In a long period of increasing prosperity, the Victorians enjoyed the first substantial benefits of the advancements of science and saw no reason to doubt that these would: multiply ever more abundantly, until all men would share in the riches and culture of an enlightened age. The’ Darwinian theory of biological evolution, suggested by’ analogy that human society was evolving from lower to higher forms, and it seemed that man, becoming aware of this, could consciously stimulate and hasten the process. Progress was the spirit of the age and science was her handmaiden.
After a century of continuous expansion in science andf industry, we are not so sure of the infallible blessings of progress and we find that science, whilst conferring many; boons, is also capable of inflicting widespread destruction.
The chemist produces the lethal gases of war as well as life-saving drugs. Sub-atomic investigation yields the hydrogen bomb as well as many useful synthetic materials. Wonderful machines eliminate arduous toil and yet enslave man. The concentration of great numbers of people into industrial communities and nations creates internal and external friction which can only be eased by governmental planning and control. The champions of rival ideologies striving, perhaps with the best intentions, to adapt society to their plans, sacrifice the liberty of the individual to doctrinal requirements. It seems as though all efforts are doomed to produce results quite different from those anticipated.
This contradiction between expectations and actual results is not entirely a mystery. It is largely due to the false identification of the Self with ideas which have no real existence. Ignorant of his real nature and fearful for his puny existence in the infinite world of space and time, man clutches at any straw which raises his ego from the sea of nothingness to some semblance of dignity and power. Thus Progress, Science, the State, Dictatorships, Materialism and many other abstractions are like gods to whom men swear allegiance. Identifying themselves with some such idea, they fight to defend it, for it represents their very being. Failure is certain in the end, for at the instant that the idea is to materialise, it is seen to be an illusion. Many people are suffering from this disillusionment to-day.
The fact is that no amount of social, political and economic planning can touch the central problem, which is internal, religious and spiritual. The kingdom of Heaven is within, and unless this is recognized, the attempt to build “ one world ” or “ a world of plenty ” is nothing but the building of the Tower of Babel. Man requires a higher sanction than the ego ; his real needs cannot even be known, much less satisfied, until he understands his own Self, and his place in the universe.
Yoga establishes by reason, and by the personal experience of many who have practised it, that the diversified universe is but a manifestation of the one underlying Reality, the Supreme Spirit, God, who creates and sustains the whole universe, and abides in it as the substratum and real Self of every being. Man is not merely body and mind but essentially spirit, identical in essence with the Supreme Spirit.
The Advaita philosophy of Shri Shankaracharya explores the limits of reason to show that nothing other than this can be the final truth. A man who realizes this sees all others as an extension of his own Self, and, surrendering his own will to the Will of God, works for the glory of the Spirit and for the good of all humanity. If this Spirit were accepted as the guiding principle, human relations would be entirely transformed. The inventions of science would be used for the benefit of all peoples and real progress would be made—progress towards peace and goodwill.