Darkness of the present age is not due to lack of material progress, but due to lack of spiritual advancement.
Human v/s animal
What is “progress”? A dog’s jumping is progress? A dog is running here and there on four legs, and you are running on four wheels. Is that progress?
The Vedic system is this: The human being has a certain amount of energy better energy than the animals’, better consciousness and that energy should be utilized for spiritual advancement. So the whole Vedic system is meant for spiritual advancement. Human energy is employed in a more exalted direction than to compete with the dog.
Consequently, sometimes those who have no idea of religion notice that the Indian saintly persons are not working hard like dogs. Spiritually uncultured people think the dog race is life. But actual life is spiritual progress. (Civilization and Transcendence,
The darkness of the present age is not due to lack of material advancement, but that we have lost the clue to our spiritual advancement which is the prime necessity of human life and the criterion of the highest type of civilisation. Throwing of bombs from aeroplanes is no advancement of civilisation from the primitive, uncivilized way of dropping big stones on the heads of the enemies from the tops of the hills. Improvement of the art of killing our neighbours by inventing machine guns and by means of poisonous gases is certainly no advancement from primitive barbarism priding itself on its art of killing by bows and arrows, nor does the development of a sense of pampered selfishness prove anything more than intellectual animalism.
Thus, while others were yet in the womb of historical oblivion, the sages of India had developed a different kind of civilisation which enables us to know ourselves. They had discovered that we are not at all material entities, but that we are all spiritual, permanent and non destructible servants of the Absolute.
(Vyasa puja offering to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati by Srila Prabhupada, 1935)
In the materialistic conception, modern civilization makes enormous arrangements for huge roads, houses, mills and factories, and this is man’s conception of the advancement of civilization. People do not know, however, that at any time they themselves may be kicked out of the scene and forced to accept bodies that have nothing to do with these enormous houses, palaces, roads and automobiles. (Bhag. 7.2.60, purport)
We may think that we are making good advancement in economic development, but there is no solution for these four problems, as enunciated by Bhagavad gita, janma, mrtyu, jara, vyadhi. There is no solution for birth. There is so much attempt for birth control all over the world, but still, in every minute or in every second some percentage of population is increasing. Mrtyu, similarly, there are so many attempts to discover scientific measures to stop death, but it is not possible. Death is taking place. Rather, in the present age, death is taking place earlier than in years before. Formerly people were living, say, hundred years, eighty years, ninety years, and nowadays a man is living, utmost, seventy years, sixty years. …So practically we are not making any progress. (Lecture on Bhagavad gita 7.3, Montreal, 3 June 1968)
Hard struggle for existence
In Kali yuga modern civilization is mainly situated in the cities. A great city, however, is like a great forest. Actually city life is more dangerous than life in the forest. If one enters an unknown city without friend or shelter, living in that city is more difficult than living in a forest. There are many big cities all over the surface of the globe, and wherever one looks he sees the struggle for existence going on twenty four hours a day, people rush about in cars going seventy and eighty miles an hour, constantly coming and going, and this sets the scene of the great struggle for existence. One has to rise early in the morning and travel in that car at breakneck speed. There is always the danger of an accident, and one has to take great care. In his automobile, the living entity is full of anxieties, and his struggle is not at all auspicious. (Bhag. 5.14.1, purport)
It is understood that all the people depended on nature’s gifts of fruits and flowers without industrial enterprises promoting filthy huts and slums for residential quarters. Advancement of civilization is estimated not on the growth of mills and factories to deteriorate the finer instincts of the human being, but on developing the potent spiritual instincts of human beings and giving them a chance to go back to Godhead. Development of factories and mills is called ugra karma, or pungent activities, and such activities deteriorate the finer sentiments of the human being and society to form a dungeon of demons.
The impious trees are useless jungles only, and they can only be used to supply fuels. In the modern civilization such impious trees are planted on the sides of roads. Human energy should be properly utilized in developing the finer senses for spiritual understanding, in which lies the solution of life. Fruits, flowers, beautiful gardens, parks and reservoirs of water with ducks and swans playing in the midst of lotus flowers, and cows giving sufficient milk and butter are essential for developing the finer tissues of the human body. As against this, the dungeons of mines, factories and workshops develop demoniac propensities in the working class. The vested interests flourish at the cost of the working class, and consequently there are severe clashes between them in so many ways. (Bhag. 1.11.12, purport)
Maharaja Yudhisthira had to collect heaps of gold to secure the paraphernalia for the horse sacrifice yajnas in days of sufficiency, so we can hardly think of such performance of yajnas in these days of insufficiency and complete scarcity of gold. At the present moment we have heaps of papers and promises of their being converted into gold by economic development of modern civilization, and still there is no possibility of spending riches like Maharaja Yudhisthira, either individually or collectively or by state patronization. (Bhag. 1.12.34, purport)
Directions toward real progress
The basic flaw in modern civilization is that boys and girls are given freedom during school and college to enjoy sex life. Most of the children are varna sankara, meaning “born of undesirable fathers and mothers.” Consequently, the whole world is in chaos. Actually, human civilization should be based on the Vedic principles. This means that in the beginning of life boys and girls should undergo penances and austerities. When they are grown, they should get married, live for some time at home and beget children. When the children are grown up, the man should leave home and search for Krishna consciousness. In this way one can make one’s life perfect by going home to the kingdom of God. (Bhag. 4.31.1, purport)
Modern civilization and economic development are creating a new situation of poverty and scarcity with the result of blackmailing the consumer’s commodities. If the leaders and the rich men of the society spend fifty percent of their accumulated wealth mercifully for the misled mass of people and educate them in God consciousness, the knowledge of Bhagavatam, certainly the age of Kali will be defeated in its attempt to entrap the conditioned souls. (Bhag. 1.17.24, purport)
The bestial civilization of eating, sleeping, fearing and sense gratifying has misled modern man into forgetting how powerful a soul he has. The soul is a spiritual spark which is many, many times more illuminating, dazzling and powerful than sun, moon or electricity. Human life is spoiled when man does not realize his real identity with his soul. Lord Caitanya appeared with His disciple Nityananda to save man from this type of misleading civilization. (Easy Journey to Other Planets, Chapter 1)
In modern civilization people are very much interested in exploiting the resources of material nature through the methods of science. Indeed, this is considered advancement. This is not actually advancement, however, but is simply pleasing to hear. Although we are advancing according to such concocted methods, we are forgetting our real purpose. Bhaktivinoda Thakura therefore says, jada vidya yata mayara vaibhava tomara bhajane badha: “Materialistic studies are the glare of maya only, for they are an obstacle to spiritual progress.” The temporary comforts of life experienced either on this planet or on other planets are all to be taken as illusory because they do not touch the real purpose of life. The real purpose of life is to go back home, back to Godhead. (Bhag. 4.29.47, purport)