Lotus Blooms In the Blog

August 6, 2006

Identifying the optimum human rebirth

Filed under: lamrim — by Sugatagarbha @ 12:15 pm

“Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?

“He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.

“Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practising of the Dhamma there, no practising of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.”

Majjhima Nikaya 129.24 ( Balapandita Sutta)

This preciousness and difficulty in attaining a human rebirth that the Buddha talks about in this sutra is the second lamrim meditation. It reminds us that we should engage ourselves in meaningful dharma pursuits rather than waste this life chasing pointless worldly pleasures.

While we may have a attained a human rebirth many a times, attaining a precious human rebirth with all its freedoms and endowments is very rare, and this is what the Buddha stresses upon when using the metaphor of the blind turtle.

What does it mean to have all the freedoms and endowments of a precious human rebirth?

Lets begin with the freedoms. There are basically eight states that we are free of. These are mentioned in Nagarjuna’s letter to friend.

“Upholding wrong views, being an animal, Hungry ghost, or being born in hell, being without a Victor’s teachings, Being born in remote place, or as a barbarian, As an idiot or mute, as a long-lived god; Any of these rebirths in one of the eight faulty and unfavorable states. Because you have gained favorable state free of these, strive to prevent yourself from being born in these ever again.”

Apart from these eight freedoms mentioned in the letter, there are ten endowments. They are further classified into five personal endowments and five endowments in realation to others.

The five personal endowments are found in the Shravaka Levels, and are explained as:

Being a human being and born in a central land; Having all one’s organs; not being perverted by the heinous crimes; and having enduring faith.

The five endowments in relation to others are:

  • A Buddha has come to this land
  • The Buddha has taught the Dharma
  • The teachings remain in this world
  • The teachings are followed
  • Other people generally have love in their hearts

If you meditate on all these eight freedoms and ten endowments and truly realize the preciousness and rarity of our existence, you will be driven to practice the Dharma.



  1. How true! It’s so easy to forget this all. I’m thinking about my grand-grand parents, and before that. They had to work seven days a week at their farm, and if you are tired in the evening, and could barely read, and have no access to deeper insights by teachers and teachings, the life will just pass on. Even worse, not understanding cause and effect, the karmic repercussions from killing and other events during the daily life will make it even hard to get back as a simple farmer in future lives.

    I think what saved me long time ago was a book that I found in the local library when I as 12: The Way of the White Clouds by Lama Govinda. Wasn’t that funny, finding this book translated to Swedish in a small library book bus in Western Finland. Now it seems for me it was the yoke that was placed out for me, and somehow I managed to poke my head through it by mistake.

    Comment by Kent Sandvik — August 6, 2006 @ 6:19 pm |Reply

  2. You are right, we should indeed be grateful for whatever time we find that we able to dedicate to our practice.

    Also, wonderful to know that you were able to find the yoke so early Kent, maybe it may be a good inspiration for all of us to post how and when we got in touch with the dharma. It certainly makes me appreciate the preciousness of it all.

    For me the turning point in my life was reading Patrul Rinpoche’s ‘Words of my perfect teacher’ somewhere in 1999. Before that I’d read a number of book on Zen and so on, but none had the kind of impact this book had. It truly made me want to study and practice with earnestness…

    Comment by navneetnair — August 8, 2006 @ 3:30 am |Reply

  3. Yes it would be good to know how we put our head thruough the yoke. I cannot seem to really recall my experience, but it was sometime back in 1992 when I was about 30, through mutual introductions. But what I can remember though was that almost everything I was introduced to was so natural and not new. The only problem though is that in the intervening years I have still not gone much beyond the familiarity – and I am not living in a farm like Kent’s great grandparents!!!;-)

    Comment by Palani — August 19, 2006 @ 2:13 pm |Reply

  4. […] verse reminds us about the preciousness of human life. A teaching that is both basic and fundamental to Buddhism. Some much so that even before embarking […]

    Pingback by Shantideva: Precious human rebirth | Sugatagarbha — April 13, 2015 @ 8:30 am |Reply

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