The Human Form of Life

“The very first step in self-realization is realizing one’s identity as separate from the body. “I am not this body but am spirit soul” is an essential realization for anyone who wants to transcend death and enter into the spiritual world beyond. It is not simply a matter of saying “I am not this body,” but of actually realizing it. This is not as simple as it may seem at first. Although we are not these bodies but are pure consciousness, somehow or other we have become encased within the bodily dress. If we actually want the happiness and independence that transcend death, we have to establish ourselves and remain in our constitutional position as pure consciousness.” (from Beyond Birth and Death)


Srila Prabhupada would often pose the question: ‘what is the difference between a live body and a dead one?’ He would point out that if we are nothing but chemicals, then these chemicals are also present in the dead body. What is it that distinguishes a living form from a non-living form? The answer, Srila Prabhupada taught, is consciousness, or awareness. All living forms display this symptom of consciousness to one degree or another. That is why we call them living rather than dead. Even the small microbial germ or the common houseplant shows signs of consciousness, whereas our dining table and chairs do not.

Srila Prabhupada would stress that although different forms of life display different degrees and levels of consciousness, it is in the human form that we find the highest development of consciousness. He taught that since humans had the highest level of self-awareness it was a complete waste if he simply engaged in the same activities as the animals.

But what is it about our consciousness that makes it so different from that of the insect, the bird, the beast, or even the monkey? These creatures eat and we also eat; they sleep and we also sleep; they reproduce and we reproduce; they defend themselves and so do we. That we can perform these functions with greater sophistication may be one indicator that we possess higher consciousness, but it does not fully explain our excellence above all other forms of life.

Srila Prabhupada explained that the real difference is found in our ability to question our existence, reflect upon our selves, and inquire into our own nature and the nature of God. We can create languages, ponder the meaning of life, and puzzle in wonderment over the night sky. Such an endowment is not present in any other form of life.

The Vedas therefore advise that in this human form of life we should be inquisitive to know who we are, what the universe is, what God is, and what the relationship is between ourselves, the universe, and God.

We should inquire about the solution to the ultimate problems of life, namely birth, death, old age, and disease. Such questions cannot be asked by the cats and dogs, but they must arise in the heart of a real human being.


Without exception, all material phenomena have a beginning and an end. A prominent idea of modem culture is that consciousness is an­other such material phenomenon. Thus it is believed that consciousness (or the self) also ends with the death of the material body. This point of view, however, remains only an assumption. It has not been proven true by any scientific observation or experiment. Srila Prabhupada was highly critical of Western culture’s strong identification of the self with the material body as he explains in the second canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam:

“The whole materialistic world, based on the conception of the material body as the self, is ignorant of the science of God. The materialist is always busy working for the welfare of the material body, not only his own but also those of his children, kinsmen, communitymen, countrymen, etc. The materialists have many branches of philanthropic and altruistic activities from a political, national and international angle of vision, but none of the field work can go beyond the jurisdiction of the misconception of identifying the material body with the spirit soul. Unless, therefore, one is saved from the wrong conception of the body and the soul, there is no knowledge of Godhead, and unless there is knowledge of God, all advancement of material civilization, however dazzling, should be considered a failure.”

Nonetheless, the idea that the self ends with the body remains one of the great articles of faith of modern materialistic thought, and most of us have been educated from early childhood to think of ourselves in terms of such beliefs. Few of us, however, have thought through the philosophical implications of this type of thinking, which draws us unconsciously toward voidistic and nihilistic styles of life.

Srila Prabhupada demonstrated that the most basic of the Vedic teachings stands in direct opposition to the modern scientific view of consciousness and life. Accord­ing to that teaching, individual consciousness is not at all dependent upon neurobiological functions but permanently exists as an independent reality.

The presence within the material body of a conscious observer who remains ever present throughout changing bodily and mental states indicates the existence of two energies—the spiritual energy (represented by the conscious self) and the material energy (represented by the temporary body). The Vedas explain that this spiritual energy, symptomized by consciousness, continues to exist even after the material body is finished.
If each of us is an eternal soul covered only by different temporary bodily dresses, we can reasonably conclude that the highest welfare activity for all of human society is that which awakens us to our true spiritual identity and our dormant relationship with God. That activity is called Krishna consciousness.

Just as there is neither glory nor profit in saving the dress of a drowning man, there is neither glory nor profit in humanitarian efforts aimed exclusively at improving conditions for the temporary, material body, which in the end is destined to grow old, become diseased, and die.

As Srila Prabhupada notes in Srimad-Bhagavatam:

“The actual self is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent, active principle of the body and mind.”

“Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with the gratification of the body and mind. The spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird….”

“There is dormant affection for God within everyone…. Therefore we have to engage ourselves in activities that will evoke our divine, consciousness. This is possible only by hearing and chanting the divine activities of the Supreme Lord.”</strong

“Thus any occupational engagement which does not help one to achieve attachment for hearing and chanting the transcendental message of God is said…to be simply a waste of time.”


If we can accept the importance of this type of inquiry, our next consideration will naturally be where to find authoritative answers to such questions. Clearly, if perfect knowledge concerning questions of the self, the universe, and God exists at all, it would have to be of a standard higher than just your opinion or my opinion, or for that matter Freud’s or Einstein’s or any­one else’s opinion.

Srila Prabhupada explained that since we all have imperfect senses and because we are all prone to make mistakes and even cheat, our relative opinions about matters beyond our experience can supply neither valid nor reliable information. Such speculation is indeed sterile and futile.

Thus our attempt to approach such matters empirically will be fraught with various imperfections and ultimately fail. Therefore, so-called truths established exclusively on the basis of mental speculation cannot help us understand the Absolute Truth, which is beyond the reach of the imperfect senses and mind.

The Vedas explain that if we want to know about things beyond the jurisdiction of our experience— beyond the limitations of human perception and cognition—the process is to hear from one who knows. As Srila Prabhupada taught

“This is the process for getting transcendental knowledge: to approach the proper person, the guru, and submissively hear from him.”

The transcendental knowledge of the Vedas was first uttered by the Supreme Lord Himself. The Lord, the supremely powerful being, cannot fall under the influence of any other force since He is the source of everything. As a logical consequence, His knowledge must be perfect. And anyone who transmits that knowledge without change gives the same perfect knowledge. We need only accept this proposition theoretically to progress in our understanding of Vedic thought.

The perfect knowledge of the Vedas has been preserved over time by transmission through an unbroken chain of spiritual masters.  Srila Prabhupada is the current link in one such chain or succession. That succession goes back thousands of years to Lord Krishna Himself. Thus the knowledge found within Srila Prabhupada’s books is non- different from that which was originally imparted by the Supreme Lord Himself. Srila Prabhupada did not manufacture “truths.” He delivered the timeless teachings of the original Vedas without addition, deletion, or change. The writings of Srila Prabhupada are represented mainly by three Vedic texts—the Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Chaitanya-caritamrta. Together these works of literature comprise more than 25 volumes of detailed information constituting the original Vedic science of God-realization, or bhagavata-dharma. Their translation into the English language, along with elaborate explanations, constitutes Srila Prabhupada’s most significant contribution to the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural life of the world.

However, there is a deeper and more esoteric level at which Srila Prabhupada’s books deliver knowledge. We understand that since Srila Prabhupada fulfilled the prophesy of God’s most recent incarnation, he must be a fully liberated soul (technically known as saktyavesa-avatara) directly sent from the Absolute world to carry out this special service. Since Srila Prabhupada is a liberated person, existing on the Absolute platform, his books are non-different from himself. As Srila Prabhupada taught:

“If I depart there is no cause for lamentation. I will always be with you through my books and orders. I will always remain with you in that way.”

“In my books the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness is explained fully so if there is anything you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By reading daily the knowledge will be revealed to you and by this process your spiritual life will develop.”

By reading his books, and accepting Srila Prabhupada as one’s eternal spiritual master, transcendental knowledge is revealed to us, and in this way we can come to know our unique and individual spiritual relationship with the Lord. So it is more than simply reading some words on a page, when included in a regime of chanting and worship, his books are the key to a mystical process by which one can factually realise one’s original spiritual identity.

Excerpted from;

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