jīvāḥ śreṣṭhā hy ajīvānāṁ
tataḥ prāṇa-bhṛtaḥ śubhe
tataḥ sa-cittāḥ pravarās
jīvāḥ—living entities; śreṣṭhāḥ—better; hi—indeed; ajīvānām—than inanimate objects; tataḥ—than them; prāṇa-bhṛtaḥ—entities with life symptoms; śubhe—O blessed mother; tataḥ—than them; sa-cittāḥ—entities with developed consciousness; pravarāḥ—better; tataḥ—than them; ca—and; indriya-vṛttayaḥ—those with sense perception.
Living entities are superior to inanimate objects, O blessed mother, and among them, living entities who display life symptoms are better. Animals with developed consciousness are better than them, and better still are those who have developed sense perception.
In the previous verse it was explained that living entities should be honored by charitable gifts and friendly behavior, and in this verse and in the following verses, the description of different grades of living entities is given so that one can know when to behave friendly and when to give charity. For example, a tiger is a living entity, part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the Supreme Lord is living in the heart of the tiger as Supersoul. But does this mean that we have to treat the tiger in a friendly manner? Certainly not. We have to treat him differently, giving him charity in the form of prasāda. The many saintly persons in the jungles do not treat the tigers in a friendly way, but they supply prasāda foodstuffs to them. The tigers come, take the food and go away, just as a dog does. According to the Vedic system, a dog is not allowed to enter the house. Because of their uncleanliness, cats and dogs are not allowed within the apartment of a gentleman, but are so trained that they stand outside. The compassionate householder will supply prasāda to the dogs and cats, who eat outside and then go away. We must treat the lower living entities compassionately, but this does not mean that we have to treat them in the same way we treat other human beings. The feeling of equality must be there, but the treatment should be discriminating. Just how discrimination should be maintained is given in the following six verses concerning the different grades of living conditions.
The first division is made between dead, stonelike matter and the living organism. A living organism is sometimes manifested even in stone. Experience shows that some hills and mountains grow. This is due to the presence of the soul within that stone. Above that, the next manifestation of the living condition is development of consciousness, and the next manifestation is the development of sense perception. In the Mokṣa-dharma section of the Mahābhārata it is stated that trees have developed sense perception; they can see and smell. We know by experience that trees can see. Sometimes in its growth a large tree changes its course of development to avoid some hindrances. This means that a tree can see, and according to Mahābhārata, a tree can also smell. This indicates the development of sense perception.
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