The concept of progress is a modern one. It involves the idea of a continuous or persistent movement towards an end or ideal. Thus it is usual to speak of one increasing purpose in history. But as Dr. Radhakrishnan said ‘men seem to be hastening confusedly to unknown ends’; so diverse are the means adopted, so different the goals striven after. That is why progress seems to be unreal. For still another reason is progress deemed to be unreal, because men seem to be returning to their earlier statuses after long meandering towards several ends. History repeats itself and returns to its starting points. Dismissing however the view that progress is unreal, it can be explained that there is progress, because progress is not merely a unilinear extension or movement but an integrating process taken in the large and in a universal sense. Progress then is a relative concept, relative to the end that men seek or rather ought to seek.
What are the ideas to which the several nations or cultures of today are moving ? At first look, it may appear that there are different ideals. Some seek attainment of prosperity ; some satisfaction of desires. Some strive after a good life. A few struggle to attain liberation from all limitations and perfection in wisdom. In Indian parlance, these ideals could be expressed as artha, kama, dharma and moksa. But this does not mean that those who seek any one of these are unaware of the rest or consider them to be of equal value. It is conceded, however, that some hold that they may involve the others, or it is fondly hoped that to realise the one, is to realise the rest. In other words, it is held that each of them can be a means as well as an ideal, means to the realisation of the other ideals. To have material prosperity is to be able to be free individuals : to fulfil one’s wishes or desires. Similarly in respect of others. But there are times when one discovers that these ideals could be mutually exclusive. Men give up prosperity and wealth for the sake of love of objects, or for the sake of truth and righteousness, or for the sake of liberation. Thus it is possible to grade these ideals which seem to be important from the material economical, ethical and spiritual planes of human behaviour.
Progress can be either horizontal or vertical. That is to say, increment may be had in the material and economic spheres, and growth may be had in the sphere of desires. Fullness is the goal of poverty. But a vertical ascent is the movement of man and his conduct from the standards of the lower to the recognition of higher standards of conduct. In this transition from the lower to the higher, two things might happen, either the utter denial of the lower or renunciation of them, or the subordination of them to the higher and their regulation so as fit in with the shape and meaning of the higher. As already remarked, the modern age has progressed from the rural economics to highly industrialised economics, bringing with it all the implications and problems of human relationships, which demand an ethical justification. We have also progressed from the individualistic pleasure-seeking-interest or hedonism to a sense of universalistic pleasure-seeking, and are inventing more and more instruments for the gratification of the pleasure-principle or desire. We are, however, beginning to realise that this infinite or almost interminable progress towards inventions of increments, which we call the good of the world, requires drastic limitations of universal ethics. Modern industrialism is yoked to the production of not only the fundamental needs of man but also the instruments of pleasures, the most trivial and yet sharpening men’s appetites for more. The modern age thus is in the grip of these two aims, material wealth and psychological pleasure, and it is different from the past in so far as men no longer deem it creditable to seek wealth for themselves alone, but for all. This universalistic tendency is based on the growing realisation that men are all equal, or rather ought to be, and on the conception that men have rights for all these goods of the economic and the psychological orders.
It is, however, being more and more clearly realised that universality is a quality that for its recognition transcends the sensory factors and the private. Thus we become aware that to realise goods or pleasures requires a definite planning based on universally applicable laws. Law becomes thus important as a factor in the determination of the share or good of each and every one. The rule of law is the rule of order and system. No life which is not based on the law or system in all its phases and applications can be said to be rightly directed. The recognition by man of the rule of universal laws means his trying deliberately to act in accordance with them. The rule of Dharma, or the Universally Right for each ndividual or station or function in the bodypolitic, conceived as a society, is an ideal to which all of us are moving. How history shows this can be shown in the gradual progress of small societies to more and more complex unities. But even here the fundamental principle has been to devise a society which will lead them to their fullest self-realisation or fullness. But then this dharma is conceived of variously, and could be, because of the diverse planes and phases of life to which it applies. A deeper meaning of dharma which includes and exceeds the political and moral duty, subjective and objective, gave rise to the religions of Dharma and to our excellent adaptation of the sign of the dharma - chakra as the symbol of non-attachment to any of the lower ends or goods or pleasures or sum of them. India, from the dawn of history, had held up two ideals, the ideal of dharma, and the ideal of freedom for each individual, not the abstract freedom from the lower universes, but a freedom in all the manifold activities of life and love, yet transcending them. Its one aim to which it had returned after each banishment has been the realisation of freedom, that freedom which transcends but never negates the lower, but which, however, later undertakes the expression of itself in and through it with freedom and knowledge. Thus freedom and knowledge are the essential goals of man. Indeed knowledge alone grants real freedom from and freedom in Nature. It is this real freedom that is the cause of peace beyond all conflicts. Santi is the final resultant of a life of knowledge and freedom. And in a very vital sense knowledge itself becomes a means to and freedom itself an expression of that Peace.
India historically has been fitted for this role of leading men to real peace in an integral way. Though the crowded history of India shews nothing but a series of conflicts which obviously could never be reduced to the pattern of a dialectical process, yet there has happened a steady integrating process by which the higher processes of Thought and Spirituality have involved themselves in the texture of the material and hedonistic seekings of men, as in the customs and moral ideals of its diverse people. The steady influx of diverse elements into the body of India have had their own influence and reaction and assimilation in it. The Veda taught that Peace must be the chant – a peace founded on the sovereign principle of the Purusottama (or personality) manifest and called in various ways by knowers. Such a chant entailed the search for liberation of all and recognition of the duties of all to that Ideal. Peace must be sought through liberation and performance of duty to the Ultimate. But the Ultimate is also to be perceived in the Social, and dharma become a concept of duty to all and a pattern of conduct in relation to a multiphased social situation which included the religious recognition of super-social relations with the Unseen and the immortal powers. The great Epics of India, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, speak about the absoluteness of the Dharma understood in all its four aspects. A proper maintenance of the balance between them in a spirit of enlightened unselfishness is the sine qua non of peace both within and without.
Gautama Buddha emphasised a conception of the dharma as a liberating principle : that is dharma which liberates and that is adharma, which restricts and binds. Buddha conceived of dharma in a unique way; it is truth itself not a quality of truth or soul or station or function, either metaphysical or social. Man must reverse the wheel of life, and instead of moving as a wheel of karma it should begin to move as the wheel of dharma. Mahavira spoke of being a victor over the process by renunciation and ahimsa. Bhutadaya, cosmic love of all creatures and reverence for each soul on its evolutionary movement is a note that has been uttered once for all. Thus the Indian way of Progress developed a definite pattern and a universal signature – it is the path to liberation, of liberating dharma through liberating love of all.
That is the seeing of the Divine in all and all in the Divine ; through the dedication of all the material and vital and mental factors of human life to the achievement of harmony that is the status of the Supreme Godhead.
The teachings of our metaphysical thinkers like Sankara and Ramanuja, the spiritual saints like our great Hymnists in the period between the 1st century and the 9th century and later the rise of the bhakti school have all moulded the direction of our progress to the realisation of the love of all in God and through God.
But as already remarked the new historical conditions and climates of the present day world have brought forward the challenge of the material and the vital to the forefront. The dimensions of our task cannot be comprehended and dealt with by sentiment or feeling but a deep and spiritual vision. Old ways of dealing with new situations as our Prime Minister Nehru stated would not show any ‘sensibility’ to the task ahead. But obviously he was not speaking about the first and fundamental end or goal of Indian thought and spirituality. A new spirituality more comprehensive in its sweep and understanding driving towards the Peace that passeth understanding based on a revolutionary sense of freedom and right of each is the ideal of the Gandhian and Aurobindonian attitudes. However much they might appear on the surface to differ from each other there is an identity of purpose. Sri Aurobindo’s new spirituality is universalising as well as integralising of all the planes of being with the help of the Highest supramental consciousness. By its divine way and manifestation it could transform nature and its direction and appropriate it for the highest realisation of freedom and fullness in all planes. The face of matter and vitality and mind will be changed and would not merely subserve the ends of Spirit but become vehicles and manifestations of it. The new formulation of the ideal for India by Sri Aurobindo is the divinisation of all planes and the utilisation of all for the Divine.
In the modern world truth and right and liberty and the good are judged by the standards of material utility and workability and prosperity (artha). Similarly these have been sought to be evaluated in terms of their capacity to grant psychological pleasure-achievement (kama). This mood must be reversed. These are preyas, not sreyas. The Gaudhian way of ethical Religion goes about the task of reversing this valuation through emphasising truthfulness and non-violence and individual’s dignity without any reference to the criteria of material prosperity and psychological pleasure. The Indian way has progressed long on this road so much that Gaudhi symbolises the rediscovery of the path of Progress. But beyond the pleasure-principle and material principle is yet another principle which is known as the ego-principle that is the cause of our mutual conflicts. Men must transcend this ego-principle through selflessness (anasakti) with an unlimited faith in the power of love of the One Supreme God in all manifestations and creatures. Thus godward action becomes a way to God and through God to an increasing sense of oneness with all.
The Indian way is towards the realisation of One God and fullness of knowledge and freedom. Progress in India strikes the path of transcendence of the human through integration functioning through the triple principles of love, peace and knowledge. This is its Yoga of liberation and Santi padam.