(1.4) This precious human life, so hard to find,
Offers the ultimate goal for living beings.
If we do not strive to accomplish this goal now,
How will such a precious opportunity arise again?
(1.5) Just as on a dark and cloudy night
A flash of lightning for a moment illuminates all,
So for the worldly, through the power of Buddha’s blessings,
A virtuous intention occasionally and briefly occurs.
We have worked very hard to get this opportunity. All we need do is look and see how hard it is for us to engage in virtue to realize that this is true. Right now, it takes tremendous effort for us to do the right thing. All of our natural tendencies are towards engaging in negativity and squandering the spiritual opportunities we have. When we do manage to engage in some virtue, it is often feeble at best. What’s worse is we quite often will “reward ourselves” for having engaged in some virtue by allowing ourselves to indulge in some samsaric pleasure. What little virtue then remains, we usually forget to sincerely dedicate. Mentally or verbally reciting some words of a dedication prayer with a distracted mind eager to finish our meditation and get on with our day is not actual dedication. For dedication to work, we must genuinely feel like we have invested our virtue and given it away. We rarely do that, and as a result when we subsequently get angry at life’s minor annoyances, what remaining virtue we had gets burned up. So how much virtue actually remains? Basically none.
Then, we should consider just how much virtue it takes to have the spiritual opportunity we have before us. Just to be born human, we need to have engaged in extensive practices of moral discipline and generosity. It is said it is easier to attain enlightenment once born human than it is be born human after having fallen into the lower realms. To live in a country where pure Dharma instructions are available and we are free to practice, we need to have protected the rights of others to practice when they faced persecution (fighting for the religious freedom of others creates the causes to have religious freedom ourselves). To encounter the spiritual path in a free country, we need to have made the spiritual path available and accessible to others. To encounter a correct spiritual path, we need to have given correct Dharma teachings to others. To have an interest in practicing that path when we meet it, we need to have practiced it purely and sincerely in the past. To encounter the Mahayana path is rarer than finding the Hinayana path, and to encounter the Tantric path is rarer than finding the Mahayana path. Using the analogy of the blind turtle explained in the Lamrim, I did the math once and found that a human life such as our own happens only once in every 550 trillion lifetimes!
And it is not enough to just find such a path, we have to sustain our interest in it over a long period of time. Due to bad habits, we all relate to Dharma teachings like we do samsaric objects, believing that the instructions have some power to do something to us, as opposed to ourselves needing to do something with them. We quickly lose interest in the path and wander on to the next thing. So not only do we have to have enough good karma to find the path, we need multiple sets of that karma to help us survive our early years full of mistakes in the Dharma before we figure out how to practice the path correctly and make our practice self-sustaining. How many people do we know who have found the Dharma, stuck around for a few years and then wandered off? Thousands. There are FAR more people who have come into the tradition and left than those who have come and stayed. Yet we are still here. It is not too late for us. But if we don’t seize the opportunity we have before us, it is just a question of time before we too lose the path.
I personally am of the view that this one precious human life we find before us is the culmination of our spiritual destiny. We have been saving up our karmic pennies for aeons and we have cashed them all in for this one opportunity. If we don’t use it to the fullest, we will end this life having depleted our karmic savings and once again be plunged into spiritual darkness within the slaughterhouse of samsara for countless aeons before we have another similar opportunity. Venerable Tharchin says if we don’t take full advantage of the spiritual opportunities we have, we burn up the karmic causes which created it and will never find it again. If instead, we take full advantage of it, then we create the causes for it to continue and for our opportunities to get better and better. While we are still motivated to practice the Dharma, it is vital that we contemplate this deeply. I know far too many people who have lost their spiritual life. It happens all the time, and it will happen to us if we are not careful.
From the perspective of karma, the worst possible life a living being can have is a wasted precious human life. If we had a normal human life with no spiritual possibilities and we lost that life, we would consider it a great loss. All life is precious. But really, our loss would be quite small. We weren’t accomplishing anything meaningful with our life anyways, and the world would scantly notice our passing. In contrast, think of the passing of the truly great beings who have walked this earth, such as Buddha Shakyamuni, Jesus, Mohammed, Ghandi and quite recently Thich Nhat Hanh. Their passing represents a tragic loss, and the whole world mourns. I, however, would say it is even a greater loss when an ignorant being like you or I loses their spiritual life. Why? When the great beings pass away, they come back in different forms. They remain with us forever, guiding us all to freedom. So actually, they never leave and we lose nothing. But somebody who had the spiritual opportunity to become a great being like these masters who then lost that opportunity represents a true spiritual catastrophe which takes aeons to recover from. All the beings who this person could have otherwise helped if they had become a holy being themselves are then forced to languish in samsara for incalculably long periods of time until this person once again re-finds their spiritual path.