… what real aspirants experienced after a whole life’s intense effort in the Vedic age, is made attainable in the present age in a comparatively short period of time by a more direct application of the higher reason in man. Such was the method adopted by Shri Atmananda. (Introduction to ‘Notes…’ by Nitya Tripta). Quite a different view was held by others fifty or sixty years ago (René Guénon, A. Coomaraswamy and F. Schuon among others) concerning contemporary man, the conclusion being that there has been a decline of the contemplative intellect after the Middle Ages in Europe (and likely also in the East). Coomaraswamy used the term: dégringolade, to refer to this phenomenon. Can there be, or, is there a coexistence of these two unequal and opposing currents in the modern world? The question is an empirical one, but it may be worth asking. A. M.
Your question is intelligent and beautifully crafted. Unfortunately, as you already noticed, it is also a somehow intellectual and phenomenal question, to which the real, profound answer is: “Who knows?”
On a more mundane level, it could perhaps be said that, as the contemplative drive in modern societies declined, the tools available to the seekers became more and more efficient. For instance, the extraordinary awakening and development of the scientific method since the 18th century has led on the one hand to modern technology and to the subsequent worldwide expansion of a materialistic, gadget-oriented culture. On the other hand however, this very same paradigm shift has eliminated ancient religious and cultural taboos and inhibitions that made it impossible to present and communicate the simple, naked advaitic truth. Remember the persecutions suffered by Jesus, Meister Eckhart, St John of the cross, Hallaj, Madame Guyon among others. As Atmananda noticed, we are enjoying a spiritual window of opportunity that is absolutely unprecedented in history. We could consider the simultaneous decline of spiritual values and sharpening of the tools of awakening as a beautiful balancing act of the Absolute. There is no incompatibility between Atmananda’s and Guénon’s views.
A word of caution however about the confusion that prevails in some pseudo Advaita circles between awakening and self-realization or, as Atmananda would perhaps put it, between nirvikalpa and sahaja samadhi. As long as one believes to be a doer, there is still a lot to do in terms of self-inquiry and meditation. And even after a first glimpse of truth, unshakable peace will prevail in most cases only after a subsequent process of higher reasoning, higher sensing and contemplation.
The ubiquitous availability of the tools of awakening in the modern West doesn’t imply the ubiquitous presence of realized beings, and it may well be that the percentage of sages was higher in other civilizations.