Interestingly, after women are allowed into Buddhist monastic life, the Buddha cuts these periods in half from 1,000 to 500 years. This makes the whole cycle 2,500 years instead of 5,000 years and in essence calibrates fairly well with the periods discussed previously.
There are different opinions as to the date of the Buddha's death, and even the length of these cycles are altered in various traditions. However, generally the more widely accepted dates range around the 5th or 6th century BC.
If we use the date most popular among present-day scholars of 480 BC, then the 2,500 year period ends in 2020 AD. At that time, the "disappearance of the relics" occurs and the "true dharma" or Buddhist practice vanishes.
The monks and stream attainers will be strong in their union with Dharma for 500 years after the Blessed One's Parinirvana. In the second 500 years they will be strong in meditation; in the third period of 500 years they will be strong in erudition. In the fourth 500 years period they will only be occupied with gift giving. The final or fifth period of 500 years will see only fighting and reproving among the monks and followers. The pure Dharma will then become invisible.
Abhidharmakosha 4.12c. III. p. 41
Exactly what happens at the end of this period of decay is not entirely clear. According to some traditions, a new Buddha known as Maitreya will appear shortly bringing about yet another dispensation and starting the "wheel of dharma," the new cycle all over again.
Among Tibetan Buddhists, the cyclic period is intertwined with the reigns of the kings of Shambhala. Each king is said to have a nice rounded reign of 100 years, but the texts make it clear this is just an approximate figure.
As stated earlier, there are two different chronologies for the Shambhala kings. Both are calibrated to the bringing of the Kalacakra Tantra to India in about 960 AD. According to one tradition this happened during the reign of the 12th Rigden king named Surya. In the other tradition, it is Sripala from the Southern Ocean who is either the 17th or 18th king.
In each tradition, the Shambhala dynasties are made to start at the death of the Buddha, which again we will set at 480 BC, or 1440 years before the Kalacakra comes to India. Thus, according to the first tradition the average length of each reign is 120 years (1440/12).
However, in the second tradition the average reign is either 80 or 84 years depending on whether Sripala is the 17th or 18th king in the lineage.
Thus, using these average reign lengths, the start of the reign of the last king, the messianic Rigden Drakpo, would begin in either of the years 2520, 2061 or 2000 AD depending on whether it was the reign of the 12th, 17th or 18th king respectively.
Here again we see a gradual moral decline eventually resulting in the materialistic Lalos occupying the land south of the Sita River. Finally in the time of Rigden Drakpo, a formidable king of the Lalos breeches the inner sanctum of Shambhala, conceived of as a mountain surrounded by rings of mountains or hills. The intrustion into the sacred realm sets off a cataclysmic battle described in more mystical than realistic fashion.
The forces of Shambhala emerge victorious ushering in the new golden age.
The Rigden Drakpa like Satria Piningit, the Hidden Warrior of Java, is the quintessential "King of the East" remaining out of view until the tide of evil has reached its peak.
The new dawn is in essence really a return to a more pristine condition that existed before, and this utopian age is personified in the Hidden Warrior.
In the many of the traditions studied here, the Golden Age arrives with the seemingly supernatural formation of a river and/or lake of "living water." This would be none other than the Krater of Hermetic tradition, and where the waters of life are, there shall the migrating birds venture.
Paul Kekai Manansala