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A New Concept of Progress

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The following article is an excerpt from an address to the Manzu Research Centre in Rimini, Italy in which Professor Batra sketched the broad outline of the Progressive Utilisation Theory (PROUT).The passage reprinted below explains the spiritual concepts underlying PROUT.

by Ravi Batra

In 1977 I wrote a book entitled The Downfall Of Capitalism And Communism, predicting that both the systems would collapse by the year 2000. The question is what will replace the two socio-economic systems familiar today. To my mind, the new system will be PROUT, which, though not yet a household word, will soon become known and popular all over our planet.

 The propounder of PROUT, as with the law of social cycle, is P.R. Sarkar, a brilliant contemporary historian and philosopher from India. PROUT is actually an acronym for what Sarkar calls progressive utilization theory; that is, 'pro' from progressive, 'u' from utilization and 't' from theory together make up PROUT. As with the law of social cycle, PROUT is bound to be a controversial philosophy, at least among secular intellectuals. According to Sarkar, human existence has three aspects, physical, intellectual and spiritual. Intellectuals today ignore the spiritual aspect of life in their hypotheses, but to Sarkar spirituality is as much inherent in human nature as physical and intellectual traits.

No one can deny that human thirst for happiness is unquenchable. We all want more and more from life; seldom are we satisfied with what we have. There is hardly anyone content with his circumstances. Why is it so? What does it mean? To Sarkar, it means that human beings have a spiritual nature. They have needs that cannot possibly be satisfied by material objects. The human thirst for happiness is infinite, but material things are all finite; hence they can never quench the human thirst. Human beings all seek unlimited joy, but material objects, being limited, can never offer that. The limited cannot yield the unlimited. Only an infinite entity can satisfy the infinite human hunger for enjoyment. Spiritual activity is simply a pursuit of the infinite entity. The way Sarkar puts it, it is clear that spiritual needs are an integral part of human nature. This concept of spirituality is essential to an understanding of PROUT.

 

Technology's Side Effects

To understand PROUT, it is necessary to begin with its concept of progress. In common parlance, the term 'progress' is associated with technical and scientific advancement, or anything which enhances the comforts of life. Humanity is said to have made tremendous progress today because life seems so much more comfortable these days than it was a few centuries ago. People today can travel fast by automobile and airplanes, whereas only in the last century they were travelling by horse-drawn buggies and bullock carts. If we go back to ancient times, people had to travel on foot. Thus progress is commonly understood as an increase in living comforts through scientific inventions, which have eased our lives not only physically but also intellectually. The invention of paper has helped spread the ideas of scholars. People can now engage their minds reading novels and other literature. Thus, scientific discoveries may be credited with tremendous advance that humanity has made in the physical and intellectual realm.

 All this, to Sarkar, is not progress. To be sure, it has resulted in a great change in the mode of living, but he denies this to be progress because most scientific discoveries have created problems which were non-existent before. Faster travel today has increased the risk of accident; industrialization has resulted in environmental pollution and cancer and other diseases unheard of in the past; modern medicine quickly cures the malady but generates side-effects requiring further treatment. Even in the intellectual sphere, there is much available to keep the mind occupied, but people today suffer from emotional problems and neuroses that did not afflict them before. Increased comforts in physical and intellectual spheres have been accompanied by deleterious side-effects, and who is to say that progress has really occurred in these realms. Indeed, Sarkar goes as far as saying that progress in the intellectual and physical sense is impossible, unless there occurs a spiritual advance at the same time. In other words, the term 'progress'in the intellectual and physical spheres is a misnomer.

 Why can progress not occur in the physical and intellectual arenas? Why must any positive development there be associated with negative movement? The reason lies in the very nature of the universe which exists in a vibrational flow balanced by positive and negative forces. Our earth and the atmosphere surrounding it are finite. Any positive waves in this finite realm will have to be counterbalanced by a negative wave. Therefore, any invention, creating a positive wave of physical comfort is matched by a corresponding negative wave leading to discomfort. In view of the interdependent nature of the physical world, it is not surprising that the results of new technology will be exactly counterbalanced by a side-effect. Therefore, if life becomes easier in some respects, it will become harder in others. No one can laud science and technology as an unmixed blessing.

Sarkar's claim that progress is impossible in the physical realm is very strong indeed. It seems to be incredible, but it has an internal logic of its own. And today, with constructive and destructive fruits of science visible in all directions, this logic has become manifestly clear. Can you think of any invention which while reducing life's boredom has not added to life's danger at the same time? Repetitive work is drudgery; when machines do that work, life seems to be more pleasant than before. If dishwashers wash our dishes, air conditioners cool our rooms, laundry machines clean our clothes, automobiles do our walking and so on, life certainly appears blissful relative to what our forefathers had to endure in a science-less world. But then they did not have to contend with electric shocks, fatal accidents, air, water, land and noise pollution, noxious automobile fumes, urban congestion, super-selfishness, crime and so on.

 Indeed the harm done by an invention varies directly with its promises of comfort. Coal results in smoke pollution; so does oil. Nuclear power has none of this; besides it is one vast reservoir of power. But then it is many times deadlier than traditional sources of energy. You can move away from the pollution of oil and coal, but from nuclear radiation there is no escape. It follows you wherever you go.

 Today solar energy holds greater promise than nuclear plants. That is because its dangers are not yet known. Every scientific device conceals invisible dangers that become apparent much later. When utilizing new technology, we do not expect any trouble from it. This is faulty logic and thinking. Sarkar corrects this thinking by saying that the side-effects of every invention are inevitable, because this universe is finite and vibrational in nature, and any physical change producing comfort must be counterbalanced by an equivalent physical change producing misery.

 Does it mean that science should be discarded? Not at all. With our overwhelming problems concerning energy, population and pollution, our relapse to pre-science days is unthinkable. All it means is that we have to be more cautious about inventions. Before translating any new invention into industrial technology, its side-effects should be thoroughly studied, and investments should be simultaneously made in controlling its emissions.

While the concept of progress in the material sphere is at best dubious, things are no better in the intellectual sphere. The world seems to have greatly advanced in the realm of the intellect. There are more scholars today than ever before. People with M.A's and Ph.D's abound in many nations, and many more are habituated to regular reading and writing. But has all this occurred without a cost?

 

Perils of Intellectual "Progress"

People in ancient times were intellectually backward, but they did not suffer from emotional stress and neuroses. One who is less scholarly is also less prone to mental disturbances, whereas an intellectual is highly vulnerable in this regard. He creates unnecessary problems in his own web of imagination, and experiences sleepless nights. Hence in the intellectual sphere also progress is unlikely, if not impossible, because the feeling of increased pleasure is likely to be balanced by one of increasing pain.

 The barometer of progress in the ultimate analysis must be mental pleasure which is really nothing but a mental vibration expressed through the relaxation of the nerves; that is, pleasure is nothing but a mental vibration emitted by relaxed nerves. On the other hand, pain is just an opposite experience. When the nerves are under tension, the vibration generated in the mind is called pain. In evaluating the impact of science, people usually focus on the convenience it has provided, while ignoring the nervous tension it has created in our lives. The fact that progress is not possible in the material sphere only means that scientific change increases both pleasure and pain in the same proportion.

 The same holds true with the intellectual activity as well. In most states, mind experiences either pleasure or pain. There may be cases of mental repression or mental denial of discomforting things, but such mental states do not last long. Generally, mind is either happy or unhappy. The intellectual activity undoubtedly increases the feeling of pleasure. A person who has won an argument over another is usually very happy and sometimes delirious with joy. But after a while, he will experience an corresponding amount of pain in some other aspect of his mind. The reason is that human mind has a certain finite mass and volume. Purely intellectual study and analysis fail to enhance this mass; all they do is to increase the activity and play of ideas within a given intellectual arena. With a greater number of thoughts criss-crossing a given mental area, the result inevitably is an increased clash in the mind. Hence occur the mental breakdowns; hence the neuroses, hence the growing need for psychiatrists in intellectually developed societies.

 

Spirituality and True Progress

Is then progress possible at all? The answer is yes. Human existence has three aspects - physical, mental and spiritual. While the first two are not amenable to progress, the third is. Increased happiness in that sphere is not neutralized by increased misery.

 While physical and intellectual activities deal with the limited, spirituality is concerned with the unlimited. Hence the goal in the spiritual arena is not the finite but the infinite. Therefore, the feeling of pleasure resulting from spiritual activity is not accompanied by pain, or happiness by misery. This then is true progress. In the spiritual experience there is no negative movement; every effort there is a forward march unaccompanied by any deleterious side-effect.

 Spiritual activities include meditation and selfless living. Without providing help to the needy, the forward movement to the infinite is impossible. And since the mind's goal is infinitude, the spiritual life results in an expansion in the volume as well as the mass of the mind. As a result, the mental conflict declines and the nerves get relaxation. The person becomes broad-minded. He or she seeks to serve others, to share in their pains. A community which respects the selfless beings and attempts to emulate them also then experiences increased happiness without corresponding pain. That is when true progress occurs in the entire society. The degree of selflessness, therefore, is the true gauge of society's progress, not its material development, nor its intellectual attainment.

 While real progress is unlikely in the material and mental sphere, Sarkar does not advocate that scientific and intellectual pursuits should be abandoned. Quite the contrary, he is a champion of science, art and literature. But he insists that scientific advances should be 'spiritualized'; that is to say, they should be accompanied by spiritual practices at the same time. For such practices enable us to gain increasing mastery over our body and mind. All detrimental effects of scientific and intellectual developments on the human organism can thus be brought under control.

 The introduction of new technology increases the pace of life. More decisions than before have to be made in a relatively short span of time; one has to move fast from place to place in order to cope with the speed of machines. All this adversely effects the nerves, and in turn puts stress on the brain and the heart. Heart failures and mental agonies are the inevitable by-products of science and technology. Spiritual practices, which calm the nerves, are therefore indispensable if we intend to master science and not be mastered by it. Sarkar's concept of progress has profound implications for humanity. It suggests that scientific change and intellectual transformation, unaccompanied by spiritual advance, would lead not only to degradation in the physical arena such as our environment, but also to racism, bigotry and social conflicts. Spirituality is the foundation of all progress. During the 20th century, thousands of remarkable inventions and new theories have almost totally transformed our way of life. But spiritually, we have stagnated and even moved backwards. Consequently, battles and wars have been deadlier in the current century than ever before. Rising greed, crime, drugs and environmental pollution threaten to overwhelm the delicate thread of life on our finite planet. The moral is that change in the physical and mental sphere, without spiritual advance, is ultimately self-destructive. The concept of progress introduced by Sarkar is central to PROUT. Sarkar argues that society's utilization of all its resources at any moment of time should be such as to result in progress. Hence the caption 'Progressive Utilization Theory' or PROUT. But progress to Sarkar occurs only in the spiritual arena. Science and technology are important, but they are to be utilized in such a way that their harmful emissions are kept under control.

 


Ravi Batra is a Professor of Economics at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, U.S.A, and the author of books on international trade theory as well as books explaining the Progessive Utilisation Theory.

 

 

 
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