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23 Oct 2009

Precious human life

This week, Sharon Saw discusses on how we do not truly realise the preciousness of our human life. 

I recently made a new friend at a club in KL. She was a young girl who identifies as a butch. We had started chatting and she said she was interested in Buddhism, which of course thrilled me to bits. See, you can find opportunities to share Dharma everywhere! The next day, she came for the Buddhist class at Kechara and has been attending regularly ever since.

Recently, she started talked about furthering her studies overseas. At only 23 years old, her long-term goal was rare for someone as young as her, she said she wanted to leave the suffering in samsara*. So when she announced her plans to leave Malaysia, I tactfully asked her why she wanted to head overseas for study. Was it to seek a new environment to escape her problems?

Coincidentally, at our Dharma classes, we were studying the preciousness of human life. We were discussing how we do not truly realise the preciousness of our human life, which is why we waste away our lives on activities that do not ultimately benefit ourselves and others. We say that we can be spiritual later, as if we are immortal. Or we say I don’t think I can be spiritual in this life – maybe the next? As if we can guarantee that we will be reborn in the human realm in our next life.

The concept of preciousness comes from rarity and intrinsic value. To even contemplate how rare our human existence is, Buddha had a parable about an old blind turtle which lives at the bottom of the ocean. This turtle swims up to the ocean’s surface for air once every hundred years. Imagine a golden yoke floating around the seas, never still for a moment. The likelihood of the blind turtle swimming up and putting his head through the hole of the yoke when he comes up for a breath, is the likelihood of our being born as a human being.

But there are so many humans, I have heard people say. However, compared to the billions upon billions of insects, animals, spirits etc, human beings should be considered an extreme minority.

Buddhism provides a comprehensive list of conditions, which allows us to see how precious it is to be born as a human being. It is precious because we have the potential and opportunity to develop ourselves in order to progress out of our current stress and unhappiness.

We can see how lucky we are by reflecting that we are born in a place and time where we have access to Buddha’s teachings and people are practising the Dharma. We are relatively healthy and we can choose our life philosophy or religion freely. Finally, people have love in their hearts for others.

We are also very fortunate not be born in the hells, or as a hungry ghost, or an animal. Ironically, we are also free from the god** and demi-god realm, where we would not be inclined to practice Dharma as we would have continuous pleasures so we do not even consider improving our situation. We have a conscience about good and bad and we’re generally sane.

If we had any conditions contrary to the above, i.e. having mental illness, being tortured, having no access Buddhist teachings, not having religious freedom etc., we would not be able to practise Dharma even if we wanted to.

The fact is that we are so fortunate to have this human rebirth, to have met the Dharma and have a roof over our heads, food on our tables, good health – which sets up a wonderful environment to learn and practise Dharma, hence we should not waste it.

I really hope my new and sweet butch friend will seriously think what she wants to do with her life. The karma to experience Dharma is open but will she walk in?

No matter how old or young we are, I think we need to be constantly aware of what we’re doing in our lives and to contemplate our everyday activities is in synch with our long-term goals – which is to stay happy.

As H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche says, “Yes to friends, to lovers, to business meetings! Yes to dinners and parties! Yes to dates, drinks, entertainment, watching TV, eating, shopping! But when something is wrong - Friends and lovers leave. Parties end. Shopping is temporary therapy and could potentially lead to debts! Yes, we NEED businesses and money but how much is enough? Dinners are lovely but what does that lead to?

At the end of this, we could feel a deep sense of loneliness, senselessness and purposelessness. Not because we are bad, but because we’ve been focusing too much for too long on the wrong agendas to happiness.”- an edited quote from If Not Now, When?

*The six realms are the six states of existence, which are divided into the three lower realms of hell realm, spirit realm and animal realm, and the three higher realms of human, gods and demi-gods.

**In Buddhism, gods are not the omnipotent creator as in the Abrahamic religions. God and demi-god realms are within samsara, which means that they are still subject to the laws of cause and effect, and they are not immortal. Although gods may live for extremely long periods of time, eventually they will die and when they do die, they suffer tremendously. Therefore, in Buddhism, it is not a positive aspiration to be born in the god or demi-god realms.

Sharon Saw is a writer / editor at Kechara Media & Publications, which focuses on publishing the teachings of H.E. Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, a high incarnate Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. This column will appear every other Friday. 

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-10-24 11:16  
Hi Sharon...I can consider myself very very lucky meeting you at the club that night :) I had no idea why I ended up there after 1hour my ex broke up with me (I can choose to go home but I glad I didn't :P)

Without you, Susan, H.E Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, Mr.Ngeow, Jamie, Gim Lee, Tat Ming, Dr.Lance, Sio Chian... guidance, I guess I be continue sinking and sinking in my life carrying an illusion and fault perception. I'm fortunate being part of this Dharma family in short period of time :)

The chances for the blind turtle hit the yoke is very rare, Dharma is indeed like a diamond so precious n so beautiful. Working, studying, things that we encounter everyday, we are actually practicing Dharma from moment to moment, just in different environment n places:)

As a human born with 5 senses intact, I got the chance to experience this samsaric life, to understand suffering, causes of suffering and what it feel like to be born, sick, aging and death.

I remember Rinpoche say Samsara is a state of mind, H.H the 14th Dalai Lama was here among us but his not suffering... What causes us to suffer is our own perception, our afflicted emotion, self-center, ego...

Continue my journey oversea is not what i really want in life, as I understood everything will be gone within 50 yrs- Impermanence. To get a good job and a good income in the future, is just temporally support my samsaric way of life.. (At least with a good income, I able to continue help out KSK, KMP more :P)
Our main goal is still n always reach out for life that need help :)

Comment edited on 2009-10-24 11:17:53
2. 2009-10-24 11:22  
See your in Tibet next year!!!
3. 2009-10-25 17:00  
Susan, thank you for this very enlightening article, kudos to Fridae for including a spiritual column. Being gay, I feel that many are wasting their time away in this Dharma state of our lives. Thank you thank you..
4. 2009-10-26 12:58  
As a buddhism...and be able to chant the scripture, we should learn and respect all religions, and never disrespect the deities by saying that buddhism is higher than deities. Afterall we are still a buddhist and we are just a little human with karma and compared to deities... their level of achivements are much more higher than us every human beings. We are just the begining to learn the way to reach pure land. Deities helped the buddhism by protecting buddhism. There are 4 heavenly deities known as 4 heavenly deities that protected the relams. Therefore it is a must for every buddhists to show respect to buddha and also to deities. Outside there got alot of buddhist people going round and spread and said that buddha is high level than deities, and so also the buddhist believer. The buddhist will said that buddhist people cannot enter into deities temples and pray to deities as they considered themselves higher than deities, but buddhist people are just an earthly human. How can you compare yourself to deities? The deities attained enlightement before we get enlightenment. This concept is wrong. Buddha said "普度众生,众生平等" this word has clearly indicated that every one including the ghost/deities/human/animals are given respect and equality and can achieve enlightenment and attain nirvana level.

To be a real buddhist, we must always show respect to every religions, human. To offer and not to recieve any benefit by helping the poor, is a merit every single buddhist people should remember in life.

Boddhisttiva is scared of getting karma, and we as a buddhist believer should help to uphold the real and correct concept of buddhism teachings.

To lessen the Karma and together we reach pure land.

also to buddhism who wish to reach the pure land.
5. 2009-10-26 14:21  
Hi Sharon,
Timely article for my reflection at this juncture...here's a sharing...
From the Pali Canon:
"Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there.
A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north.
And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there.
It would come to the surface once every one hundred years.
Now what do you think: would that blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?"
"It would be a sheer coincidence, Lord, that the blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole."
"It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. "Therefore your duty is the contemplation,
'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.'
Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"

From the Mahayana Canon:
The Buddha asked a Shramana,
"How long is the human life span?"
He replied, "A few days."
The Buddha said,
"You have not yet understood the Way."

He asked another Shramana,
"How long is the human life span?"
The reply was, "The space of a meal."
The Buddha said,
"You have not yet understood the Way."

He asked another Shramana,
"How long is the human life span?"
He replied, "The length of a single breath."
The Buddha said,
"Excellent. You have understood the Way."

Anitya, Duhkha, Anatman, Nirvana!
Comment edited on 2009-10-26 14:55:31
6. 2009-11-11 03:37  
Voyager86 is definitely not the only 23 year old whose main goal in life is to leave samsaric suffering :)

Although, in light of the subsequent article on labels, I find it interesting that Sharon referred to her as her new "butch" friend. Was Voyager86's gender-relative mannerisms her most pertinent feature, over and above her 23 year old enlightenment-seeking self?

Just a thought.
7. 2009-11-22 21:44  
Sharon, Thank you for giving me some perspective, some "depth of field"!

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