A few decades ago I began hoping I would live at least until the year 2000, just so that I could witness all the hoopla that would accompany the end of the millennium. After all, the event only comes around once every thousand years. I could almost picture the retrospectives, the millennium-in-review magazine articles and television specials—one thousand years of war/sex/fashion/cuisine/plumbing/whatever—with assessments of the progress, or lack of it, in all human endeavors over the past ten centuries.
But now that the millennial date is almost upon us, I could hardly care less. Maybe that’s because I now believe in a Buddhist cosmology and conceive of time in kotis, kalpas and yugas, each of them many millions of years in duration. So now, instead of the millennium, I’m looking forward to the end of the Kali Yuga, which I plan to celebrate wildly in some future life.
Of course, the millennium is an arbitrary construction, and a sectarian one at that. The year 2000 is based on a Christian division of time, roughly calculated from the birth of Jesus. If the Jews or Chinese had been faithful to their own calendars, then they would already be way past the year 2000, and might not even have a Y2K problem. At least they wouldn’t have to worry about how to celebrate the coming New Year’s Eve, touted as the greatest party ever. In fact, it might be the party to end all parties if the apocalypse does indeed arrive at midnight, December 31, as some predict.
Meanwhile, some people, and many businesses, are already making plans for the new millennium. In case you haven’t made yours yet, why not join the Millennial Meditation Marathon (3M) and vow to sit in samadhi without moving for the next thousand years. It will get you enlightened for sure, and you will have a good excuse to miss all of the wonders being prepared for you in the new millennium.
Just to give you some idea of what’s to come, consider that the U.S. patent office has been flooded with requests for copyrights on millennial mottos. The Maidenform company wants exclusive rights to “Millennium undergarments.” (Are they guaranteed for a thousand years?) The Mitten Group has put in its bid for “the Millennial champagne,” and Mars has requested “the Chocolate of the New Millennium.” Winning the prize for millennial chutzpah, however, is Miller Brewing Company, which has requested a copyright for “Official Sponsor of the New Millennium.” Of course. For the next thousand years, “It’s Miller time . . .”
And that brings us to the Y2K problem, which, in my opinion, has very little to do with computers. On the contrary, the fact that the computers are having a hard time “entering” the year 2000 suggests to me that they are indeed smarter than we are. They simply don’t want to go there with us.
The real millennium bug has to do with consciousness, and the fact that our brains are not set correctly to enter the year 2000. Our computers may slip back to the 1900s or even to the beginning of the Common Era. But according to evolutionary biologists, our brains are only set for about the year 10,000 B.C.! It seems we are still roaming around with the mental conditioning of upper Paleolithic hunter-gatherers even though we live in a modern, human-created environment full of tools and technology that just might be too fast and powerful for our own good. So maybe the best thing that could happen in the New Year 2000 would be a minor technological breakdown, giving our overstimulated hard drives a little time to catch up.
Even a cursory assessment of the human condition circa 2000 A.D. is enough to conclude that a millennial shift of consciousness should be our number-one priority. For instance, consider that as a species we are collectively destroying our own life-support systems. That doesn’t seem like a good idea, especially if survival is as important to us as it’s reported to be.
The litany of ecosystem disasters, pending or in progress, is probably familiar to you by now—global warming, thinning ozone shield, dwindling topsoils, ocean pollution, diminished food resources, vicious new diseases. For me, a truth that is most alarming and poignant is that we are currently facilitating one of the greatest eras of species extinction in all of biological history, happening faster than ever before. It is estimated that every three minutes another species of life disappears from the planet forever—three or four gone in the time it takes you to read this article. And most of that species extinction is the result of the human herd (we won’t mention any names) overgrazing and overpopulating.
Our current crises have their roots in humanity’s old brain—our ancient drive to master the laws of the jungle, to create security and comfort in a world of danger and physical hardship. While those instincts are quite natural and appropriate, we modern humans have developed the awesome power to alter the Earth’s environment in the course of our pursuits. Ironically, our brains seem to have worked too well for their own good. Furthermore, according to the evolutionary scientists, the environmental crises remain largely invisible to most of us because they advance silently and slowly. Since the lion is not at the door growling, the alarm system in our Paleolithic brain has not yet been triggered. And so we blithely continue with our destructive ways.
Maybe it’s at moments like these that Nature makes Her best moves, and we are soon going to figure out how to break out of this dangerous, hypnotic state. Maybe all the knowledge we have gained about ourselves and the world over the past few hundred years will soon begin to translate into wisdom, and we will collectively awaken to meet the challenges. For the time being, at least from all that I’ve read, it seems that if we care about letting the fascinating experiments of Earth life and consciousness continue, we would all be well advised to become at least part-time radical environmentalists.
Or maybe I’m simply too blind to understand what the universe is up to; perhaps Nature is cleaning house for some future horrors or glories and our current state of affairs is all part of the plan. Knowing what we now know about evolution, we must assume that even the “human condition” is temporary (ninety-nine percent of all species that have ever lived are extinct, and most of the long-term survivors are very simple creatures). To judge ourselves as “bad” or to name a turn of the Tao as “wrong” is a human conceit and presumes a perspective that we simply do not have.
On a more mundane level, it could also be that I’m too “retro” to understand the new world civilization now taking shape. Perhaps humanity is on the brink of a golden era, when the technologies and truths of the past few millennia will simply become irrelevant. Even the so-called “eternal” verities may crumble beneath the changes of the coming hundred centuries, with death and taxes both found to be unnecessary and the poor no longer with us. Maybe the scientists and inventors will find a way for us to live without the ozone shield, oxygen or other species of life. Quite possibly the molecular biologists will find a way to tweak our brains so that we actually do “live happily ever after.” (Shucks. Maybe you and I were born just a little too soon.) Or the physicists and engineers will find a way to freeze reality so that atoms will stop gyrating and the quantum vacuum will stop producing matter-energy. Wouldn’t it be a shame to miss out on eternal stasis, especially if you could be in a state of bliss at the moment of the big freeze? You’d better practice being in that state, just in case.
Indeed, after considering the evidence and various predictions for the next millennium, good and bad, I have concluded that dharma practice is the one activity that fits all situations and is part of all solutions to any Y2K worries. I can guarantee that it will help you feel better and better throughout the entire coming millennium—or your money back in the year 3000. Meditation is good for the planet as well, because it reveals a possibility for happiness that has nothing to do with power over nature. Finally, dharma practice will always remind us that now is now, no matter what millennium it is on the calendar. And that truth is sufficient cause for celebration, right here and now.