Question: In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (5.5.21-22), the following hierarchy of jīvas is given:
bhūteṣu vīrudbhya uduttamā
yesarīsṛpās teṣu sabodha-niṣṭhāḥ
tato manuṣyāh pramathās tato ‘pi
gandharva-siddhā vibudhānugā ye
dakṣādayo brahma-sutās tu teṣām
bhavaḥ paraḥ so ‘tha viriñca vīryah
sa mat-paro ‘haṁ dvija-deva-devaḥ
It says that superior to humans are the Gandharvas, and superior to Gandharvas are the Kinnaras. Indra is superior to them etc. (according to one translation).
Elsewhere in the Bhāgavatam, it is mentioned that creation of the human form by Brahmā was praised by all (3.20.50 and also 11.9.28). How are we to understand the hierarchy given in 5.5.21-22? It seems to be contradicting SB 3.20.50 and 11.9.28. How are the ghosts superior to humans? And how are the Gandharvas and Kinnaras superior to humans?
Answer: Superiority depends on the basis of comparison. The comparison in verses 5.5.21-22 is from the point of material powers. Pramathas (ghosts) are superior to human beings because they have powers that human beings do not have. For example, they can travel in space. Pramathas are associates of Śiva, so they are superior. In this list, Brahmā is said to be superior to Śiva, because the whole comparison is to show the superiority of the brāhmaṇas, as you can read in the verse 5.5.23. Brahmā is the topmost of brāhmaṇas, and thus superior to Śiva. But if you do the comparison from a Vaiṣṇava point of view, then Śiva is superior to Brahmā.
Verses 3.2.50 and 11.9.28 are glorifying human birth, because in the human birth one can become a devotee and get out of samsāra. These verses are not comparing the material power of a human with other species such as Pramathas, Gandharvas and Kinnaras.
The basis of superiority in these verses is the ability to become a devotee.
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A most insignificant person can harm a most elevated person. A realized Sadhu can be murdered by an insane person. The great cultures of earth have been decimated by barbarians.