“If a bag of rice is placed in a public place, birds will come to eat a few grains and go away. A human being, however, will take away the whole bag. He will eat all his stomach can hold and then try to keep the rest in storage.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Instruction, 2 Purport)
Comparisons to the animal community are a favorite tool of the Vaishnava preacher, he who understands the equality shared across every form of life, large and small, due to their identities being part and parcel of Brahman, or pure spirit. The human being is unique because he can understand this equality and the cause for the variety in species. Therefore anytime he acts in a way that is worse than an animal, there is cause for concern, as the behavior indicates that the higher potential for knowledge is not being tapped. Only until the purpose of human life is achieved, that one goal exclusively assigned to the most intelligent species, can there be any question of superiority or evolution in terms of fitness.
The theory of evolution, although having some complexities, basically asserts that the fittest group within a certain species bands together and then creates offspring who are then superior in nature. As more and more fit groups follow this tact, the species themselves evolve into something more advanced. This is how it is believed the human being evolved from its roots as a monkey species. Aside from the fact that it is impossible for a monkey to create a human being or any other type of non-monkey species, there is the glaring flaw related to fitness. Just how does a scientist observe whether one group within a particular species is fitter or not? Does not every living being die at some point? If there were a fitter group amongst human beings, wouldn’t they be immortal and not subject to death?
The Vaishnava, the devotee of Lord Vishnu, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, understands that the only true measure of fitness is the development of consciousness. Since everything comes from God, janmady asya yatah, only when the mind is completely filled with loving thoughts devoted to the Supreme Lord, His persona, His paraphernalia, and how to constantly serve Him can there be any question of purification of consciousness. In the absence of this elevation in thought processes, all species, human or otherwise, are on an equal footing. One group may sleep on the floor, while another has a mattress with adjustable settings for each side, but the act of sleeping is still the same. One species may eat garbage, while another enjoys gourmet food on a regular basis, but the supply of nutrients going to the body is the same in either case.
In the absence of a fully developed consciousness, there is no question of fitness. Generally, the indicator used to determine whether a group within a species is superior or not is their level of enjoyment and their duration of life. The fish that lives longer than another fish is deemed superior. But according to the Vedic model, a life devoted to eating, sleeping, mating and defending has no scales of ascending stature. Time is also not a factor, as the spirit soul, the essence of life, exists perpetually. The lifespan is simply a measurement of time, a value that varies from living entity to living entity. If one being lives for one hundred years and another for five, if they both fail to properly develop their consciousness, the effects of their life’s experiences are the same. The soul never dies, so even if there is early exit from a particular form, the soul is immediately granted a new residence to continue its activities.
The human being is considered the most advanced form of body because of the potential for understanding God, the origin of both spirit and matter. In the absence of this pursuit, athato brahma jijnasa – which means “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or the Supreme Truth” – the human being is actually inferior to the animals in many ways. A wonderful example often referenced by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to illustrate this point is the differences in behavior between animals and human beings when it comes to procuring food. If a bag of rice is dropped in the middle of the street, the animal species, such as the birds, will only take what it needs to satisfy its hunger and then move on. It will not hoard the rice for itself or keep it in stock to be sold later on.
The inquisitive person at this point may ask, “Well, doesn’t that show that the bird is stupid? If you find a bunch of rice, you can turn it into a commodity, a way to sustain your livelihood. Wouldn’t an intelligent person grab all the rice and either carefully eat away at it or sell the surplus for a profit?” This is indeed what the human being would be inclined to do. Pick up the rice before someone else grabs it, as competition for earning a profit is very fierce in the human society. Since there is greater opulence and enhanced levels of enjoyment in eating, sleeping and mating, the human being is more alert to defending his property, as he feels he has a lot to protect. By grabbing as much rice as possible, a person thinks they get further protection against hunger and destitution.
But the more intelligent person would ask, “Where do the birds and other animals get their food from? They don’t have a government managing their affairs, redistributing wealth and providing for the poor. They don’t open businesses and try to earn a profit selling goods and services. If the bird doesn’t hoard the surplus rice that is found on the street, does it die later on for want of food? Does the surplus of rice found in the street represent its only chance at survival?” These questions indicate a sober mindset, a mentality which has advanced past the base animal instincts. We learn from Vedic scriptures like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His original form, supplies everything to everyone. The animal kingdom is populated with living entities as well, spirit souls that are Brahman at the core. Hence they too are intimately related to Krishna.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
Even if one is blinded by the incorrect assertion that Krishna is just a Hindu deity, it is still a rational viewpoint to take God to be the source of everything, including those things supplied by nature. Even under the atheistic model that follows the evolution theory, there is a supreme authority: nature, the force responsible for the so-called advancement in the species. The sun rises and sets at regular and predictable intervals, and the seasons come at the same time each year. In fact, nature’s scheduled tasks are so predictable and taken for granted that if there are any changes witnessed, any anomalies that can’t be understood, man somehow thinks he is responsible for them. If he can somehow get the “peons” to stop driving their cars and start recycling, then the weather will change.
But nature operates under intelligence, as does any machine made of material elements. The body is like a finely tuned automobile. Though it is a terrific specimen, it would be useless without a driver. Moreover, just like the car, the body was carefully designed by a spiritual spark, a life force. Just as the automobile and the body of a human being are created and maintained by the intelligence of spirit, so the nature that provides everything to us is controlled by a living force. The animal kingdom gets all the food they need and the shelter required to sustain their lives. A bird may not be very intelligent, but it knows enough to fly south for the winter and return when the weather gets warmer. It knows to fly away at the last second when a car is approaching. It also knows where to get food and how much to eat. If such abilities and tendencies are present in the bird, why would they be absent in the human being, whom it is widely agreed is a superior species?
The true benefit of the intelligence given to human beings is not the ability to hoard more and more resources that are well-provided by nature. The human being doesn’t need to take the entire bag of rice to stay alive, as there is enough intelligence within the brain to figure out how to procure food when it is needed. But because of the hoarding mentality, the greedy mindset urged on by fears of losing everything, the human society is artificially put into scarcity. Some of the poorest nations in the world are ones that have the most fertile land available for growing food. The greedy mentality, especially when it infiltrates the governing bodies, those whose duty it is to apply the law equally and fairly, brings about levels of suffering not seen even in the animal community. With basic property rights and the ability to keep and enjoy the fruits of labor, a society can flourish in terms of material wealth. Indeed, it is seen that in developed countries the level of opulence is so great that even the poor are well-equipped with food, clothing, shelter, automobiles, air conditioning, and many other items of enjoyment.
So how do we avoid the hoard mentality? We know that if we don’t pick up the stray rice on the street, someone else will in a second. Anyone who has ever left a defective television set or old furniture by their curb to be thrown out knows how quickly someone else will come to take it. The items are picked up so swiftly that it leaves the homeowner wondering whether or not their house is under constant surveillance. When you’re driving in an urban environment, there is no room for being kind to other cars and allowing them to enter spaces that you intend to enter. If you follow the unselfish mentality in these situations, you will not get anywhere, as car after car will jam the spaces you want to enter. These are the issues facing the human society lacking God consciousness. Therefore only when the origin of all property is sought out, understood, and then served will the proper mindset be achieved. This level of thought and practice will bring about the proper development of consciousness, allowing the boon of the human form of body to be fully utilized.
The human being has the opportunity to perform austerity, or tapasya. This is especially necessary in the early stages of life, when there is no attention paid to the need for regulation and restriction. The animal kingdom will have unregulated sex life and eating based on whatever nature provides. The human being, whose mission it is to develop consciousness, can only advance by transcending the animal instincts. In the early stages of life, if one learns to avoid meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, they will always be sober in thought. A man who is sober, or dhira, is more apt to understand the truths of life espoused by the Vedas. The first Vedic instruction given is that we are not our body; spirit does not change while the body does. Just as the body of a youth transforms drastically when they reach adulthood and then eventually again when old age is reached, the body is completely changed at the time of death. Only a self-realized man, one who is fully sober through practice of regulation of the senses, can understand this.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
After we understand that we are spirit and not the body, we have to understand what the properties of spirit are. What activities should a spirit soul take up and why? From further study, we learn that the soul is part and parcel of Krishna, or God. Hence the individual is meant to always remain in the Lord’s company, at least in consciousness. The material bodies of the living entities are situated in foreign lands; they are not meant to be permanent homes. The consciousness of the individual at the time of death determines the next stop in the train of reincarnation. When thoughts are focused on God at this most important time, a spiritual body is awarded for the next life. And unlike the duration spent in a material form, the lifespan of a spiritual body cannot be properly measured. Just as Krishna remains forever in the spiritual sky, so do His liberated associates who have chosen against life in the material world. Mother Nature provides the necessities to her residents, and Krishna similarly gives His devotees whatever they require to remain steadily connected with Him.
So how do we change our consciousness? In this day and age the recommended practice is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There is no scarcity with this mantra; it is available to every single person to be utilized as often as they please. Chanting it over and over again can only benefit us and also those whose lives we touch. When there is pure Krishna consciousness, there is no desire to usurp another’s property and no fear that we will be destitute should we not give full attention to artha, or economic development. From simultaneous dedication to tapasya, the living entity learns to survive only on what it needs to maintain the vital force within the body; hence there is no question of excess. As a result, sobriety can be maintained and the proper course of action in any situation, including one where the animalistic tendencies are most prone to emerge, can be easily deciphered.