Question: Has mankind made progress?
Answer: This question is loaded with many other suggestions in it . Bhagavat Gita itself says ‘yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati’, Sri Krishna is aware that even if now Dharma is restored, again it will go back to glānir and it will be lost, or even if the wicked are punished, they will rise up again. Therefore the loaded question is,’what is the point?’ if all that you do ultimately is going to be ruined then what is the point of it all. Progress would really mean that a problem which has been resolved at one time does not recur. In other words the question is: Is it possible to arrive at a point where this evil will be eradicated once and for all. The world is so constituted that it is possible to overcome evil and wicked people once for all. Even if that is so, then why is it uptil now it is recurring again and again, is it that the world is a cycle. You go from bad to good and again you return to bad. Is the world so constituted only to be like this a deeper question is , is it really so, is it really true that evil recurs again and again in the same way, in the same intensity or is there some misreading of our own history?all these questions are involved and if these questions can be formulated with a greater vehemence.
There is a interesting paragraph in ‘The Life Divine’, where the question that you have raised is presented with a greater force. This is not Sri Aurobindo’s stand-point, but he has made an argument coming from those who question the idea of progress.
“The idea of human progress itself probably an illusion for there is no sign that man once emerged from the animal stage has radically progressed during his race history. At most he has advanced in knowledge of the physical world, in science, in the handling of his surroundings, in his purely external and utilitarian use of the secret laws of nature but otherwise he is what he was in the early beginnings of civilisation. He continues to manifest the same capacities, the same qualities and defects, the same efforts, blunders, achievements and frustrations. If progress there has been it is in a circle at most, perhaps in a widening circle. Man today is not wiser that the ancient seers and sages and thinkers, not more spiritual than the seekers of, the mighty mystiques. Not superior in arts and crafts to the ancient artists and craftsmen. The old races that have disappeared showed a potent and intrinsic original capacity of dealing with light and if the modern man in his respect gone a little farther, not by any essential progress but in degrees, scope, abundance, it is because he has inherited the achievements of his fore-runners. Nothing warrants the idea that he will ever hue his way out of the half-knowledge, half-ignorance, which is the stamp of his kind or even if he develops a higher knowledge than he can break out of the utmost boundary of the mental circle.”
This is a much vaster argument against all those who claim that mankind has made progress. Even today we find Duryodhana and Kansa among ourselves. Even if you say there has been a great spiritual development there argument is that Rishis like Vishwamitra and Vashishtha were greater mystics than today, so where is the progress at all. Having sharpened the argument, now let us see the true answer to the question. First of all, you must ask the question, how shall we determine the yard-stick of progress? When shall we say that now that now we have made progress? One answer would be that we shall say that progress has been made when the mankind will not return back again on certain achievements, such as goodness, saintliness, spread of luminosity, knowledge, good governance, good neighbourliness, harmony and unity, all these have been preached by all the great Avatars, who have come, they have established for a short time but it has returned back like a dog’s tail. So we shall say that according to us progress would really mean a state of where once having been achieved what was to be achieved in terms of unity and harmony. What Rama-Rajya ultimately established or what Yudhishtara established after his conquest and which remained for some time: when this does not get reversed, then we will say, ’now, real progress has been achieved, this will be our special yard-stick.so far this has not happened, therefore, we say that there has been no progress, this is one yard-stick.the question is it a correct yard-stick, I have already defined it , but does it mean that what I am saying is justified? The question is that although it is justified, it needs to be qualified to some extent. We must ask ourselves, what is a human being basically? What do we expect of humanity in terms of progress? We shall find that human being is basically a complex being, it has a physical body, it has vital energies and urges, it has a mind and then he has got spirit. So man has four elements and when we say progress, we should mean progress in all the four directions. At present I have defined progress in only one dimension, namely spiritual dimension; mainly in terms of unity, harmony, goodness, goodwill etc, which is moral and spiritual dimension. What about the other dimensions? If certainly man gets into the spiritual dimension and manifests it fully then of course there is no doubt that we shall certainly certify that now proof has been registered. But is that all that we should demand? Basically human being is to be defined as a rational being, not only a rational being but a rational animal that is to say that we do not rule out the animality in man. We should expect first of all the development of man in terms of his animality and in terms of his rationality, if you find that a progress has been made in these two directions then at least we should say that the basic progress has been made. Now let us look at the whole history of the world from this point of view. Since man is complex all the four elements will manifest from time to time. But the degree of development in one domain differs from age to age. If you examine the whole history you will be able to find out that there is a pattern in the development of the history of mankind. Although all the four elements developed simultaneously but this development is as it were in a zig-zag manner but even there, there is a design.