Question: In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (5.5.21-22), the following hierarchy of jīvas is given:
bhūteṣu vīrudbhya uduttamā
ye sarīsṛpās 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.
I love the ghost photo! =)
This photo has a very interesting history. About 7 years ago we went with Babaji to a place called Kaman (close to where one of Krsna’s footprints can be seen) and visited this old temple. The week before, our multimedia person had taken pictures there, and even though nobody was around when he returned and downloaded all the photos, on one of them one could clearly see the explicit form of a Victorian-style nun standing there in between the pillars and looking straight on. Several of us saw it. When he wanted to copy it, his harddisk and camera got burnt. Since he was too afraid to go back to that place, a group of us went out of curiosity and also took photos. We didn’t see anything there, but upon looking at the shots that we took, in some of them we could see faces and form. The one that you see here is the only one that has survived all my hard disc crashes since then …