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 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.”

- Extract from a teaching by Lama Dondrup Dorje Rinpoche. The full text is available to read under the feature of Gateway to Tibetan Buddhism. Click here to see the full list of articles available.