How are Humans special?
By Vraja Bihari Dasa
Continued from the previous issue…Search for Happiness
How are Humans special?
How are humans different from the animals? One may imagine that an animal can’t logically think, reason, question or use intelligence. These are special gifts awarded to humans alone. However on closer inspection it’s obvious that animals also use intelligence. For instance have you seen a cat sneak into the kitchen when nobody is watching? She knows exactly when to enter and she also knows where the milk is kept. Once, while staying in a monastery of monks, we were each given a couple of hangers to use for hanging our shirts. Since we dried our clothes in an open space, we left our shirts hanging in the terrace of the ashram. Slowly all fifty residents of the ashram lost their hangers and we all wondered who could have stolen them and when. As weeks passed we forgot the incident and one day as I was standing in the terrace, i saw something shocking. On the top branch of a tree facing the ashram was a beautiful nest of a sparrow. What left me startled was that the nest was entirely made of our cloth hangers. I called the other inmates and we all saw in amazement the skills of these simple birds. Where did these birds learn to make a nest, leave alone an expert one made of hangers? We haven’t heard of any birds studying Civil engineering at the premier Indian Institute of Technology. This shows animals and birds also have intelligence; however the difference is they can’t think or use their intelligence beyond the ‘SEED’- the four propensities of sleeping, eating, enjoyment and defending.
The ‘ABCD’ difference between humans and Animals
The humans stand out as special due to their four specially endowed propensities, named as ABCD. A- Ability to enquire into higher pleasure; B- Bliss that is superior in nature; C- Choices that we make gives us the higher pleasures in life; D- Determination to practise the above three.
We can briefly examine each of these four potentials of humans.
Ability to enquire of higher and nobler goals is an exclusive prerogative of humans. Animals can’t think beyond the basic needs of SEED. Humans can pursue sublime goals and are encouraged to do so in the wisdom books of all ages and nationalities. Our enquiry facilitates a journey to higher realms of happiness; failure to seek higher pursuits pulls us down to the basic animal activities. A life that isn’t centred on more fulfilling and meaningful pursuits is beset with the same hardships and dullness that plagues animal life.
The four levels of Human Happiness
‘Bliss’ is the second difference between animals and humans. There are higher levels of pleasure which humans can experience vis a vis the animals, due to their more developed consciousness. Essentially there are four levels of happiness in human species, and these are experienced by different people according to the different levels of their spiritual advancement. The lowest experience is called ‘Parthiva rasa’. This term refers to the highest possible pleasure one could experience if his or her physical faculties are fully developed. ‘Parthiva rasa’ is experienced when all your senses are perfect and you have unlimited resources to enjoy the senses. Higher than this is ‘Swargiya rasa’, the pleasure experienced not on the physical, gross level; rather this is a pleasure sought through society, friendship and love. These are mental pleasures and even if one’s physical senses are not strong, ‘Swargiya’ pleasure gives a kick and keeps us mentally happy. Thousand units of ‘Parthiva’ pleasure can at best match one unit of ‘Swargiya’ happiness. Even those debilitated by serious physical illness, and thereby unable to enjoy bodily pleasures, can be happy if they experience the pleasure of society, friendship and love.
However, ten thousand times the Swargiya rasa’ equals ‘Brahman rasa’. This is the pleasure experienced by spiritualists seeking liberation from the vicissitudes of material existence. Such spiritual practitioners reject this material world and the pleasures offered by it, and instead focus upon the eternal truth within and without. This truth is called ‘Brahman’ by Vedic seers and hence the pleasure sought in pursuance of this is called ‘Brahman rasa’. This deep absorption in permanent reality gives a spiritual seeker happiness that transcends in quality the pleasures offered either by the body or the society. However the ‘Brahman rasa’ is an insignificant drop compared to the oceanic pleasures offered in the process of remembering and offering loving service to God. This is called ‘Bhakti rasa’, the pleasure derived in loving reciprocal exchanges between God and living entity. When a human being thus practises loving devotional service to God, he experiences ‘Bhakti rasa’, the culmination or summum bonum of ‘happiness’. Therefore this grade of bliss, called as ‘Bhakti rasa’ is there for all human beings to explore and exploit to the fullest capacity.
‘Happiness’ through choice or instinct?
The third difference between humans and animals is the ability of humans to make proper choices and take responsibility for seeking higher pleasures. Animals can’t make choices. They act out of instinct. When faced with a stimulus, animals respond instinctively; they have no freedom of choice. Humans however can pause and reflect; and respond to the stimulus based on an independent choice. The existence of free will is a special human endowment that gives them the power to choose their response. For example if you slap a child on the back, the child may cry instantly; there is no gap between stimulus and response. However if you slap a grown up man on the back, he will pause before he responds to the stimulus. In the space between the stimulus and response, he may analyse if the slap was friendly, sarcastic or out of hatred. Depending on his perception of the reality he shall then exercise his choice. Thus humans can make a conscious choice to seek higher happiness; they don’t have to necessarily act out of basic animal instinct. They have the power to say ‘no’ to the pulling of the mind. And that power is tapped through the fourth endowment.
The fourth difference (‘D’ in ABCD) is Determination. Once having made a choice to seek spiritual pleasures, we need to exercise determination. Humans have tremendous potential to practise determination, even in the most trying circumstances of life. Animals, even if they exercise determination, it’s essentially for meeting the requirements of SEED. Humans on the other hand can pursue a determined effort to experience a higher, transcendental pleasure.
The similarities between humans and animals are ‘SEED’ (Sleeping, Eating, Enjoyment, and Defending). The differences can be remembered as ‘ABCD’ (Ability to enquire, Bliss, Choice, and Determination).
To be continued… Are humans more miserable than animals?
The author holds a master’s degree in International Finance and Management (MBA). He serves as a full-time resident devotee at ISKCON Chowpatty and teaches Krishna consciousness to students at universities. He also conducts devotional seminars and training programmes for the temple’s congregation members.
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