Buddhist Philosophy

Precious Human Life

Precious Human Life

Part Two of Khenpo Gyaltsen’s teachings on the Four Mind Changings

Khenpo taught in English, and the audio contains a translation into Portuguese.

First, Khenpo requests that we learn about the meaning of a precious human life. Then, he asks us to make an effort to share these teachings with children, family, and friends. Unfortunately, he observes in these stressful modern times, that many people commit suicide. We can help people who suffer from heavy problems by sharing these important teachings. We can help by sharing the teachings on the value of the precious human body. And in particular, we help society heal when we teach young children about this precious opportunity.

Precious Versus Mere Human Life

Precious human life differs from mere human life, according to classic Buddhist teachings so it is important that we understand this distinction. When we talk about a precious human life, we refer to eighteen qualities. Teachers often describe these as the eighteen freedoms and advantages. We can make an effort to learn about these and think about our own circumstances carefully.

If we possess those eighteen factors, then we say we have a precious human life. If we don’t have all of these, however, then we have a mere human life. In Buddhism, we say that it is very difficult to attain all the conditions for a precious human life. That is why the human population continues to grow, but there are still not many people who do possess all the qualities.

Wrong View

For example, if you have wrong view, then you don’t have a precious human life. And what do we mean by wrong view? Well, according to Buddhist teachings, the wrong view means not believing in karma: cause and effect. Or many people do not believe in past and future lives. Khenpo explains that this type of non-belief can bring danger. We subsequently won’t be attentive to the effects of our physical, verbal, and mental actions.

Similarly, we need to check each of the eighteen qualities: do we have these or not?

Moral Discipline: Cause for Precious Human Life

In the scriptures, we say that we attain a precious human body by practicing moral discipline. We explain that as the cause. And for laypeople, we talk about the five moral disciplines. We need to protect this discipline so that we can achieve a precious human life in the future. And here again, we need to check our actual behavior carefully.

If we take refuge vows, we promise not to kill any sentient beings. But how many of us hold this vow purely? Maybe we kill cockroaches, other insects, or small rodents. And we may feel that we have no choice, but is that really true? We need to examine this carefully. Our actions do have consequences.Precious human life

If we cause harm in this way, then we are not protecting our moral discipline. That means we are not creating the causes for future precious human rebirth. And that is how we can understand why a precious human life is hard to attain.

What Do We Mean by Precious?

Buddhist texts teach us that we need to have a precious human life in order to achieve buddhahood. Of course, all sentient beings have buddha-nature. Although that is true, we also can learn about the five paths to enlightenment: a progressive journey along the spiritual path. The masters teach that we must possess a precious human body to attain the path of seeing. When we attain the path of seeing, then we can proceed through the other paths to full enlightenment.

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Suggested Reading

Dudjom Rinpoche, The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism, trans. and ed. by Gyurme Dorje and Matthew Kapstein (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 1991), vol. 1, pages 468–474.

Ngawang Zangpo, Guru Rinpoche: His Life and Times, Ithaca: Snow Lion, 2002.

Nyoshul Khenpo, A Marvelous Garland of Rare Gems: Biographies of Masters of Awareness in the Dzogchen Lineage, trans. Richard Barron (Junction City: Padma Publishing, 2005), pages 41–48.

Padmasambhava, Legend of the Great Stupa, Berkeley: Dharma Publishing, 1973

Padmasambhava & Jamgön Kongtrul, The Light of Wisdom, trans. by Erik Pema Kunsang (Boudhanath: Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 1986-1999), pages 43-47 & Appendix 5.

Taranatha, The Life of Padmasambhava, Shang Shung Edizioni, 2005

Tulku Thondup, Masters of Meditation and Miracles, Shambhala, 1996.

Yeshe Tsogyal, Life and Liberation of Padmasambhava, translated by Kenneth Douglas and Gwendolyn Bays (Emeryville: Dharma Publishing, 1978, republished 2008).

Yeshe Tsogyal, Lotus Born: The Life Story of Padmasambhava, Rangjung Yeshe Publications, 2004.

‘The Life of Guru Padmasambhava’ in A Great Treasure of Blessings, The Tertön Sogyal Trust, 2004.