Our Human intelligence places us above the animals, but its misuse poses the greatest threat.
The impenetrable shell of the tortoise, the breathtaking swiftness of the leopard, the incredible ability of the chameleon to change its color the variety in nature is amazing. Every species of life has a special gift from nature, an ability vital for its survival and success in the struggle for existence.
Human beings have no extraordinary physical ability; their bodies are soft and vulnerable, they are not particularly fleet-footed, and they can do little to camouflage themselves when in danger. And yet humans stand far above all other species. A puny human can tame a massive elephant and encage a ferocious lion. What is the special gift of nature to humans, the unique ability that makes them superior to all other species? Undoubtedly it is the advanced human intelligence. Empowered by their intelligence, humans have subjugated all the lower species. Not only that, humans have also built civilizations, developed cultures, devised languages, written literature, come up with fine arts, inquired into metaphysics, and advanced in science and technology.
Strangely enough, in the modern times, by that same intelligence, humans have created weapons of mass destruction, which threaten to wipe out all life on the planet. Furthermore by that same intelligence, humans have developed perverted ideologies, by which they foster animosity and hatred for others of their own species. In 1904, the philosopher William James said, "Man, biologically considered and whatever else he may be, is simply the most formidable of the beasts of prey, and, indeed, the only one that preys systematically on its own species." This then is the irony of the present condition of humanity: The very source of protection for the human race its advanced intelligence threatens to destroy it.
Advancing in Animalism
Let's look at the situation from another perspective. All living beings are driven by a craving for pleasure. All subhuman species search for pleasure through the bodily activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Humans do the same, but in more refined ways. For example, a bird lives in the same type of nest year after year, generation after generation, but humans try to improve their residences from huts, to apartments, to bungalows, to villas. A cow eats grass all its life, but humans choose their food from a large variety of cuisine.
Modern scientific advancement has given a sophisticated look to human activities; humans move about in cars, fly around in planes, work on computers, and communicate globally through the Internet. Despite all their scientific progress, humans still seek pleasure through food, sex, sleep, and shows of strength just like animals. Animals may gorge on refuse in a garbage pile, whereas humans may titillate their tongues with processed, packaged food. Animals may mate in the middle of the street, whereas humans may cultivate erotic fantasies through magazines, television, movies, and the Internet before indulging in carnal revelry. Animals may sleep on the hard street, whereas humans may sink into oblivion on a soft bed in an air-conditioned room. Animals may snarl and show their teeth, whereas humans may brandish weapons of mass destruction. Thus scientific advancement may have changed the forms of human activity, but it has hardly changed the purpose. Hence it is no surprise that worldwide most of the funds for scientific research come from the military (a hi-tech arrangement for defending) and the consumer industry (which offers sophisti-cated methods for eating, sleeping, and sex).
Despite all these complicated arrangements, are modern humans better off than the animals? Animals don't die of starvation because of artificial shortages created by others of their own species, animals don't suffer from insomnia, animals don't suffer heartbreaks because of betrayed love, animals don't feel stressed because of overwork and loneliness, animals don't fall prey to addictions, and animals don't commit suicide. Mark Twain commented, "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."
The Opportunity of Human Life
The Vedic texts offer some interesting insights into this strange irony. They agree that humans are endowed with a higher intelligence that makes them unique among all forms of life. They further state that this higher human intelligence is meant for a purpose far loftier than searching for better ways to obtain bodily pleasures. Equipped with their special intelligence, humans are meant to probe into the deepest mysteries of life. The Vedic texts thus urge intelligent humans to explore the spiritual frontier of life.
For the enterprising spiritual scientists, the Vedic texts present a cogent, consistent, and comprehensive body of knowledge that answers all the fundamental questions of life. In essence, they explain that a non-material self, known as the atma, or the soul, animates the body and a similar non-material Supreme Being, known as the Paramatma, or the Supersoul, animates the cosmos. When the soul and the Supersoul are in harmony, the soul can experience the fullness of life. When the soul is in a subhuman body, it has no opportunity to achieve this fullness, as the undeveloped consciousness of the animal body allows no access to the spiritual dimension. Only in the human body does the soul have the intelligence to penetrate the superficial world of matter and perceive the spiritual energy within the cosmos. Humans alone can harmonize themselves not only with the cosmic energies, but also with the supreme energetic person, the source and the basis of the cosmos.
The Massive Blunder
In modern times, humans have exercised their intellects tirelessly to understand the world of matter. This has resulted in significant advances in science and technology. But modern science has been dogmatically reluctant to investigate the spiritual dimension of life. A thinking person can easily perceive that life has an aspect higher than the material. Can electrons think? Can atoms have emotions? Can molecules desire? Can chemicals love? Obviously not. Indeed, within the framework of material science there is no explanation whatsoever for the phenomenon of consciousness. Although the reality of consciousness is undeniable, modern science has done precious little to understand it; indeed most scientists have religiously restricted themselves to the study of matter.
The Vedic literature asserts that to keep the human intellect locked within the realm of matter is gross under-utilization of the potential of human life. Worse still, when deprived of access to the spiritual realm, human beings cannot enjoy the fullness they intrinsically long for. They frantically search for that fullness by manipulating matter in newer and newer ways, but to no avail. The resulting frustration stunts, throttles, and distorts them. Overindulgence in matter and negligence of spirit backfires and results in disharmony, distress, and disaster.
Over the last five centuries, the widespread acceptance of the scientific worldview and the concomitant negligence or rejection of spirituality has resulted in a colossal imbalance of material and spiritual values. The modern world is witnessing the catastrophic consequences of disharmonious living. Individually there is an increase in dissatisfaction, stress, depression, addiction, and suicide, and globally there is an increase in unrest, crime, violence, and terrorism.
Happiness Beyond the Senses
The Vedic texts explain that real happiness comes not by sensual titillation, but by selfless love. And the perfection of love comes when it is reposed in such a way that it is never limited or thwarted. Every soul has an eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Person in a higher-dimensional deathless realm. Human life, with its developed consciousness, provides the soul the opportunity to revive that relationship. Therefore the Vedic texts urge intelligent humans to focus their energies not on pandering to the demands of the mortal body, but on awakening the loving nature of the immortal soul.
To achieve this divine harmony of love, the Vedic texts delineate a systematic program centered on meditation on divine sound, especially the chanting of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. A human being advancing on the way to harmony gains access, in this very life, to a whole new world of profound knowledge, thrilling experience, and ever-increasing happiness, along with indifference to the hankerings of the flesh. This sweet harmony of divine love culminates in the return of the soul to the spiritual milieu, to rejoice eternally in endless love with the Supreme.
The essence of a living being is desire; our desires direct and determine our entire life. People may have seemingly special externals fancy hairstyles, fashionable clothing, hi-tech mobile phones, flashy cars, and so on. But if their desires are the same as those of the ordinary animals to attract the opposite sex, to seek titillation of the tongue, and so on they are nothing more than sophisticated animals. Srila Prabhupada would poigniantly remark that a dog may move on four legs and a human in a car with four wheels, but if the essential purpose for which both are moving is the same seeking bodily pleasures how is the human superior to the dog?
Human beings become truly special only when their desires are higher than those of the animals. They then dare to desire the highest happiness, which genuine spirituality alone can provide. Being connoisseurs of pleasure, they reject the pleasures the animals seek, considering these pleasures unworthy of developed intelligence. They wisely refuse to tread the beaten track that all other living beings pursue, a path that leads to old age, disease, and death. The Bhagavad-gita (7.3) declares that a human being in this consciousness is very special and rare one among millions.
Therefore the onus is on each of us to choose our desires. Will we continue to be just ordinary creatures, with the same desires of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending as those of the millions and billions of life forms all over the globe? Will we continue to be just another figure in the meaningless statistics of this world? Or will we be bold enough to be special, by pursuing lofty spiritual goals in life? Will we take up the challenge of pioneering an ongoing global spiritual awakening that is the only hope for the modern misdirected civilization? The world is waiting to see.
Caitanya Carana Dasa, 26, is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He holds a degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. He runs a free cyber magazine, The Spiritual Scientist, which gives a scientific presentation of Krsna conscious philosophy. To receive new issues as they come out, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.