A man approached King Rama. The man's son had died in a terrible accident. If the king is ruling correctly and upholding moral codes, the man argued, then a child should not die before his parents. He accused Rama of not upholding Dharma, thereby causing, indirectly, the death of the man's child.
Rama sought the council of his ministers. It was discovered that that a member of the servant class had been practicing tapas, ascetic practices for self-realization. Rama's chief minister, Vasishtha, explained:
"The world cycle consists of four ages [yugas]. In the First age, the Golden Age of Satya Yuga, virtue reigns and there is no vice. Only the priest-caste [Brahmin]is allowed to practice tapas. This age lasts for 1,728,000 years. In the Second age, the Silver Age of Treta Yuga, there is 75% virtue and 25% vice. The warrior-caste [Kshatriya] is allowed to practice tapas along with the Brahmins. This age lasts for 1,296,000 years. In the Third age, The Bronze Age of Dvarpa Yuga, there is 50% virtue and 50% vice. The merchant-caste [Vaishya] is permitted to practice tapas along with the Kshatriyas and the Brahmins. This age lasts for 864,000 years. In the Fourth age, the Iron Age of Kali Yuga, there is only 25% virtue and 75% vice. In this age even the servant-caste [Shudra] are allowed to practice tapas. This age lasts for 432,000 years. At the end of Kali Yuga, the world is reborn into a new Satya Yuga. When Dharma is followed, things happen as they should.
O Rama, we are in the second age of the world. It has been found that a Shudra has been practicing tapas. This digression from the natural order has resulted in the death of a child before his parents."
Upon hearing this, Rama immediately ordered the offender to be put to death. The king must act for the good of the people and at all times maintain the order of Dharma. Even if this means doing something that is an apparent violation of moral codes. Rama's act reset the wheel of Dharma.*
We are now in the Fourth Age, a time when vice triumphs over virtue. A time when bad things happen to good people. A time when the villain wins. A time when all our cosmic IOU's are due.
Do not despair. It is the way of things.
If we look at existence from this cyclical point of view, there is no evil. No ultimate adversary lurks in the shadows to corrupt our fragile souls.
Everything is a result of an action from some other point in time.
In this Kali Yuga, the collective we are working through a whole lot of stuff from the course of many, many lifetimes.
The good news is this: all of our collective work now, at a time when even the lowest on the totem pole are allowed access to the highest knowledge of self-realization, will turn the wheel back to the Golden Age.
The decline is slow, but the ascent is rapid.
On those days when the cross-hairs seem trained on your back, when the chains of effort have zapped all of your strength, when the gift of crazy is being shared with abundance, when the scissors of "I need this NOW!" threaten to snip last thread of patience and human decency in your body, remember that pushing to do one conscious breath, to say one Aum, to let one person go first, or even to strike one awkward Warrior I helps to clear out our stuff from the past and to move the world that much closer to the Golden Age.
All the "pain" and "stress" which plague our daily lives are gifts. Without them, most of us would need to wait another 4,320,000 years or so (the length of one full cycle of the world) before we have the opportunity to practice again. The good news is that we can all practice without upsetting the way of things.
*Story adapted from:
Pattanaik, Devdutt. Indian Mythology. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2003. Print.