Five-thousand-year-old predictions from the Srimad-Bhagavatam are now coming true. According to the Bhagavatam, the present age is Kali-yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Already the qualities conducive to human goodness qualities such as austerity, truthfulness, cleanliness, and mercy have diminished. And they will continue to diminish as the age progresses. Materialists may consider each century more improved than the previous, but those who cherish spiritual values see the twentieth century as backward in many ways. But despite the bad features of this age, we have one great saving grace. "The age of Kali is an ocean of vices," says the Bhagavatam. "But the age contains one great quality: One can become liberated simply by chanting the holy names of Krsna."
Sankirtana, chanting the holy names of God, is a special dispensation of divine mercy for persons born into the age of Kali. For former ages the Vedic scriptures recommended more difficult spiritual disciplines: yogic meditation, opulent sacrificial ceremonies, and elaborate temple worship. Foreseeing the degradation of Kali-yuga, the sages and scriptures have recommended the chanting of God's names with this assurance: "In this fallen age all perfection of life will come to those who performsankirtana." Men and women in the age of Kali, however, are so unintelligent that they find even the blissful and easy chanting of God's names too difficult.
In his commentary on the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada elaborates on the degenerative features of Kali-yuga.
In Kali-yuga, the last millennium of a round of four millenniums, the power of all material objects deteriorates by the influence of time. In this age the duration of the material body of the people in general is much reduced, and so is the memory. The action of matter also has not so much incentive. The land does not produce food grains in the same proportion as it did in other ages. The cow does not give as much milk as it used to give formerly. The production of vegetables and fruits is less than before. As such, all living beings, both men and animals, do not have sumptuous, nourishing food. Due to want of so many necessities of life, naturally the duration of life is reduced, the memory short, the intelligence meager, mutual dealings are full of hypocrisy, and so on.
Until I heard Srimad-Bhagavatam from Srila Prabhupada, I was not aware that I was living in the worst of ages. I saw many faults and problems, but I also mistook certain faults the sexual revolution, technological amenities to be signs of progress. Now I see the modern age as slow and degraded, missing entirely the higher purpose of life. Because of the presence of the Bhagavatam, knowledge of the real purpose of human life, self-realization, exists despite the main features of Kali-yuga.
Some features of degeneration Prabhupada mentions are lowered milk production, diminished agricultural yield, and shortage of food for men and animals. Politicians claim that natural production is increasing, but there is a great decrease in the percentage of individuals who are farming and taking care of cows.
In the Vedic culture those who farm and protect cows are the main population. But in today's society no one protects the cow. The dairymen scientifically drain the cows of milk and then kill them. The cows are milked only at their peak production time, then slaughtered. How can we hail this as increased milk production! The karmic reaction for cow slaughter far outweighs any economic benefits of efficient, modern milking. Besides, when you terminate a cow's life, you severely decrease that cow's total milk production.
Much agricultural land is used for harmful products, such as tobacco. Much farmland becomes depleted and poisoned with chemicals. All these acts are done with an attitude of godlessness. None of them are guided by the scriptural principles regarding God's proprietorship of all things in the universe.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam mentions other deteriorating effects of Kali-yuga. Marriage, says the Bhagavatam, will deteriorate to casual relationships based on sex, and a husband and wife may separate over even the slightest disturbance. A person will not be able to get justice in court unless he has money. Government leaders will be mostly thieves. Spiritual hermitages will be no different from mundane houses. Plants and herbs will be tiny, and trees will be dwarfed. Life expectancy will decrease. Seeking to escape the harassment of civilization, many people will choose to live in the wilderness. And, because this is the Age of Quarrel, dissension and violence will manifest from petty family quarrels to international wars. For this worst of times Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.43) prescribes a remedy:
This Srimad-Bhagavatam is as brilliant as the sun, and it has arisen just after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode, accompanied by religion, knowledge, etc. Persons who have lost their vision due to the dense darkness in the age of Kali shall get light from this scripture.
Srila Prabhupada began translating Srimad-Bhagavatam into English in 1960, while the Cold War between Russia and America chilled the world. Prabhupada was convinced that the deadly struggles of the superpowers as well as the miseries of the Third World could be mitigated if Srimad-Bhagavatam were widely broadcast. With this conviction he yearned to go to the West to spread Krsna consciousness. As he wrote in one Srimad-Bhagavatam commentary: "Due to the Age of Quarrel, Kali, there is always a chance of fighting on the slightest provocation.. .. therefore there is a great need for disseminating the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam."
Because the Bhagavatam is an ancient literature, we may sometimes doubt its efficacy. Can it, for instance, resolve complicated economic and political problems? In answer to this doubt, we must remember that the Bhagavatam is on the transcendental plane. Since all living beings are also transcendental by nature, the transcendental Srimad-Bhagavatam can bring about a miraculous change.
The principles of Krsna consciousness worked in the past, when the world was dominated by Vedic, godly culture. And they are working today for millions of people. Unfortunately, there is propaganda by a section of the people to stop glorification of the Supreme Lord. The devotees of Lord Krsna, who have attained relief from some of the worst features of the age, are not discouraged. Although the odds are in favor of atheism and hedonism, a sincere devotee knows that if even a few souls can be brought out of darkness, it is a tangible gain. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, "My dear Lord, pious and saintly persons who in the age of Kali hear about Your transcendental activities and glorify them will easily cross over the darkness of the age." SDG