Friday, February 6, 2015


the human realm from the Wheel of Life
Life in human form does not contain so much suffering like in the hells, pretas and animal realms, but also has little happiness than in the asura and gods realms. Because of this, even if it has its own disadvantages, human realm is the most desirable place of birth, from the spiritual point of view. Buddhas themselves, when appearing in the world to turn the wheel of Dharma, they do so in human form.

To illustrate the extreme difficulty of rebirth in the human realm, as opposed to the lower realms, Sakyamuni Buddha compared it to the likelihood that a blind turtle, surfacing from the depths of the ocean only once every one hundred years, would encounter a tree trunk with a hole suitable for nesting:

Sooner, do I declare, would a one-eyed turtle, if he were to pop up to the surface of the sea only once at the end of every hundred years, chance to push his neck through a yoke with one hole than would a fool, who has once gone to the Downfall[1], be reborn as a man.”[2]
(Samyutta Nikaya. v. 455)

            The sacred texts often insists that we should appreciate the rare chance of birth in human form and do whatever we can to put it to good use for Dharma practice:

“Hard is it to be born into human life, now we are living it. Difficult is it to hear the teachings of the Blessed One, now we hear it. Even through ages of myriads of kalpas, hard is it to hear such an excellent, profound, and wonderful doctrine. Now we are able to hear and receive it. Let us thoroughly understand the true meaning of Tathagata’s teaching”.

            However, human beings, afflicted as they are with the Eight Sufferings, namely, birth, old age, disease, death, separation from loved ones, meeting with the people they hate, unfulfilled wishes and the suffering associated with the five skandas[3], find it very hard to have a true spiritual evolution.
They are born in pain, have a fragile body when compared with that of many other beings, and generally speaking, their lifespan is not definite, as death may come anytime to young and old alike. Also, their experience is contradictory, changing quickly from pleasant to painful, and thus, nothing is truly certain in the human realm.
Because of these conditions inherent in human beings, they often lose the rare chance they have and fall again to the lower realms. Shakyamuni Buddha gave a vivid description of human failure in the Larger Sutra:

People of the world, being weak in virtue, engage in strife over matters that are not urgent. In the midst of abject wickedness and extreme afflictions they painstakingly toil for their living. Whether noble or corrupt, rich or poor, young or old, male or female, all people worry about wealth and property. In this there is no difference between rich and poor; both have their anxieties. Groaning in dejection and sorrow, they pile up thoughts of anguish or, driven by inner urges, they run wildly in all directions and thus have no time for peace and rest.

“For example, if they own fields they are concerned about them. If they have houses they worry about them. They are also anxious about their six domestic animals, such as cows and horses, about their male and female servants, money, wealth, clothes, food, and furnishings. With deepening troubles they sigh repeatedly, and anxiety increasingly torments and terrifies them.
Sudden misfortune may befall them: all their possessions may be destroyed by fire, swept away by floods, plundered by robbers, or seized by adversaries or creditors. Then gnawing grief afflicts them and incessantly troubles their hearts. Anger seizes their minds, keeps them in constant agitation, increasingly tightens its grip, hardens their hearts, and never leaves them.

When their lives end in such agonizing conditions, they must leave everyone and everything behind. Even nobles and wealthy people have these worries. With much anxiety and fear, they endure such tribulations. Breaking out in cold sweats or fevers, they suffer unremitting pain.

“The poor and the underprivileged are constantly destitute. If, for example, they have no fields, they are unhappy and want them. If they have no houses, they are unhappy and want them. If they have none of the six domestic animals, such as cows and horses, or if they have no male or female servants, or lack money, wealth, clothes, food, or furnishings, they are unhappy and want those as well. If they possess some of these things, others may be lacking. If they have this, they do not have that, and so they wish to possess all. But even if by some chance they come to possess everything, it will soon be destroyed or lost. Then, dejected and sorrowful, they may strive to obtain such things again but it may be impossible. Brooding over this is to no avail.

Exhausted in mind and body, they become restless in all their activities and anxieties follow on their heels. Such are the troubles they must endure. Breaking out in cold sweats or fevers, they suffer unremitting pain. Such conditions may result in the sudden end of their lives or an early death. Since they have not done any good in particular, nor followed the Way, nor acted virtuously, when they die they will depart alone to an inferior world. Although they are destined to different states of existence, none of them understands the law of karma that sends them there.

            Realizing with amazement, the stark contrast between the preciousness of human life and how human beings actually fail to appreciate it, Shakyamuni said, to those gathered on Vulture Peak[4]:

“Why do they not abandon all worldly involvements and strive, while they are strong and healthy, to pursue good and diligently seek deliverance from samsara? If they do they will be able to attain infinite life. Why do they not seek the Way? What is there in this world that should be longed for? What pleasure is there that ought to be sought after?”  

In fact, as He himself explained further, people of the world do not believe in pursuing good and receiving its reward or in practicing the Way and attaining Enlightenment; neither do they believe in transmigration and retribution for evil acts or reward for good ones, such as obtaining merit by helping others. Believing that these do not exist, they totally reject such a view.
“Further, by so doing, they cling to their own views more tenaciously. Later generations learn from previous ones to act likewise. Fathers, perpetuating their wrong views, pass them on to their children. Since parents and grandparents from the beginning did not do good deeds, were ignorant of the Way, committed foolish acts, and were benighted, insensitive, and callous, their descendants are now unable to realize the truth of birth and death and the law of karma. There is no one to tell them about this. Nobody seeks to know the cause of fortune and misfortune, happiness and misery, although these states result from such acts.

The reality of birth and death is such that the sorrow of parting is mutually felt by all generations. A father cries over the deaths of his children; children cry over the death of their father. Brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives mourn each other’s deaths. According to the basic law of impermanence, whether death will occur in order of seniority or in the reverse order is unpredictable. All things must pass. Nothing stays forever. Few believe this, even if someone teaches and exhorts them. And so the stream of birth and death continues everlastingly.

Because they are stupid and callous, such people do not accept the teachings of the Buddha; they lack forethought and only wish to satisfy their own desires. They are deluded by their passionate attachments, unaware of the Way, misguided and trapped by anger and enmity, and intent on gaining wealth and gratifying their carnal desires like wolves. And so, unable to follow the Way, they are again subject to suffering in evil realms in an endless cycle of birth and death. How miserable and pitiable this is!

In the same family, when one of the parents, children, brothers, sisters, or the husband or wife dies, those surviving mourn over the loss and their attachment to the deceased persists. Deep sorrow fills their hearts and, grief-stricken, they mournfully think of the departed. Days pass and years go by, but their distress goes on. Even if someone teaches them the Way, their minds are not awakened. Brooding over fond memories of the dead, they cannot rid themselves of attachment. Being ignorant, inert, and illusion-bound, they are unable to think deeply, keep their self-composure, practice the Way with diligence, or dissociate themselves from worldly matters. As they wander here and there they come to their end and die before entering on the Way.
Then what can be done for them?

Because they are spiritually defiled, deeply troubled, and confused, people indulge their passions. Hence, many are ignorant of the Way and few realize it. Everyone is restlessly busy, having nothing on which to rely. Whether moral or corrupt, of high or low rank, rich or poor, noble or base, all are preoccupied with their own work. They entertain venomous thoughts, creating a widespread and dismal atmosphere of malevolence. Subversive activities are planned, contrary to the universal law and the wishes of the people.

“Injustice and vice inevitably follow and are allowed to run their course unchecked until evil karma accumulates to the limit. Before they expect their lives to end people meet sudden death and fall into evil realms, where they will suffer excruciating torments for many lives. They will not be able to escape for many thousands of kotis of kalpas. How indescribably painful!
How pitiable this is!”

            Such is the condition of most of the human beings, as Shakyamuni described it, miserable and pitiable” and “indescribably painful”, so even if one is born a human, the very realm where all the Buddhas appear in the world, and where the pain is not so great like in the lower realms, it does not mean that they automatically follow the Path He laid down for them, and attain Enlightenment.

[1] To the lower realms.
[2] Seeker’s Glossary of Buddhism
[3] All the physical and mental elements of this world are classified in five types of skandhas (“agregates”): 1) form (a generic name for all kinds of matter), 2) perception, 3) conceptions and ideas, 4) volition and 5) conscience or mind. In the case of man, form is the body and the rest represent the mind and its processes.  
[4] The Larger Sutra on Amida Buddha was preached by Shakyamuni Buddha on Vulture Peak.

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