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Rarity of a precious human rebirth

Verse 4 (continued)

Part of a series of talks on Lama Tsongkhapa’s Three Principal Aspects of the Path given in various locations around the United States from 2002-2007. This talk was given in Missouri.

  • The eight freedoms and the ten fortunes
  • Rarity of attaining this precious human life
  • Transforming our mind through meditation

Three Principal Aspects 05b: Verse 4: Precious human life, its great rarity (download)

Let’s talk about precious human life. The point of meditating on it is so that we make use of it; specifically here in the verse that we give up the clinging to this life. It’s one of the meditations that help us give up clinging to this life. It’s an antidote to depression.

Young Abbey retreatant bowing to Venerable Chodron.

A precious human life gives us the opportunity to practice the Dharma.

A precious human life is not the same as a human life in a Buddhist sense. Everybody who is a human being does not necessarily have precious human life—the reason being that a precious human life has the eight freedoms and the ten fortunes. What all of this points to is that a precious human life gives us the opportunity to practice the Dharma. That’s the distinctive feature between a human life and a precious human life. There are five billion human beings on the planet but not all of them have precious human lives. To have a precious human life you need the eight freedoms and the ten fortunes which mean you need all the conducive circumstances for practicing the Dharma.

When we consider that of all the human beings, having a special human life is something particular, it makes us really think, “Well, what is that about? What is the value and purpose of our life?” For ordinary beings with ordinary lives, what do they think the value and purpose of their life is? Make money, be famous, have a family, right? It’s this kind of thing. Have pleasure, go on vacation to Hawaii—that’s the purpose of life. For somebody with a precious human life that’s not the purpose of life. The purpose of life is something higher—and that’s where we talked about the purpose of a precious human life.

Remember last time, that a precious human life had three chief purposes?

  1. One is that we can use our precious human life to prepare to die peacefully and to attain a good rebirth.
  2. Second is that we can use a precious human life for the ultimate purpose of attaining either liberation or enlightenment.
  3. Third is that we can use our precious human life moment by moment by practicing thought training.

Through this what happens is every single thing we do, every single thought we have, every single action we take—we’re transforming it into the path to enlightenment through the thought training practice.

So there we talked about things like when you’re washing the dishes to think, “I’m washing the defilements of sentient begins with the washcloth of wisdom realizing emptiness.” Or when we go down steps to think, “I’m willing to go into the suffering realms to benefit sentient beings.” When we go up steps to think, “I’m leading all sentient beings into enlightenment.”

Practicing in every moment—this also relates to what we were talking about on Sunday. When we see beautiful things, practice with the beautiful things. Offer the beautiful things to sentient beings. Offer the beautiful things we see around in nature to the Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The whole purpose is that through everything we do and everything we encounter, use it as an opportunity to train our mind and to purify our mind to create good karma. Those are the three purposes of a precious human life. And a precious human life is one in which we have all the availability and conducive circumstances to practice. If any one of the eight freedoms and ten fortunes are missing, it can be very difficult to practice the Dharma.

For example many years ago I was invited to Denmark to teach. The lady who invited me worked at a home for handicapped children, particularly children with mental impairments. I wanted to go and see the children and play with them. She took me. We came in. It was a state institution. We opened the door. There are all these bright colored things all around—all these balls, all sorts of toys—incredible, a child’s heaven of toys and play things. I look around and then I start hearing these moans and groans and these very odd noises, “OOOOOOGGGGggggghhhhhhh.” I’m wondering, “What’s going on here?” And then I finally begin to notice among this whole heaven of child’s play things are the children dressed in beautiful colored clothes, but their minds are completely out of it. You know? Some of them are lying on these little planks on four wheels. They’re lying on them stomach-down moving around. One little girl was lying in a bed full of ping pong balls because she couldn’t roll over. If she lay flat on a mattress she would get bed sores.

The kids did not have the state of freedom where they had all their sense faculties intact. Here they were born in a very wealthy country with so much wealth around them, with teachers and people who cared about them, in a country where there were the Buddha’s teachings. But because they didn’t have the mental faculties all the rest of the good karma that they had that lead to the good circumstances in their life was wasted because they couldn’t practice.

Remember I told you last time when Alex went to Czechoslovakia? They had to hide in the bedroom for the teachings. They had to make it look like they were playing cards in case the police came because it was under the Communist regime. Or to see in Bodhgaya, the holiest place on earth where the Buddha attained enlightenment; for many people who live there they have no faith in Buddhism. They don’t have the attribute of having faith in spiritual matters. For them Bodhgaya is simply a place for them to open a business and make money. So they buy all these Buddhist relics, statues, prayer beads, and things like that. For them all these things don’t have any value in terms of spiritual practice, liberation, and enlightenment. For these people all these holy objects are just something you use to make money.

There they are at the Bodhgaya stupa where it’s very powerful to meditate. They don’t want to go to the stupa. They want to stay in the street and sell their wares. So they’re missing that attribute of having interest in spiritual matters and wanting to practice. When we think about everything that it takes in order to have a precious human life it’s not easy.

Audience: Would you say that everybody has the potential to have that? I was thinking that not everybody is in that place but do they have the particular potential in this human life?

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Well, some people may start out where they don’t have precious human life but later on they get the good circumstances. For example, when I was born I didn’t think I had a precious human life. First I didn’t live in a central country that had the Sangha. I don’t think when I was born there was much of a Sangha in America. I didn’t have spiritual interest when I was young. No way! I didn’t have a Dharma teacher at that time so I didn’t have that attribute either. I went through a period where I was filled with wrong views, so I had that hindrance of having many wrong views. It was only later when some good karma ripened in these kinds of factors that then came into place.

Audience: Is that how you would describe how some people would turn to these teachings and others don’t?

VTC: “Why do some people turn to the teachings and why some not?” I think that it has to do with our previous karma. That karma doesn’t necessarily ripen at the same moment as when we’re born. It may take a while to ripen. It depends on what we’ve done in our previous lives. Meeting the Dharma isn’t something that happens by accident. It’s something that has causes.

Audience: So that should be recognized and not be assumed?

VTC: Yes, and you’re leading me into the next point of the outline. So let me talk about that.

In the outline of precious human life, it was first how to recognize it, which we talked about last time. Then second, the purposes which are those three I just mentioned. The third outline is the difficulties and rarity of attaining a precious human life. That’s what your questions were leading into, so let’s talk about that.

The purpose of thinking about this is so that we value our precious human life. Really use it instead of being complacent thinking, “Well, I’ll just have a good time now. I’ll have another precious human life later, so it doesn’t really matter if I practice now or not.” If we start thinking about how rare and difficult it is to get a precious human life, we see really how fortunate we really are.

Under the rarity and difficulty there are another three outlines. It’s rare and difficult:

  • First, because it’s hard to create the cause.
  • Second, by number we can see the rarity and difficulty of getting a precious human life.
  • And third, by analogy we can see the rarity and difficulty.

Creating the causes

Let’s go back to the first one. In terms of creating the cause—that it’s hard to create the cause for a precious human life. What are the causes? There are three causes. As you can see Tibetan Buddhism love outlines and numbers but it’s actually very useful for meditation if you can remember these. Then you know exactly how to meditate on the topics. Anyway, there are three causes for a precious human life.

Ethical discipline

Let’s look at the first one, ethical discipline. Ethical discipline is what gets us to a human life. When they talk about the different realms of existence a human life—compared let’s say to an animal life—is considered a fortunate one. An animal rebirth is considered an unfortunate one. Last time we were trying to teach the dog and the cats how to practice Dharma. Little bit difficult! From that point of view they have an unfortunate life and we have a fortunate one. But just to get a human body with human intelligence requires ethical discipline.

Let’s look. Is it easy or difficult to maintain ethical discipline? First of all, let’s look at people who don’t have vows. How many people actually keep good ethical discipline? What do we read about in the newspaper: killing, stealing, unwise sexual behavior, lying, intoxicants? That’s what fills the newspaper, doesn’t it? The opposite of the five precepts is what fills the newspaper. There’s a lot of that stuff going on.

Even you look at people who are famous in our society. Top government leaders who are suppose to be the people who we look up to, and they’re involved with all five of these, aren’t they? The President commands the military to go out and kill people. Several of our Presidents have been involved in stealing things, in lying, unwise sexual behavior, and intoxicants. It’s all right there. And these are leaders who are supposed to be the intelligent respectable people in society.

Now what about the people who aren’t suppose to be the intelligent respectable? Joe Blow and everybody else. How many people do we know who have never killed? Well, maybe people have never killed a human being. How about never killed any animals or insects? Have any of us never killed any animals or insects? Difficult. How about stealing? Any of us here never stole? Didn’t you steal? I mean we steal, don’t we? We use things from work for our own personal use without asking. I’m not talking about breaking into people’s houses and stealing. We avoid paying tickets that we don’t have to pay. We avoid paying fines. If we can get into the movie theatre free we do. When we were teenagers we probably took stuff from stores. We did all sorts of stuff. Make long distance calls on somebody else’s credit card. Who knows what? So there are all sorts of ways in which we steal.

What about lying? Any of us have never lied? Again, we’ve all lied. Big lies, little lies, medium size lies. It’s very easy to distort the truth for our own benefit. Lying is very easy. Unwise sexual behavior? That’s rampant in our society also. We just look around.

What about harsh words? How many people do you know have never spoken harsh words to somebody else? We all have. Anybody you know that has never used their speech in a divisive way to cause disharmony? We’ve all done that—gossiped behind people’s back to cause disharmony. Or, know anybody who has never gossiped? You look at the list of the ten destructive actions and most of us have done all ten.

Have we purified them? Well, if you look, even us as Dharma practitioners—how strong is our purification? At the end of the day we’re tired, we don’t really want to purify. We’ll do it mañana.

When we create negative actions we do it very perfectly. We have a strong motivation, we carry it out without botching it up, we rejoice at the end of our negative actions. So we create strong negative actions but we don’t purify them. On the other hand, do we really spend time creating a good motivation and caring them out well and rejoicing at the end? Or are our virtuous actions something we do kind of here and there. When we start examining the karma we’ve created, you become, or at least I become, quite apprehensive. When I am just going about in my “la-la” state thinking, “Okay, I’m a nun, everything’s great. I’m creating lots of good karma.” But if I really look at how I’m really behaving, there’s a lot of stuff that I’m not doing properly—and I’m somebody who has vows. When you have vows, whether it’s the five lay precepts or the monastic vows, that gives you the opportunity to create a lot of good karma. Let alone me who messes up, the people who don’t have vows are really going to mess up because they don’t have the vows to act as a protection.

When we start looking around in this world comparing the amount of positive karma created to the amount of negative karma created, we see that it’s hard just to get a human life. It’s hard just to create the ethical discipline to get a human life. Ethical discipline involves deliberately restraining ourselves from negative actions. We have to have the intention to not do a negative action in order to create ethical discipline. It’s not just the state of just sitting there and not doing it. For example, if there are two people sitting here in the room, and one person has the vow not to kill and the other person doesn’t have the vow. The person with the vow not to kill has that intention not to kill because they took that vow. That intention is still present in their mind. So they’re sitting here not killing, accumulating good karma. The person who doesn’t have that precept to not kill; they’re sitting here and not killing. But they’re not creating good karma by that because they don’t have the intention not to kill at that very moment.

Do you see just to create good karma, it’s actually not just a question of sitting there, you have to be actively doing something. That’s why we take precepts. Taking them enables us to create a lot of good karma because every moment that we’re not breaking them, we’re keeping them. Then we ask ourselves, “How many people in the world have taken precepts and are keeping them?” We see not so many. There are a lot of people who could be creating good karma but aren’t because they haven’t worked with their mind to generate those intentions to abandon the negative actions.

Even those of us with precepts, we break the precepts and so we create negative actions by breaking the precepts. If we look around in that way we see that creating the cause to get a human rebirth is not a cinch. It’s not something that we should take for granted. It really takes some effort and awareness on our part.

This should make us a quite apprehensive. It challenges the complacent mind that we have that just says, “Oh, yes. Samsara is kind of nice and everything is going well. I don’t need to worry about anything.” In actual fact when we begin to understand karma and what creates the cause for happiness and what creates the cause for suffering, we’ll see that it’s very easy to create the cause for suffering. Why? Because ignorance, anger, and attachment rise so readily in our mind. And it’s very difficult to create the cause of happiness because it takes, like I was saying, a deliberate motivation to do a positive action.

Then we have to ask ourselves, “Well, what am I doing all day?” That’s the question I put to you last week. What do we think about most of the day? What’s our mind on most of the day? What’s our motivation most of the day? Who are we thinking about from the moment we wake up? All sentient beings, or ourselves? Me!! We think about me all the time. Specifically we’re thinking about my pleasure and my happiness. Okay? So when our minds are totally enveloped with the eight worldly concerns we have quite negative motivations in our minds and we create a ton of negative karma.

This is something we need to be aware of. The more we become aware of it, the more it seems like almost a miracle that we got a precious human life to start with. It’s like a miracle that we got the opportunity that we have because we see that it’s very difficult to achieve. Remember I was telling you that the Tibetans say that the animals around the monastery were monks and nuns who didn’t keep their vows well. You can see that they have some kind of imprint or attraction to the Dharma. But they didn’t keep the vows well, so they have a lower rebirth without a possibility to practice. That attraction to the Dharma is there. Naga is probably sitting outdoors wanting to come in like he usually is with some good imprints on his mind listening to the teachings.

We can see how hard it is. I mean, look, we’re having teachings right now. How many people are able to come and listen to the teachings? How many people in the state of Missouri aren’t able to come and listen to the teachings? We can see it’s really rare to have a life in which we can practice.

The six far-reaching attitudes

We looked at the first cause, ethical discipline—and that one is not so easy to attain or to get. That’s the one that just gets us the human life. It doesn’t even get us the precious human life. Ethical discipline just gets us out of the lower rebirths. The thing that gets us the precious human life is doing the six far-reaching attitudes: generosity, patience, joyous effort, concentration, and wisdom.

Particularly for generosity; by being generous it creates the cause for wealth. When we have wealth, we have in the precious human life kind people who assist us on the path, so we have benefactors and enough material where-with-all to practice. Again, is it easy to create generosity? Superficially we might think, “Well, I’m a very generous person. I give people birthday presents. I give people Christmas presents.” When we give a present like that are we giving it with the motivation to have a precious human life and to attain enlightenment? Or is our underlying motivation to make somebody happy so that they’ll like us or to fulfill an obligation? So even when we’re giving a gift, is our motivation really something pure? Is it a Dharma motivation or are we giving a gift to get some worldly perk ourselves? We like to have people like us—to get some brownie points on other people’s lists.

How many times do we have the opportunity to be generous but then we aren’t generous? The opportunity is right there to give or make an offering, but we don’t do it. I have all my stories about this which I’m sure you’ll hear in time. For example, when I used to walk to the bazaar in Dharamsala there were the lepers on the side of the road. You know, I had very little money when I lived there but I didn’t want to give the lepers money for a cup of tea. I was so afraid that if I gave them 25 pesa which is like one penny or something—in India that becomes a lot of money in those days. I thought, “If I give it to them, I won’t have it.” So here it was. A perfect opportunity to be generous to people who needed it and I couldn’t bring myself to separate from it because of fear for myself.

Many things are like this. It’s actually very difficult to be generous with a good motivation where it’s purely for other’s benefit or purely with the aspiration for liberation and enlightenment. When we start to look, being generous is difficult. Being patient is difficult. Isn’t it? How many times do we get angry? We have the opportunity to be patient but again we often blow it and lose our temper and there it goes? Joyous effort? Difficult. It’s so much easier to lie in bed, and put things off, and not really do our Dharma practice with joy but have a lot of excuses. When we look at things like this we see it’s difficult to create the cause to have a precious human life.

Aspiration and dedication prayers

The third quality is aspiration and dedication prayers. We might keep ethical discipline and we might be generous or patient or whatever. But then what do we pray for, you know? “May my virtue ripen in … ?” And then what do we pray for? “Can I be famous?” “Can I be wealthy, and can everything good happen to me?” “Can my business be successful?” “Can my family life be wonderful?” How often do we really pray and dedicate so that the virtue that we’ve created through ethical discipline and through the six-far reaching attitudes actually leads to another precious human life or leads to liberation and enlightenment?

This is the reason why we say dedication prayers at the end of teachings and at the end of our meditation sessions. If we don’t say them out loud, we should at least say them to ourselves. Have these verses memorized and dedicate the positive potential. When we do a Dharma discussion, or attend teachings, or do meditation, we create a lot of virtue. If we don’t dedicate it, then it gets destroyed when we next get angry or generate wrong views. We might create a lot of virtue. But if we don’t dedicate it, then we destroy it because our anger comes up or our wrong views.

This topic is a little bit alarming. It’s meant to be alarming because it’s meant to shake us up. One reason is so that we appreciate our present opportunity and our precious human life and don’t waste it. The second reason is so we don’t take for granted that we’ll get another human life in the future. With these thoughts we’ll really practice well in this lifetime. We’ll take advantage of this precious human life so that we get another one in the future to be able to continue to practice. Okay? So if you’re feeling a little bit anxious now, it could be a wisdom kind of anxiety. That wakes us up out of the sleep of our ignorance, and gets us to look at the karma we’re creating, and look at the quality of our Dharma practice. I know for myself whenever I hear these teachings I do get shaken up. It’s a good kind of shaken up because it makes me work harder to create the cause of happiness.

It’s rare and difficult to get a precious human life because it’s difficult to create the cause—we can see this is true.

The number of beings

Next comes that it’s difficult by number. Here what we do is we compare the number of people who have precious human lives with the number of people who have other kinds of rebirths. If we compare of all the human beings, how many have a precious human life and how many don’t? We realize that the number of people with precious human lives who have the opportunity to practice Dharma is very small compared to the total number of human beings on this planet. And the total number of human beings is small compared to the total number of animals and insects.

Even look where we live now on 60 acres of land. There are seven human beings here? How many animals and insects? How many termites crawled out of the wall in the recent weeks? Thousands! Maybe hundreds of thousands, and that’s just the termites. What about the fleas, and the ticks, and the ants? How many ants are there around? There are tons of those. And spiders, and cockroaches, and beetles? We found a snail in the kitchen this morning, so how many snails are there around? Even on this piece of land the number of human beings compared to the number of animals and insects—there’s no comparison there. If we think of the whole planet including all the fish under the sea the number of human beings is very small.

In the number of human beings, the number of human beings who have precious human lives is even smaller yet. Okay? So we can see with the second criteria that having a precious human life in terms of number very difficult. Not very many people have it. It’s really rare.


The third way to meditate on this is by analogy. Here they tell a little story. It’s like a turtle—imagine this. There’s a huge vast ocean. There’s a turtle who has sensory impairments. The turtle is at the bottom of the ocean. Once every hundred years, he comes up for a breath of air. Meanwhile on the top of the ocean there’s a golden yoke. The golden yoke is floating all around because the currents push it here and there on top of this huge ocean. This turtle comes up for air every one hundred years. What’s the likelihood of the turtle coming up and putting its head through the golden yoke? Not very high because he comes up here and the yoke is over there, and he comes up there and the yoke is over there. Sometimes he comes up and just hits the edge of the yoke but can’t get his head through it. It’s so difficult. So even by analogy, we see.

What that analogy is? We’re like the turtle with sensory impairments. We’re impaired in the sense that ignorance prevents us from seeing clearly. We’re at the bottom of the ocean, meaning that usually in an unfortunate rebirth. We come up to the surface, meaning to an upper realm, once every hundred years. How many times when we come up to the surface do we put our head through the golden yoke which is the precious human life? Not very often.

When you really sit and do this visualization, really think about this. Imagine the turtle here and the yoke there, turtle there and the yoke here. Think about it. You realize, “Wow, I am so incredibly unbelievably fortunate to have the life that I have.” This meditation, what it does, it makes us feel so fortunate to have a precious human life. Also we’ll want so much to be able to practice to create the cause for another precious human life; and to create the cause for liberation and enlightenment.

When we have that as motivations—that we want another precious human life, we want liberation and enlightenment. When that is a foremost important thing in our mind, then attraction to the happiness of this life is not so interesting. It’s like that stuff isn’t very meaningful. It doesn’t really bring real happiness. It doesn’t cut it. It’s not the purpose of my life. You can see when we really meditate on these things deeply, our interest in the eight world dharmas, the eight worldly concerns, gets drastically reduced. We really see that there’s a much higher purpose and benefit to our lives than the eight worldly concerns. Instead, our hearts feel very open and very excited and very enthusiastic because we see the potential of what our life is and what we can do.

Questions and answers

Okay? So that’s about precious human life. A little bit of time for questions and comments.

Audience: Why can’t we all aim for rebirth in a pure land?

VTC: So why shouldn’t we aim for a rebirth in a pure land?

Audience: I know that pure lands are still part of samsara and they have to be [inaudible] … but there are practices which can do this for you.

VTC: Okay. So, many people go for a rebirth in a pure land rather than a precious human life because, once you’re born in a pure land, you can’t fall back into the lower realms. Once you’re born in a pure realm, you can’t be born in a lower realm. But they say that the bodhisattvas that are born in pure lands are actually praying to be reborn in a precious human life. This is because when you have a precious human life, you can practice the Vajrayana which can produce enlightenment in this very human lifetime. When you’re born in a pure land, it can take a while to attain full enlightenment because you have to do the whole sutrayana path, the path of paramitayana—the perfection path. This takes much longer in terms of accumulating the good karma for enlightenment and so on. In contrast, there are special techniques in the Vajrayana for accumulating a lot of good karma very quickly. Many of these beings who have great compassion, and because of the power of their compassion want to get enlightened quickly, would prefer to have a precious human life where they can practice the Vajrayana. If we’re not so sure about our ability to keep our good karma, it’s probably good that we pray for a rebirth in a pure land.

Other questions, comments?

Meditation on precious human life reviewed

Let’s just review on how we meditate on this. Again this is what we call analytic or checking meditation. Here we’re thinking about the different points one by one. We’re not focusing on the breath in this kind of meditation. Instead we have the points and an outline of the different points and we go through them one by one. We think about them and then try to transform our mind to become the conclusion that was explained.

In terms of the meditation of recognizing our precious human life, we would go through first the eight freedoms and the ten fortunes. With the eight freedoms, think what would happen if I didn’t have this freedom? Could I practice? In terms of the ten fortunes say, “Wow, I have this fortune. How lucky I am.” Second one, I have this, and “How lucky I am!” At the end of this come to the conclusion, “I have a precious human life. How fortunate I am. I really need to practice.”

So you go through and don’t just think, “Yes, I have that one. I have that one.” But really think, “What would it be like if I didn’t have that and how many people don’t have that fortune?” We really come out feeling very happy and having a great deal of enthusiasm for our practice.

Then with the second meditation that has to do with precious human life; the one on the purpose of the precious human life. There were the three points, remember? The temporal purpose of getting an upper rebirth, the ultimate purpose of liberation and enlightenment, and third purpose of making our life meaningful moment by moment. And there, what we do is we go through and we think of each of those three purposes. We go, “Wow, I have the opportunity!”

For example, to really prepare for a future life, that means when I die I don’t have to worry. If I prepare for a precious human life I am going to be living more in the moment in this lifetime. This is because I’m not going to be so wrapped up in attachment and anger and the eight worldly concerns. These impinge on my happiness of this lifetime and distract me from living in the moment. Actually taking care for future life helps us live in the moment more because it frees us from the attachment and anger that prevent living in the moment. When we meditate, “Wow, I have that potential of preparing to get another precious human life. I have the potential to attain liberation and enlightenment. Not many people have that potential.” We start thinking about this even with our family members, you know? Do our family members want liberation and enlightenment? They probably don’t.

We have this ultimate purpose. It’s so meaningful to put an end to all of the suffering, and get out of cyclic existence, and to be able to manifest in infinite forms to benefit sentient beings. “Wow, what an incredible opportunity I have with this life. How meaningful my life can be. My life just isn’t about making money and raising kids and being famous. There’s some deeper meaning over the long term that has to do with developing good qualities in my mind and purifying my heart. I really want to make my life meaningful and purposeful.” Again from that meditation you conclude, “My life has great meaning and I want to make it meaningful.” You draw that conclusion from meditating on those three points.

And the third outline on the rarity and difficulty of getting a precious human life? We think about it in terms of the difficulty of creating the cause, the difficulty in terms of the number—like how many precious human lives versus animals and so on. Then we do the analogy of the turtle coming up and putting its head through the golden yoke. We meditate and visualize that; and think about that. Especially think, “Is it easy to create good karma? Is it easy to create ethical discipline?” Just check. Really do some examination. From that we come to the conclusion that it’s very difficult to get a precious human life. And again we internalize, “How fortunate I am, how unbelievably fortunate. I really want to make use of my life. I don’t want to waste it. If I just make use of my life for the eight worldly concerns, then in the next life I’ll find myself in a lower realm. And let alone help other sentient beings, I won’t even be able to help myself. And how will I ever get out of a lower realm once I’m born there? Do I want to be reborn as a dog or cat? Is that what I want? Or as a termite in the monastery with the karma caused to be reborn as a termite? (You’re so close to the Dharma, but your mind is so far away.) No, I don’t want to be born like that! My life has a higher meaning and purpose. I am so unbelievably fortunate that I don’t want to waste any time. I really want to make sure that I use my time wisely; that I use my time for practice—for transforming my mind. I don’t want to waste time worrying about things that aren’t worth worrying about; or being afraid of things, craving and clinging to them. I don’t want to waste my time criticizing.”

Venerable Thubten Chodron

Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.