There seems to be no single concept of progress today in the speculations about the advance of either knowledge or technical skills. Spectacular and stupendous though in one sense the advances in the knowledge about matter, energy, motion and force, cells and organisms, and evolutionary processes, yet it is doubted whether the advance in our knowledge about the world around us constitutes the meaning of progress. Indeed the advances in our knowledge in this held have produced fear of science or scientific progress itself though the more optimistic among us have been advancing the thesis that there can be a peaceful use of this knowledge through science. The atomic age has been both a threat and a challenge and man is now girding up his loins so to speak to meet the threat and accept the challenge. Humanistic values have been resurrected in this context and man is admonished to restrain or rein the scientific mind. Others have counselled the socialistic theory of social values as against the mere or non-humanistic use of science. A few have however stated that we must emphasize the 'atmanistic’ or spiritual values to counter the materialistic values of both science and socialistic humanisms.
The conflict then envisaged is the formulation of the principle that there is an inverse relation between the materialistic humanistic science and spiritual inner development of man. Humanistic evolutionism is opposed to the spiritual evolution of man. The outward opulence of man reveals the inner impoverishment of man. This inverse proportion is clearly to be perceived in the march of civilization in the historical process. Progress in the one direction reveals regress in the other direction. The optimism of integral evolution is unjustified idealism or utopian dream. The deep pessimism that history is alleged to teach has been attempted to be overcome by some historians like Professor Toynbee (albeit unsuccessfully) in his study of history. The philosophical application or justification of this law of inverse progress has been developed in the contradiction or conflict between the spiritual and the material views of life. The concept of maya or the illusoriness of the world was developed to counteract and in fact aid the development of renunciation towards the world and at one stage the ideal of monastic renunciation was basic to spiritual enlightenment. The quest for perfection was sought outside the world and its transitoriness and its goods. Jnana or knowledge was defined in a sense as the knowledge of the ways and means and goals which are other worldly. Spiritual Progress is the process of gradual total renunciation of the world--its things, its demands for desires, and even the claims of worldly duties to society and family, and all that are other than the Spirit or Self. Progress spiritual is thus the path of self-perfection. Progress material is on the other hand the path of perfection of the material comforts and securities.
This has been the general conception throughout the conflict of religions and for the first time if must be said that the world was made to confront the definite affirmation that real perfection and evolution lies not in abandoning life and its sensate values but in fulfilling them without sacrificing the spiritual. Indeed the spiritual must be utilised to attain the wealth and prosperity of the worldly life. Man's life should be made tolerable. Dialectical materialism has posed this problem in all its logical and materialistic implications. Melioristic humanism has not been able to formulate the general theory of progress. The revolutionary egalitarianism has shown that mankind is tired of utopian heavens after death and had demanded the practice of spiritual virtues and active work for making utopianism possible on earth. This spiritualization of materialistic welfarism has been shown to be the real meaning of progress by modern mystics. The mystic hopes of a spiritual world on earth or the bringing down of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth is sought to be realized by revolutionary materialism or economism or historicism. Progress thus is sought to be explained not either in terms of welfare economics or other worldly or unearthly realization of the self but the realization of self in terms of the earth and in it.
The socialistic conception of progress lies in bringing into real being the spiritual and mystical values of equality, liberty and fraternity—which all religions, at least of the higher levels subscribe to and insist on following in their little domains far from the cities. The bringing of the values of the forest into the cities in a sense is the beginning of a revolutionary process, progress in this sense consists in the quantum of achievement of the goals envisioned above to which we have been adding a few more which are but amplifications of the threefold goals of mystic life in heaven. The historical process now underway is really the spectacle of this movement in which the 'ingression of the mystic unearthly ballet of categories' is forcibly, psychologically, being conditioned at the political level.
If we could but look back in history to the decried democracy of ancient times we could surely see that the mystic beliefs of a few advanced souls has become the materialistic beliefs of the common man—the ignorant voter of a democracy all over the world. Though men have not been educated to think as well as they should they have been entrusted with the vote that means that one is made of his individual choice of the triple goals of a mystical earthism. Would it be progress if these ideals of humanity were realized? Obviously the social utopian would think so, and modern man turned social mystic would embrace this ideal and seek to promote if despite all the obstacles to their earthly realization. The amount of sacrifice and suffering that go into this process is great and martyrs have not been wanting who have laid down their lives for it. The abolition of human slavery, the establishment of the reign of reason through legislative and judicial processes all over the world during the past three centuries despite dictators in a pronounced affirmation of the mystic truth that God or Spirit is not alien to the world but immanent as the force that uplifts the world towards the realization of the Divine purpose on the earth.
These could be certainly instances of the growing rationality of humanity, at least they mark the departure of humanity from the mere brute way of life, of nature red in teeth and claw. Humanity's conscience seems at last to have taken a role in human affairs. The progress of science, means of communication, organization of mass-media of education have all rendered possible the criticism of man by man, of rational man of the irrational man, and have shamed man into forming an ethical and judicial sense of justice which is indivisible all over the earth. This surely is an awakening on a scale never before known to mankind except in idealized and poetical versions of the glories of the little past.
The values of the spirit are for the first time common property of the human conscience. For the first time rationality, expressed through mutual discussion and for mutual welfare or in one word cooperation, has come to be the manner of our way of life. The argumentum baculum, argumentum vericundiam, argumentum misericordium, all seem to have receded and the argumentum of justice, social and ethical and spiritual, seems to have become the primary concern. No one begs for rights, he claims and asserts and obeys that law of individual expression. The claim to protest against injustice is as terrible a right as the right to freedom to live according to one's nature (rationality).
This progress cannot be denied. As literacy increases and man begins to realize that he is to be rational, and the right to rationality is a basic undeniable right, be would exercise if to be entitled to be called human. This is the role of humanistic idealism in social dynamics, of growth of man and humanity. The other rights are yoked to the development of the conscience of this right to rationality or the obligation to live rationally.
There was a brief spell of historical adventure which demanded of man a condition of higher than rationality, a step that was ahead of human evolution. Spiritual intuitional life or the mystic life was considered to be the real goal of man's life. Undeniably spiritual religions sought to promote this faculty or power of the mild or over-mind in men and with some success. We could perhaps point out that in the conception of reason there have operated two movements. Reason discerns the permanent behind all change according to one school and correlative propositions are deduced from this concept that the permanent must be unchanging, and therefore involve no process or progress and therefore perfect or vice versa. The change, etc., become accordingly illusion or illusory irrational phenomena. As distinct from this view was developed the logic of change which reveals that change is the only permanent and all permanents are illusory. The Parmenidean versus the Heraclitean--the No change as against All change--has been one of the basic paradoxes of reason. We have the static logic as against the dynamic logic and both are real and neither ideal or illusory. Thus to see change in the permanent is as rational a business of thought as to see permanence in change, Hegelian dialectic sought to correct the basic logic of static being by his dialectical logic of dynamic synthesis. The intuitive logic of the progress would be to see not only the permanent in change or change in the permanent or both together but to see the infinite in the finite as well and the finite in the Infinite. This perception would correct the conception of revelation of the finite in the infinite (if one were capable of perceiving the infinite) and the revelation of the Infinite in the finite (which is what aesthetic philosophies try to do, and mysticism counsels one to attain). Further the whole process of Being or Reality is to reveal being in becoming and becoming in Being, by two processes of descent and ascent, the pravrtti and nivrtti, involvement and dissolvement. However in a dynamic sense of progress it would be the process of the becoming of the infinite in the finite and the ascent would be the becoming of the finite as the infinite-the former would be the discarding or veiling of the infinite, the latter would be the revealing of the Infinite and both seem to be the expressions of the ecstasy of the infinite or his lila. This is the last version of Sri Aurobindo.
Progress is the gradual revealing or integration of the Infinite on the stem of the finite and this being the mode of Being at present it is progress that is now taking place on earth, though perhaps the reverse process is happening elsewhere for it is necessary to hold that both the processes are eternal. This of course goes against the very conception of an indivisible reality. This latter dogma is not however justified because the mystics have realized the fact that any abstract notion however non self contradictory need not be true absolutely. Only one fourth of Reality has projected the downward movement or descent and similarly only one fourth is in the travail of ascent says the Veda.
There is really no standard of the measurement of our progress or regress except the quantum of integration that has taken place between the unity principle and the diversity principle in terms of the organic in biology, in terms of social organizations, in terms of politics, in terms of spiritual awareness of the Oneness in all and in terms of spiritual living.
Progress towards the divine living is of course a great ideal where the oneness-consciousness would dominate the diversifying consciousness. However as we know modern scientific theories of evolution look upon diversification or heterogeneity as the hallmark of evolutionary ascent, though latest writers are emphatic that this heterogeneity is integrative and integrating in the highest as in the lowest. The elan is thus an organic force or life itself which must be sought to explain the meaning of progress. But then the mystery of life is something not cleared up by science or even religions.
A transcendent mysticism rejects life itself and even prophetic awakening only calls one to greater life that is perhaps a denial of the life as we know it, and it is by no means despite modern Christian thinkers life-affirming. It may euphemistically be called greater life for it is life after this single death. Indian thought realized that life is different at different levels of consciousness existence. Thus the life of the earth is much grosser and heavily clouded and restricted than the life of atmosphere and so on. Similarly the life of mere food is poorer than the life of creatures. So too the life of mind, and then of super mind and life of the Infinite as such.
The levels of organization would obviously be different at those levels and in any case it is useless to imagine them to be similar or identical. For it is likely that they may be inversions of each other. The mystic axiom, as in the microcosm so in the macrocosm and vice versa, would not be exactly true though inversely true. However progress cannot be expected to be defined in the same way at the different levels. The organism itself represents these multi-formal or polyphasic synthesis for there are along with the anabolic processes katabolic processes which are both restrained and regulated by the general hormic nature of the organism. Similarly the progress achieved in terms of growth of the individual's psychic being or organic being or social pattern is regulated by the above two processes or rather these are restrained and regulated by a universal hormic Reality. This synthetic conception of Progress would help to give a deeper inner hormism of the basic Reality of the eternal Spirit playing in terms of the forces of space and time on the one hand and on the other preparing for an order or kingdom that truly mirrors the eternal in the multi-temporal grades of organic life and growth.
A further concept could indeed be offered to clarify the basic growth of the organic psychical being out of the gross physico-chemical, and this foundational pattern seems to be extended beyond the bio-chemical complex of the organism and spiritual progress seems to be realized only when one is aware of this formation and functional effectiveness of the organic that has become super- conscious or supramental and subtle or astral which begins to organize the biochemical and physico-chemical forces and particles. Indian thought when illuminated with the concept of real progress or the organic nature of the material world as well as the individual growth and evolution leading up to the integral influx of the highest spiritual Being or Reality, reveals this omni pervasiveness of the Spirit in all levels and organisms represented in reality. Social systems which were based on the organic lost their inner pulse of growth by denying the twin processes irradiating to and from the central living being known as Sac-cid-ananda.
No concept of progress would be complete without mentioning the extraordinary speculations of the Russian schools of Berdyeav and Ouspensky-Gurdieff. The meaning of history is rendered significant by the unique and single advent of Christ Jesus in order to lift the temporal to the status of the eternal. Similarly Ouspensky had affirmed that when progress returns on itself on its tendency towards recurrence, the influx or shock from above or higher levels brings about the upliftment of evolution to higher levels. Toynbee almost utilizing this concept affirms that the pattern of continuity of past civilizations in history reveals that there has been a shock and a continuance of the meanings and civilization and culture of one into another elsewhere on earth. Indian thinkers had envisaged the concept of avatar or divine descent as occurring at critical points of history in order to open up higher lines of evolution when the previous almost seemed to have come to a stop or perfection. The law of growth into higher patterns seems to be inevitable. It is on this assurance that Sri Aurobindo also asserts the inevitability of the next step in evolution. Dr Radhakrishnan has admitted that higher evolution of man has to be 'willed' by humanity or man and though he does not deny the 'descent' he does not assert its necessity. In any case we are today seized with this concept of progress or evolution beyond man and his brute existence and the theories about it need not be considered to be other than the demands of the soul of man for a higher and finer and healthier humanity if not always happier.