Lord is a big mistake.) But even if this will happen, we probably shouldn't assume it will and expect them to solve the problem for us. There are other options.
We will almost destroy ourselves, and then use that as an extremely loud wake up call. Unfortunately, this may be our most realistic option, although it is presumably much better than going ahead and destroying ourselves completely. It is an instinct in the human animal that our attitudes do not change easily. Our attitudes may not make us happy, but so long as they keep us alive they are good enough. Leave well enough alone. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Nature doesn't care if we are happy or not; from the biological point of view all that matters is that we stay alive long enough to have babies, preferably in such a way that our babies also stay alive long enough to have babies. So what happens is that until the digestive waste hits the fan (so to speak) and our old attitudes can no longer cope with the situation, we resist change. Consequently it may require a major crisis---like a worldwide economic collapse, political collapse, and/or ecological collapse---to hit us over the head hard enough for us to realize as a society that greed-oriented materialistic consumerism does not work in the long run, even though it outcompetes every other economic social system in the short run. We may wind up with a Utopia inhabited by wise, compassionate people sharing what they have out of love for each other, but it may consist of a small fraction of the present world population and be a rough, stoic existence on the edge of a poisonous desert. That may be the best we can do.
We will voluntarily transform ourselves and the world before everything goes Kasplooey. They say History repeats itself; if so, Western culture, and especially American culture, is a repeat of ancient Rome. Assuming that rebirth or reincarnation is a reality, then most Americans who have spirits old enough were likely inhabitants of the Republic or Empire at one time or another. Although Rome was in some ways very different from modern America, there are obvious parallels. Instead of watching gladiatorial combats and criminals being torn apart by wild beasts, we watch violent action movies where the actors only pretend to kill each other (but do so very realistically, and show the splattering gore much more clearly than the spectators at the Colosseum got to see it). Instead of public orgies we have pornography on the Internet. And instead of having barbarian mercenaries fighting our wars for us in our degenerate state, we have computerized robotic weapons doing it (which may eventually prove to be just as unreliable).
One striking similarity between modern America and ancient Rome is that both countries began with tough, austere rustics who fought for their freedom and refused to accept defeat; but after they conquered their rivals in their strength and became opulent world leaders they became weaker, flabbier, more timid, less idealistic, and more materialistic and greedy. When they had relatively little to lose they valued their freedom; but when they became rich they forfeited their freedom for the sake of the security of keeping their comforts.
Eventually the situation in Rome became such that the mainstream of the culture was ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. People followed it, but those with sensitivity and integrity (and many people really are like this, even nowadays) couldn't take it very seriously. They became dissatisfied, disillusioned, and on the lookout for something better. Many philosophies and religious cults (Neoplatonism and some of the Mystery Cults being exalted examples) came and went, but nothing proved deeply satisfactory to very many.
Then a new system appeared called "Christianity," which, although not perfect, at least emphasized love, compassion, and generosity to the poor. It also had a respectable morality to it, and many of its followers seemed much more saintly and much more wise than the Pagan priests, many of whom were cynical, materialistic politicians and aristocrats. Even though Christianity was despised by the majority and persecuted from time to time, it spread like wildfire, as it offered something that people yearned for deep down inside. This apparently marked the beginning of a new stage in the evolution of Western Civilization: in Yoga it might be called the first opening of the heart chakra, the beginnings of deep universal compassion.
As it turned out, the Christian revolution was only partly successful. Not long after it became Rome's state religion it began persecuting "heretics" much more severely than the Pagans ever persecuted them, and the ranks of the bishops soon contained the same sort of cynical politicians that once conducted Pagan ceremonials. Furthermore, a multitude of factors combined to cause the virtual collapse of urban civilization in Europe, resulting in the barbarism of the so-called Dark Ages. In a way the collapse may have been indicative of an advanced, closed-hearted culture being replaced by a crude beginning level of a more open-hearted one. (The new culture was very clumsy because it was new and relatively undeveloped, but still in its way much more advanced than what preceded it.)
Something similar may be happening now, in this reincarnation of the Classical World; and hopefully this time it will be more successful. Again the mainstream of the culture is materialistic and spiritually bankrupt; and again people with sensitivity and moral integrity are dissatisfied and search for something better. Again civilization faces grave dangers, this time more serious than invasions of Goths, Vandals, and Huns. Again there is some hopelessness, fear, and despair, but there is also a sense of urgency, a feeling that something must be done, and done immediately. Maybe the time is ripe for the beginning of a new stage, and perhaps it's already beginning. That would be good, I think. Hopefully it will work out better than medieval Christianity.
I don't expect the new stage will be particularly Christian. I don't expect it will be particularly Buddhist either. I feel that when and if it happens it will not be in the form of any formal system, old or new, but will be simply present, a more conscious, selfless, and sublime way of experiencing life. The teacher mentioned at the beginning of this article has said that it will be inconceivable and indescribable.
According to orthodox Theravada Buddhist tradition, civilization will continue to decline until the average lifespan is only a fraction of what it is now, and the situation will gradually bottom out in something pretty horrible…and then things will gradually get better again. Ultimately, multiple suns will appear in the sky (identical to our present sun except without a sun god inhabiting them), and the world will be incinerated, preparing the scene for the next go. Although everything that has a beginning also has an end, including this world, I hope that orthodox tradition is not accurate in its details of this case.
Anyway, I suppose a good question would be, What should we do? And I suppose a good answer would be, We should do the best we can. Perhaps a Critical Mass Action could be held on the winter solstice, i.e. at the end of the Mayan calendar, at the end of this "age": Let's all meditate, convey loving kindness to others, and help each other as much as we can on that day. Perhaps it will generate a great enough concentration of Dharma on the planet, a seed crystal, really to bring about a worldwide shift in consciousness. It's certainly worth a try anyhow! Let's do it.