What does it mean to be a human?
Being Human – A very popular T-shirt caption. One in every three T-shirt lovers takes pride in donning this catchy caption. It’s trendy and happening to own one and flaunt it. If you beg to differ then you are outdated. Irrespective of caste, creed, gender and age; everyone takes pride in declaring themselves humans. Being human is the happening thing. Unmindful of what it does mean, people are just mad about it.
So boldly we declare our humanity, but how much have we pondered over it? What does it mean to be a human? When asked for an answer, many become speechless and stunned, realizing that it has a meaning too and one needs to know it. While many dive into their brains for an answer but come out defeated. But it triggers a quest to search for the meaning. Yet many boldly declare their imagined principles of humanity and enjoy those ideas in their own humor. Still there are many to whom it doesn’t matter at all… it’s the ‘in thing’ and that’s why it’s on the shirt… that’s all.
The general notion that prevails about humanity is to love everybody, do good to others, make others happy, be a vegetarian, enjoy life and be merry, do not offend others, do not litter around, be honest, help your neighbors, and may be even to take a bath daily. In a nut shell… being human means being good. But ironically, the human society has advanced so much that it has become an ‘in thing’ to be human. How much ‘human’ are we after all? What’s the yardstick to measure our humanity?
The scriptures say:
ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca samanyam etat pashubhih naranam
dharmo hi tesham adhiko vishesho dharmena hina pashubhih samanah
“Eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating are the four principles of animal life. These are common both to animals and to human beings. But religion is the extra function of the human being. Without religion, human life is no better than animal life.”- Hitopadesha
A human being is one who follows religion. This very characteristic differentiates the humans from the animals. Therefore, in human society there is some form of religion which aims at self-realization. Religion refers to man’s eternal relationship with God and indeed, human life begins when religion begins.
We are proud of being humans because we have made tremendous advancement in the field of modern science. Srila Prabhupada explains how today’s sophisticated modern scientific civilization is in fact a polished animalism as it is directed towards improving eating, sleeping, mating, and defense. A man may eat varieties of lavish food stuffs with spoon and fork, and a dog may eat rotten food from the roadside or from the pile of garbage, but in either case they both satisfy their hungers and maintain their bodies. A man may sleep in a nice bungalow on a cozy bed whereas a dog sleeps on the street; yet the business is the same—sleeping. Once asleep, neither the man knows where he is nor does the dog know where it is. Man has discovered atomic weapons for defense, and the dog has teeth and claws for the same. But again, defense is there. Yet man cannot say that because he has the atomic bomb he can conquer the entire world or the entire universe. That is not possible. Man may indulge in mating in a luxurious apartment and a dog may do the same on the street. But ultimately the activity is the same.
The packaging by the humans is definitely superior and dazzling but the fundamental actions are very much same as of the animals. When the principal actions are same as the animals then how can we claim to be advanced as human beings? Rather we can claim to be advanced in animalism or in other words ‘polished animalism’.
Being an advanced animal doesn’t bring much glory to mankind. Srila Prabhupada slashes even this illusion of advancement. “In which way you are advanced? The animals, the trees, they are far advanced than you in this matter. So far bodily necessities are concerned, you cannot compete with them.” He explains how we are far behind the animals even in satisfying these mundane propensities. “An elephant eats hundred pounds at a time. Where do we stand before them? Our advancement of science is increasing the duration of life, increasing the sex power, etc. As soon as there is lack of sex power, there is divorce suit. But you have seen the dogs and cats. How much sex power they have got! About begetting children; the hog can beget at least three dozen children a year. What we can do? In three years we can hardly produce one child. The hog will produce at least thirty-six children in three years. So you cannot compete. Now the scientists are trying to live longer. We might gain a little longer life perhaps, but we cannot live here forever. The trees live for thousands of years. But a sane man should think that what is the use of living so long like trees? Competing with animals is not excellence of your life. Real excellence is to become Krishna conscious that these animals cannot do. And if you lack in that matter, Krishna consciousness, then the other animals, lower animals, they are far, far advanced.”
This human form of life is a unique opportunity to establish our lost relationship with the Supreme Lord. Among the 84,00,000 species, human life is the only opportunity for a living entity to get out of this cycle of birth and death. Therefore, all the Vedic scriptures glorify this human form. Animals cannot understand what is God. Srila Prabhupada elucidates it as, “Krishna is personally instructing Bhagavad-gita to understand about Him, so we should take advantage of this, otherwise we are missing this opportunity of this human form of life. Krishna is not teaching Bhagavad-gita to some cats and dogs.” Instead of wasting this valuable life by indulging in animalistic activities, the scriptures direct the human beings to re-establish their lost connection with the Supreme Lord and eternally get liberated from this miserable world where at every step there is danger.
This connection is possible through the process of dharma. Dharma means surrender to the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna, dharmam tu sakshad bhagavad pranitam. According to Srimad Bhagavatam, activity that does not direct one towards surrender to Lord Krishna is a useless waste of time. Bhagavatam rejects all such cheating propagandas that pass on in the name of religion. Lord Krishna asserts the same in the Gita, sarva dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja, give up all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. Following the real dharma means to act on the order of the Supreme Lord while keeping aside all other considerations.
Then what about the most aspired for ‘humane’ qualities: truthfulness, honesty, compassion, humility, cleanliness, knowledge, renunciation, etc.? In religious principles there must be God in the center; otherwise simple moral instructions are merely sub-religious principles, generally known as upadharma. By accepting the real dharma, upadharma automatically develops:
yasyasti bhakti bhagavati akincana sarvair gunaih tatra samaste surah
harav abhaktasya kuto mahad gunah mano rathena asati dhavato bahih
One who has become the devotee of Lord Hari, automatically develops all the good qualities of the demigods. He need not separately endeavor to cultivate these qualities. Whereas, one who is not a devotee cannot have any good qualities because he is driven by his own mental speculation.- Srimad Bhagavatam 5.18.12
Without dharma one is not only deprived of God consciousness but also is bereft of the basic human qualities. Whereas, when one sincerely practices the real religion, he not only reestablishes the eternal link with the Supreme Lord but also automatically gets all the great qualities possessed by the demigods, just like by having one thousand rupees, one automatically has ten rupees in that. There is no need of a separate endeavor for gaining ten rupees. Religion alone is the answer to our search for the meaning of ‘being human’.
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