How does a human being differ from what we call lower orders of life ?
Is it just that we stand and move on two legs consistently which the animals cannot achieve ?
Is it because we use our taste buds better, see with our eyes lot more things, do with our limbs lot more things, hear with our ears lot more organized sound, enjoy the pleasures of skin much more than the animals do?
If you say yes, I grant you your right to maintain that proud view of yourself.
The main difference is that humans have a capacity for thinking beyond the five senses. We have transgressed the domain of senses, and with our mind, the human race probes nature’s secrets and unravels the mysteries of life.
Intellect may have become an important feature of human life as compared to animal life.
But sheer intellect is nothing of importance unless it is supported by moral sense of man. Reasoning helps us develop the willpower to control our natural impulses and to prod us on our path to a set goal.
Man’s recognition of his higher self and his ability to utilize the higher self to dominate the lower self is the real strength of humanity that sets man apart.
“Self-assertion and self-aggrandizement are the instinctive urges of animal life. Self-denial and self-sacrifice are the human attributes developed by moral culture.” Man alone considers it glorious to sacrifice his life for the sake of the ideal. We revere them as heroes who have been martyrs in religion, in science, in nationalism.
A life devoid of meaning and purpose makes the man just a breathing machine in human form. A life bereft of morals makes him no better than animals. The practice of devilry as duplicity, hypocrisy, treachery, conspiracy, and tyranny that so often marks man’s dealings with man is unknown to the animal world.
William Wordsworth writes in his poem:
I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.
To her fair works did nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
But to be fair, in judging a man we should consider the fact that there are men and men. We should consider as examples the true types of humanity and not the degenerate groups of individuals. An apple tree is not judged after all by the unripe, rotten, or worm-eaten fruits.
The crowning glory of human life is self-knowledge. Man can know himself as he really is. The body does not constitute his real self, nor the mind, nor the combination of the body and the mind. Self is the knower of the body as well as of the mind. Intelligence is the essence of the self, as the knower, and not of the mind.
The self is the spiritual basis of the phenomenal existence. The body cannot hold it, nor can the mind. It must be one with the Supreme Being.
German mystic Meister Eckhart (1260-1328 AD) says clearly:
To get at the core of God at his greatest, one must first get into the core of oneself at his least, for no one can know god who has not first known himself. Go to the depth of the soul, the secret place of the Most High, to the roots, to the heights, for all that God can do is focused there.
Man’s intrinsic nature is related to the Almighty God’s. Swami Vivekananda famously is quoted by everybody : Religion is the manifestation of Divinity already in Man. It obviously means that divinity is already there in man when he is born, irrespective of his religious faith and upbringing.
According to science, man is a risen animal; according to religion man is a fallen spirit.
If we have to reconcile both these views, WHICH ARE NEVERTHELESS CORRECT IN THEIR RESPECTIVE APPROACHES, we have to accept that humanity must be somewhat placed somewhere in the space between the animal at the lowest rung and the spirit at the highest.
We have to think and act to improve our ranking.
Based mainly on the Introduction to the book THE GOAL AND THE WAY by Swami Satprakashananda, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai.