Friday, March 12, 2010

Man Vs Beast

The more I learn about animal behaviour, the more I am struck by how many remarkably human qualities they have. Hippos mourn for their dead, hyenas and wild dogs have amazing team working skills, and in foxes the female fox has to leave her pack and find a mate in another pack( and win over the other members). Chimpanzees have been known to paint and there are dogs that can even spell! More interestingly, there is a particular species of lizard who mate for life and sometimes even starve for days in grief if their mate dies before them! Life in the animal world has everything from authority hierarchies and cruelty, to cunningness, emotions and even fun!

This made me wonder, what really differentiates human beings from animals? It is unequivocally claimed that man is on top of the food chain and he is superior to all species. We claim to be more intelligent than them, but I do believe that all of the above examples are a clear display of intelligence. Yet intutively everyone agrees that man is superior and I really wanted to know how?

Turning to the scriptures I found this beautiful verse:
'aahar nidra bhay maithunamcha
samanyam etat pashubhir naranam
dharmo hi tesham adhiko vishesho
dharmena hina pashubhir naranam.'
Eating, sleeping, mating and defending are 4 activities common to both man and animals. It is only 'dharma', that makes a human being special. Without dharma, man is no better than an animal.

The verse explains that both human beings and animals have the necessary intelligence to perform four activities- eating, sleeping, mating and defending. All species know how to fill their bellies, how to obtain a safe shelter for resting, how to raise their young and how to defend against enemies. But what makes human beings special is Dharma.

What is this Dharma? An external meaning of dharma is righteous duty. But in the ninth chapter of the Bhagvad Gita, Lord Krishna says that spiritual knowledge is dharma. Infact, Srila Prabhupada explains that the duty of man is to acquire spiritual knowledge. This is the dharma that is being referred to in this verse.
If we think about it, we can understand that animals cannot inquire. They cannot ask questions like

Only as human beings, we can ask questions. However if we use this ability to inquire only to increase facilities for eating, sleeping, mating and defending then we are no better than animals. Instead, by inquiring about the spirit, one can live upto the true potential of being human, apply what we learn in our life and achieve eternal bliss.

[P.S- This article and the links within it summarize the entire Vedic Philosophy of life as given in the Bhagvad Gita. If you are interested in knowing more and experiencing spirituality for yourself do visit your nearest ISKCON center.(Just Google ISKCON [Name of your city] :) )


  1. True !! It is said Humans are social animals. In fact now-a-days I feel Animals are more disciplined and responsible than most humans. Good to know that today's youth are still interested in spiritual ideas !! But i think U missed one thing which is the most important difference between humans and animals... Humans can smile !! They can laugh and express their happiness !! Unfortunately Animals can't do so.

  2. Thanks for reading and appreciating.
    Sorry to differ, but animals can express their happiness too. Dogs wag their tail, cats purr, even bees fly in a distinctive pattern when happy. Only ways of expression are different but the emotion is there.....

  3. Thank for sharing it..its invaluable...all the qualities you have noted in animals are one in each animal, but man has all.

  4. Differences of opinions / Learning to disagree or agree without any hostility.