Modern man is proud of his technological achievements,
but a closer look into his life reveals that he is more miserable than animals.
The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian classic, implores all humans to explore the ‘ABCD’ (Ability, Bliss, Choices, Determination) and seek the true meaning and purpose of our rare and brief existence. The Mahabharata declares that if humans fail to explore this potential, then their endeavors are a waste of time and energy. Further, such men are considered no better than animals; they are said to simply be well-dressed, sophisticated, polished, two-legged animals.
On closer inspection, we can see that humans become worse than animals if they focus all their endeavors only on ‘SEED’ (Sleeping, Eating, Enjoyment, Defense). It’s imperative for humans to go beyond the basic animal propensities, failing which their plight is more lamentable than even animals. Let’s briefly discuss how.
Animals don’t need much variety in eating. A cow can eat grass her whole life. Humans make elaborate arrangements to eat, yet they seem to be more miserable than animals. A cow could eat grass her whole life, but can you imagine a human being served khichari three times a day for the rest of his life? We want a variety of dishes, from South Indian delicacies like dosas and vadas to Italian pizzas and pastas to Indian samosas, Chinese combos, etc. A cow won’t demand grass pakora one day and grass burger on another. Despite so much variety, humans are inherently discontent. There is always something the mind points out that we don’t have and this saddens us.
Even the simple act of sleeping is difficult for humans many people need to take sleeping pills and use anti-snoring machines. And how much can a human sleep even if he wants to? A cat can sleep seventy percent of the day. A snail can sleep for three years without waking even once. If a dog feels sleepy, he can sleep anywhere; humans need to look into social considerations. So many elaborate arrangements are made for human beings to sleep, yet animals wake refreshed from their sleep and humans often struggle with stupor.
Unhappy despite technology
Humans have made rapid advancement in science and technology, but essentially all of it is employed to make SEED better. As a result, the human heart is engulfed in emptiness, because despite our excellent manipulation of matter and our perfect arrangements for our pleasure, inevitably we become bored and seek newness and variety. That so many movies are released by Hollywood and Bollywood, and there are so many entertainment channels with more appearing almost daily is a testament to the dissatisfaction humans feel. Nothing seems to satiate us, for we constantly need new pleasures, new relationships, new cars, and new homes. The search will continue until we finally learn to harmonize ourselves with our inner spiritual self. It is there that deep inner contentment lies, despite the swinging fortunes and changing pleasures of this world.
Since we humans have the potential to seek out spiritual life, we should tap it. Or else we will remain sad. If a super-intelligent,dynamic entrepreneur is forced to work as a government office clerk, he shall naturally be frustrated. Similarly, we humans are spiritually dynamic by definition, and therefore we need to explore the spiritual aspects of our lives. If we don’t, we will continue to permute and combine the same basic SEED propensities with no idea of how to make ourselves happy. Since we have failed to pursue spiritual life, humans today are desperately attempting to make sleeping, eating, enjoyment, and defending better by the day.
Once at the zoo I saw a special tent with a board hanging outside that said, “Most Dangerous Animal”. We went in excitedly, but were confronted only with a large, life-sized mirror. The message was clear: humans are the most dangerous animals on earth.
Once I asked a travelling monk how he could preach in the Amazon forests I wondered why he wasn’t afraid of dangerous animals, for example. He replied, without batting an eyelid, “Of course not. I am not afraid in the Amazon because it is free from the most dangerous animals there are no humans there!”
With the wonderful and fertile brain that God has bestowed on humankind, we have created a revolution in the fields of arts, science, and culture. However, with the same brain we humans have also created bombs that threaten to destroy all life on planet earth. This is a classic example of how humans are the most intelligent of all species yet pose the greatest threat to the planet. A tiny human can cage a ferocious lion and tame a wild elephant. Our strength is our intelligence unlike other animals, which have different natural abilities to protect themselves. For example, a leopard is fleet-footed, a chameleon can change color to hide, and a tortoise has a hard shell. These gifts of nature help these animals protect themselves from danger. Humans, however, are neither fleet-footed nor able to easily camouflage themselves nor armored, and yet they rule all species because of their superior intelligence. But thanks to our proclivity to pursue only SEED, human intelligence today is threatening every species on this planet. Humans are the only species whose source of protection has also become their source of destruction. This is due to wrongly directed intelligence intelligence not focused on experiencing spiritual realities.
There is more evidence to prove how human beings today, due to focusing only on SEED, are leading lives more pathetic than those of animals.
Animals are better off
Animals don’t need sleeping pills, nor do they face a threat from members of their own species. A rat doesn’t fear other rats but the cat. Humans, however, fear other humans. When we go out, we lock our house not out of fear of dogs or lions but to protect ourselves from prowling humans. In many cases, humans even fear their own family members. I heard some years ago of a seventy-five-year-old man who was found murdered in his home. An investigation later revealed that he was killed by goondas employed by his ninety-five-year-old mother. She had had him killed because he had illegally transferred all the family’s property into his own name. Later, our glorious judicial system tried her for murder. She was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at ninety-five!
Animals also don’t face artificial food scarcities created by members of the same species. Five cows won’t gang up to eat all the grass and prevent other cows from getting the food. Amongst humans, however, it’s common to see the hoarding of grains and the creation of an artificial scarcity of even basic necessities. Squalor and opulence coexist in human societies, and the gap between them is often huge.
Animals also don’t suffer from broken hearts, whereas humans seem to have constant relationship problems. So many novels, movies, and songs have been dedicated to love sagas. Animals don’t experience stress or depression. I once did a stress management seminar for class nine students. Even fourteen-year-old children nowadays need stress management training! Humans work on tight deadlines, and by the time you meet your deadline you’re dead! Animals don’t have addiction problems. Humans alone amongst all species need addiction counseling sessions. And we don’t hear of animals committing suicide, but suicide is the hallmark of human society. Suicide exposes the shallowness of human pursuits. Since humans can potentially experience the greatest happiness, on failing to pursue it they also have the potential to experience the greatest frustration and pain. This pain is expressed through suicide. Since animals can’t experience higher pleasure they don’t experience much emotional pain.
The Tragedy of modern humans
The plight of a human being who fails to use his or her special faculties for spiritual enlightenment is compared to that of a farmer who wins a lottery. A farmer using a tractor to plough his field wins a Mercedes Benz in a lucky draw contest. He gets a brilliant idea: he decides to use his Merc to plough his field from now on. What is the likelihood of his ploughing his field successfully? Rather, we can expect three results: his field will be spoiled, his car will be damaged, and he will become frustrated. Both the Mercedes and the tractor are vehicles, but they have different purposes. The tractor is meant for ploughing and the Mercedes for driving along smooth city roads. We are like the farmer. We have been awarded a Mercedes a human body which is both rare and special. Using our human body for the same sense pleasures available to animals (compared to the tractor) can’t bring the desired results.
Just as a tractor is best suited to plough a field, so animal life is best suited to enjoy bodily pleasure. A pigeon can have sex thirty times a day, but a human cannot; an elephant can eat tons of food, and a snail can sleep for months. Humans can’t enjoy to this degree. However, when they try to invest all their energy in SEED and to imitate the pleasures of animals, they get frustrated. They also experience the results like the farmer but the enjoyment is too little and brief. In fact, there is more pain than joy in pursuing material pleasure. And the human body tends to become diseased and spoiled when it’s abused while pursuing bodily pleasures. Thirdly Thegap between the expectation of pleasure and harsh reality is frustrating to a human being. Thus wise men over centuries have pleaded with humans to not waste their precious time and life in seeking temporary bodily pleasures; rather, they should seek the eternal divinity and connect to that never-ending source of happiness.
The Vedic scriptures call a person who fails to use his or her life for spiritual pursuits a krpana. Translated literally, krpana means “miser.” Persons who use their human faculties to seek God are called brahmanas, or intelligent, broad-minded people. A miser is one who has wealth but refuses to use it. Similarly, a human being who refuses to use his powerful human body and intellect is called a miser, especially when he rather foolishly seeks temporary and fleeting bodily pleasures. The Vedic scriptures encourage us to become brahmanas and thereby make the best use of our rare human life.
In our daily life what prevents us from experiencing happiness?
To be continued…. From Relative to Real Happiness
Vraja Vihari Dasa 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.