I recently went on a field trip to the IMAX movie theater, which shows educational 3-D movies. I viewed a movie about prehistoric sea monsters. The movie depicted the ocean as a place of constant danger for its inhabitants. The ocean was (or still is) a place where one animal is food for another, and for every large predator fish there is an even larger one for which that very predator becomes prey.
The film traces the life of one prehistoric and quite cute fish called the Dolichorhynchopsdali (Dolly for short). Her brother and mother got eaten by larger sea monsters, but she survived, gave birth to offspring, and finally died a natural death of old age.
This film made me think about what Srila Prabhupada, the spiritual teacher of the Hare Krishna movement, teaches about animal versus human consciousness. He teaches that the soul has an original consciousness which is blissful, eternal, and full of knowledge. In spiritual consciousness, one joyfully and voluntarily offers oneself in service to God, loves other living beings, is humble and kind, and does not exploit other living beings or natural resources. In materialistic consciousness, however, the soul becomes covered by the dust of unlimited desires, greed, lust, envy, and illusion, forgetting its true identity, and thus suffers.
There are different levels of materialistic consciousness, and the type of consciousness each soul has leads it to take birth in an appropriate body. The IMAX movie about Dolly the sea monster depicted the life and consciousness of an animal — most of its life is spent looking for food, reproducing, avoiding being eaten by others, and just trying to survive. Animals live a bodily-centered life without a higher awareness of being a tiny part of a larger universe meant to serve God and unite with others in harmony.
A soul in a human body, however, has great potential to reawaken its original, spiritual consciousness. A human being has the ability to question, analyze, and discuss, whereas the animals have no such ability. We can ask why we are here, why we suffer, why we have to die, and where we will go after death. We can use our talents in the service of God, visit places of worship, and read spiritual texts. Instead of limiting our love to our own family, religious community, city, or country, we can expand our love to reach all living beings — humans, plants, and animals — with God in the center of that love, and thus experience unlimited and lasting love.
REACHING OUR POTENTIAL
To reach our human potential and experience a spiritual awakening, however, we require some guidance about how to live a proper lifestyle. Our current society surrounds us with media promptings that awaken more of our animalistic tendencies of living to eat, attract the opposite sex, chase after money, and exploit the earth’s resources rather than to awaken our inner spirituality. We may become convinced that the purpose of our lives is simply to enjoy our senses and experience temporary, flickering happiness. Then we wonder why we sometimes feel confused and frustrated. We are confused because we are not reaching our full human potential, and the soul feels this on a deep level. A young child may be given a valuable computer, but not knowing what it should be used for the child may bang on it, draw on the screen, or misuse it in other ways, to the point that the computer may break. However, an adult knows that the computer is meant to be used to perform more advanced tasks, and thus the adult can guide the child as he or she learns to make proper use of this intricate instrument.
Similarly, spiritual teachers descend or come to remind us that this human body is meant for spiritual awakening, and they teach us how to properly utilize our human bodies to attain spiritual happiness, inner peace, and eternal benefit. They encourage us to move beyond survival mode, and to instead carve out some time in our busy lives for spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, and selfless service. They also teach us to perform some austerities for a higher cause rather than constantly seek immediate gratification.
These spiritual teachings can also be found in holy scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Krishna (God) does not leave us here on earth without a guidebook. Such guidance, which is found in all religious traditions of the world in the form of saints and scriptures, can help us achieve the happiness we are searching for, and can prevent us from misusing our human bodies, as the child, due to lack of proper knowledge, misuses the computer.
One type of prayer/meditation practice taught to us by Srila Prabhupada that awakens spiritual consciousness is the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. This mantra is composed of spiritual sound vibrations, and it goes as follows:
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Chanting these names, this mantra, repeatedly can awaken our inner spiritual happiness, clear away old karma, and help us utilize the human body for its true purpose. By chanting we can achieve the happiness we are longing for. We will only find this happiness through eternal spirit, not through temporary matter, for we are in essence spiritual beings simply encased temporarily in a material body.