Could there be anything worse than not getting enough “bang for your buck”? Hell no! As we devotedly surf the net for sacred product reviews, trusted comparisons, and precious price-beating info, we are sure that meaning, peace, and fulfilment will follow as we speed toward the goal of life, one purchase at a time. But could it be that today, in the wonderful Information Age, we know everything except what we really need to know?
A quick look at the news headlines on any day of the week certainly gives some food for thought, and reaffirms for the yogi the message of the ancient yoga culture to humanity: “Ignore the essential questions and your inner and outer world will be chaotic, despite so much scientific and technological advancement. Indeed, you could not make a greater mistake than to consider something more important than your own enlightenment.”
Who, or what, are we, beyond the superficial layers of body and mind? Why are we here, beyond reproducing our genes? What should we be doing beyond the activities we share with the beasts in the field and forest? And what is real pleasure, beyond temporary sensual titillation? Out of the box of contemporary social conditioning, the bhakti-yoga texts explain that human intelligence is meant for asking and answering these questions as our number one priority. Why? Not simply to avoid inner and outer chaos, but for an even higher purpose. The preliminary bhakti text, Bhagavad Gita, informs us that the human form of life is specifically and exclusively designed to attain pleasure beyond matter, time, and space. Such pleasure, in which one understands that there is none higher, is attained only by proper use of human intelligence.
But hang on, what about the well-worn “ignorance is bliss” mantra? It was the great Western thinker Socrates who said “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but are we not determined to prove him wrong? For the vast majority today, the well-drilled response may be: “Who am I? Not sure, but I could sure use some more money!” Another Western thinker, Oscar Wilde, opined that “a cynic is one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing,” but perhaps many would consider Wilde the actual cynic for coming up with this definition. Illuminating this situation, bhakti texts like Srimad Bhagavatam provide the best “bang for the buck” in terms of human worldview and lifestyle options, by urging us to seriously consider what human intelligence is actually meant for.
The following question begins the journey: If humanity was to try to distinguish itself as a species, what would be the criteria? All species eat, sleep, reproduce, and defend themselves, and also equate the satisfaction of such needs as “happiness,” but is there a specific trait which unmistakably distinguishes humans from other species? Instinctively we may reply, “We are more intelligent.” But how? Sure, our furry, feathered and scaly brothers and sisters lack Facebook, smartphones, free-market democracies and fast-paced consumerism, but they also lack chronic health conditions, drug and alcohol dependency, economic recessions, car accidents, suicide bombers, the need for psychotherapists, and the responsibility for climate destabilisation and impending ecological disaster—which are just a few of the medals pinned exclusively on the chest of humanity.
Intelligence, as it is commonly defined, is “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” But what type of knowledge and skills actually distinguish us from other species? The yogi would ask, “Is the power of human intelligence actually being used for anything higher than the achievement of basic animal goals?” Looking at the activities we share with other life forms, we also see that they are often far more organised, cooperative, and less destructive than we two-legged heads of the food chain. While “advanced” contemporary humans have become the only species in history to destroy their own habitat (and that of many other innocent species in the process), tiny creatures like ants and bees have social organisation and economic cohesion that humanity can only dream of.
Bhakti texts point out that there is actually no notable difference between humans and animals, unless the human being makes a serious attempt at higher consciousness. Again, it was Wilde who observed that “man is the rational animal.” Expanding on this observation, graduate bhakti text Srimad Bhagavatam gives it practical application, explaining that a truly intelligent human being, while properly taking care of the needs of the body and mind, only endeavours for pleasure beyond temporariness, knowing that whatever happiness one is predestined to experience by karma cannot be avoided or increased, and that such a budget standard of pleasure is also freely and automatically available in all species of life.
In other words, human beings have the in-built potential, due to the facility of our developed intelligence, to attain pleasure free from the limitations of beginnings and endings, and such an endeavour is the only real criteria for human status. Failing to use this potential for the purpose that it was intended, it is misused in the pursuit of transient gratification which is freely available in any type of body, human or animal. And consequently, because human intelligence is far more powerful than that of other species, when misused the reactions are also epic, hence the deluge of ever-increasing individual, social, economic, political, and ecological woes that bombard the nightly TV news enthusiast.
The Sanskrit word Aryan is used in yoga literature to define human beings and distinguish them from other species. The term means “those who are advancing.” Today, of course, we are generally pretty chuffed with the rampage of apparent human progress that has spurted up in the 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, usually equating it with the advancement of science, technology, and a more convenient way of life. But does such progress equate to a higher quality of life? Has it led to an increase in the depth of our personal understanding and relationships? Has it created unity and harmony between human beings, other species, and our environment? Has it led to genuine human happiness and fulfilment? Statistics say no.
For example, in the United States, the number of people experiencing a regular and frequent feeling of loneliness has risen from 11 to 20 percent of the population in the 1970s and ‘80s to between 40 and 45 percent in 2010. In New Zealand, although those under thirty are the most connected via text messaging and social media, they are also the loneliest of any age group. The consumption of antidepressants has nearly doubled in European Union countries since 2000. Acknowledging the crisis, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report in 2014 entitled “Preventing suicide: a global imperative,” the first report of its kind. WHO also estimated that 804,000 suicide deaths occurred worldwide in 2012, although they believe the actual number is much higher due to under-reporting. For every person who commits suicide, there are twenty or more who make an attempt. Globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged fifteen to twenty-nine. The twentieth century has also been the most war-ravaged and violent century in recent human history. More than 140 wars have been fought since the formation of the United Nations in 1945, and three times more people have died in wars of the twentieth century than in the entire history of warfare between A.D. 1 and 1899. Our present version of “advancement,” it seems, comes at quite a price.
Bhakti texts affirm that when a person makes serious inquiries into happiness beyond animal propensities and actually takes up authentic yoga technologies, which connect him or her to pleasure that has no beginning or end, he or she can then be classified as Aryan, or “human.” Such an individual knows and feels the practical benefits of real human advancement. Deeply concerned with real “bang for the buck,” the fortunate soul, even in this time of mass forgetfulness of the purpose of human intelligence, seeks the company of like-minded others and dynamically strives for and achieves higher consciousness. Free from the tendency to exploit other living beings, fortified and inspired by inner peace, genuine meaning, compassion for all species, and pure happiness, he or she, not simply satisfied with personal success, is also dedicated to assisting others on the path to maximum human potential. In this way, the empathic activist-yogi urges one and all, “Please don’t make that greatest of mistakes – you have the potential for and right to the best pleasure.”