There is a general and quite pervasive idea that if I am “progressive” then I am a ‘good’ person, I have high ethical standards and I am heading in a positive and desirable direction. But what does it actually mean to make progress as a society?

Well, the question becomes, “Progress towards what?” What if my goals and direction in life will produce bad outcomes? I may then be progressing towards these goals but heading in the wrong direction. I am progressing, but towards that which is undesirable.

If society’s goals are founded on, and guided by, materialism, then progress towards those goals will lead to misfortune, unhappiness, and suffering for society and its’ members.

This reflection was instigated by something one of the great spiritual teachers in our lineage wrote in the late 1800’s. It was in the form of a dialogue between a person who was a great promotor of the ‘advancement’ of civilization through materialistic culture and a childhood friend who had become a spiritual seeker. This is an excerpt from the book:
The materialist: “Civilization means to converse well in sophisticated society, to dress in a manner that pleases others, to eat food and conduct oneself in a way which is not repellent to others. Actually, you spiritual seekers follow none of these manners. “Some people consider that knowledge and culture are simultaneously expanding by this civilization, and if the trend continues this earth will become like heaven.”

The friend: “Human life is short and inevitably has numerous disturbances; thus, with our limited time here, it is imperative to serve the Supreme Soul and others, with unmotivated simplicity. The culture and sophistication, which you present as synonyms, are merely exercises in self-deception. If a human being remains on the path of truthfulness, his life is honest and simple. Leaving this straight path for that of deception, he becomes sly, engages in unscrupulous dealings, and tries to hide his crookedness behind a facade of sweet words and postured civility. Truthfulness and simplicity are laudable human characteristics, whereas the culture and sophistication you speak of generally lack these qualities. True culture, in its pristine state, shorn of all immorality, is found amongst the transcendentalists, and the culture of the materialist is tainted by sinful ways.”