Uttaratantra: Precious Human Life and Setting the Motivation

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Precious Human Life

Today, we are at Lama Tsongkhapa Institute, which is headed by two great spiritual masters. We have come together for spiritual teachings, and we are all very fortunate to have this opportunity. I am very happy to be here with you today.

In general, it is extremely difficult to obtain a human life. To obtain a human life where we are interested in spiritual matters and also in benefiting future lives is even rarer. A human life is the result of having done a great deal of difficult, constructive work in previous lifetimes. This hard work generated a great deal of positive potential, which resulted in rebirth as a human being with an interest in spiritual matters in this lifetime.

Disregarding the entire universe, even if we speak only of this world, there are a great number of living beings, beings with limited minds. When we travel around the world in an airplane, we can see how many beings there are, how many cities, how great the population appears to be. However, most of planet Earth’s surface is made up of the water of the oceans. Just by looking at a map, we can see all the oceans with no human beings, but only sea creatures living there. Although it appears as if there are a lot of human beings in this world, if we compare the number of human beings with the number of animals and insects, there are far more animals and insects. We can understand this by considering the area around a person in the summertime. There are so many insects, tiny helpless creatures.

Consider all of the human beings that there are, and then consider the number who are interested in spiritual matters. For instance, count the number of people who come to a teaching like this. It is a very small number compared to the number of people in general.

All living beings want to be happy, and nobody wants to have any problems or suffering. If we look at the ones at the very top, the bodhisattvas, even they want to be happy. These dedicated beings with tenth-level minds that are about to become enlightened want to achieve the superlative state of omniscience. Even these beings of great realization wish for happiness.

If we look at the less developed beings, just ordinary beings that haven’t yet developed a spiritual path, they too only want to be happy. If both ordinary beings and those of great realization want to be happy, what kind of happiness does everybody want? We can say that all people want a stable, long-lasting and very great happiness. Ordinary people think only in terms of happiness for this lifetime. They work to get nice things to eat, beautiful things to wear, a good social position, fame and reputation. Although they wish for long-lasting, stable, high-quality happiness, they are only working for this lifetime.

If we never had to die, it would be fine to just work for the happiness of this lifetime. However, once born, there is absolutely no one who can escape death. If, after being born and dying, we did not have to take birth again, that would be very lovely, but that is also not the case. We do take rebirth again. Since we are reborn time and again, future rebirths will extend over a tremendous period of time. If we could take all the work we do for this lifetime into future lives, that would be very nice, that would be great. Unfortunately, no matter how much wealth and how many possessions we accumulate in this lifetime, we must leave them all behind with our bodies when we die.

Lasting Happiness 

Therefore, it is very important to accumulate the kind of happiness that we can bring to future lives. Those who are interested in trying to bring about happiness in future lives are known as spiritual practitioners. We say that spiritual practitioners are those who take preventive measures. The term “Dharma” means preventive measures. People involved in the Dharma are people involved in taking preventive measures to avoid suffering and to bring about happiness in future lives.

Right now, we have a precious human life, which is an excellent working basis for bringing about happiness in our future lives. This human life that we have now is the result of a tremendous amount of hard work we performed in previous lifetimes that built up positive potential. Therefore, it is good to rejoice and feel very happy about what we have accomplished.

Let’s put aside trying to get a human body like this, a body made of living flesh and the breath of life. Even if we were to try to make a body of gold, it would require a tremendous amount of work. We would have to perform a vast number of activities in order to accumulate the causes for making a body out of gold. But even more work would be involved in getting the precious human life that we have now. With this precious human birth, the result of a tremendous number of difficulties endured in previous lives, we can work to benefit future lives.

Certainly, we should feel very happy, delighted, and joyous about achieving a precious human life. Why is this? Because on the basis of the precious human life, we can achieve rebirth in the future as a god for instance, as Brahma or even as Indra, the king of gods. Or we can be reborn as a human being with tremendous wealth and prosperity. All of these things can be accomplished on the basis of a precious human life. For that reason, we can feel happy to have a precious human body.

How to Achieve Rebirth as a Human or God

How can we ensure rebirths in future lives as prosperous gods or human beings? We can use, as a basis, this precious human life to practice ethical self-discipline in order to avoid the ten destructive actions. By restraining ourselves from acting destructively, we can achieve rebirths as humans or gods. However, even if we practice the ethical self-discipline of restraining from the ten destructive actions and, as a result, are born as prosperous humans or splendid gods, we will still not have achieved the long-lasting, stable happiness that we wish for.

Engaging in the Three Types of Training that Lead to Stable Happiness

If we ask, why is it that, in such a human or god rebirth, we haven’t achieved stable happiness, it is because we haven’t been able to cut the root that causes our uncontrollably recurring problems. Because we haven’t cut the root of these problems, we will not achieve stable happiness. Nevertheless, the state of liberation in which we have cut through and eliminated the root of all of our problems can be achieved on the working basis of having a precious human life.

If we ask how to achieve liberation from all of our problems, we first need to see that the root of all of our problems is grasping at things as if they had true identities. If we can develop the discriminating awareness with which we realize that there is no such thing as a true identity, we will be able to cut through the root of our problems. In order to develop discriminating awareness, we must first develop single-minded, absorbed concentration. In order to be able to develop absorbed concentration, we need to have ethical self-discipline. As a result of these three types of training, it is possible to achieve liberation from all of our problems.

It is on the basis of these three trainings that it is possible to achieve the long-lasting and stable happiness that we all wish for. However, just to achieve this type of liberation for oneself alone is of no great help. What about everybody else? Everybody else with a limited mind is also suffering from problems and unhappiness. What about them?

Development of Bodhichitta

In order to help everybody with his or her problems and unhappiness, it is necessary to develop a vast vehicle of mind, a Mahayana mind, and work for everyone’s benefit with a heart of bodhichitta. This heart of bodhichitta is dedicated to achieving the state of a Buddha for the sake of all others.

The Kindness of Others

To begin to develop a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, a heart dedicated to achieving enlightenment in order to benefit everyone, we can consider those who have been kind to us.  When we reflect on who has been kind to us, we can see that all of the countless beings with limited minds, and likewise all of the Buddhas, have shown us great kindness. If we compare the amount of kindness that they each have shown us, we can see that, in fact, it is equivalent. The kindness that other beings have shown and the kindness the Buddhas have shown us are the same. In fact, limitless beings have shown us a great deal of kindness.

There are many ways of thinking about and becoming mindful of the kindness shown to us by all limited beings. For instance, we can reflect on our own mothers and about how kind they were to us, especially when we were tiny, helpless infants. We were not able to take care of ourselves at all. Consider how many times our mothers saved our lives when we were tiny infants.

Likewise, we can reflect in more general terms about how kind all beings with limited minds are to us. For instance, when it is cold and we wear warm woolen clothing, that wool came from sheep. It is due to the kindness of the animals that we are able to have the wool that keeps us warm. It is also due to their kindness that we are able to have milk, cheese, meat and other things that come from animals, these beings with limited minds. In truth, they are extremely helpful.

Love and Compassion

Thinking about the kindness of all others in this way will help us to develop a state of love and compassion. We will wish everybody happiness and freedom from all of their problems and suffering. With this as a root, we will develop a dedicated heart of bodhichitta, a heart committed to achieving the enlightened state of a Buddha in order to benefit and help all others.

As a result of dedicating our hearts in this way, on this basis, we will be able to accomplish this. It is possible to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha and benefit all beings with the basis of having a precious human life.

Integrating Dharma into Our Daily Lives

On the basis of this precious human life, we are able to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha and help all others. When we reflect on this, we can rejoice in the fact that we possess a precious human life along with all of the circumstances conducive to spiritual growth. We are interested in spiritual matters, we have spiritual masters who are here to teach us, and we have the opportunity to meet with and study the various texts that teach the preventive measures of Dharma. All around us, we have every support for making the fullest use of this precious human body and achieving the state of enlightenment for the benefit of everyone.

Therefore, we shouldn’t fool ourselves by working simply for the things of this lifetime like food, clothing or reputation. We need to work instead with this precious human basis for enlightenment. We have days off, Saturday and Sunday, during which we have a very good opportunity to listen to spiritual teachings. If we continue working steadily and continually, attending spiritual teachings and practicing, we will be able to gradually build up all good qualities. A bucket is filled gradually, drop by drop. The fact that we work five days a week and use the rest period during the weekends to study and practice spiritual teachings is something I think is really excellent. I rejoice and feel very happy about this.

The things that we learn here on the weekends are not things that we should leave behind when we go back to work during the week. Whatever type of spiritual teachings we learn here we should take with us, putting them into practice in our daily life. Spiritual practices are not things just to perform at a special place, things that we work intensely at for a few hours, and then forget about in the rest of our lives. Rather, whatever we practice should be taken with us and integrated into our daily life.

In certain libraries, we are only allowed to read the books in the reading room and are not allowed to take them outside of the library. However, spiritual study and practice are not things we do in a restricted place, thinking that we cannot take them outside. For instance, when we hear about the disadvantages and drawbacks of taking the life of any living creature, we need to reflect on this. We can decide from that moment on, as a result of understanding the disadvantages that follow killing, we will never kill again. It is a type of practice that we can begin from the moment we have heard it.

When we hear of love, the attitude of wishing everybody to be happy, when we hear about compassion, the attitude wishing everybody to be free from all problems and suffering, we need to take action. When we hear about universal responsibility, the exceptional resolve with which we take on the task of actually helping to eliminate all of their problems, we need to act immediately. 

Attaining Enlightenment to Best Be Able to Help Everyone

As soon as we hear about these attitudes, we can begin to develop the intention to actually generate them. We can start to do this immediately. Even if we have attained a state of exceptional resolve to work to eliminate everybody’s problems, if we examine whether we have the actual ability to bring happiness to everybody and to actually help eliminate everybody’s problems, we discover that indeed we don’t have this ability. Who does? It is someone who is totally clear-minded and fully evolved, who has achieved their fullest potential, someone who is, in fact, a Buddha. Therefore, we need to develop a heart that is totally dedicated to achieving the enlightenment of a Buddha in order to be able to help everybody. From the moment we hear of the dedicated heart, we need to try to develop one. We need to dedicate our hearts from this moment on, to others and to achieving enlightenment.

By committing our hearts to others, and to achieving the state of a Buddha, we will become more and more sincere. The more we do this, the deeper the feeling will grow. We will eventually reach the stage where there is nothing artificial about it at all, and we truly and sincerely will have a totally dedicated heart.

It is like a child starting primary school. From the first day they start to learn to write, no matter how crude their writing skills are at the onset, they continue to try to develop them. It is through these repeated attempts that they are able to advance. Ultimately, they can compose very nicely, from the beginning to the end. We start to learn to write from the very first days of school. We continue to refine this skill and learn other skills until we complete our entire educational experience. It is through this sustained effort that we accomplish whatever type of goal we want to attain. Through our work, and the repeated effort to accomplish, we eventually attain our goals.

It is the same with a dedicated heart. We start as best we can to dedicate our hearts to others and to achieve the enlightened state of a Buddha. We do this over and over again until we achieve the state of a Buddha, the highest accomplishment we can wish for.

How to Practice: Honest Daily Assessment of Constructive and Destructive Behavior

  • Upon waking up in the morning, first of all, rejoice and feel happy that you didn’t die during the night. You have awakened and are still alive.       
  • Next, set your intention for the day: that whatever you do you will have positive thoughts and a dedicated heart for the benefit of everyone. If you set your intentions in this way in the morning, whatever you do during the day will be supported by the positive energy of your intentions.
  • At night, review the actions of the day. Reflect on any negative or destructive things that you might have done that day. Then, honestly and openly admit that these actions or thoughts were unhelpful, feeling great regret about them and promising to try and not repeat them again in the future.
  • Next, reflect on the positive and constructive things you have accomplished during the day, rejoicing and feeling very happy about them.
  • Dedicate all of the positive potential that was built up during the day to achieve the fully enlightened state of a Buddha in order to benefit everyone.
  • Intend that tomorrow you will continue to act positively and be helpful to others.

When we go to sleep with this type of positive attitude, our entire period of sleep will be carried along with the force of the positive energy that we generated prior to going to sleep. This type of practice is a way to have both our entire day and night enveloped with positive and constructive energy.