The End of a Cycle – “Ride the Tiger”

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A man after my own heart, I came to the same conclusions after reading Hesiod and the Mahabharata. While for most of my teenage years I exhausted myself with futile efforts to reform a world of chaos around me – through a constant effort to speak the truth and live virtuously, a living reproach to the disorder – I realize now that the best stratagem to remain healthy and sane in such a world is to ride it to its extinction. Indeed, bracing against such a change is not wise action for a Stoic. It is the behavior of a dog pulling against a firm leash. Better to go with the stream. Yet, not to be changed by the stream, or to stop living beautifully.

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From Julius Evola:

The idea just mentioned refers to a perspective that does not really enter into the argument of this book, because it is not concerned with inner, personal behavior, but with outer circumstances; not with present-day reality, but with an unpredictable future upon which one’s own conduct should in no wise depend.

This is a perspective already alluded to, which sees that the present time may, in the last analysis, be a transitional epoch. I will say only a little about it before approaching our principal problem. The reference point here is given by the traditional doctrine of cycles and by the idea that the present epoch, with all its typical phenomena, corresponds to the terminal phase of a cycle.

The phrase chosen as the title of this book, “ride the tiger,” may serve as a transition between what has been said hitherto, and this other order of ideas. The phrase is a Far Eastern saying, expressing the idea that if one succeeds in riding a tiger, not only does one avoid having it leap on one, but if one can keep one’s seat and not fall off, one may eventually get the better of it. Those who are interested may be reminded of a similar theme found in the schools of traditional wisdom, such as the “ox-herding” episodes of Japanese Zen; while in classical antiquity there is a parallel in the trials of Mithras, who lets himself be dragged by the bull and will not let go until the animal stops, whereupon Mithras kills it.

This symbolism is applicable at various levels. First, it can refer to a line of conduct in the interior, personal life; then to the appropriate attitude in the face of critical, historical, and collective situations. In the latter case, we are interested in the relation of the symbol to the doctrine of cycles, with regard to both the general structure of history and the particular aspect of it that refers to the sequence of the “Four Ages.” This is a teaching that, as I have shown elsewhere, (1) bears identical traits in the East and in the ancient West. (Giambattista Vico simply caught an echo of it.)

In the classical world, it was presented in terms of humanity’s progressive descent from the Golden Age to what Hesiod called the Iron Age. In the corresponding Hindu teaching, the final age is called the Kali Yuga (Dark Age). Its essential quality is emphatically 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. The texts of Tantra have a striking image for this situation, saying that it is the time when Kali is “wide awake.” Kali is a female divinity symbolizing the elementary, primordial forces of the world and of life, but in her “lower” aspects she is also presented as a goddess of sex and orgiastic rites. In previous ages she was “sleeping,” that is, latent in the latter aspects, but in the Dark Age she is said to be completely awake and active. (2)

Everything points to the fact that exactly this situation has been reached in recent times, having for its epicenter the civilization and society of the West, from which it has rapidly spread over the whole planet. It is not too forced an interpretation to link this with the fact that the present epoch stands under the zodiacal sign of Aquarius, the waters in which everything turns to a fluid and formless state. Thus predictions made many centuries ago–for these ideas go back that far–appear strangely timely today. One finds here an analogy to what I have said above regarding the problem of what attitude is proper to the final age, associated here with riding the tiger.

In fact, the texts that discuss the Kali Yuga and the Age of Kali also declare that the norms of life, valid during epochs in which divine forces were more or less alive and active, must be considered as cancelled in the final age. During the latter there lives an essentially different human type who is incapable of following the ancient precepts. Not only that, but because of the different historical and even planetary circumstances, such precepts, even if followed, would not yield the same results. For this reason, different norms apply, and the rule of secrecy is lifted from certain truths, a certain ethic, and particular “rites” to which the rule previously applied on account of their dangerous character and because they contravened the forms of a normal existence, regulated by the sacred tradition. No one can fail to see the significance of this convergence of views. In this as in other points, my ideas, far from having a personal and contingent character, as essentially linked to perspectives already known to the world of Tradition, when abnormal situations in general were foreseen and analyzed.

We shall now examine the principle of “riding the tiger” as applied to the external world and the total environment. Its significance can be stated as follows: When a cycle of civilization is reaching its end, it is difficult to achieve anything by resisting it and by directly opposing the forces in motion. The current is too strong; one would be overwhelmed. The essential thing is not to let oneself be impressed by the omnipotence and apparent triumph of the forces of the epoch. These forces, devoid of connection with any higher principle, are in fact on a short chain. One should not become fixated on the present and on things at hand, but keep in view the conditions that may come about in the future. Thus the principle to follow could be that of letting the forces and processes of this epoch take their own course, while keeping oneself firm and ready to intervene when “the tiger, which cannot leap on the person riding it, is tired of running.” The Christian injunction “Resist not evil” may have a similar meaning, if taken in a very particular way. One abandons direct action and retreats to a more external position.

The perspective offered by the doctrine of cyclical laws is implicit here. When one cycle closes, another begins, and the point at which a given process reachers its extreme is also the point at which it turns in the opposite direction. But there is still the problem of continuity between the two cycles. To use an image from Hoffmansthal, the positive solution would be that of a meeting between those who have been able to stay awake through the long night, and those who may appear the next morning. But one cannot be sure of this happening. It is impossible to foresee with certainty how, and on what plane, there can be any continuity between the cycle that is nearing its end and the next one. Therefore the line of conduct to be followed in the present epoch must have an autonomous character and an immanent, individual value. I mean to say that the attraction of positive prospects, more or less short-term, should not play an important part in it. They might be entirely lacking right up to the end of the cycle, and the possibilities offered by a new movement beyond the zero point might concern others coming after us, who may have held equally firm without awaiting any direct results or exterior changes.

Before leaving this topic and resuming my principal argument, it may be useful to mention another point connected to cyclical laws. This concerns the relationship between Western civilization and other civilizations, especially those of the East. Among those who have recognized the crisis of the modern world, and who have also abandoned the idea that modern civilization is the civilization par excellence, the zenith and measure of all others, some have turned their eyes to the East. They see there, to a certain degree, a traditional and spiritual orientation to life that has long ceased to exist in the West as the basis for the effective organization of the various realms of existence. They have even wondered whether the East might furnish useful reference points for a revival and reintegration of the West.

It is important to have a clear view of the domain to which such a proposition might apply. If it is simply a matter of doctrines and “intellectual” contacts, the attempt is legitimate. But one should take note that valid examples and points of reference are to be found, at least partially, in our own traditional past, without having to turn to non-European civilizations. Not much is to be gained by any of this, however. It would be a matter of conversations at a high level between isolated individuals, cultivators of metaphysical systems. If one is more concerned with real influences that have a powerful effect on existence, one should have no illusions about them. The East itself is now following in our footsteps, ever more subject to the ideas and influences that have led us to the point at which we find ourselves, “modernizing” itself and adopting our own secular and materialistic forms of life. What is still left of Eastern traditions and character is steadily losing ground and becoming marginalized. The liquidation of “colonialism” and the material independence that Eastern peoples are acquiring vis-á-vis Europe are closely accompanied by an ever more blatant subjection to the ideas, the mores, and the “advanced” and “progressive” mentality of the West.

Based on the doctrine of cycles, it may be that anything of value from the point of view of a man of Tradition, either in the East or elsewhere, concerns a residual legacy that survives, up to a point, not because it belongs to areas that are truly untouched by the principle of decline, but merely because this process is still in an early phase there. For such civilizations it is only a matter of time before they find themselves at the same point as ourselves, knowing the same problems and the same phenomena of dissolution under the sign of “progress” and modernity. The tempo may even be much faster in the East. We have the example of China, which in two decades has traveled the whole way from an imperial, traditional civilization to a materialistic and atheist communist regime–a journey that the Europeans took centuries to accomplish.

Outside the circles of scholars and specialists in metaphysical disciplines, the “myth of the East” is therefore a fallacy. “The desert encroaches”: there is no other civilization that can serve as support; we have to face our problems alone. The only prospect offered us as a counterpart of the cyclical laws, and that only hypothetical, is that the process of decline of the Dark Age has first reached its terminal phases with us in the West. Therefore it is not impossible that we would also be the first to pass the zero point, in a period in which the other civilizations, entering later into the same current, would find themselves more or less in our current state, having abandoned–“superseded”–what they still offer today in the way of superior values and traditional forms of existence that attract us. The consequence would be a reversal of roles. The West, having reached the point beyond the negative limit, would be qualified to assume a new function of guidance or command, very different from the material, techno-industrial leadership that it wielded in the past, which, once it collapsed, resulted only in a general leveling.

This rapid overview of general prospects and problems may have been useful to some readers, but I shall not dwell further on these matters. As I have said, what interests us here is the field of personal life; and from that point of view, in defining the attitude to be taken toward certain experiences and processes of today, having consequences different from what they appear to have for practically all our contemporaries, we need to establish autonomous positions, independent of anything the future may or may not bring.

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Something about Evola’s words reminds me of a note from the Prince :

[Spent the afternoon] with these boors playing cards or dice; we quarrel over farthings. When evening comes I return to the house and go into my study. Before I enter I take off my rough mud-stained country dress. I put on my royal and curial robes and thus fittingly attired I enter into the assembly of men of old times. Welcomed by them I feed upon that food which is my true nourishment, and which has made me what I am. I dare to talk with them, and ask them the reason for their actions. Of their kindness they answer me. I no longer fear poverty or death.