Humanity: Today & Tomorrow|Dec 1, 2003 5:29 AM| by:

Is Humanity really Progressing?

After a comparatively turbulent year, characterised by international crisis, tensions, wars and other striking events, we can observe, in recent weeks, a world returning to its “daily business”. Of course, the Iraq issue is still far from being solved, uprisings have temporarily shattered the always fragile social and political stability in the South American country of Bolivia, but on a “large scale” the international community has withdrawn into old habits, structures and the usual discussions and disputes. Generally, TV and Internet-news are no longer dealing with political analysis about the future of the UN, transatlantic relations and their long term effects on world-economy and political world-balance, but have shifted to “lighter”, more entertaining and less intellectual, less “serious” issues, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s campaign and election in California, that temporarily dominated even international media.

In this light we might be tempted to ask, not without a certain disappointment and even cynicism, whether mankind has learned anything from its most recent history or whether these quite striking events have left any “long-term” imprint on the masses – we might stumble upon doubts, some “lack of confidence” concerning the present and future development of mankind and ask ourselves: is humanity really progressing, or once more stagnating, is it even falling into a regression?

In judging recent events and the world’s development as a whole our minds might jump to different, even opposite conclusions according to our individual nature. In his essay “Conservation and Progress” Sri Aurobindo differentiated between three basic approaches, he called “the partisans of the future, of the present and of the past”:
“The partisans of the past are of two kinds. The first admit the defects of the present but support it in so far as it still cherishes the principles of the high, perfect, faultless, adorable past, that golden age of the race or community….. . A second kind condemn the present root and branch as degenerate, hateful, horrible, vicious, accursed; they erect a past form as the hope of a humanity returning to the wisdom of its forefathers.”

In a world, obviously living in chaos and in disharmony with nature, threatened by global warming and continuously meeting the violent resistance of Mother Earth, this view (“back to the roots”) has gained a certain momentum, especially in the younger generation of Western Society.

“The partisans of the present look with horror upon all progress as an impious and abominable plunge into error and evil and degeneration and ruin; for them the present is the culmination of humanity…..”.
This attitude can be observed in large parts of the “middle-aged European society”, who, after the Second World War, worked very hard to attain a totally satisfying material and social stability, suspicious towards every development endangering their heavily guarded “security” and “status quo”.

As convinced advocates of progress we might turn our back on both viewpoints and join the “partisans of the future”, who, according to Sri Aurobindo “call themselves the party of progress, the children of light and denounce the past as ignorant, evil, a mass of errors and abuses; their view alone has the monopoly of the light, the truth, the good”. This attitude, often connected with a missionary zeal and “claim of possessing the truth”, is relatively popular in different kinds of “spiritual community” and might be at first sight the easiest trap on our way to a true understanding of the trinity of “progress, stagnation, regression”.  With his wonderful sense of humour, however, Sri Aurobindo continues the definition of the “partisan of progress” and leads it “ad absurdum”: “- a light, good and truth, which will equally be denounced as error and evil by succeeding generations”………..

What should then be our approach to the riddle?

In Sri Aurobindo’s words addressing all kind of “partisans”: “The true thinker… will strive to see this great divine movement as a whole, to know in its large lines the divine intention and goal in it without seeking to fix arbitrarily its details; he will strive to understand the greatness and profound meaning of the past without attaching himself to its forms, for he knows that forms must change and only the formless endures and that the past can never be repeated, but only its essence preserved, its power, its soul of good and its massed impulse towards a greater self-fulfilment; he will accept the actual realisations for the present as a stage and nothing more, keenly appreciating its defects, self-satisfied errors, presumptuous pretensions because these are the chief enemies of progress, but not ignoring the truth and good that it has gained; and he will sound the future to understand what the Divine in it is seeking to realise, not only at the present moment, not only in the next generation, but beyond, and for that he will speak, strive, if need be battle, since battle is the method still used by Nature in humanity, even while all the while he knows that there is more yet beyond beside which, when it comes to light, the truth he has seized will be erroneous and limited.”

In this light our starting question, “if humanity is progressing, or once more stagnating, if it is even falling into a regression” reveals itself to be the wrong approach to the solution of the riddle, it is part of a “minor understanding” continuously ready to jump to ethical judgements and limited mental conclusions, dividing the one divine movement into “manageable bits of apparent progress, regression or stagnation” – a divine movement “in which nothing can really stand still, because everything there (in the universe) is a mould of Time and the very essence of Time is change by a movement forward. It is true that the world’s movement is not in a straight line; there are cycles, there are spirals; but still it circles, not round the same point always, but around an ever advancing centre, and therefore it never returns exactly upon its old path and never goes really backward. As for standing still, it is an impossibility, a delusion, a fiction.”

The world “never goes really backward”. “Standstill is a delusion”… The world always progresses, driven by the conscious will of the Divine – or in the simple and most beautiful words of the Mother: “Progress is the sign of the divine influence in creation.”

Can we, as growing individuals,  play an active part in this development ? Can we somehow “speed” up the process?
The Mother’s answer is “yes” – “let us progress ourselves, it is the best way of making others progress”.

Finally, one might argue, that “progress”, the Divine Transformation is unavoidable and will realise itself anyway, with or without our “support” or consent. This is certainly true – but the amount of individual and collective struggle, upheaval, catastrophe will depend on our extent of resistance, of our clinging to old and well-loved structures and habits, will depend on our individual and collective readiness to let the Divine Grace work through Her earthly instruments, on our aspiration, on the withdrawal of our own interfering will.

“Progress: to be ready, at every minute, to give up all one is and all one has in order to advance on the way.”……….

Georg Stollenwerk

(Georg Stollenwerk is from Germany. His work has taken him to all parts of Germany and to many countries outside and also given him the opportunity to watch at close quarters the evolving political, economic and social situation. Being a spiritual seeker he attempts here to look at these from a deeper insight.)