That the human form of life is special and unique in comparison to other species is accepted in practically all fields of scientific and philosophical knowledge. But what makes the human species so uniquely different from everything else is often lost in the whirlpool of academic pursuit. And because of this, one may sometimes feel that, since the fundamental distinguishing characteristic of man is so often missed by great philosophers and thinkers, it must therefore be an infinitely intricate and complex truth. But to the contrary, one may be surprised at the utter simplicity of this distinguishing trait of man, that due to is very simplicity, has caused it to remain a great mystery to many tremendous thinkers throughout history down to our present day.
Though the uniqueness of the human species can be explained from various angles of vision, they all come down to one point – blossomed intellectual capabilities. All species of life can be observed to show signs of intellectual capabilities to various degrees. For example, if you put your hand in front of a cockroach, the insect will immediately turn and run the opposite direction. This is a very simple example of the use of consciousness and intellectual faculties. So we can see that even simple life forms such as insects, trees, etc., are utilizing intelligence, but when it comes to human beings we speak of it as blossomed intelligence. By blossomed intellectual capabilities we are referring to that process of reasoning by which one can properly discriminate and come to the point of actually inquiring into the nature of reality.
As individual living entities, inquiring into the nature of reality must ultimately start from the point of our selves, because that is the first reality experienced by an individual. Therefore inquiry into reality means inquiry into oneself – “who am I?”, “What is the self?”. This inquiry into the self is what distinguishes the human being from the millions of other species of life found in the world of matter.
With this in mind the Vedanta philosophy begins with the following statement: atatho brahma-jijnasa, “Now that you have attained this human form of life, inquire into the nature of the absolute reality.”
What does it mean to inquire into the self? The first step is to know the source, “Where from the self?”. Therefore, janmady asya yathah, “Understand from whom everything emanates.”
This stage of inquiry is called human life, and even common men can be seen to raise such questions in life. Everyone has a natural inclination from within to search for the answers to certain questions. In the night when a man looks up at the stars in the sky, he naturally inquires about the source of the planets and who is living there. This thirst for knowledge – the all enlightening companion of inquiries – is what is actually meant by the word “human”.
Human life means inquiry, and that inquiry, when perfected, leads one to the point of self-realization – understanding the nature of the self, the world, and the source (or controller) as they factually are. Once knowing these three features of reality and acting constitutionally with them, one becomes free from the bondage of matter and attains to the supreme state of perfection beyond all dualities of happiness and distress in a factual relationship with the supreme controller, Lord Sri Krishna. This is the perfection of the human faculty, inquiry, and can thus be concluded to be the actual goal of human life as distinct from that of the animals.