he benefit of having a human body over an animal body is the ability to direct our life toward a higher destination.
By Gaura Sharana Dasa
The Vedic scriptures point us to the highest destination and tell us how to get there.
Life is a journey, and on this journey the soul is seated in the vehicle of a body given by the material nature (bhramayan sarva-bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya, Gita 18.61). Material nature supplies various types of vehicles to the souls wandering in material existence, depending on their past desires and karma. Out of various types of vehicles, the human body is considered the best vehicle for the journey towards a spiritual destination. And Prahlada Maharaja says in Srimad–Bhagavatam (7.6.1), durlabham manusham janma: “A human birth is rarely achieved.”
We are all extremely fortunate to have this human vehicle, which is better equipped for the journey of life than animal forms. According to Hitopadesha (25),
“Both animals and men share the activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. But the special property of the humans is that they are able to engage in spiritual life. Therefore without spiritual life, humans are on the level of animals.” This verse suggests that the privilege of having a human body over an animal body is the ability to steer our life towards a destination higher than just eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, which even animals can sometimes do even better than human beings.
The greatest privilege of being in a human vehicle is the opportunity to learn about the highest destination and how to get there. Whether we know it or not, our journey began the moment we were born by the force of time. So it’s time to understand the wisdom given in the Vedic scriptures, especially Bhagavad-gita, to make this journey successful.
Krishna, while seated in a vehicle, a chariot, speaks to Arjuna about the existential journey of the soul, about the vehicle the soul acquires, and about how to drive the vehicle to its ultimate destination.
Consider that you set out on a journey and don’t know where to go. It might sound adventurous initially, but sooner or later you will get tired of just traveling and will want to be back home. Like any other journey, our life journey needs a destination to be meaningful. Any number of temporary stops will not satisfy the soul, however attractive they may be to its conditioned mind and senses. To be satisfied, the soul aspires for an eternal destination, its home.
Scriptures are like maps to guide us to our ultimate destination. Krishna explains that the eternal destination for the eternal soul is His eternal abode and not this temporary material existence:
“That which the Vedantists describe as unmanifest and infallible, that which is known as the supreme destination, that place from which, having attained it, one never returns – that is My supreme abode.” (Gita 8.21)
Now that we know the spiritual world is our destination, the next question is how to get there.
Understanding the Body, the Chariot
As a driver needs to understand the vehicle to successfully reach the destination, we as spirit souls traveling in this human vehicle need to understand it to drive to our ultimate destination safely. In the Katha Upanishad (1.3.3–4), the human body is explained as follows:
“The individual is the passenger in the car of the material body, and intelligence is the driver. Mind is the driving instrument, and the senses are the horses. The self is thus the enjoyer or sufferer in the association of the mind and senses. So it is understood by great thinkers.”
The Hierarchy of Our body
In the Bhagavad-gita (3.42) Krishna gives the hierarchy of the body and mentions that the soul is higher than all these bodily functions:
“The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence.”
Intelligence, the Driver
In the chariot analogy, intelligence is the driver. The driver needs to be strong to make sure he can guide the mind and senses.
“The senses of a person who is without discrimination and whose mind is always uncontrolled are unmanageable, like the vicious horses of a driver.” (Katha Upanishad 1.3.5) One whose intelligence is not strong cannot control the mind and senses. If the horses driving a chariot are uncontrolled, then there are all the chances for an accident and little or no chance to reach the destination safely. The driver must hold the reins tightly to control the horses effectively and travel in the right direction.
In reality, however, for most of us our intelligence is not strong enough to control our mind and senses. So naturally the question arises, What will become of me if my intelligence is not strong enough to control the mind? This is explained as follows in the Katha Upanishad (1.3.7):
“One whose intelligence is not strong and hence has an uncontrolled mind and senses doesn’t reach the supreme destination, but rather revolves in the cycle of birth and death.”
The tone of this verse needn’t dispirit us; rather, the verse can act as a reminder for us to steer our life in the right direction by controlling our mind and senses through our intelligence.
Mind and Senses, Reins and Horses
In the chariot analogy, the mind is compared to reins, and the senses are compared to the horses that drive the chariot. Have you ever seen or been in a vehicle where the brakes suddenly stopped working? It’s dreadful to even imagine, and at worst it can be fatal. Hence in this journey of life, mind and sense control is crucial for us to make it to the destination.
Since the senses are inferior to the mind, by controlling the mind we can easily control the senses. Hence sense control follows mind control and not necessarily vice versa. Srila Prabhupada gives an example in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 2.60: “Even Vishvamitra, a great sage and perfect yogi, was misled by Menaka into sex enjoyment, although the yogi was endeavoring for sense control with severe types of penance and yoga practice.” Since Vishvamitra’s mind was diverted to meditate on sense objects, eventually his sense control failed to help him. Krishna says, dhyayato vishayan pumsah (Gita 2.62): if the mind is engaged in sense objects, the senses cannot be controlled.
Therefore to control the senses one needs to control the mind from wandering. For the mind to be controlled, however, one needs a strong intelligence, as stated in Bhagavad-gita (3.43), evam buddheh param buddhva samstabhyatmanam atmana: “One should steady the mind by deliberate spiritual intelligence.”
How to Make the Intelligence Strong
In Bhagavad-gita 2.66 Krishna says that one who is not connected with the Supreme in Krishna consciousness cannot have transcendental intelligence (nasti buddhir ayuktasya). Krishna also says,
“To those who are constantly devoted to serving Me with love, I give the intelligence by which they can come to Me.” (Gita 10.10)
And in Bhagavad-gita 2.61 Krishna says,
“One who restrains his senses, keeping them under full control, and fixes his consciousness upon Me, is known as a man of steady intelligence.” So only when the soul is connected with Krishna can intelligence be strong to control the mind and senses naturally.
Though fixing the consciousness on Krishna is the ultimate goal, regulating the interaction of the mind and senses with their sense objects is implicit and necessary. Only then will the spiritual practices be beneficial in strengthening the intelligence through God realization.
The Soul in Connection with the Supreme Self
Srila Prabhupada writes in the purport to Bhagavad-gita 3.42, “If, therefore, the soul is directly engaged with the Supreme, naturally all other subordinates, namely, intelligence, mind and senses, will be automatically engaged.”
When the self is connected to the Supreme Self through the processes of bhakti-yoga, then the self will naturally be satisfied (yato bhaktir adhokshaje . . . yayatma suprasidati, Bhagavatam 1.2.6).
Therefore by engaging ourselves in the devotional activities of chanting and hearing about the Supreme Lord and remembering Him, we can develop knowledge that strengthens our intelligence, and detachment that makes our mind and senses lose their taste for objects of enjoyment.
“By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.” (Bhagavatam 1.2.7) When we steer our vehicle in the right direction with such transcendental intelligence, eventually we will reach the ultimate destination of the supreme abode of Lord Krishna.