The first section of Khandro Rinpoche’s book “This Precious Life” is called ‘Entering the gateway.’ Here she lays the groundwork before moving into the 4 reminders. The rest of the book is essentially the 4 reminders, also known as the Four Thoughts that Transform the Mind. She starts (pg. 17) with the First Reminder: the preciousness of human existence.
Contemplating the preciousness of human existence brings a genuine appreciation of our human body, mind, and potential. With exertion we can create the cause for genuine happiness and benefit for others.This precious human existence is like an udumbara flower, difficult to attain. If found, it is of greater benefit than the wish-fulfilling jewel. However, having attained such· a precious existence just this once, We do not accomplish the ultimate aim of great’ benefit, But instead waste it meaninglessly. Guru, embodiment of the Three Jewels, look upon us with Compassion. Bestow your blessings so that. We fulfill the meaning of this precious existence.
The 18 Qualities of a Precious Human Existence
The 8 freedoms
1 through 3 – the freedom from birth in the three lower realms
4 – Free from being born in a barbarous realm
5 – Free from being born in a god realm
6 – Freedoms from wrong view
7 – Free from being born in a place without the presence of a Buddha
8 – Free from being born deaf and dumb (with the ADA qualifiers)
The 10 endowments
The 5 self endowments
- we were born having a human mind capable of generating compassion and wisdom
- our body was born in a central land
- we were born with our 6 senses intact
- we were born with the right view
- we have the capability of devotion and irreversible confidence
The 5 circumstantial endowments
- that a Buddha has come into this world
- that the Buddha taught in this world
- that we were born in a time when the teachings are being taught
- that we have living examples of the truth of the teachings
- (most important) the genuine kindness in the heart of our teacher
On page 46, she quotes from Shantideva:
Having attained this precious human existence
like a ship that crosses the ocean of samsara
without falling into distractions or laziness of mind
allow yourself to awaken to the preciousness of this moment.
– Shantideva (translated by H.E.M JKR)
We must start with recognizing our Buddha-nature. The rest of the stuff is layers. Then there is irreversible confidence, really getting grounding in that. She spends a chapter on being confident in this. She has contemplation (pg. 25) to see in one’s self the signs of blaming and to watch out for the habit of highlighting negative tendencies. It will prevent you from putting body, speech, and mind on path of practice.
R – It’s cowardly to highlight your negative tendencies.
K– That sounds very Shambhalian. It’s denying your Buddha-nature. There is an element of perfection in us – veiled.
The contemplations mixed through book – p 27. Ask yourself, how do these emotions arise, are they useful, can they be proven?
Of the 18 qualities of a precious human existence, the first 8 are the 8 freedoms.
The 8 freedoms
For each, reflect out loud on various distractions and the pain described, and how small your problems are by comparison. Reflect on the 8 freedoms with a sense of the true preciousness of this precious human existence.
1) Freedom from birth in hell realm. This shouldn’t just be taken as being in some place of burning iron houses. This is about the perceptions of environment around you. You can walk down the street and be totally “doom and gloom” when everyone around is having a good time. We don’t even have to debate the actual ‘hell’ realms. We do a good job of creating them ourselves. This applies to all the realms, really – we are just debating the flavors.
2) Freedom from the hungry ghost realm. This is not too far from what was said before. This is about not being satisfied constantly, which happen here even though we have more than enough food available in this country. It is about constantly feeling unsatisfied. Even a Wall Street executive that always feels like he needs more is a hungry ghost, no matter how many millions he has. In a more literal sense, one can look at the folks starving in places like Darfur. All they can think of is food, so there is no way to think of anything transcendent like Enlightenment. Think: “Personally I don’t have the problem. How many chances like this will we get?”
3) Freedom from the animal realm. This is about slavery. Animals are often enslaved by people. Slaves can’t study or practice ABCs (which is required to practice the Dharma). There are also wild animals in a dog-eat-dog world. All they can do is get food and avoid predators. But they don’t have the intelligence, the wiring to understand things like the dharma. Only occasionally do we hear about a monkey taunting a yogi, and that’s more of a monkey getting some of the merit of the yogi.
4) Freedom from birth in a barbarous place or barbarian land. Patrul Rinpoche said this referred to those who live in the ‘32 low-lying areas’. These were areas around Tibet and parts of Burma. This should be understood as being all those who consider taking life as good. These people have human form, but their minds are not turned to the dharma. They live in a way that is opposite from the dharma. Khandro Rinpoche says this really means a place where there is no understanding of selflessness or of compassion. This is only concerned with feeding our egos, and ourselves with no thought about others at all.
K’s guess is that this is also supposed to be the ashura realm. They have the reputation of being all the above. It could be similar to # 7, born in a place without a Buddha.
5) Freedom from being born a Deva. There is a Loss of faith during their fall that will alter their perceptions. When they realize things are about to change, they could see “hey, there is cause and effect”. Instead, the gods get disillusioned. They think karma didn’t exist, it’s all pure chance. Even if they had heard of the dharma before, it’s destroyed. It’s so easy to get distracted. Maiterya is said to be up there in the Heaven of the 33, hanging out, waiting for his turn. Generally, we shouldn’t count on it.
R – There is some sense that in a god realm, there is actually is the possibility of enlightenment, but it would take extraordinary circumstances. It is incredibly rare, so don’t count on it. It’s like rock stars. Everyone keeps telling them they are amazing, “here, want some cocaine?”, and they are so distracted by the good times, they don’t think about anything else.
6) Freedom from wrong view. This is having no faith in cause and effect and no genuine devotion to qualities of the dharma. We actually create damage to ourselves and others. Rinpoche talks about (pg. 30) –the monk that waited on the Buddha that had no faith in what Buddha taught. He had no understanding of karma. Because he lacked faith and had wrong view, he was reborn as a preta in a garden. Freedom from wrong view is understanding the importance of abandoning negative activities done due to the 5 poisons, and then you justify that anger/jealousy/desire/etc. Rinpoche makes it clear it is important not to be too tough on ourselves. We needn’t lose sleep thinking “I’m the anti-Buddhist”J as long as we understand this point.
Some get terrified when Khandro Rinpoche causes on them. Mahamudra/Dzogchen masters would say, “Look at that brain freeze”.
7) Freedom from not being born in a place without a Buddha. This is a place without the presence of a teacher. It is said the teachings will die out between Buddhas. The dharma rises, and then the dharma declines, and then there is a dark age where the dharma dies out. In raja yoga, they talked of 4 time periods. There is a golden age, a time of peace of prosperity, but it then slips and declines through ages of silver, bronze, and iron. Then there is an explosion, and then a golden age again. There is a period of time where nothing is happening. There are definite parallels between the Hindu cosmology and the Buddhist one. In a universe where a Buddha has not appeared, there is no ability to practice. It’s not just on such a massive scale. Khandro Rinpoche (pg. 31) said we may live next to a Buddhist center, but because of our parochial nature, we don’t get them.
8) Freedom from not being born deaf and dumb. This is NOT meant as a criticism. It is acknowledging how easy it is for us. This must be understood properly, and Rinpoche has a very skillful way of handling a potential landmine. If you understand the difference between good and bad, you aren’t here (no matter what your physical limitations). Helen Keller was able to learn, communicate, etc. This is an example of just how rare it is for the causes and conditions, and great teacher with incredible will, to get through to teach in the god realm.
Khandro Rinpoche says (Pg. 33) “Other than our own grasping, we are well endowed.” We need to remain in the understanding of this precious human existence.
The 10 endowments
The five Self-endowments
Being born a human, in a central place, with all ones faculties, without a conflicting livelihood, and with faith in the dharma.
The five Circumstantial endowments.
A Buddha has appeared, has taught the dharma, the dharma still exists, can be followed, and there are still people who are kind hearted to others.
The five Self-endowments vs. the five circumstantial endowments.
The Self-endowments are ours we can control. The Circumstantial endowments are about the situation – things we can’t control.
The five Self-endowments
1) We have choice. This is why the human realm is best. We can choose between good and bad, right and wrong, we feel effects of our actions which gives impetus to do the right thing. Khandro Rinpoche commented on the animal realm, that “… some of you think it would be great to be reborn a housecat. But even our must loved animals have so much fear.” When will they be fed again? When will the dog get walked again? When will they get to go to the bathroom again? Where we can go to the bathroom any time.
2) Our body was born in a central land. In Tibet, there were remote hamlets where some monk would come by every 3 months at best. You aren’t going to learn the dharma that way. But if you are living in Lhasa, there is dharma everywhere. B- left Penn State because it was in the middle of nowhere, there was no dharma there.
3) All six senses intact. This is about interacting with the world. The more our senses are intact, the more we can interact. It provides a lot of chances. Your 5 senses each have a consciousness. Plus the database – the 6th- mind consciousness. Then there is the 7th – your klesha consciousness. When you get enlightened, that 7th klesha consciousness goes away.
When someone gets angry, sometimes there is a gap. A visual thing happens, our mind goes through its database, and then we do a reaction. In the Vajrayana, it is said to teach your mind when you get angry (or attached or proud, etc.) There is a long gap which is very useful –IF you rest in it.
Then there is the 8th consciousness, the alaya. The undefiled alaya is Buddha nature. The defiled alaya of unconsciousness is Basic ignorance, the storehouse of karma. It feeds the kleshas. The klesha enact because of karmic tendencies.
Karma is not a linear thing. It’s wiggling a cobweb which will bounce back at some point, like that game Angry Birds.
4) Born with access to right view.
5) Capability of devotion and irreversible confidence. If we see something good, we understand it works, and want to do it again. If we do it enough; we will have devotion in it. ‘Irreversible confidence’ is the technical term for the experience of the 1st bhumi. Ordinary people think that is enlightenment. No, it’s the moment of recognizing the experience of enlightenment. The 1st bhumi lasts about 20 seconds. J We need the teachings, or else we’d miss it. It’s a natural human experience. The Buddhist view is if you have the right view going in, and the right support coming out, you can make use of it to go places –specifically “enlightenment”. If not, you may miss it. The Christians have different words for different levels of experience. Buddhism tells us how spirituality is wired, and then can understand the rest.
We are teachable beings.
The five circumstantial endowments
1) A Buddha came into this world.
2) You need that teacher actually taught. All the prytakabuddhas figured it out, but it never occurred to them to pass it on to others.
3) We were born in a time when the teachings were being taught.
4) We have living examples of the truth of the teachings. Don’t have to be fully enlightened. See Jann Jackson.
5) The genuine kindness in the heart of our teacher. Most important!!!! Look at the kindness of Khandro Rinpoche as she waits for us to figure things out for ourselves.
Patrul Rinpoche – pg. 19- 39. If you have all these and are born in a barbarian realm, the virtues will be to be non-virtuous. Imagine a traveler (in 19th century Tibet) – to make tea, need flint, steel, tinder, tea pot, water, etc. If even one element of the freedoms and advantages is missing, you can’t practice dharma. If you lack even one of the 18 qualities, you can’t practice dharma and get free from suffering.