I just realized that most of what I’ve been talking or thinking about lately is applicable to ALL conditioned souls. Holy Name is nondiscriminatory, after all, its benevolence spreads to all living entities, and service to vaiṣṇavas is beneficial for every living being, too. And there’s still that quote I can’t find about begging the Lord for a birth as a fly in a house of a vaiṣṇava so that one can always hear the Holy Name.
That last point erases all boundaries. Animals can’t chant but they can all hear. We, humans, have far better opportunities in choosing what to listen to, especially with modern technology but being born as a fly in a house of a vaiṣṇava solves this problem. Wouldn’t it be better to be born as a vaiṣṇava? Not if you are humble enough to realize that devotion can only be absorbed from others and hearing other vaiṣṇavas praise the Lord is the safest way to develop it. Our own chanting reflects our own conditioning, the Lord responds according to our desires and those are never pure enough to save ourselves. We need to hear from others, we need to appreciate bhakti in others. Flies are perfectly positioned for that while humans have pride and desire to criticize.
What is so special about being human anyway? If we can figure it out we should be able to better use our opportunities or better prioritize our service. We shouldn’t waste our human form of life on things available to all other species, they say, maybe it should be applied spiritual practices as well.
Typically, we divide the universe into three layers – demigods, humans, and demons. Demons are too atheistic, demigods are too absorbed in sense gratification, but humans are in Goldilock’s position – just right. Is that it, though?
There are upper planetary systems populated by ṛṣis, yogis, ascetics and what not. They have far better opportunities than us, they spend their entire lives in spiritual pursuits. Granted, some of them realize only the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth but many of them are devotees from the pages of Bhāgavatam, too. Even their impersonalism is of beneficial kind, like that of the four Kumāras – one whiff of the flowers offered to the Lord and they became founders of a sampradāya!
Then there are great devotees among demons, too – Prahlāda Mahārāja, Bali Mahārāja, or Vṛtrāsura, perhaps the greatest in the universe, so being born in demoniac families or on demoniac planets does not automatically preclude one from the opportunity for spiritual progress, so what’s so special about being human?
Perhaps it’s a matter of probabilities, law of averages. Perhaps humans have better opportunities on average while everyone’s personal situation is different. There are humans who live their entire life without ever hearing about God, like some Amazonian tribes that can count only up to five. They sure have local guardian spirits but no concept of the Absolute Truth comparable to that of the world religions. Some die young, some become atheists – there’s always the possibility of human form of life going to waste.
Śrīla Prabhupāda loved to quote athāto brahma jijñāsā – now that we have the human form of life it’s time to inquire about the Absolute. The words “human form of life” are not directly mentioned there, though, but we can be sure Prabhupāda wasn’t making it up. Afaik, atha, now, is meant there as AFTER having studied all the Vedic literatures, observed all the rituals, followed rules of varṇāśrama and so on. We ourselves are not there yet, even Lord Caitanya humbly said He was not qualified to study Vedānta. Either way, it’s for humans.
Otoh, if we are not qualified for actual brahma jijñāsa and can be saved simply by chanting – do we really need the human form of life for that? The answer could be that we are not considered proper humans by Vedic standards anyway, we haven’t undergone proper saṃskāras. When we talk about humans we need to look beyond that Vedānta verse. Śrīla Prabhupāda didn’t mention what was considered human enough to inquire about Brahman but it didn’t take anything away anything from his point – by Lord Caitanya’s grace even we can make significant spiritual progress, never mind that Vedānta Sūtra he was quoting from wasn’t written for us.
So what makes us special? Having a mouth to chant is one obvious thing, but, more importantly, our birth during the presence of Lord Caitanya’s movement. Billions of humans came before us and wasted their lives away, relatively speaking. Billions will come after and fail to progress anywhere, too, as there’s four hundred thousand years of Kali Yuga for them to go through.
What makes us different is the opportunity to take shelter of Lord Caitanya and His devotees. Without them our mouths would be useless, our ears would be useless, our brains would be useless, like nipples on goat’s neck.
Modern society puts a lot of value on being smart and educated, we bring this attitude with us to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, too. We never forget that chanting is the sign of sumedhasah, those gifted with great intelligence. Even when we realize that our brains aren’t good enough to remember ślokas we still cherish our intelligence. There are simple devotees among us, too, but practically everyone knows philosophy inside out on the level unthinkable even in Lord Caitanya’s time. We might not know Vedic culture nearly as well but those people had no idea who Kṛṣṇa really was and never heard of the gopīs, nor did they know about spiritual rasas.
Is it really helping, though? Are we better devotees because we know all about Kṛṣṇa’s most intimate pastimes? Are we better devotees because we can argue about superiority of bhakti? Are we better devotees because we can spot impersonalist tendencies everywhere we look?
Is it what human form of life was given to us for? I’m not convinced. All we need to do is chant, thinking about why is extraneous. We can’t stop it and while we are at it we might just as well argue about philosophy but then we should remember that it’s a concession, just like sex life in marriage, not a goal and not the main tool for spiritual progress.
Perhaps arguing about things is our way to mask our own lack of faith, our own insecurity. If we look at people closely enough we can see that most of the time they argue with themselves, with the possibility that opposite notions might be true. Sure, there are external carriers of these dangerous ideas but they are rarely defeated, we generally settle on presenting arguments that convince us ourselves. Opponents are too stupid to understand, we think, or too stubborn, or just plain trolling. We know what’s true and that is good enough for us, we say.
Okay, but then why do we have to convince ourselves of the same things over and over again? Is it to provide exercise for our brains or is it because we sense a weakness in ourselves and need to patch chinks in our own armor?
Is this what human form of life is given to us for? Well, it surely is useful for this kind of thing but will it actually lead to ultimate selfless surrender? Can we argue ourselves into devotion? I don’t think so, bhakti doesn’t spring from intellect, nor can we, from our conditioned platform, give up our false ego, it’s simply impossible.
What we should be doing is seeking devotion in the hearts of others. Sure, we can think all we want while we are at it, can’t stop ourselves, but, ultimately, we need to take seriously words of devotion spoken by other vaiṣṇavas. That’s the only thing our human form of life is good for in this age. Thousands years ago it was good for slow but steady progress up the Vedic ladder but not anymore.
Animals can also benefit but it’s so much harder for them, given that devotees generally don’t keep pets. Some are probably still luckier than us, considering how much time we spend on finding faults in the hearts of others. Once again, we should try and see devotion there, however well hidden or covered by layers of dust. We should learn to look past that and appreciate only devotional sentiments, in all their manifestations.
So, it’s not so much about being human but about our particular opportunities for vaiṣṇava association, and once we realize that we should utilize our human forms accordingly.