“O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.3)Download this episode (right click and save)
Athato-brahma-jijnasa. “Now is the time for inquiring about spiritual matters.” This Vedic aphorism implies that previously the time wasn’t right. What exactly was the past? Where was the living being? They were in other bodies. There are up to 8,400,000 different species, but only in the human form does this most important call to action manifest. Indeed, we know that there are many things that can only be done in the human form, indicating progressive divergence from the animal species.
1. Read the newspaper
In industrialized nations, it is not uncommon to keep a dog in the home. Dog is man’s best friend, after all. If something big happened in the world, how will the dog find out? What if you placed the newspaper in front of it? Will the dog read it? Or will it likely use the paper for something else?
This simple act, reading the newspaper, illustrates the unique ability of the human being to gather higher knowledge. Reading is nothing more than hearing. Hearing is accepting sounds produced from others. The human being is most benefitted when they hear from authority figures. The highest authority is the original person, and He passes on the highest wisdom to others, who keep the line moving for successive generations.
2. Study the psychology of beings
Hearing from authority figures is gathering knowledge through the descending process. The ascending process is another way to increase knowledge. Dogs and other animals have this ability. That is the whole meaning to training.
The human being has the unique ability to understand psychology. This involves studying the behavior of others, trying to decipher what makes them do what they do. The dogs don’t have this ability. The cats can’t understand depression, chronic anger, and jealousy. They may exhibit these emotions, but they are not able to understand the cause.
3. Understand death
The fish has no idea that it is in water. The cow doesn’t know that after a certain amount of time, death will arrive. The mature human being, on the other hand, cannot seem to forget this sobering truth. Indeed, Shri Rama once remarked that the adult has no other fear than death.
“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
Knowledge of the inevitable nature of death would seem to be a blemish on the human birth. After all, who would want to live in constant fear? Aren’t the animals living a better life as a result? Ignorance is bliss, is it not?
4. Question the reason for living
After I realize my mortality, the logical questions to follow are, “Why am I here? Why am I living?” Again, only the human being can raise these questions. From Vedic philosophy we learn that this inquisitiveness is key to reaching the height of an existence. To live is to feel bliss. Whatever gets in the way of that attainment is maya, or illusion. The sober-minded human being has the chance to escape illusion once and for all.
5. Know God
This is the summit of knowledge. The animals have a limited ability to gather knowledge. For the human being there is practically no limit. The best course is to know the person who knows everything. In the Bhagavad-gita He reveals that He is the knower in all bodies.
The field is kshetra. The knower of the field is kshetrajna. I am the localized knower inside the field that is my body. But my knowledge is limited to the local level. God, on the other hand, knows every field. He is everywhere through His expansion of the Supersoul.
Knowing God is not difficult. Through the ascending process the proper understanding will never come. There is simply not enough time nor the proper mental capacity to reach the right conclusion. Fortunately, there is the descending process. The chain of disciplic succession, parampara, brings the knowledge from on high. Those who receive this knowledge, accept it, and apply it to their way of living are the truly fortunate ones, as they make the most out of the auspicious human form.
Difference to animals indeed,
Like ability for newspaper to read.
To question life’s purpose and meaning,
Scientific data from others receiving.
Impending death to know,
Choice in association to go.
Towards God most important step,
Consciousness of Him, never to forget.