History and Transmigration

The modern study of history suffers from many issues.

First, it views time as linear progress when time is actually discontinuous, cyclical, and hierarchical. Hierarchical means that there are shorter-term trends within longer-term trends. Cyclical means that the same longer- and shorter-term trends repeat over time (but due to the embedding of the shorter-term trend inside a longer-term trend, the recurrences are not the exact replicas of the past). Discontinuous means that any trend has a slow and long gestation period before it bursts on the scene. To view history in accordance with an alternative idea of time, which is discontinuous, cyclical, and hierarchical, we need revisions to the understanding of society: Society has to be described as an organism.

Second, the social organism is not merely the things that we see, namely, people, cities, streets, and buildings. It is also defined in more subtle ways by (a) culture, or what gives ordinary sensations and actions meaning, (b) what we call its intellectual ideologies and beliefs, (c) its ego, self-image, or sense of personal identity about its place in the world, and (d) its moral values, ideals, what it considers right and wrong. Modern historians view history outside-in, namely, that changes to the material environment changes the moral values, self-image, beliefs, and culture. But that view is extremely limiting because we could also argue that the moral values, self-images, beliefs, and culture of the society actually define the material environment. This creates a contention between two philosophies of history, one in which the invisible reality shapes the visible world and the other in which the visible world shapes the invisible reality. The cyclical, discontinuous, and hierarchical view of history rests upon giving the invisible reality greater causal important than the visible world.

Third, this naturally means that the deepest ideas about the self, our place in the society, and the world at large, are more important determinants of history barring natural catastrophes such as floods, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, plagues, etc. Vedic philosophy, in fact, makes a connection between the deepest ideas of self and the appearance of natural catastrophes: When the deepest ideas of the self decline and society becomes immoral, becomes ensnared in hedonism, adopts many false ideas as truth, and start giving meaning to non-crucial sensations and activities, then it can also be destroyed by natural catastrophes. Of course, such a society could also be conquered by other more powerful societies because its immorality, hedonism, falsities, and cultural decline make it weak. Therefore, whether a society collapses due to external events such as environmental changes, natural catastrophes, wars, or collapses due to the decline in culture, beliefs, self-image, and morality, the true cause of the social decline is always the decline in the understanding of the nature of the self.

There is hence a spiritual understanding of historical evolution in which rise and fall of civilizations is associated with the nature of the moral system, self-image, beliefs, and culture, and while these are invisible, they produce a different idea of time and history that is hierarchical, cyclical, and discontinuous. If society is modeled as an organism, then we an say that this organism is born, grows, matures, creates “child” organismic societies, which slowly separate from their “parent”, declines, and then dies, and the lifetime of the organism is decided by its moral compass, self-image, the prevalence of truth, and culture. Thereby, some societies can live long while others may live for a short while. The longevity of a society is decided by the invisible reality rather than its visible manifestations.