The Yugas includes material of several kinds. There is, first of all, the Cycle of the Yugas, put forward as mystically-revealed knowledge, transmitted via Yogananda. According to the Yuga model, there is a 24,000-year cycle, and humanity goes from a high spiritual state to a low spiritual state and back up again, each time around this cycle. The cause of the cycle is attributed to the motion of our solar system, which varies our distance from the center of the galaxy, and affects how much spiritual energy Earth is receiving.
The Yuga model is fascinating, and can be usefully compared with another grand model of humanity I read about recently, which I also highly recommend: Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief
But even more interesting, for me personally, was all the material and evidence that is clearly presented, in the effort to substantiate the Yuga model. This reminded me of Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies . I think Jared Diamond failed to prove his geography thesis, in the generality he intended, but he came across a great many very interesting discoveries in attempting his proof.
Getting back to The Yugas, I found the material on the Vedas to be very informative. I didn’t realize that they are the oldest handed-down piece of literature that we have, and for most of that time it was handed via a reliable oral tradition. And the analysis is intriguing, about how the sophistication of the Vedas declined with each new edition, and how that reflects an increasing distance between the people of the time, and the actual experience of spiritual energy. For the time period involved, going back about 9,000 years, the Vedas analysis does seem to correlate with the Yuga model.
Also interesting is the historical material, which ties together the era of the rise of city states, eras of large-scale warfare, times of development and times of stagnation – a reinterpretation of all the familiar historical scenarios up to the current day, presented in a way that again lines up pretty well with the Yuga model and the Yuga timeline.
And finally, there is the material on ancient civilizations, which presents compelling evidence of several kinds, including some very remarkable artifact finds of almost unbelievable age, such as woven cloth preserved in resin, millions of years old. Yogananda’s claim is that humans have been on the Earth for about 50 million years, and civilizations have regularly risen and fallen ever since, according to the Yuga cycle.
I do have spiritual beliefs, but I’ll leave them at the door for the purposes of this review. From a scientific perspective, I’d say The Yugas presents a strong case for high civilizations, of one kind or another, existing much earlier than mainstream science will admit. And I’d say their historical analysis is compelling, in particular their tracing of spiritual decline, since about 11,500 years ago, when the last Ice Age was ending.
As to what happened prior to 11,500 years ago, there isn’t any evidence presented that the Yuga Cycle was operating, apart from Yogananda’s testimony, which I do not discount, but which I don’t accept here as scientific evidence.
As regards conclusions that are backed up by evidence – the existence of old high civilizations, and the spiritual decline since the last Ice Age – I’d like to present a counter-hypothesis, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that other explanations are possible for those same conclusions.
My counter hypothesis begins with the observation that the end of the last Ice Age would have been a long-lasting cataclysmic event, with continent-covering mile-high glaciers melting in only a few thousand years, raising sea levels many meters and causing Noah-legend floods, episodic super tsunamis, etc. In addition, to cause the rapid melting, there must have been an intense incoming burst of energy of some kind, solar flares or whatever. All in all, I suggest that the end of the last Ice Age would have wiped out any civilizations, by either fire or flood, leaving only scattered groups of survivors in different parts of the world.
The Ice Age ended suddenly. For 100,000 years before that, there was ongoing Ice Age, which doesn’t mean the world was cold. Just in some places. With lower sea levels, there was arguably more fertile land available, more livable spaces, etc. In any case, if there were civilizations then, as the evidence suggests, it is possible that they had 100,000 years to develop in, and they might well have developed high spiritual awareness, powers, etc., even without any Yuga cycles.
My hypothesis ends with the suggestion that the scattered survivors of the Ice Age civilizationws would at first remember their spiritual heritage, and succeed in passing it on to some extent, but the cultural matrix would be lost, and a decline could be expected, until humanity learned again how to regain its spiritual potential. So the decline traced so admirably in the Yuga analysis, could possibly be a one-off, or something that happens every Ice Age cycle, rather than on a 24,000 year cycle.
The best thing about The Yugas is that it makes you think.