Long before the advent of Linnaeus, the existing species of life had been analyzed and categorized in the uniquely scientific scriptural literature of India. And, at about the same distance in time from Darwin, a presentation of the evolutionary process was made. In both instances, the earlier work was by far the more exhaustive, although it was done in mind of spiritual values, and with scant heed to the speculative studies of the material world which are so much a part of the scientific tradition to which Linnaeus and Darwin belonged. Indeed, the Vedic analyses are cosmic in scope, depending as they do upon the revelations of seers whose minds were attuned to the absolute knowledge possessed by God. Their theses are complete, and are meant to point out and define the specific place of human life in the universal order, as well as to indicate the role for which the human being is intended.
To begin with, the living entities are divided into eight million, four hundred thousand species. Although not all of these species exist on any one planet, they are to be found within this universe as a whole. What's more, no species may ever be said to be extinct not even those seemingly progressive developments like eohippus which have so enchanted Charles Darwin's successors. Occasionally, a breed of beings will disappear from one planet, or appear on another where it was not before known to exist but the Vedic literature rules out the concept of extinction.
(At this point, we may clearly see that the man who is dependent upon and faithful to the limited scope of vision of empirical science may not in good humor proceed with us. We shall later take up the particular limitations of the individual living entity, and explain why he therefore ought not to rely upon the knowledge acquired by his senses and their mechanical extensions such as the telescope, spectroscope, and radio wave transmitters. But for the moment, we must simply say that Vedic knowledge was delivered by entities far more developed than any earthly doctorate can attest to, and leave skepticism unappeased.)
The Padma Purana classifies the species of life thusly: 9,000,000 aquatic; 2,000,000 vegetable; 1,000,000 crawlers (such as worms and reptiles); 1,000,000 birds; 3,000,000 four-legged beasts; and 400,000 humans. These divisions are not made in the same spirit as are those of modern science, needless to say. For example, gorillas and monkeys are considered human, as are the demi-gods of the heavenly planets. And just as we are advanced above the apes, so are the demi-gods advanced over us and often the gap is greater. Furthermore, those humans whom we see before us on this planet are divided into various more-or-less fixed gradations of primitive and civilized. For, so far as the Vedic seers are concerned, the civilized life of Earth is the penultimate in the evolutionary process.
How so, when the demi-gods are admitted to be more developed than we?
The answer to this question is also the answer to another question: What is meant by advancement? The biologists, anthropologists and ecologists of today's repute do not recognize the concept of advance and recession, at least not officially for they say that it is anthropomorphic, unpragmatic, impractical. Within their range of vision this is certainly so. Without some spiritual understanding, no conclusion or goal can ever be perceived in anything, to be sure. But to the man who has some spiritual understanding a sure and unshakable goal is ever before him, its banners hailing his attention at every turn. This goal is spiritual perfection, self-realization as it is most often termed.
How is self realized? How is self obscured? The key word here is consciousness. That the dog has a soul may be a fact, but the dog has no consciousness of this, and therefore he suffers. So it is with all living beings. Spirit soul being the true and constitutional position of the creature, its realization in the form of direct experience means the attainment of Truth, of Reality, and, therefore, one's life can only actually begin at this point. To one without spiritual enlightenment, Truth is an elusive phantom, and so is happiness. Consciousness of Truth, of one's real identity, then, is the goal of life, for all beings seek immortality, knowledge and bliss, whatever their station.
The very wealthy, even on this Earth, do not generally turn to spiritual life, because they are engrossed in material enjoyment. They consider the spiritualist or transcendentalist to be the crier of sour grapes, as though they with their riches can avoid the death which he whom they have derided has transcended. As Lord Jesus Christ said, a camel may pass through the eye of a needle with greater ease than may a rich man go to God. Yet the opulences of this planet are mere baubles as compared to the abundance to be found on the heavenly planets, where dwell the demi-gods. And, therefore, they for all their highly developed bodies and minds, are not so fortunate as we for we have the more inclusive vision of life and death, which is inevitable for them as much as for us. And, with our vision, is increased the opportunity to transcend the mortal state.
The development of spiritual consciousness is possible only to the human species and especially so for the civilized humans. This advanced, comprehensive consciousness is, in fact, the only quality which actually distinguishes man from the other creatures. For the pig and the horse and the ant all have sex life, all eat foods which please them, all sleep and all have weapons. And they have their politics, as well. We cannot conclude that human life is merely the manner of living of a sophisticated swine. No, for Man has the ability to wonder and the ability to find out, too. Therefore, in the Vedas it is said that, when a man first questions, "What am I? How am I here?" then his human life begins.
This human status is attained after millions upon millions of births. To be sure, the living spirit soul must progress through the bodies of each and every one of those eight million four hundred thousand species, before he can achieve civilized existence. This is a long, excruciating transmigration through a universe of never-ending frustration, pain and defeat. For the living entity cannot know eternal life, knowledge, or bliss complete as long as he identifies himself with matter; and no understanding of one's true identity is possible at any stage below the human. Thus, all life in this material world means vanquishment.
Now, before continuing with the subject of evolution and the meaning of that study in terms of human purpose, we must wonder, after all: How did it begin? How am I here? In the Bhagavad Gita, the Lord explains,
All beings are born to delusion O Bharata,
Overcome by the dualities
Which arise from wish and hate,
O Conqueror of the foe. (VII, 27)
The living entity wishes to become the Lord, the ruler and master and so he is given a domain in which he may fulfill his longings:
In ancient days the Lord of creatures
Created men along with sacrifice and said,
By this shall ye bring forth, and this shall be unto you
That which will yield the milk of your desires. (B.G. III, 10)
So Krishna, the God Who loves all beings, has given us what we craved, and by sacrifice we had the means to be eternally joyful even here, without His direct association. But the living entity cannot be what he is not he cannot be God. Whereas the Lord is in all ways perfect, His fragmental portions suffer from certain constitutional imperfections, which are chiefly classed as four: the living entity is certain to make mistakes, he is envious, he is subject to illusion, and his senses are imperfect. With these unfortunate shortcomings, having gone so far to sunder the loving relationship with God, it is easy to see how the state of paradise, known both to Judaic and Vedic scriptural history, was lost.
It is the eternal religion of all beings to serve. By eternal religion it is meant that this is something which cannot be taken from the entity something which he manifests at all times. Bugs and behemoths, trees and tigers all creatures are engaged in service. Indeed, the Lord Himself, the Prime and Primal Being, is also the Prime and Primal Servant, giving to all creatures their sustenance in every way both direct and indirect. Because of our natural position of servitude, turning from the service of the Lord means that we must turn to some other service. This is the service of Maya, Illusion, for only God's service is true.
Thus we can see that, wilfully, we have made our own beds in this world of defeat.
Until the spirit soul enters upon the human platform, he remains blind and innocent of sin. He simply goes on from birth to birth, species to species, until he has risen to the level where his body permits the flowering of long-dulled and suppressed consciousness. At this point, intractable evolution ceases, for the greater consciousness leaves the entity literally master of his own fate. He may choose to end the material entanglement in which he has so long been caught, he may choose to continue human existence, or he may hurl himself back into the sea of raging mortality from which he has barely just emerged. Brief though it be, this human life is supremely important.
The process by which the human makes his choice and by which that choice is fulfilled is calledkarma. Karma means an action and its attendent reaction. I chop a tree… it falls. That is karma. In a similar sense, the manner in which I lead this human life creates a certain effect which is manifested in my next birth. The culmination of one's life is its final moment:
Thinking of whatever state
He at the end gives up his body,
To that being does he attain, O Son of Kunti,
Being ever absorbed in the thought thereof. (B.G. VIII, 6)
This is the vital, crucial decision, but one may not make it at that last instance. Indeed, the mind will cling to its ways and so reflect the life it has known. And in this lies the tragedy or triumph of Man. If he has lived as a goat, then he will get the body best suited to his wishes. And, has he lived as a friend to the eternal God, then he will have birth in that eternal association, and end rebirth altogether.
This is the crux of all Vedic philosophy: one can end the round of birth and death. It can be done. One must simply sever his ties to material existence in the proper manner. Here is the formula:
Save work done as and for sacrifice
This world is in bondage to work.
Therefore, O Son of Kunti, do thy work as a sacrifice,
Becoming free from all attachment. (B.G. III, 9)
Yes, the Bhagavad Gita says that the only means of liberation from the forest of action-reaction is to act without regard for the fruits of work. In other words, to work for God. Give Him your money, give Him your intelligence, give Him your energy. Again, Sri Krishna says,
Those who, laying all their actions on Me,
Intent on Me
Worship, meditating on Me,
With unswerving devotion;
These whose thoughts
Are set on Me,
I straightway deliver
From the ocean of death-bound existence,
O Partha. (B.G. XII, 6 & 7)
This is the way. Those not willing to follow it cannot hope to gain God's association. That a strong attachment to money, sex-life or fame exists is understood. But that attachment must be transferred to God. If it is not, then the individual's consciousness can never be fixed upon Him. For those who, like Nietzsche, want to go on in the sea, the Lord has no anger. But He has pity, and so He explains our plight to us for our own consideration:
At the coming of day, all manifested things
Come forth from the unmanifested
And at the coming of night they merge
In that same, called the unmanifested.
This very same multitude of existences
Arising again and again
Merges helplessly at the coming of night, O Partha,
And streams forth at the coming of day.
But, beyond this unmanifested,
There is yet another,
Unmanifested eternal being,
Who does not perish.
This Unmanifested is called the Imperishable.
Him they speak of as the Supreme Status.
Those who attain to Him return not.
That is My supreme abode.
This is the Supreme Person, O Partha,
In Whom all existences abide
And by Whom all this is pervaded;
Who can, however, be gained by unswerving devotion.
(B.G. VIII, 18-22)
And so we can see that the perfection of human life, indeed the goal of goals in all this Universe, is to transcend the material encagement and to enter into the eternal Abode of Krishna through devotional service. This is the purpose to which a man ought wisely to dedicate his life. Otherwise, that life is necessarily dedicated to death, for only by God's grace can we cross the chasm of doom inherent in the flesh. Once spiritual life begins, once the transcendental consciousness is awakened, death has been conquered and life fulfilled beyond the sweetest of dreams.
These concepts are not new ones, nor are they Indian, nor even Vedic. They are found in the Bible and the Koran as well as in other great scriptural literature. The scientist may only examine the phenomenon of mortality, but he may never fully comprehend, much less overcome it. This is the domain of the spiritualist. How then has it come about that our world has turned from God? Why are people by the millions accepting post-dated checks from the men of science, whose finest pragmatic accomplishments are to move some tons of dead earth from one spot to another at great speed?
When we speak of the common good among men, the first and most general thought to arise is that of politics. After all, isn't every politician from the President to the town dogcatcher promising Utopia in exchange for your vote? Those who are genuinely moved to aid their suffering fellow men are, of course, as rare as rubies in the Arctic yet even the few who have such sentiments simply serve as agents of Illusion if they have no spiritual understanding. And at their heels follow their people, sheep to the block. If Mankind's mortal sufferings are to be relieved, we must have leaders of a higher caliber, men of intelligence, who can see what the mission and purpose of human life actually are. Without such vision, no one can help his fellow man or himself.
Ideal leadership is outlined in the Bhagavad Gita, by Lord Krishna. There He says:
As the unlearned act from attachment to their work
So should the learned also work, O Bharata,
But without any attachment,
With the desire to maintain the world order.
Let him not unsettle the minds
Of the ignorant who are attached to action.
The enlightened man doing all works in a spirit of yoga,
Should set others to act as well. (B.G. III, 25 & 26)
This is good leadership. Those who are themselves mad for riches and fame cannot be expected to serve the people wisely. Those who are limited by the bodily concept of life are blind men, and those who imagine themselves outside God's shelter are worse:
The evil-doers who are foolish, lowest of the humans,
Whose minds are carried away by illusion
And who partake of the nature of demons,
Do not seek refuge in Me. (B.G. VII, 15)
It is a current fashion to exercise any limitless number of theories as to why the United States is declining so noticeably in moral vigor. The answer stares the historian in the face from the page of every letter and document written by the Founding Fathers: they believed in God most of them actually and ardently. This is what America lacks today, and nothing more, twist though you may for a different explanation.
One who has the true welfare of his fellow man in mind ought to make all strenuous efforts to lead them to the gateway of God's Kingdom. Here, in devotional service, lies the end to suffering; lies peace, plenty and life eternal. What more can one hope to offer? This is release from the age-long cycle of birth and death, and this is what all beings crave despite their delusions.
At the end of many lives
The man of wisdom resorts to Me,
Knowing that Vasudeva (Krishna) is all that is.
Such a great soul is rarely to be found. (B.G. 19)
Offer the fruit of wisdom, ripened for millenia, to your fellows. This is the real act of love, this is the true public service. And, in the process, you will yourself be freed:
Having come to Me
These great souls do not return to rebirth,
The place of sorrow, impermanent,
For they have reached the highest perfection.
(B.G. VIII, 15)
The Great-souled, the Mahatma, is a perfected being, a human who has gone all the way to the goal, having turned to the Lord. He is the final, finished product of evolution, and he has transcended that process by which he has risen by dint of his own willingness to love, and with the grace of Krishna.
Becoming a great soul, though the breed is a rare one, is not difficult. One simply chooses to dissociate from material activities and to take up the spiritual line. Krishna Himself will guide you from there.
Abandoning all duties,
Come to Me alone for shelter.
Be not grieved,
For I shall release thee from all evils.
(B.G. XVIII, 66)
This is the way to perfection. And, unless he takes this proffered gift, a man's living is vain and wasted and dedicated to death. In the Brahma Vaivarta Purana, it is couched in these rather straightforward words:
"There are 8,400,000 species of life among living entities. If one living being, having passed through this long cycle of births, comes to the human standard, and then foolishly misuses it, he has simply spoiled everything."