1.6
April 12, 2010

Human or Animal, what makes the difference? ~ Shashi Joshi

A well-known Sanskrit shloka goes – “Food, sleep, fear and mating, these acts of humans are similar to animals. Of humans, dharma (right conduct, virtue) is the only special thing, without dharma humans are just animals.”

āhāra-nidrā-bhaya-maithunaṁ cha samānaṁ-étad-pashubhiḥ-narāṇām |

dharmo hi téshām-adhiko viṣheṣho dharméṇa-hīnāḥ pashubhiḥ samānāḥ ||

Let us look deeper at this assertion.

Biology teaches us, Darwin postulated, and the wisdom of Indian land always held that all living beings are of common stock, made from similar life units – cells; evolved, changed and mutated through time. In other words, at a gross material level, we are all similar. Basic functions of all life forms are breathing and digestion. Krishna says in Gītā, that “Armed with breath and digestion, residing in the life forms, I digest four types of foods.” All life forms are upheld by this divine force of Life.

Incarnation theory says that since life principle is same in all living forms, a soul can travel in various physical forms. Human body is the epitome of life perfection. Why? How? We see that we cannot run faster, smell better, bite harder, swim deeper, hear better than animals. Nothing! Left alone in the forest, we won’t survive for long.

Or would we? That is how we evolved and progressed in survival.

So how did we manage to beat the odds against us, beat every life form and even nature at its own game? Oh, yeah, we beat the heck out of everybody and everything.

We have the brain. That can help us make things that make us powerful. Even without fur, we can survive the winter; without sonar we can see in night; without claws we can kill wild beasts; without wings we can fly far distances. And with great power comes great responsibility. This same brain allows us to think of future consequences of present or past actions. The development of complex language has allowed us to transmit knowledge across generations and time.

But all these are tools, of progress and communication.

The biggest difference between us and animals is the ability to think forward and think for the good for others! And also bad for others. For good and bad are two sides of the same coin. At scales not possible for animals. Feudal or family revenge can destroy empires! Such long term planning, out of hatred! Or entire religions can be formed, changing the face of mankind forever for the betterment of all. We, if we want, can choose between the right and wrong actions based on our own free will.

Animals don’t have that. They usually work on their ‘animal instincts’ – eat/hunt when hungry, kill only what is needed and when it is needed. Sleep with the diurnal clock – mostly at night or, if nocturnal, then in the daytime. You never find animals sick due to lack of sleep or oversleep! Scared of natural powers beyond their control; we too were scared in the beginning, and even now if it is at the scale of the Hurricane Katrina, Haiti Earthquake, or Indian Ocean Tsunami. Animals procreate, only when it is the season. In a way they are less distracted all the other time. Most of their actions are guided by short term, instinctive motivations.

We on the other hand, may endure heavy pains for the great good – Gandhi, Wolfe, Martin Luther, Joan of Ark … why do we do that? For the dharma, for what is right. Or, we may also give heavy pains for the greater evil.

That makes us special, more than the animals, working at more than the material or body level. More than the mūlādhāra chakra! Forget about kunḍalīni awakening, some people haven’t moved above the mūlādhāra chakra, they are still living at the animal level – selfish, survival, short sighted thinking and actions.

The wise Bhartṛihari calls such people as – “bi-ped animals”, and says “the animal kingdom thanks them that at least they don’t eat grass, else even animals would curse them for food shortage.”

So, be human. Think beyond the consumption, ignorance, fear and entertainment.

See the modern market and politics. Consumption galore – fast food, carbonated drinks, alcoholic drinks, tobacco products make almost all of visible economy (money wise)! Everywhere there are advertisements, telling you to buy something or the other. Creating a product and then a need for it is the basic principle of today’s market.

Politics is filled with fear tactics all over the world, diversion tactics. Be it Osama, Saddam or H1N1 swine flu.

Life today revolves around entertainment only. How often do we hear ‘I am bored’? Everyone wants to be entertained. I say, ‘Only boring people get bored.’ We have started to forget being creative. We just want to sit back and consume. That is total ‘tamas,’ inertia, pulling and keeping us down. How many channels are there on cable TV?

And everything has to be entertainment – be it culture to kids! Even Hanuman has to be a comic character to appeal to children! People want to be entertained, not enlightened. Not even slightly enlightened. Nope. If there is no entertainment, I am outta here! And what to talk of the sexual tension in our lives! Everything revolves around that weakness. All ads somehow find a reason to have a smiling, beautiful woman covering 80% of the ad space – be it ad for a pen, car, rice, alcohol, diapers, vacation spot, airlines, or life insurance.

The market is out of control. It gives you no help in deciding what the greater good is. It only cares for the lesser self-gratification. But as Vidur warns, “We need to sacrifice the smaller selfish interests for the greater social interests.”

So? Be human. Think beyond the consumption, ignorance, fear and entertainment.

For, though we started weak and slow, now we are strong and fast. We can destroy things, and destroy them fast – be it our waistlines, the world’s resources or the fragile ecosystems of the oceans and rain forests! We have already succeeded in destroying many things, in our animal-like ignorance, except humanly-unique greed and avarice.

It is better to be a four legged animal than a two legged one.

Awaken! Arise! Be human, humane and of right conduct. You are the epitome of creation. Behave like one.

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