Gem of Wisdom for Daily Reflection: 

Four Thoughts (1) - Precious Human Birth

Birth of the Buddha-to-be Shakyamuni at Lumbini

The first part of the Ngöndro preliminary practice of Dzogchen - is a series of reflections on the four thoughts that turn the mind from the unsatisfactoriness of samsara to the path of liberation which is the application of Dharma.

These Four Thoughts (lodok nam shyi) which direct our mind to recognise the truth of suffering and the truth of the origin of sufferings are:

  1. precious human birth;
  2. impermanence and death;
  3. defects of samsara;
  4. karma - cause and effect.

The significance of these four thoughts are vividly described in the following prayer entitled ‘Four Thoughts That Turn The Mind To The Dharma’ from the Namchö Ngöndro text of the Nyingma Palyul tradition - Buddha in the Palm of Your Hand:

I prostrate to the glorious Samantabhadra.

This precious human rebirth is extremely difficult to obtain.

All things born are impermanent and must die.

Perseverance in the practice of virtuous Dharma is cause for becoming a Buddha.

Whatever negativities are produced will cause one to wander in the six realms.

Hungry spirits suffer from hunger and thirst; animals from stupidity;

Hell beings from heat and cold; humans from birth, old age, sickness and death;

Demigods from warfare; and even gods (Devas) have their suffering.


The first contemplation which turns the mind away from activities that lead to the continuous suffering of rebirths in samsara, is to reflect on the rarity and difficulty to obtain a precious human birth - the most supreme of all rebirths in the three higher realms of the gods, the demi gods, and the humans.

For the majority of beings in the Saha World (mi jé jik ten), precious human birth will occur for them for one time only during the infinite span of endless rebirths in samsara.

Human rebirth is incredibly rare for it is the result of merit accumulated from acts of generosity and the discipline of cultivating the ten virtues (gé wa chu) of body, speech and mind.

It takes merely one single act of non-virtue to create the karmic imprint that causes us to be reborn after death into the three lower realms of the animal, the hungry spirits and the hell-beings.

Shakyamuni Buddha has plainly stated that whoever loses the human body due to non-virtues will be reborn repeatedly in the three lower realms for a period of 5000 kalpas before any probability of being reborn again into the human realms.

Since each kalpa or aeon is equivalent to the duration of 10 billion years between the beginning and the destruction of an universe, human life once lost due to non-virtue would take a minimum of 50,000 billion years for another chance to have the next human birth, albeit one of lowly unfavourable conditions with neither the eight freedoms nor the ten endowments.

On the probability most beings receive only one chance of human birth in 5000 kalpas, the Fifth Dalai Lama said:

“This vessel of freedoms and endowment
For the attaining of all benefit and happiness,
Has been obtained this once,
If I were not to journey to the optimum land of realisation,
Return, instead to samsara with nothing worthy to behold,
It would destroy my heart.”


In the dark age of the five evils, acts of non-virtue are common in the world due to the widespread lack of moral discipline among sentient beings, while the meagre virtue they may be able to generate are overwhelmingly pale in comparison.

From The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva said:

“Like a flash of lightning on a dark cloudy night
Brightly illuminates the sky for an instant,
Every once in a while in this world,
Through the power of the Buddha,
A thought of virtue briefly occurs.”

He also said:

“If even one single act of sin
Will cause one to remain in the Avici Hell for aeons,
What is the probability of rebirth in the higher realms
When one has ceaselessly accumulated sins
Since time without beginning?”


On the causes to obtain rebirth in the higher realms, Shantideva stated:

“It is nothing other than the virtue of moral discipline.”


Also, on the same subject, Drakpa Gyaltsen said:

“This precious human birth is not by means of cunning,
It is the result of a great store of merits.”


And on the causes to obtain favourable conditions for human rebirth, Nagarjuna said:

“Generosity will give rise to prosperity; discipline will give rise to happiness.”


From Entering To The Middle Way, Chandrakirti said:

“If the limb of moral discipline is broken,
Albeit one is successful due to practice of generosity,
One may still fall into the lower realms.”


Whoever wastes this precious human life which comes just this once, will not receive even the most lowly, inferior human rebirth for aeons until all the negative karmic imprints are exhausted in the three lower realms.

As Shantideva said:

“Because of sins as such,
I will not have a human body;
Not having a human body,
I will continue to sin and accrue no virtue.”


Whoever, due to their habitual clinging and negative emotion, declines to practice Dharma properly in this life, will for certain experience the retribution of ceaseless rebirths in the lower realms, with no possibility to generate virtue, other than being subjected to ever-escalating misery of rebirth after rebirth in even lower realms.

By comparison, it is by far much easier to attain enlightenment in this present life than to regain human rebirth after falling into the lower realms.

If you are unable to attain awakening in this life, the least you can do is not to fall into the lower realms.

Once you have fallen into the lower realms, you will end up transmigrating forever from lower realm to ever lower realm.

From the Perfection of Transcendental Wisdom, Nagarjuna said:

“Through the discipline of ethics,
One relinquishes the eight unfavourable states,
And the countless transmigration as animals,
One then will always be blessed with favourable rebirths.”


A precious human birth, completed with the eight freedoms (dalwa gyé) and the ten endowments (jorwa chu), provides us with the rarest of opportunity to attain lasting freedom from suffering.

From The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva said:

“It is very difficult to obtain this great vessel of freedom and endowment,
With which the potential of having a human body can be accomplished.
If I fail to take advantage of these conditions,
When will such perfect opportunity come again?”


From the Thirty-Seven Practices Of Bodhisattva, Gyalse Tokme Zangpo said:

“In spite of being very difficult to obtain,
we now have this great vessel of freedoms and endowment.
To ensure we may liberate ourselves and other beings from the ocean of samsara,
Without interruption, day and night,
To listen, reflect, and meditate is the practice of a bodhisattva."

The Eight freedoms of precious human birth

What are these eight freedoms?

These are the freedoms from being born:

  1. in the hell realms;
  2. in the realms of the hungry spirits;
  3. in the animal realms;
  4. in the god realms;
  5. at a time when a supreme nirmanakaya buddha has not appeared;
  6. in a place where there is no Dharma;
  7. with defective sense faculties;
  8. with wrong views.

Importance of the Eight freedoms

Not having the eight freedoms to practice Dharma is refers to the eight unfavourable states, as stated in Nagarjuna’s Letter to a Friend:

“Being born in hell, as hungry spirits or animals,
As savages or long-life gods
Holding wrong views, born in a time with no buddha,
Being born as idiot, mute:
These types of rebirths are the eight unfavourable states.”



Due to the karmic retributions caused by their previously accumulated negative actions, the sentient beings of the three lower realms, do not have the freedom to practice Dharma, for they are perpetually catapulted into an endless round of deaths and rebirths that are riddled with intense sufferings.

  1. The hell realms are unfavourable for Dharma practice due to the intense sufferings of unendurable heat and cold For example, violators of sexual transgression are reborn after death into the Four-Cornered Hell where they are incinerated alive by an eruption of fire storm from red-hot iron walls on four sides, while red-hot burning iron pellets rain from above, before instantly reviving to go through the same purgatory again without respite.
  2. Being reborn as a hungry spirit is the result of having been obsessed with sensual gratification and physical intimacy in a former life. It is unfavourable for Dharma practice because of the intense sufferings of unbearable hunger and thirst over extensive periods due to hungry spirits being forbidden by the local deities from acquiring even the tiniest scrap of food or drops of water. All that they can find are sputum, phlegm and such like to feed their large family of starving children numbered in the hundreds.
  3. Being reborn as an animal is the result of ignorance and stupidity in a former life. It is unfavourable for Dharma practice because animals have scarcely any chance to generate virtue when their entire lifespan is preoccupied with their struggle to remain alive in a perpetual cycle of survival of the fittest where the strongest hunt after weaker preys, and in turn become prey to other more powerful predators.
  4. Being reborn as savages is unfavourable for Dharma practice because they are solely preoccupied with the primal activities for survival, the teachings of the Dharma have not yet planted its root in these lands, and so whoever is born there will not have the opportunity to come into contact with the Dharma.
  5. Being reborn as a long-life god is unfavourable for Dharma practice because long-life gods spend their entire lives absorbed in either sensual pleasure or remain in a single-pointed concentration state of blank mind. Being engrossed in such constant absorption, any thought of Dharma will not cross their mind until they receive premonition of their forthcoming demise.
  6. Whoever holds views that are not in accord with the Dharma, are unable to practice Dharma because their minds are already preoccupied with wrong views.
  7. Equally unfavourable is to be reborn at a time without Buddha, such as in the human realm of the northern continent where everyone looks exactly the same and enjoys a lifespan of one thousand years. Due to the absence of non-virtue and suffering there, no one has ever heard of the Buddha - not dissimilar to those who live in a place free of illness will unlikely search for a doctor. Upon death, they are reborn in the god realms where they become accustomed to the diversity of heavenly pleasure before falling into the lower realms after all their previously accumulated merits are exhausted.
  8. Whoever is born with defective senses, will not be able to practice Dharma properly due to the hindrance to understand the real meaning of Dharma caused by their impaired faculties.

The Ten endowments of precious human birth

The ten endowments of precious human birth are:

  • the five personal endowments to do with the oneself; and
  • the five circumstantial endowments to do with others.

five personal endowments in relation to oneself

The five personal endowments (rang jor nga) as stated by Nagarjuna are:

  1. Being born as a human being.
  2. Being born in a place where there is Dharma.
  3. Being born with intact sense faculties.
  4. Not having committed any of the five heinous crimes with immediate karmic retribution.
  5. Having faith in Dharma.



  • If one does not have a precious human birth, one will not have the condition to cultivate virtue to support the study of Dharma.
  • If one does not have a precious human birth at a place where Dharma exists, one will not have the opportunity to come into contact with Dharma.
  • If one is born with impaired sense faculties, such hindrances will obstruct one’s capacity to study Dharma.
  • If one, due to delusion and afflictive emotion, is drawn towards acts of non-virtue, such negative actions will keep one away from Dharma.
  • If one does not have faith in the Buddha’s teachings, one’s mind will not turn towards Dharma.

five circumstantial endowments in relation to others

The five circumstantial endowments (shyen jor nga) as stated by Nagarjuna are:

  1. Being born in a fortunate aeon when a supreme nirmanakaya buddha has appeared.
  2. Being born in a fortunate aeon when a supreme nirmanakaya buddha has taught Dharma.
  3. Being born in a fortunate aeon when Dharma exists and thrives.
  4. Being born in a fortunate aeon when we are able to meet with followers of Dharma.
  5. Being born in a fortunate aeon when Dharma devotees are practicing for the sake of others.



  • If one is not born in a fortunate aeon when a supreme nirmanakaya buddha has already appeared, there is no buddha to turn the wheel of the Dharma.
  • If one is not born at a time when a supreme nirmanakaya buddha has turned the wheel of the Dharma, the teachings of buddhadharma would not have existed.
  • It is prophesied that the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha will die out after 12,000 years, and the next supreme nirmanakaya buddha - Maitreya Buddha - will not appear in the world for another 4.9 billion human years. If one is not born at a time when buddhadharma still exists and thrives, there is little possibility to become even aware of Dharma.
  • During the degenerate age when delusion and non-virtue abound everywhere, it will not be easy to meet up with a spiritual friend for Dharma practice.
  • With little or no opportunity to meet up with spiritual friend, we will be deprived of the essential support for the understanding of Dharma.

precious human birth from the perspective of cause

Not all human are born with the eight freedoms and ten endowments that offer them the crucial support for Dharma practice.

From the White Lotus Sutra Of Compassion which describes a previous life of Shakyamuni Buddha when he made the vow to be reborn in an impure realm during the dark age, the Blessed One said:

“To have a human rebirth requires a great store of merits.
The freedom to practice Dharma is equally difficult to obtain.
Likewise it is a rarity for the Buddha to appear in the world.
Equally scarce is a person
Who has interest and aspiration
To perform acts of virtue.”


And, from the Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva Purvapranidhana Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said:

“I have taught and transformed many stubborn beings in this dark age of five evils, taming their mind and causing them to abandon wrong views and turn their mind to Dharma.”

“All the other beings who have not been liberated, their undisciplined mind and habitual propensity for evils will produce negative karma.”

“For their negative karma, they will be reborn in samsara repeatedly for countless aeons, always in a state of confusion and delusion, encountering endless hindrance and difficulty, like fishes in a vast river caught by nets. Every once in a while, they manage to free themselves temporarily from the nets, but will become entangled in those nets soon after due to their infatuation with illusion.”

precious human birth from the perspective of condition

Having obtain the causes of precious human rebirth, the next most crucial condition to support our aspiration for Dharma practice, is the acceptance by an authentic guru - the spiritual friend who can offer us guidance until we attain the perfect unsurpassed awakening.

Whoever is accepted by a spiritual guru who is the source of profound pith instructions and authentic Dharma practice, can for certain benefit from the probability of attaining perfect realisation in one life and in one body.

To meet with such an authentic guru and have the good fortune to form an unbreachable master-disciple relationship is extremely rare and difficult during the degenerate age when wrong views and obstructive conditions abound everywhere.

On the significance of having a precious human life and of having received Dharma teaching from a spiritual guru, Shabkar Tsokdruk Rangdrol whose skill is deemed as second only to Milarepa, said:

“A seafarer needs a ship to cross the ocean;
A general needs an army to defeat the enemy;
An impoverished man needs the mother of all cows that can provide for him;
A traveller needs a horse for journeying to a distant land;
As for one who possesses precious human life,
And has received Dharma teachings from a spiritual guru,
Who is the embodiment of all the Buddhas of the three times,
One should contemplate with joy and zealousness while embarking upon
The most excellent path of the unsurpassable Dharma,
Advancing ever closer to the ultimate goal of awakening and liberation.”



In the Wish-Fulfilling Treasury, Longchenpa stated there are eight obstructive conditions that prevent the practice of Dharma (tral jung kyen gyi mikhom gyé):

“Being incited by the turmoil of five poisons,
Deluded, bewitched by the influences of the maras,
Being indolent and overwhelmed by negative karmas,
Enslaved to others, longing for protection from fear,
Putting on the hypocritical appearance of practising Dharma.
These are the eight temporary conditions that prevent the practice of Dharma.”



  1. Whoever is dominated by the negative emotions of the five poisons, such as abhorrence for those we dislike, and clinging to those who appease us, will not be able to accomplish Dharma properly even if they may have once entertained such yearning.
  2. Deluded beings with limited intelligence may come upon Dharma, but being unable to comprehend the teaching, will not be able to study, reflect and meditate on it.
  3. Whoever is misled by fallacious teachers who promote the perverted views of maras, will end up on a path not in accord with the Dharma.
  4. Those who suffer from the inertia of laziness and lack of diligence, with affinity for procrastination and idleness, will have no possibility of success to realise the benefit of Dharma.
  5. Due to karmic retribution of their past negative actions, most beings of the degenerate age are born with an assortment of obscurations inherited from their past lives, yet furnished with insufficient merit for Dharma practice, will lose faith quickly even if they chance upon an authentic teacher.
  6. Those who are enslaved to the dominance of others are deprived of their right to choose the path of Dharma even if they secretly harbour the very wish to do so.
  7. Whoever turns to the Dharma because of their fear for not getting what they desire in this life, are at the mercy of mundane concern, will not have the determination to renounce their old habit and follow the path of Dharma.
  8. Then, there are those deceivers who use Dharma as a pretence for self-serving purpose, without any authentic quality of a genuine practitioner, and for certain are not on the path for awakening.

These are the eight conditions that deprive the freedom to practice Dharma.



Without proper application of discipline, it is extremely easy for the mind to get separated from the Dharma. This eight incompatible tendencies for Dharma practice (riché lo yi mikhom gyé) as stated in Longchenpa’s Wish-Fulfilling Treasury are:

“Being bound by one’s clinging to mundane concern
And wallowing in depravity.
Absence of aversion with samsara
And complete lapse of faith.
Indulging in destructive misconducts,
And detaching one’s mind from Dharma,
Heedless breach of precepts,
And breakage of samayas.
These are the eight incompatible tendencies for Dharma practice.”



  1. Whoever is preoccupied with the gremlins of mundane pursuit, sensory distraction, household concern, and so forth, will not make time available for Dharma
  2. Having abandoned human decency and decorum for the depravity of shameless gratification, degenerated behaviour as such will secure only more future sufferings of their own making.
  3. Whoever lives in the fool’s paradise of self-denial by dismissing the dependent origination of suffering, will have no interest for Dharma practice nor the urge to attain liberation from samsara.
  4. Having absolutely no faith in either the guru or the Dharma, will deprive one’s access on to the path of awakening.
  5. Whoever takes pleasure in causing harm to others, and displays no discipline in regulating their body, speech and mind, are void of the essential qualities that will turn their mind to the Dharma.
  6. Having no genuine interest in the spiritual value of Dharma, there is no supporting condition to turn their mind to the Dharma.
  7. Lack of discipline is the main reason behind the breakage of precepts in Dharma practice. They will reborn in the lower realms, where there is no chance to practice.
  8. Lapse of discipline in honouring one’s samaya such as the wilful abandonment of monkhood, and one’s commitment to the guru and the sangha, are the fastest track for rebirths in the Avici Hells.

These are the eight incompatible tendencies for Dharma practice.

precious human birth from the perspective of analogy

Shakyamuni Buddha has on numerous occasions used the analogy of a blind turtle to explain the rarity of a precious human rebirth, and a one-eye limbless turtle to highlight the scarcity of chancing upon the Noble Sutra of the Buddhas.

From The Balapandita Sutra, Shakyamuni Buddha said:

“Suppose there is a wooden cattle-yoke tossing about in a vast ocean,
And suppose there is a blind turtle that came up to the surface
Only once every hundred years,
It would be much sooner for the odds of the blind turtle
Putting its head through the middle of the yoke
Than a fool, once fallen to the lower realms,
Would regain the chance of human birth.”


From his Advice to King Surabhibhadra, Nagarjuna said:

“It is singularly implausible that a turtle
Might chance upon a yoke in a turbulent sea;
But still, the probability is rather slim when equating that to animal birth,
And even far more rare when comparing that to human birth.
Pay heed to the significance of human life,
And be fruitful in the practice of the Noble Dharma.”


From The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva said:

“The Buddha said that it is nigh impossible
For a turtle putting its head
Through a yoke drifting in a vast ocean;
This human birth is extremely difficult to find.”



The vast ocean is a metaphor for samsara - the recurring cycle of endless rebirths since time without beginning, during which we existed mostly in the depthless bottom of the ocean as animals, hungry spirits, or hell-beings.

The blind turtle represents the incalculable masses of sentient beings who remained in samsara due to their delusions and the subsequent recurring experiences of karmic retribution which keep them there.

The wooden yoke on the surface of the ocean is a metaphor for the opportunity to meet with an authentic guru of the Noble Dharma which is exceedingly difficult to find in an ocean the size of an universe.

That the blind turtle reaches the ocean surface only once every one hundred years highlights the infrequency of rebirth as human once fallen into the lower realms, and the incredible rarity for a blind turtle to surface through the centre of the yoke is a metaphor for the obtaining of precious human rebirth.

The one-eye limbless turtle as depicted in the Lotus Sutra is a parable used by Shakyamuni Buddha to describe the rarity of being born human and encountering the teaching of the Noble Dharma.

Here, the one-eye limbless turtle with a heated belly as hot as a flaming furnace and a back as freezing as an iceberg, which surfaces only once every thousand years from the bottom of a sea, is in search of a hollowed-out sandalwood log which can accommodate its body, so that its freezing back can get warmed up by the sun while its heated belly can get cool down by the sandalwood.

The sea represents the sufferings of endless recurrences of deaths and rebirths.

The one-eye limbless turtle represents human with perverted awareness that mistaken falsehood as real, and inferior as superior.

The limbless state denoted lack of good fortune from previous lives; the heated belly refers to the eight hot hells; the freezing back refers to the eight cold hells; and the sandalwood log is the Lotus Sutra.

Surface only once every thousand years illustrates the well-nigh improbability to regain human rebirth after having fallen into the lower realms, particularly more so to be reborn at a time when a Buddha has appeared.

Other similes on the rarity of precious human rebirth from various Dharma texts include:

  • tossing dried peas at a plastered wall and hope it will stick to its smooth surface;
  • trying to pierce with an arrow to split the tip of a hair into seven strands;
  • attempting to balance a handful of peas on the tip of an upright needle.


All these analogies emphasize that even with a rare human rebirth, it can only be deemed as precious if we are blessed with the good fortune to encounter the Noble Dharma and even more rare and more fortunate to get accepted by an authentic spiritual guru.

Without the support of an authentic guru, we will not be able to utilise the full potential of precious human rebirth to attain lasting liberation from samsara and ultimately realise the perfect unsurpassed awakening of Buddhahood.

precious human birth from the perspective of number

Shakyamuni Buddha encouraged us to examine the rarity of precious human rebirth from the perspective of numbers.

The Blessed One revealed the number of gods and humans that exist in our world are equivalent to the dust particles found on a finger nail, while all the dust in the world represents the countless sentient beings in the lower realms, with the hell realms being the most populated; follow next by the hungry spirits, as numerous as the grains of sand in the river Ganges; then animals as numerous as the dregs of spent grain left in a brewing cask from the making of barely wine; and demi-gods as numerous as the swirling squalls in a hurricane.

If the population of the hell realms were equal to the number of stars in a cloudless night, the number of hungry spirits would be equal to the stars that are visible in daytime; that if there were as numerous hungry spirits as the number of stars in a cloudless night, the number of animals would be equal to the stars that are visible in daytime; that if there were as numerous animals as the number of stars in a cloudless night, the number of gods and humans would be equal to the stars that are visible in daytime.

A human life can only be regarded as precious human life when it is completed with the eight freedoms and ten endowments. Otherwise it is just a purposeless human life, a mundane human life destined to return to the lower realms.

From The Four Hundred Verses, Aryadeva said:

“Whoever is born only to die
And whose nature is to be coerced,
Are engaging in the process of dying,
And not in the process of living.”


From The Song Of Milarepa on meeting with the hunter Chirawa Gonpo Dorje, Milarepa said:

“To have a precious human body is said to be rare,
But there is nothing rare about you,
Acting like an ogre, you perform so many non-virtues
And sneer at the suffering of the lower realms.

Driven by desire to accomplish in this life,
But negative actions will not reap what you desire.
Tame your mind and be free of attachment.

Instead of wasting your life in unwholesome activities,
How wonderful it would be
To practice the genuine Dharma.”


This precious human body, when used well, is the vessel to attain liberation from samsara. But when it is wasted on mundane pursuit, the activities of this body are what cause us to remain shackled to the bondage of samsara.

From The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva said:

“Having found the freedom of a human life,
If I fail to engage in the practice of virtue,
What a biggest idiot I must have become?
How much more foolishness and lunacy
Could I have engendered in deceiving myself?”

precious human birth from the perspective of benefit

There are three main benefits when one applies diligence to a precious human life:

  1. Conductive for the attaining of temporary and short term goals.
  • If one strictly abides by the precepts of ethics in renunciation with pure thought and mindfulness for even one day and one night, the accumulated merits, as stated by the Sutra of Infinite Longevity, will surpass that of Dharma practice in the Pure Land of Amitayus for a hundred years. With such abundance of merit at your disposal, you will succeed in attaining whatever temporary goal you wish to accomplish in your life.
  • You will be able to be reborn in the realm of your choice whether as human, god, universal monarch, or the pure land of the Buddhas in accordance to your wish.
  • You will receive support from Dharma Protectors who have taken the vows before the Buddha to defend anyone who applies Dharma practice against any probability of harm and misadventures that may occur in their lives.
  1. Conductive for the attaining of ultimate realisation.
  • Ultimate realisation requires the application of bodhicitta and the three higher practices of ethics, samadhi and wisdom. Bodhicitta and ethics such as renunciation are difficult for the gods and other migrating beings to develop except for the human inhabitants of the Southern Continent, as stated in Letter To A Disciple by Chandragomin:

“Bodhicitta is unknown to the gods and nagas,
To the demi-gods, garudas and all other non-humans;
Only humans are capable of generating the ultimate bodhicitta.”

Human life is also the most suitable form to develop omniscience as indicated by the perfect unsurpassed awakening of all the Buddhas are always in the human form.

  1. Conductive for the attaining of benefits for every moment of your life.
  • By not wasting even an instant of your precious human life in the partaking of any non-essential activity, you will generate inestimable causes for your ultimate liberation and awakening. From each moment to the next, from minute to minute, from second to second, persevere with diligence in the three higher practices to purify your karma, so that you are ready to depart for any world at any time without regret.

Basic vehicle for human birth

Once we have thoroughly examined the sufferings of the three lower realms of the animals, the hungry spirits and the hell-beings, anyone of sound mind will find the idea of future rebirths in these realms utterly abhorrent.

To avoid these most unfortunate mishaps, one must first enter the path of renouncing the ten non-virtues (mi gé wa chu) which are killing; taking what is not given; sexual misconduct; lying; divisive speech; harsh speech; gossip; covetousness; harmful intent; and wrong views as stated in the Heruka Gyalpo:

“To be reborn as gods or humans are dependent on the renunciation of non-virtues.”


The next crucial factor is the conviction of the indisputable karmic law of action and consequences as stated in the Collection of Meaningful Expression:

“The noble one who possesses
The right view for a mundane being,
Will not turn to unwholesome livelihoods
Even in a thousand lifetimes. “


Nagarjuna emphasised the benefit of moral discipline in embracing the eight-branched precepts as stated in the Letter to A Friend:

“One who follows the ethics of the eight-branched precepts for fasting retreat,
Will be bestowed with the god-like attractive body of the desire realm.”


The eight-branched precepts are the one-day temporary vows (nyen né) taken by lay people during the sojong practice for confession.

These include:

  1. not to take life;
  2. not to take what is not given;
  3. abandon non-celibate activity;
  4. not to tell lies;
  5. not to take intoxicants;
  6. abstains from dressing up, putting on cosmetic, adorning the body with flower or jewellery, singing, dancing or playing musical instrument;
  7. not to eat after midday until sunrise the following morning;
  8. abstain from sitting on high seats and lying down on luxurious bed.


According to Guru Padmasambhava, sojong practice can restores all virtue and purifies all negativity, to provide the basic vehicle (tek men) for those who aspire to attain rebirths in the higher realms of the gods and humans by becoming a superior person - one who is motivated by the right application of humility, reverence and conscience, and acts with the right decorum in all undertaking, as described in the Treatise on Behaviour entitled the Holy Ornament:

“To revere and honour those who are worthy of high esteem;
To provide benevolent support to those in need of protection;
And to repay the kindness of one’s benefactors
Are the conduct of a superior person.
Such a noble person would choose death
Over compromising one’s conscience,
To allow oneself to get corrupted by non-virtues;
Or gaining advantage by deceiving others.”


“An immoral being rejoices in non-virtues;
Repays kindness with ingratitude;
Has no regard for conscience or propriety.
Such a person would have no concern to trample over others
In the pursuit of their own agenda.”


It was during the reign of the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo (605-650 AD) that the Sixteen Doctrines for Pure Human Conduct (mi chö tsang ma chu druk) were issued by royal decree.


These Sixteen Doctrines include:

  1. Develop faith in the Three Jewels with enthusiastic effort.
  2. Search for the ultimate noble Dharma and skilfully put the teaching into practice.
  3. Repay kindness of one’s parents of the past, present and future.
  4. Honour those who are learned, skilful and experienced.
  5. Being respectful to your elders and revere those who are worthy of reverence.
  6. Being thoughtful and kind-hearted to your neighbour.
  7. Being sincere and honest to others.
  8. Being loyal and trustworthy to your friends.
  9. Emulate the examples of the sages and of those who display superior conducts.
  10. Being moderate in food consumption and usage of resources.
  11. Repay kindness to those who have been our benefactors.
  12. Being honest in your business dealings with others.
  13. Being mindful of your jealousy and keep your envy in check.
  14. Being mindful and stay free from the influences of unwholesome company.
  15. Being modest and gentle when you speak with others.
  16. Being patient and insightful in the forbearance of hardship.


For those who succeed to live by the meditative application of these guidelines on pure human conduct, will by the resultant karma of their virtuous deeds, be reborn in one of the ten higher desire realms among the human beings of the four continents or among the six classes of gods, as stated in the Tantra of the Extensive Magical Net:

“The cultivation of the ten virtues
And the renunciation of non-virtues
Are the support for rebirth among the gods
And the humans of the desire realms.”


And in Buddhaguhya’s Sequence of the Path:

“By focusing upon the ten virtues
And not perceiving non-virtue as virtue,
One is reborn among the gods and the humans.
Without comprehending the nature of sameness,
One remains meandering in the desire realms.”


The Sutra of the Descent to Lanka described the basic vehicle as the divine vehicle, for it serves as the foundation of all vehicles, which begins with the renunciation of non-virtue, since there is no such existence of a path that will lead one to be reborn in the higher realms, which does not observe the deeds and the precepts of the ten virtues.

Conversely, those who harbour wrong views such as obsessions with pride and rivalry, albeit may be deemed by other as intelligent, successful and may regularly perform charity and follow a life of abstinence, they will nonetheless suffer from the consequences of their own distorted views, as stated by Nagarjuna in the Letter to A Friend:

“For one who possesses wrong views,
Even good deeds will bear
Fruition of unbearable suffering.”


For those who arrogantly dismiss the perils of non-virtue, their future rebirths in the lower realms will preclude them from the slightest notion of Dharma, and will henceforth repeatedly reborn, aeons after aeons, in ever lower realms, without respite.

Summary on the precious human birth

During the degenerate age, when non-virtue such as grasping, rivalry, ingratitude and unwholesome mental states abound everywhere and are perceived as normal by mundane beings besotted with worldly concern, while acts of selfless virtue are a rarity like the occasional flash of lightning at night, how likely would most of today’s human population be reborn as human again in their next life?

What are the odds and how confident are you that you have already accumulated sufficient virtue to support your rebirth as human or even as a god in your next life?

This unadulterated reality is borne out to be decisively accurate by Shakyamuni Buddha who said the number of gods and humans that exist in our world are equivalent to the dust particles found on a finger nail, while all the dusts in the world represent the countless sentient beings in the lower realms of animals, hungry spirits and hell-brings.

Shakyamuni Buddha also said that whoever loses the human body due to non-virtues will be reborn repeatedly in the three lower realms for a period of 5000 kalpas before any probability of being reborn again into the human realms.

Without the basic vehicle of precious human rebirth, there is no possibility for any virtue to be cultivated, other than the creation of more non-virtue leading to further rebirths in the lower realms.

Now that you are aware of the difficulty of receiving the precious human rebirth, shouldn’t you stop wasting your remaining human life on meaningless worldly pursuits or squabbling over nothing?

To waste one hour, even one minute of this precious human birth without practising Dharma is an inconceivable loss of this rare opportunity to attain liberation from samsara.

There are six types of liberation in the practice of Dzogpachenpo:

  1. Liberation upon seeing - attaining liberation through beholding a sacred object or a noble being who is deemed as the representation of the Three Jewels.
  2. Liberation upon hearing - attaining liberation through the hearing of Dharma.
  3. Liberation upon physical contact - attaining liberation through the physical contact with a sacred object or a noble being who is deemed as the representation of the Three Jewels.
  4. Liberation upon remembering - attaining liberation through the recollection of Dharma from past lives or by means of keeping the sacred guru in the mind.
  5. Liberation upon thought - attaining liberation through repeated reflection on Dharma.
  6. Liberation upon taste - attaining liberation through receiving the foods or drinks that have been blessed by the sacred guru.


For the blessing of any one of these six types of liberation to spontaneously manifest requires far more than just strong faith and firm devotion to rely upon a sacred guru out of desire to fulfil worldly aspiration, but the authenticity of true humility, incorruptible reverence and pure mind from a disciple who has developed the renounced mind of samsara.

Virtue attracts virtue. A person of virtue will instinctively get drawn towards an authentic guru whose every action, regardless of its appearance, worldly or otherwise, reflects the sacred qualities of a noble bodhisattva whose rebirth in samsara is not due to karmic forces but by own choice of bodhicitta for the sake of all beings. Whoever perceives such a sacred guru with pure mind, attains liberation upon seeing.

Likewise, a person of virtue will attain liberation upon hearing from a sacred guru whose discourse are in actuality the 84,0000 precious word empowerments of the Buddha.

The four thoughts that turn the mind to the Dharma belong to the dzogchen practice of attaining liberation upon thought.

Nonetheless, for those who have only heard or read the teaching without having implemented the process of repeated reflection of its significance, and the repeated meditation of the resultant insight, would have made little impact to change their habitual propensity which has after all been pre-established in their ground consciousness over countless rebirths in the lower realms since time without beginning.

Without the diligence of repeated practices in listening, reflection, and meditation, their existing karmic imprints would inevitably compel them to commit the same volition that they are most accustomed to commit in their past lives due to the mind having been habituated to clinging and delusion since time without beginning.

This recurring pattern of bidding farewell to human life, which comes only once and is exceedingly difficult to find, poses a truly heart-wrenching conundrum for those wishing to attain liberation from samsara as observed by Padmasambhava:

“Our store of merits accrued from past lives
Are being depleted in this life,
Hereafter, if we do not practice Dharma,
We will for certain be reborn in the three lower realms.
Not dissimilar to one suffering severely from fever craves for water,
We must strive to generate virtue single-mindedly without delay.”


And from Atisa:

“This body complete with the freedoms and endowments,
So incredibly difficult to acquire has been obtained.
Since it will be well-nigh impossible to obtain again,
Through the application of practice, make it meaningful.”


We should all develop the determination to diligently apply ourselves while we still have the support of the eight freedoms and ten endowments for our quest to attain the perfect unsurpassable awakening in this life, instead of returning to aeons of endless rebirths in the lower realms of samsara.

May all beings pay heed to the Buddhadharma
May all beings value their precious human rebirth
May all beings give rise to the four immeasurables
May all beings attain liberation from samsara!

This teaching entitled ‘Four Thoughts (1) - Precious Human Birth’ is presented here by Tenzin Gyalpo Drakpa Gyaltsen Dondrup Dorje as his homage to all the Buddhas of the three times in ten directions.