Monday, June 25, 2012

Precious Human Life

This week a few of my vajra brothers and sisters have begun a year long contemplation on Mind Training, or Lojong in Tibetan.  The benefit of the mind training teachings is that they are very simple and precise. You can read the whole text or a portion of the text and then actually practice it. There is a directness to the teachings that each time you read it, there is something that cuts through misconceptions or internal struggles we are having. These teachings represent the simplicity of the Mahayana tradition.

First, train in the preliminaries.

The first preliminary is the contemplation on this precious human life.  The key point is that we need to take advantage of this precious human life endowed with freedom and opportunity.  

There are several implications to consider regarding this precious human life.  The first is the rarity of obtaining a precious human life.  By some strange chance we have stumbled upon this situation, much like a blind person stumbling upon a treasure.  If we do not use this great opportunity now, when will we have the chance again in the future?  

Take a look at the people around you.  People are extremely busy, many of them over stressed with work, chasing after momentary illusions for entertainment and satisfaction.  Many people in this world have opportunity- the presence of favorable conditions.  More and more people are coming to have freedom- the absence of negative conditions.  But it is extremely rare that a person has both opportunity and freedom.

We can look at our own life to see the rarity of having both opportunity and freedom.  How many times have we had extra time on our hands but we have lacked either the resources or the physical health to actually use that time effectively?  How many times have we had an abundance of resources and energy, but no time to actually meditate or enjoy the simple things in life?  How often have we wasted away days, nights and weekends caught up in worry, anger or scheming; no freedom from negative mental states to actually cultivate positive qualities. 

The second implication is that this life has great purpose.  We have somehow stumbled upon this great treasure, so we must put it to good use or like a fool we will squander it and return empty handed.  

When we understand both the rarity of this precious human life and its great purpose, then we can embrace a larger scope.   The Buddha taught that all beings have buddhanature, the inherent potential to attain awakening.  In the Sutra of the Great Parinirvana:

For example, just as butter permeates milk, likewise buddhanature pervades all beings.

In the Uttaratantra-shastra:

If buddhanature were not present, there would be no remorse over suffering;
There would be no longing for peace, nor striving and devotion towards its aim.  

When we are able to acknowledge our own capacity to achieve awakening, complete and utter enlightenment, it is like a seed taking root in our heart.  As that seed blossoms and grows stronger through the conduct of compassion and loving kindness, it spreads its branches out to shelter beings suffering from the heat of the afflictions.  As it reaches maturation it yields a cool ambrosia fruit that quenches the thirst of beings, establishing them in bliss and contentment. 

Recognizing this innate quality in ourselves, we see the great purpose that this life can accomplish.  It is with this recognition that we generate aspirational bodhicitta, or the aspiration to attain awakening for the sake of all sentient beings.  Just as Shantideva says in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

May I be a guard for those who are protectorless, 
A guide for those who journey on the road.
For those who wish to cross the water, 
May I be a boat, a raft, a bridge.

May I be an isle for those who yearn for land, 
A lamp for those who long for light;
For all who need a resting place, a bed;
For those who need a servant, may I be their slave.

May I be the wishing jewel, the vase of wealth,
A word of power and supreme healing,
May I be the tree of miracles,
For every being the abundant cow.

Just like the eart and space itself,
And all the mighty elements,
For boundless multitudes of beings
May I always be the ground of life, the source of varied sustenance.

Thus for everything that lives,
As far as the limits of the sky,
May I be constantly their source of livelihood
Until they pass beyond all sorrow.

It is with such an aspiration that we embrace the larger scope of this precious human life.  We cannot afford to waste more time, we must use such a rare opportunity at this very moment.

We then come to the decisive experience of having obtained a precious human life, bodhicitta in action, or traveling the path to awakening.  Again, in the Way of the Bodhisattva:

Today my life has given fruit.
This human state has now been well assumed.
Today I take my birth in Buddha's line,
And have become the Buddha's child and heir.

In every way, then, I will undertake 
Activities befitting such a rank.
And I will do no act to mar
Or compromise this high and faultless lineage.

For I am like a blind man who has found
A precious gem inside a heap of dust.
For so it is, by some strange chance,
That bodhicitta has been born in me.

This is the supreme draft of immortality
That slays the Lord of Death, the slaughterer of beings, 
The rich unfailing treasure mine
To heal the poverty of wanderers.

It is the sovereign remedy
That perfectly allays all maladies.
It is the tree that gives relief
To those who wander wearily the pathways of existence.

It is the universal bridge that saves
All wandering beings from the states of loss,
The rising moon of the enlightened mind
That soothes the sorrows born of the afflictions.

It is the mighty sun that utterly dispels
The misty ignorance of wandering beings,
The creamy butter, rich and full,
That's churned from milk of holy teachings.

Living beings!  Wayfarer's upon life's paths,
Who wish to taste the riches of contentment,
Here before you is the supreme bliss.
Here, O ceaseless travelers, is your fulfillment!

Again and again contemplate the meaning of this precious human life.  We are extremely fortunate, but we cannot remain idle, the days, weeks and months move too fast.  Now is the time to act!


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