THIS PRECIOUS HUMAN BIRTH
Having inherited a vast treasure —this present circumstance— meditate on the precious opportunities and blessings of this rare and fragile human existence. Make it worthwhile.
This precious human birth offers excellent physical, verbal and mental opportunities for practicing the path to liberation. Having developed confidence in this path (based on knowledge of the Three Jewels) and with awareness of impermanence, turn the mind to contemplate the eight opportunities and ten blessings of a human birth.
This human existence is called “free” because it grants freedom from eight forms of existence in which spiritual practice is virtually impossible.
These eight are:
1. As a being whose existence is dominated by intense suffering. A violent and extreme environment reflects the aggression that is a root cause for this kind of experience.
2. As a being whose existence is dominated by want, particularly for food and water. A barren, lifeless environment reflects the addictive greed that produces such an experience.
3. As a being whose existence is dominated by fear of predators and who is subject to changes in the environment. Stupidity and insensitivity create this type of experience.
4. As a being whose existence is a continuous experience of blissful sensations and mental ease until just before death, when unpleasantness manifests. Pride and arrogance are the causal factors for this arising.
5. In an age when no Buddha has appeared and the attributes of the Three Jewels are unknown. The world of this existence is a desolate place.
6. In a primitive, uncivilized society where no teaching is expounded. Such societies far outnumber those in which we can hear the Dharma.
7. As someone with mental or physical incapacity, who would meet with great difficulties in trying to hear and practice Dharma.
8. As one who does not accept the validity of Dharma, preferring to hold perverted views.
None of these eight conditions easily afford the opportunity to practice Dharma. In the first three, the limitations imposed by confusion and pain preclude spiritual concerns. In the fourth, the limitations imposed by attachment to blissfulness preclude investigation of Dharma.
In all eight conditions, past deeds result in suffering. Even in the precious human birth there is resultant misery, but the painful arisings are concomitant with good circumstances. It is taught that human birth includes enough suffering to provoke question, and enough calm to experience answer.
This human birth is called “well-favored” due to the presence of ten conditions necessary for the practice of Buddha-Dharma. The first five, derived from one’s own existence, are:
1. We have obtained a human body.
2. We were born in a region where the Dharma is present.
3. We have all our faculties and can therefore understand what is taught.
4. We have not been swept away on the tide of effects from past unwholesome actions.
5. We have confidence in the Dharma.
The second five, received from others, are:
1. The Buddha Shakyamuni appeared in this fortunate kalpa.
2. The Buddha Shakyamuni taught the profound and extensive Dharma.
3. The Dharma taught by the Buddha has endured.
4. Many have followed, and continue to follow, the noble Dharma.
5. Many sentient beings rejoice in and support the practice of Dharma, so those who practice are not destitute.
This precious human birth is difficult to obtain, as can be understood by contemplating the previously listed conditions. Most sentient beings are habituated to unwholesome activity: very few can hold non-clinging compassionate awareness even some of the time, due to the powerful nature of ignorance. Ignorance gives rise to the two veils of conflicting emotions and wrong or partial views, which bind us to the wheel of rebirth. Therefore the importance of cultivating the wholesome in order to establish future resultant of precious human births is of primary importance.
To appear in the three times and the three world systems as a free and well-favored human is rare. The number of sentient beings taking birth in other forms vastly overshadows those few who have the excellent opportunities of this birth. Understanding this makes it clear that we now have the best circumstances for developing spiritual realization. Practicing Dharma as one endowed with a precious human birth is as rare an occurrence as the appearance of stars in the daytime sky.
A free and well-favored human birth is easily lost. Few conditions favor survival, while many conditions threaten it. Fire, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, accidents, poison, weapons, disasters, and disease are all around. It is unknown when they will arise. One breath is the difference between life and death. Our bodies are as easily destroyed as a bubble.
Through habituation and ignorance of the preciousness of this moment, many humans use their life’s energies to accumulate possessions and positions which cannot follow them after death. With the break-down of the body, the actions and motives that fueled daily activity will continue to bear fruit. Practice the good and good results will form the stream that carries through the process of death and birth.
Use the free and well-favored human birth to attain ultimate realization. This life is the only condition needed. If the aspiration to see things as they are is strong, there is no need for special circumstances in order to do one’s practice. Rather than feeling as though we were somehow more deserving than others, see that Bodhichitta resides everywhere. Unfavorable outer conditions and obstacles provide the opportunity to practice generosity, patience, equanimity. By condemning one’s daily circumstance and companions, the seeds are sown for losing a cherished possession —the present moment.
Since we have not yet attained omniscience, it is impossible to know who is an Arhat and who a Bodhisattva. Only a Buddha or Bodhisattva fully knows the means to use in order to help sentient beings. Rather than attempting to judge the worthiness of the actions of others, or the fairness of present supporting circumstances, use all opportunities to gather the two accumulations of merit and wisdom.
This precious human birth is rare and difficult to obtain, and once attained, it can easily be lost.
I shall not meaninglessly waste it. I shall use it to attain my own benefit, the benefit of others, and Great Benefit.