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What is the Difference Between Humans and Animals? PDF Print E-mail
Edited lecture by Jagad Guru Chris Butler

In their activities and interests, humans and animals have several characteristics in common:

  • Animals eat. Human beings also have to eat.
  • Animals sleep. Human beings also need sleep.
  • Animals have sex to procreate. Humans also have sex.
  • Animals defend themselves; they fight. Human beings also have to defend themselves.

Despite the similarities, there is a fundamental difference between human beings and animals. What is that difference?

The distinction between the human form of life and the animal form of life is not that humans sleep on beds and animals sleep on the ground; it’s not that humans walk on two legs and many animals walk on four legs; it’s not that humans eat at a dining table with utensils and napkins while animals just eat with their mouth to the ground in some way. Humans are not meant to simply be refined animals. There is a much deeper and meaningful difference between humans and animals.

Beyond the activities humans and animals have in common (eating, sleeping, mating, and defending), human beings have a fifth faculty: the intelligence to inquire into the truth of our existence:

  • Who am I?
  • Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence?
  • Why am I suffering?
  • How can I liberate myself from this suffering condition?

It is this extraordinarily valuable ability to be introspective—to question the meaning and purpose of our existence and endeavor to find a solution to human suffering—that sets humans apart from animals.

To use a “muscle” analogy, a person who has very big muscles can pick up a 100-pound bag of rice. But a five-year old lacks the muscles to pick up that 100-pound bag. In the less evolved condition, when a person is in the animal form of life, he doesn’t have the spiritual muscles to be introspective and to make spiritual advancement.

If a person is born in the human form of life but doesn’t use that spiritual muscle—doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to find answers to his identity and make spiritual advancement— then his muscles are wasted.

As human beings, we have the opportunity to use our intelligence to seek answers to essential questions such as “Who am I?” and “What is the purpose of life?” If we don’t use the human form of life to seek answers to these all-important questions—if we simply remain preoccupied with eating, sleeping, mating, and defending—then we will have wasted the opportunity inherent in the human form to realize our true identity and purpose and achieve genuine spiritual happiness.