“Suffering without knowledge, without remedy, is animal life. One who cannot understand that he is suffering and who thinks that he is very well off is in animal consciousness, not human consciousness. The human being should be cognizant of suffering the threefold miseries of this planet. One should know that he is suffering in birth, suffering in death, suffering in old age and suffering in disease, and one should be inquisitive as to how he may avoid the suffering. That is real research work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Easy Journey To Other Planets, Ch 2)
Friend1: I once heard His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada discuss the differences between animals and human beings in terms of the ability to detect suffering.
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: In the case of the slaughterhouse, the goat or lamb has no idea what is about to happen. This other living entity is approaching, ready to inflict the worst kind of suffering. The animal has no way to mitigate.
Friend2: They are not smart enough to realize.
Friend1: Whereas the human being has discrimination. They can discern the warning signs. Through observation, experiment, memory and recall, they might be able to avoid the situation.
Friend2: Which can go wrong in the extreme, as well.
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: Well, if for instance my foot is hurting. I decide that to get rid of the pain, it is best to just chop off the foot.
Friend2: Right, which in some cases is required, but not here. Another example is when I am afraid of catching a virus. To mitigate the risk, I decide to put a face covering on.
Friend1: That seems to be the requirement these days.
Friend2: Of course any biased study will confirm the hypothesis. If you prevent someone from breathing, they surely will have less of a chance of catching a virus and giving it to someone else.
Friend1: And if you can’t breathe, you can’t really live.
Friend2: That’s why I said the discrimination aspect can be a negative. I am so afraid of what will happen to me in the outside world that I decide to lock myself in the home for one year or more.
Friend1: Which is ridiculous, if you think about it. That’s not living.
Friend2: Yet people are doing it.
Friend1: Anyway, the ability to discriminate is still a distinction from the animal species. The human being can try to avoid suffering. Yet, to me that seems like a curse more than a benefit.
Friend1: The animal is happy-go-lucky. They have no idea what is going on. Okay, they cannot easily avoid oncoming attack without extra assistance. They cannot see that the person wielding the knife is not a friend. Yet they reach the same fate as the human being.
Friend2: In what sense?
Friend1: Death. The ultimate end.
Friend2: But the human being can try to escape the suffering and live longer.
Friend1: Who cares? The tree stands there for thousands of years. It doesn’t contemplate suffering. How is the human birth superior, then?
Friend2: Because we have the chance to get to the root cause of the suffering. You are correct. We try to fix the pain in the foot. We attempt to avoid contagious respiratory illnesses through hiding in this place and that. We fix the economic problem by advancing in a corporate field.
Friend1: These are little problems. There will always be suffering.
Friend2: Thus arises the need to get to the bottom of the issue. Find out what is causing all of the suffering. The acharya explains that it is birth itself.
Friend1: Which birth? As an animal or as a human being?
Friend2: Any and all. As soon as you enter the material world, you have to live by the rules of the land of birth and death, mrityu-loka.
Friend1: Is there a way to prevent such a birth from taking place.
Friend2: Someone who reaches Shri Krishna’s abode never has to return to mrityu-loka.
पुनर् आवर्तिनो ऽर्जुन
माम् उपेत्य तु कौन्तेय
पुनर् जन्म न विद्यते
punar āvartino ‘rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
Friend1: Barring this pursuit, the human birth would definitely be a curse.
Friend2: Because you know about the suffering and can’t really do anything about it?
Friend1: Exactly. If I tell someone about the ultimate cause of suffering, how will they believe me?
Friend2: That is the objective of the spiritual master. Enlighten those who are inquisitive. Reveal to them their true identity and the cause of their suffering. To approach a guru is mandatory for the human being. Without such a link to the Divine, through the chain of disciplic succession, there is no way to assemble the bits and pieces of information in time for quitting the body.
Friend1: The information has to be accepted instead of gathered?
Friend2: We cannot discover it on our own. That is the negative reality, but on the positive the Supreme Lord is kind enough to send empowered disciples to this world to rescue us. Upon approaching such a person, we meet the full potential of the human birth and feel eternal gratitude as a result.
The full potential meeting,
When guru greeting.
Who the cause revealing,
Of suffering feeling.
When to this world sent,
Forced in this way spent.
But human being blessed,
Since real problem addressed.