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Materialism and Problems of Today

Materialism and Problems of Today is an extract from an article written and published by Swami Jagadatmananda in Prabuddha Bharata Magazine January 2006 Issue.

Industrial Revolution
Ever since James Watt ushered in the Industrial Revolution with his invention of the steam engine in 1790, science has advanced so much that it has changed the culture and civilization of the whole world. Politics, economics, and even religion, have all been immensely influenced by science.

Science in Wrong Hands

Prof. Maurice Wilkins, who won the Nobel Prize for medicine in 1962, admitted in an interview that ‘about half the world’s scientists and engineers are engaged in war programs.' Physicist Fritjof Capra writes: ‘We have piled up tens of thousands of nuclear weapons; enough to destroy the entire world several times.’

Spirituality Answer to Materialism

‘Materialism and all its miseries can never be conquered by materialism’, said Swami Vivekananda. More than a hundred years ago he observed:
‘Spirituality must conquer… The whole … world is on a volcano which may burst tomorrow, go to pieces tomorrow. They have searched every corner of the world and have found no respite. They have drunk deep of the cup of pleasure and found it vanity.'
Man with a materialistic outlook naturally develops an inordinate craving for wealth, power, status and popularity, and the accompanying permissiveness ultimately degrades him.

Modern civilization does not seem to suit mankind! It is not based on the knowledge of man’s real nature, nor does it function with the objective of achieving his all-round development. So what is the use of scientific advancement when we do not try to know beforehand where it is going to take us? What we choose from the unlimited treasure of science is often not concerned with the progress of humanity.

In fact, by providing us with more leisure than we know how to make good use of, scientific civilization has done us great harm.
‘Mental weakness, psychosis, lunacy are perhaps the price we have to pay for our tech no logical revolution’, said Alexis Carrel.
In the late 19th century, Swami Vivekananda pointed out that ‘it is spiritual culture and ethical culture alone that can change wrong racial tendencies for the better’.

Basic Attitudes Towards Life Needs to Be Changed to Make Proper Use of Scientific Advancement

Unless our basic attitudes towards life and reality are changed, true happiness and lasting fulfillment will ever elude us in spite of the proliferation of objects of enjoyment and means of seeking pleasure. Why? Because pleasure is caused by excitement of the senses and is short-lived, whereas real happiness is independent of sense contact and long lasting. It wells up from within, from the depths of the heart. Pleasure is based on selfish or ego-centric drives, whereas happiness comes from transcending the little self and working for other people’s welfare. Sense pleasure produces painful reactions, whereas true happiness gives us calmness and peace.

The majority of educated people in our country have embraced the scientific materialistic outlook. It is one of the chief objectives of science to provide comfort and convenience to mankind, but then too much of a good thing can also be harmful! The hold that these comforts and conveniences have on man is ever tightening. 

To be sure, we are all proud of the advancements of our scientific civilization, but unfortunately, the achievement of science have also increased the number of people who behave worse than beasts. Millions die in wars. Moral values are sacrificed in the name of individual freedom. And the media and technological innovations like the Internet often end up doing the greatest damage to moral values. So there is no guarantee that man’s inward progress will keep pace with his external advancement.

In order to understand that principle of interior progress, we have to grasp the nature and structure of the mind at its deeper levels. We should get acquainted with the precious gems hidden in the ocean of our mind. We must comprehend the universal principles that underlie the progress and welfare of human life. We need to abide by certain values that endow us with the power of guiding our selves. And until we find sound answers to some fundamental questions — What is the purpose of human life? What are its objectives? Is there anything more to our lives than just eating, drinking, sleeping and begetting children? — our lives will remain empty.
As Alexis Carrel says, ‘No advantage is to be gained by increasing the number of mechanical inventions. It would perhaps be as well not to accord so much importance to discoveries of physics, astronomy, and chemistry.’ 
In truth, pure science never directly brings us any harm. But when its fascinating beauty dominates our mind and enslaves our thoughts in the realm of inanimate matter, it becomes dangerous.

Man must turn his attention to himself, and to the cause of his mental and moral disability. What is the good of increasing the complexities of our civilization if our weaknesses prevents us from using them to our best advantage?