Precious Human Life

Freedoms and Fortunes, Importance, and Rarity

Precious human life: recognize the freedoms and fortunes, its importance, and its rarity


Differences Between Worldly and Dharma Motivations and Activities

If we say we're Dharma practitioners, we have to check how often we actually have Dharma motivations in our mind.

  • Are we instead really continually seeking the eight worldly concerns?
  • Have we really given up attachment to the happiness of this life?
  • Are we truly seeking upper rebirth, liberation or enlightenment?

Very often, our motivations can be mixed, e.g., a little bit of Dharma motivation mixed in with the eight worldly concerns.

  • Still, if we're doing an action, we may as well make our motivation as pure as possible, because the result of that action depends on the motivation.
  • It's difficult to have a pure motivation, and we need to start by clearly understanding the demarcation line between Dharma activity and worldly activity.
  • Watch out for sneaky motivations, e.g., wanting to look good to other Dharma practitioners.
  • Be sure to review the ten innermost jewels of the Kadampa, because practicing those helps us give up the eight worldly concerns (which are the embodiment of attachment to the happiness of this life).

How to Stop Attachment to This Life

From verse 4: "By contemplating the leisure and endowments so difficult to find and the fleeting nature of your life, reverse the clinging to this life."

This verse tells us how to stop the attachment to this life:

  1. Contemplate the leisure and endowments, also called the freedoms and fortunes of a precious human life.
  2. Contemplate the fleeting nature of our life, i.e., reflect on impermanence and death.

These two meditations come right at the beginning of the lamrim, precisely because they help us give up the attachment to this life.

Precious Human Life in the Lamrim

In the lamrim, there are three basic outlines to the precious human life:

  1. Recognizing the eight freedoms and ten fortunes ("the leisure and endowments")
  2. Considering the importance of our precious human life
  3. Recognizing the rarity and difficulty of attaining a precious human life

Recognizing the Eight Freedoms and Ten Fortunes

The first outline under precious human life in the lamrim is recognizing the eight freedoms and the ten fortunes.

The Eight Freedoms or Leisures

The eight freedoms are eight states that we are free from being born into, states which would make it very difficult to practice the Dharma. The purpose of contemplating these is so that we feel how truly precious our life is and, as a result, make good use of it.

  1. We're not reborn in the hell realms, where we experience so much pain that it's impossible to turn our mind to the Dharma.
  2. We're not reborn in the hungry ghost realm, where we are so distracted by clinging and dissatisfaction that it's very difficult to practice.
  3. We're not reborn as an animal, where we don't have the kind of mind that is capable of Dharma practice.
  4. We're not reborn as a god, where we would lack the motivation to practice.
  5. We're not reborn as "a barbarian among uncivilized savages," i.e., in a country where there's no Dharma or where freedom of religion doesn't exist.
  6. We're not reborn in a place or at a time when a buddha hasn't appeared and taught, i.e., when there are no teachings available.
  7. We're not reborn with impaired senses that make it more difficult to learn and practice the Dharma.
  8. We're not reborn as somebody who has wrong views, e.g., somebody who has been raised with the Taliban view of life.

The Ten Fortunes or Endowments

The ten fortunes are the ten richnesses or good qualities we have, things that make it possible for us to learn and practice the Dharma

  1. We're born human, with a human body and human intelligence.
  2. We live in a central Buddhist region, i.e., a place where we can receive the teachings and receive ordination.
  3. We have healthy and complete sense faculties, e.g., being able to see and hear and having our mind sharp.
  4. We haven't created any of the five heinous actions, which, when committed, cause one to be reborn in a hell realm in the next life: killing our father or mother, killing an arhat, causing schism in the Sangha, and causing blood to be drawn from a Buddha.
  5. We have an instinctive belief in things that are worthy of respect, e.g., an interest in spiritual matters, ethical conduct, compassion, etc.
  6. We live where and when a Buddha has appeared.
  7. We live where and when a Buddha has taught.
  8. The Dharma still exists, and the lineages can be traced back to Shakyamuni Buddha, so we can receive those teachings.
  9. We live when and where there's a Sangha community following the Buddha's teachings, a community who can teach us and support us in our practice.
  10. We live when and where there are others with loving concern, i.e., benefactors who offer us food, clothing, medicine, and shelter so that we can practice. Loving concern also refers to Dharma teachers, who teach with loving concern for our spiritual well-being.

How to Meditate on the Eight Freedoms and Ten Fortunes

Meditating on these eight freedoms and ten fortunes can give us a deep feeling of appreciation for our life. Missing any one of them can make it very difficult to practice the Dharma. We need to realize and remember how fortunate we are, and how relatively weak our excuses for not practicing are ("It's too hot/cold, I have a headache, it's too noisy," etc.). We don't want to waste this precious human life!

When meditating on precious human life, we do analytic (checking) meditation. We go through these eighteen items, the eight freedoms and ten fortunes, and think, "What would happen if I had that obstacle or if I didn't have that one of the fortunes?" We begin to realize how fortunate we are. For example:

  • What would it be like to be reborn in the hell realm? Could I practice there?
  • What would it be like if I were born in excruciating pain in this life? Could I even practice?
  • What would it be like if I were born the child of a Taliban or Nazi officer? Could I practice the Dharma?

After going through these points, we draw conclusions, like "How fortunate I am!"

  • We realize this is like discovering we just won the lottery—only better!
  • We think about our lives and how wealthy we are in a Dharma sense.
  • If we remember this, our mind is continually happy and the small things that happen don't become obstacles for us.

Considering the Importance of Our Precious Human Life

The second outline under precious human life in the lamrim is considering the importance of a precious human life. It is important and valuable for three reasons:

  1. We can use it to create positive karma so that we can have a good future rebirth.
  2. We can use it to create the causes for the ultimate aims, i.e., liberation and enlightenment.
    • Think how the Buddha and others were able to attain enlightenment on the basis of a precious human life, just like we have.
    • This helps combat the existential angst that causes people to think their lives are meaningless.
    • The fact that we have this precious human life, with the opportunity to practice the Dharma, gives us the potential to make our life really meaningful and purposeful.
  3. We can use each moment of this life to practice thought training; every single moment we're alive is potential Dharma practice.
    • This is the practice in the Chinese tradition of the gathas, little verses or sayings for all our daily life activities (e.g., going up the stairs, going down the stairs, cleaning, etc.).

Realizing the Rarity of a Precious Human Life and the Difficulty in Attaining It

We contemplate how rare and difficult it is to get a precious human life in order to truly value it and not waste it.

There are another three outlines under rarity and difficulty:

  1. It's hard to create the causes.
  2. By number, we can see the rarity and difficulty of getting a precious human life.
  3. By analogy, we can see the rarity and difficulty.

Examining the Rarity and Difficulty of Attaining a Precious Human Life by Its Causes

It's hard to create the causes for a precious human life. There are three causes:

  1. Ethical discipline
  2. The six far-reaching attitudes
  3. Aspiration and dedications
Ethical Discipline

Ethical discipline gets us to a human life (as opposed to, e.g., an animal life). Remember, this is a human life, not even a precious human life.

  • Is it easy or difficult to maintain ethical discipline? The newspapers are full of stories of people who don't follow the five precepts, i.e., full of killing, stealing, unwise sexual behavior, lying, intoxicants.
  • We all break the precepts in at least small ways:
    • killing, e.g., killing insects
    • lying, e.g., distorting the truth for our own benefit
    • stealing, e.g., taking supplies from work or getting into the theater for free
    • harsh words or divisive speech or gossip
  • We've all done these things, but have we purified them all?

When we compare the amount of positive karma created in the world to the amount of negative karma, we see that it's hard to create the ethical discipline just to get a human life.

  • Ethical discipline involves deliberately restraining ourselves from negative actions; we have to have the intention to avoid destructive actions.
  • To create good karma, it's not just a question of sitting there not doing negative actions; you have to be actively doing something.
  • That's why we take the precepts; every moment we're not breaking them, we're keeping them, thus creating good karma.
  • Now think about how many people in the world have taken precepts and are keeping them? Not many.
  • So creating the cause to get a human rebirth is not easy, not something we should take for granted; it takes much effort and awareness on our part.
  • This should make us apprehensive; it should challenge the complacent mind that thinks samsara is not so bad.
  • When we begin to understand karma and what creates the cause for happiness and what creates the cause for suffering, we see that:
    • It's very easy to create the cause for suffering, because ignorance, anger, and attachment rise so readily in our mind.
    • It's very difficult to create the cause for happiness, because it takes a deliberate motivation to do a positive action.
  • We have to ask ourselves what we're thinking about all day. Typically, it's self-centered, i.e., our own pleasure and happiness, the eight worldly concerns. This creates negative motivations in our minds and we create more negative karma.

The more we become aware of this, the more it seems like a miracle that we got the opportunity of a precious human life, because we see that it's very difficult to achieve. It's really rare to have a life in which we can practice.

The Six Far-Reaching Attitudes

Ethical discipline just gets us out of the lower rebirths. What gets us a precious human life is practicing the other five far-reaching attitudes: generosity, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom.

Being generous creates the cause for wealth.

  • When we have wealth, we have in the precious human life kind people who help us on the path.
  • We have benefactors and enough material assets so that we can practice.
  • Generosity refers to giving with the pure motivation to have a precious human life and to attain enlightenment, not just to make somebody like us or to fulfill an obligation.
  • We have many opportunities to be generous or make offerings, but we often don't use them.
  • It's actually very difficult to be generous with a good motivation where it's purely for others' benefit or purely with the aspiration for liberation and enlightenment.

All the far-reaching attitudes are difficult to practice with a pure motivation.

  • It's hard to be patient and very easy to get angry instead.
  • It's hard to do our Dharma practice with joyous effort and very easy to lie in bed and put it off with excuses of all kinds.
  • So it's quite difficult to create the cause to have a precious human life.
Aspiration and Dedication Prayers

We might keep ethical discipline and we might be generous or patient. But what do we pray for?

  • Do we tend to pray for worldly things?
  • How often do we really pray and dedicate so that the virtue that we've created through ethical discipline and through the six far-reaching attitudes actually leads to another precious human life or to liberation and enlightenment?
  • This is why we say dedication prayers at the end of teachings and meditation sessions.
    • Have the verses memorized and dedicate the positive potential.
    • We create a lot of virtue when we attend teachings or meditate, but if we don't dedicate it, then we destroy it because anger or wrong views come up.
  • This is meant to be alarming so that we fully appreciate our present opportunity and don't waste it or take it for granted.
    • We want to wake up out of the sleep of our ignorance and look at the karma we're creating and the quality of our Dharma practice.
    • This will only make us work harder to create the cause of happiness.

Examining the Rarity and Difficulty of Attaining a Precious Human Life by Number

We can also examine how it's difficult to attain a precious human life by looking at the numbers.

  • Out of all the living beings, how many are human? Think of all the animals, insects, etc.
  • Out of all the human beings, how many have a precious human life? It's really rare to have all the circumstances conducive to practice, all the freedoms and fortunes.

Examining the Rarity and Difficulty of Attaining a Precious Human Life by Analogy

We can also meditate on the rarity and difficulty of attaining a precious human life by using this story as an analogy:

There's a turtle who is blind. The turtle is at the bottom of the ocean. Once every hundred years he comes up for a breath of air. Meanwhile on the top of the ocean there's a golden yoke. The golden yoke is floating all around because the currents push it here and there on top of this huge ocean. This turtle comes up for air every one hundred years. What's the likelihood of the turtle coming up and putting its head through the golden yoke? Not very high because he comes up here and the yoke is over there, and he comes up there and the yoke is over there. Sometimes he comes up and just hits the edge of the yoke but can't get his head through it. It's so difficult. So even by analogy we see.

What is that analogy? We're like the blind turtle. We're blind in the sense that we're blinded by ignorance. We're at the bottom of the ocean, meaning that usually in an unfortunate rebirth. We come up to the surface, meaning to an upper realm, once every hundred years. How many times when we come up to the surface do we put our head through the golden yoke which is the precious human life? Not very often.

When we really meditate on this and do this visualization, we realize how incredibly fortunate we are to have a precious human life.

  • We'll have a strong desire to practice to create the cause for another precious human life, and to create the cause for liberation and enlightenment.
  • When those are our motivations, then attraction to the happiness of this life is not so interesting, those things are not so meaningful.
    • Those things are not the purpose of our lives.
    • Our interest in the eight worldly concerns get drastically reduced, because we see there's a much higher purpose to our lives.
    • Our hearts instead feel very open and enthusiastic because we see the potential of what our life is and what we can do.

Meditation on Precious Human Life

We use analytic (checking) meditation to meditate on precious human life (as opposed to focusing on the breath).

  • We have an outline of the different points, and we think about them one by one.
  • In each case, we try to transform our mind to become the conclusion that was explained.

Meditation on Recognizing Our Precious Human Life

  • Go through the eight freedoms. With each one, think what would happen if we didn't have this freedom; could we practice?
  • Go through the ten fortunes. With each one, think of how fortunate we are; what would it be like if we didn't have this one?
  • At the end, come to the conclusion that we have a precious human life, that we're very fortunate, that we will practice and not waste it.

Meditation on the Purpose of Our Precious Human Life

  • Go through the three purposes one by one:
    • Temporal purpose of getting an upper rebirth
    • Ultimate purpose of liberation and enlightenment
    • Purpose of making our lives meaningful moment by moment
  • With each purpose, realize what an opportunity we have.
    • Preparing for future lives means we'll live more in the moment now; we won't be so wrapped up in attachment, anger, the eight worldly concerns.
    • We realize our life has a deeper purpose of liberation and enlightenment, i.e., putting an end to suffering and getting out of cyclic existence, and being able to benefit sentient beings.
    • This deeper meaning over the long term has to do with developing good qualities in our minds and purifying our hearts, making life meaningful in every moment.
  • At the end, we come to the conclusion that our life has great meaning and that we want to make it as meaningful as possible.

Meditation on the Rarity and Difficulty of Attaining a Precious Human Life

  • We think about the rarity and difficulty of attaining a precious human life in terms of (1) creating the cause, (2) numbers, and (3) analogy.
  • Especially think, "Is it easy to create good karma? ethical discipline?" Really check and examine.
  • We come to the conclusion that it's very difficult to get a precious human life, and realize how unbelievably fortunate we are.
    • Realizing this, we don't want to waste this opportunity.
    • If we only use this life for the eight worldly concerns, then next life, we may find ourselves in a lower realm.
    • We realize our life has a higher meaning and purpose, so we should use our time wisely, i.e., for transforming our minds.
    • We don't want to waste time worrying about things that aren't worth worrying about, or being afraid of things, or craving and clinging to them, or criticizing others.

The Diagram

Precious Human Life

Related Diagrams