By Venugopal Acharya - 24.11 2017

Real happiness is more than the happiness enjoyed by animals.  A king enquired from a  learned sage, “I often wonder what happiness really is. O enlightened one, could you please reveal to me the secrets of happiness?” The sage cast his merciful glance upon the king and said, “Dear king, happiness is simply a butterfly.” The king, confused by the cryptic answer, probed further, to which the revered sage smiled and said, “Very soon, O King, it will be revealed to you.”

The sage then departed, leaving the king confused about the mysterious wisdom he had just heard. A few days later as the king relaxed in his royal garden, he saw a butterfly resting on a leaf. Intrigued by the sage’s wisdom that he had pondered upon, he carefully went behind to catch the butterfly. As soon as he moved his hand, the butterfly flew away and landed on another plant. The king pursued the butterfly, but each time the insect slipped away to another leaf, flower or a plant. A little later, the king, exasperated by his unsuccessful attempts, resigned to his seat. As he closed his eyes, he felt a slight itch on his arm. Slowly he opened his eyes and, lo and behold, the same butterfly now rested on his arm. He was amazed, and just then a special realization gushed forth in his heart, “Yes, the sage was indeed right.

Happiness is a butterfly, for when we intensely search after it, it eludes us and when we least expect it, we receive it.” Similarities between humans and animals To explore higher and deeper levels of happiness, we need to understand that humans are a very special species in God’s creation, and they are capable of experiencing a much more satisfying and purposeful life. Let us first examine the similarities and differences between humans and animals.

The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian scripture, highlights the similarities that form the acronym SEED: ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca samanyam etat pasubhir naranam dharmo hi tesam adhiko viseso dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah Nidra means “sleeping,” ahara refers to “eating,” maithuna is “sex life or enjoyment,” and “bhaya” is “defending.” (Thus the acronym SEED is indicative of these four similarities between animals and humans) We can examine each of these four more elaborately.

The SEED of Humans and Animals While animals eat raw, uncooked food, without complaint, humans thrive on a variety of foodstuffs. And they can get fussy about it too. Yet we observe that the propensity and experience of eating is similar to both. However it is the humans who have degraded to lower than animals in their eating propensities. While on one hand we have a rich inter-continental cuisine, on the other hand humans also experiment with foods that are unnatural to the human body. A friend of mine in Singapore had a Chinese lady secretary who sipped on monkey blood during her office breaks. She also feasted on roasted snakes as her favorite delicacy.

Multinational companies spend  millions of dollars on research to improve the nutrient content of chocolates, potato wafers or corn flakes all in pursuance of the glorious activity of eating. Sleeping isn’t a problem for animals. They sleep anywhere without an alarm to wake them. Sleeping isn’t a problem for the animals. Humans have plush apartments and expensive bedrooms, and even special water beds have been designed to help them experience a sound sleep. Once we are fast asleep, it doesn’t matter if we are lying on the road or resting on an attractive bed.

The experience of sleeping, the Mahabharata declares, is the same for a human and an animal. Humans, however, spend a great amount of energy, time and money figuring out how to get good, undisturbed sleep. Special alarm clocks have been designed that compel even the most die-hard sleeper to wake up. One such chicken-shaped alarm clock rings, making the eggs fall off the clock. The loud noise of the alarm is accompanied by the scattering of eggs. One has to collect all the eggs and put them back inside the clock to stop its ringing. The rationale behind it is that by the time one finishes the task, his sleepiness has gone. Another alarm clock is shaped like a fan. The moment it goes off, it also flies all over the room.

One has to wake up and catch the fan with great endeavor. This amounts to a good workout until one finally manages to turn it off. By then, one fully awake. German scientists have created a special bed that is super-programmed through latest software technology. For example, if one plans to wake up at three in the afternoon but desires to experience a sunrise, this bed will create a pleasing sound of bird song and a fragrance of early morning flowers. The bed guarantees to wake up a sound sleeper with water aimed at the eyes of the sleeper. If one still doesn’t get up, the bed has an eject system that will throw the person out, thus ensuring that he is fully awake.

Human intellect has also discovered sleep-enhancers and drugs that induce sleep; even a diehard insomniac can take those medications and experience sound sleep. It’s amazing how animals on the other hand can sleep anywhere at any time. Thus we see that the precious human intelligence has been channeled to experience pleasures that are easily met by the animals.

Enjoyment primarily refers to sex life. Animals do it on the street. Humans have a sophisticated set up of courtship and they go through a lot of struggle and emotional complexities as they seek to fulfil gross carnal pleasures. Defending is the fourth similarity between humans and animals. While animals defend with their claws, humans have metal detectors, special locks, bank insurances, security men, buzzer alarms, and enormous defense expenditures. Thus we can see humans and animals pursue similar goals. However intuitively we know humans are special. What makes humans special vis-a-vis the animals? The answer to this question will help us discover newer and richer happiness. To be continued….  How are Humans special?

How are Humans Special?

How are humans different from animals? One may imagine that an animal can’t think logically, can’t reason, question, or use intelligence. These are special gifts awarded to humans alone. However, on closer inspection it’s obvious that animals also use intelligence. For instance, have you seen a cat sneak into the kitchen when nobody is watching? She knows exactly when to enter and where the milk is kept.  In the ashrama where I stay, we were each given a couple of hangers to hang our shirts after we washed them. We would leave our shirts hanging on the terrace of the ashrama.

Gradually, all ashrama residents lost their hangers, and we wondered who had stolen them and when. As the weeks passed we forgot about the incident.Then one day as I was standing on the terrace, I saw something that shocked me. On the top branch of a tree next to the ashrama was a beautiful bird’s nest. I say “beautiful” because it was so unusual: it was made entirely of clothes hangers! I called the other inmates, and we all witnessed the amazing skill of these simple birds. Where did these birds learn to make a nest, leave alone an expert one made of hangers?

We’ve never heard of birds studying civil engineering at the premier Indian Institute of Technology. No, animals have an inborn intelligence.The only difference between their intelligence and ours is that they can’t think or use their intelligence beyond what we call the ‘SEED’ purposes: the propensity to sleep, eat, enjoy, and defend. The ‘ABCD’ Difference Between Humans and Animals Humans have the same SEED propensities, but they stand out against animals due to their four specially endowed propensities, which I’ve named ‘ABCD.’ ‘A’refers to the Ability to enquire into higher pleasure; B is the capacity to feel a Bliss that is superior to the happiness of satisfying the body; C is the ability to make Choices that bring us those higher pleasures; and D is the Determination to practise the above three. Let’s briefly examine each of these four: The ability to enquire about higher and nobler goals is the exclusive prerogative of humans. Animals can’t think beyond the basic needs of SEED. Humans, however, can pursue sublime goals and have been encouraged to do so by the wisdom books of every age and culture. Such enquiry sends uson a journey to higher realms of happiness; failure to enquire pulls us down to live only to satisfy our basic animal needs. A life not centred on more fulfilling and meaningful pursuits is beset with the same hardships and dullness that plague animal life. The Four Levels of Human Happiness Bliss is the second difference that sets humans apart from animals.

There are higher levels of pleasure which humans can experiencevis-á-vis the animals, due to their more developed consciousness. Essentially humans have four basic levels of happiness, and these are experienced by different people according to the different levels of their spiritual advancement.

The lowest experience is called parthiva-rasa. This term refers to the highest possible pleasure one could experience if his or her physical faculties are fully developed. Parthiva-rasa, enjoyment of the flavors of the earth, is at its fullest when one’s senses are strong and one has unlimited resources to enjoy them. More elevated than this issvargiya-rasa, emotional flavors pleasures experienced not through the physical body but through relationships, especially relationships involving love. Even if one’s physical senses are not strong,svargiya-rasa gives a kick and keeps us mentally happy. A thousand units of parthiva pleasure can at best match one unit ofsvargiya happiness.

Even those debilitated by serious physical illness, and thereby unable to enjoy bodily pleasures, can be happy if they experience the pleasure of society, friendship, and love.  However, if we multiply the taste one gets from svargiya-rasa by ten thousand, one approaches the happiness that can be derived from brahman-rasa,or the pleasure spiritualists who seek liberation experience when they attain it. These spiritual practitioners reject the material world and its pleasures and instead focus on the eternal truth within and without, Brahman.

Deep absorption in permanent reality gives a spiritual seeker a happiness that transcends in quality the pleasures offered by both the body and one’s society. However,even the highest attainment of Brahman happiness is insignificant a drop in the desert compared to the ocean of pleasure found in remembering and offering loving service to God. This last type of pleasure is called bhakti-rasa, the taste one derives from loving reciprocations with God. So when a human being practises loving devotional service to God, he or she experiences the culmination of all happiness. Therefore this grade of bliss, called as bhakti-rasa is there for all human beings to explore and exploit to the fullest capacity. Happiness Through Choice or Instinct? The third difference that sets humans apart from animals is the ability humans have to make proper choices and take responsibility for seeking higher pleasures. Animals can’t make choices; they act on instinct. When faced with a stimulus, animals respond instinctively; they have no freedom of choice. Humans, however, can pause, reflect, and then respond to a stimulus based on independent choice. The existence of free will is a special human endowment that gives them the power to choose their response.

For example, if you slap a child on the back, the child may cry instantly; there is no gap between stimulus and response. However if you slap a grown up man on the back, he will pause before he responds to the stimulus. In the space between the stimulus and response, he may analyse if the slap was friendly, sarcastic or out of hatred. Depending on his perception of the reality he shall then exercise his choice. Thus humans can make a conscious choice to seek higher happiness; they don’t have to necessarily act out of basic animal instinct. They have the power to say ‘no’ to the pulling of the mind. And that power is tapped through the fourth endowment. The fourth difference (‘D’ in ABCD) is Determination. Once having made a choice to seek spiritual pleasures, we need to exercise determination. Humans have tremendous potential to practise determination, even in the most trying circumstances of life. Animals, even if they exercise determination, it’s essentially for meeting the requirements of SEED.

Humans on the other hand can pursue a determined effort to experience a higher, transcendental pleasure. The similarities between humans and animals are ‘SEED’ (Sleeping, Eating, Enjoyment, and Defending). The differences can be remembered as ‘ABCD’ (Ability to enquire, Bliss, Choice, and Determination).  

Modern man is proud of his technological achievements, but a closer look into his life reveals that he is more miserable than animals. The Mahabharata, an ancient Indian classic, implores all humans to explore the ‘ABCD’ (Ability, Bliss, Choices, Determination) and seek the true meaning and purpose of our rare and brief existence. The Mahabharata declares that if humans fail to explore this potential, then their endeavors are a waste of time and energy. Further, such men are considered no better than animals; they are said to simply be well-dressed, sophisticated, polished, two-legged animals. On closer inspection, we can see that humans become worse than animals if they focus all their endeavors only on ‘SEED’ (Sleeping, Eating, Enjoyment, Defense). It’s imperative for humans to go beyond the basic animal propensities, failing which their plight is more lamentable than even animals. Let’s briefly discuss how. Animals don’t need much variety in eating.

A cow can eat grass her whole life. Humans make elaborate arrangements to eat, yet they seem to be more miserable than animals. A cow could eat grass her whole life, but can you imagine a human being served khichari three times a day for the rest of his life? We want a variety of dishes, from South Indian delicacies like dosas and vadas to Italian pizzas and pastas to Indian samosas, Chinese combos, etc. A cow won’t demand grass pakoraone day and grass burger on another. Despite so much variety, humans are inherently discontent. There is always something the mind points out that we don’t have and this saddens us.

Even the simple act of sleeping is difficult for humans many people need to take sleeping pills and use anti-snoring machines. And how much can a human sleep even if he wants to? A cat can sleep seventy percent of the day. A snail can sleep for three years without waking even once. If a dog feels sleepy, he can sleep anywhere; humans need to look into social considerations. So many elaborate arrangements are made for human beings to sleep, yet animals wake refreshed from their sleep and humans often struggle with stupor. Unhappy despite technology Humans have made rapid advancement in science and technology, but essentially all of it is employed to make SEED better.

As a result, the human heart is engulfed in emptiness, because despite our excellent manipulation of matter and our perfect arrangements for our pleasure, inevitably we become bored and seek newness and variety. That so many movies are released by Hollywood and Bollywood, and there are so many entertainment channels with more appearing almost daily is a testament to the dissatisfaction humans feel. Nothing seems to satiate us, for we constantly need new pleasures, new relationships, new cars, and new homes.

The search will continue until we finally learn to harmonize ourselves with our inner spiritual self. It is there that deep inner contentment lies, despite the swinging fortunes and changing pleasures of this world. Since we humans have the potential to seek out spiritual life, we should tap it. Or else we will remain sad. If a super-intelligent,dynamic entrepreneur is forced to work as a government office clerk, he shall naturally be frustrated. Similarly, we humans are spiritually dynamic by definition, and therefore we need to explore the spiritual aspects of our lives. If we don’t, we will continue to permute and combine the same basic SEED propensities with no idea of how to make ourselves happy. Since we have failed to pursue spiritual life, humans today are desperately attempting to make sleeping, eating, enjoyment, and defending better by the day.

Once at the zoo I saw a special tent with a board hanging outside that said, “Most Dangerous Animal”. We went in excitedly, but were confronted only with a large, life-sized mirror. The message was clear: humans are the most dangerous animals on earth. Once I asked a travelling monk how he could preach in the Amazon forests I wondered why he wasn’t afraid of dangerous animals, for example. He replied, without batting an eyelid, “Of course not. I am not afraid in the Amazon because it is free from the most dangerous animals there are no humans there!” With the wonderful and fertile brain that God has bestowed on humankind, we have created a revolution in the fields of arts, science, and culture. However, with the same brain we humans have also created bombs that threaten to destroy all life on planet earth.

This is a classic example of how humans are the most intelligent of all species yet pose the greatest threat to the planet. A tiny human can cage a ferocious lion and tame a wild elephant.

Our strength is our intelligence unlike other animals, which have different natural abilities to protect themselves. For example, a leopard is fleet-footed, a chameleon can change color to hide, and a tortoise has a hard shell. These gifts of nature help these animals protect themselves from danger. Humans, however, are neither fleet-footed nor able to easily camouflage themselves nor armored, and yet they rule all species because of their superior intelligence. But thanks to our proclivity to pursue only SEED, human intelligence today is threatening every species on this planet.

Humans are the only species whose source of protection has also become their source of destruction. This is due to wrongly directed intelligence intelligence not focused on experiencing spiritual realities. There is more evidence to prove how human beings today, due to focusing only on SEED, are leading lives more pathetic than those of animals. Animals are better off Animals don’t need sleeping pills, nor do they face a threat from members of their own species. A rat doesn’t fear other rats but the cat. Humans, however, fear other humans. When we go out, we lock our house not out of fear of dogs or lions but to protect ourselves from prowling humans. In many cases, humans even fear their own family members.

I heard some years ago of a seventy-five-year-old man who was found murdered in his home. An investigation later revealed that he was killed by goondas employed by his ninety-five-year-old mother. She had had him killed because he had illegally transferred all the family’s property into his own name. Later, our glorious judicial system tried her for murder. She was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment at ninety-five! Animals also don’t face artificial food scarcities created by members of the same species. Five cows won’t gang up to eat all the grass and prevent other cows from getting the food. Amongst humans, however, it’s common to see the hoarding of grains and the creation of an artificial scarcity of even basic necessities. Squalor and opulence coexist in human societies, and the gap between them is often huge. Animals also don’t suffer from broken hearts, whereas humans seem to have constant relationship problems. So many novels, movies, and songs have been dedicated to love sagas. Animals don’t experience stress or depression. I once did a stress management seminar for class nine students. Even fourteen-year-old children nowadays need stress management training! Humans work on tight deadlines, and by the time you meet your deadline you’re dead!

 Animals don’t have addiction problems. Humans alone amongst all species need addiction counseling sessions. And we don’t hear of animals committing suicide, but suicide is the hallmark of human society. Suicide exposes the shallowness of human pursuits. Since humans can potentially experience the greatest happiness, on failing to pursue it they also have the potential to experience the greatest frustration and pain. This pain is expressed through suicide.

Since animals can’t experience higher pleasure they don’t experience much emotional pain. The Tragedy of modern humans The plight of a human being who fails to use his or her special faculties for spiritual enlightenment is compared to that of a farmer who wins a lottery. A farmer using a tractor to plough his field wins a Mercedes Benz in a lucky draw contest. He gets a brilliant idea: he decides to use his Merc to plough his field from now on. What is the likelihood of his ploughing his field successfully? Rather, we can expect three results: his field will be spoiled, his car will be damaged, and he will become frustrated. Both the Mercedes and the tractor are vehicles, but they have different purposes. The tractor is meant for ploughing and the Mercedes for driving along smooth city roads. We are like the farmer. We have been awarded a Mercedes a human body which is both rare and special. Using our human body for the same sense pleasures available to animals (compared to the tractor) can’t bring the desired results. Just as a tractor is best suited to plough a field, so animal life is best suited to enjoy bodily pleasure.

A pigeon can have sex thirty times a day, but a human cannot; an elephant can eat tons of food, and a snail can sleep for months. Humans can’t enjoy to this degree. However, when they try to invest all their energy in SEED and to imitate the pleasures of animals, they get frustrated. They also experience the results like the farmer but the enjoyment is too little and brief. In fact, there is more pain than joy in pursuing material pleasure. And the human body tends to become diseased and spoiled when it’s abused while pursuing bodily pleasures. Thirdly Thegap between the expectation of pleasure and harsh reality is frustrating to a human being. Thus wise men over centuries have pleaded with humans to not waste their precious time and life in seeking temporary bodily pleasures; rather, they should seek the eternal divinity and connect to that never-ending source of happiness.

The Vedic scriptures call a person who fails to use his or her life for spiritual pursuits a krpana. Translated literally, krpana means “miser.” Persons who use their human faculties to seek God are called brahmanas, or intelligent, broad-minded people. A miser is one who has wealth but refuses to use it. Similarly, a human being who refuses to use his powerful human body and intellect is called a miser, especially when he rather foolishly seeks temporary and fleeting bodily pleasures. The Vedic scriptures encourage us to become brahmanas and thereby make the best use of our rare human life. In our daily life what prevents us from experiencing happiness?