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Our precious human life

Our precious human life

A talk given at Than Hsiang Temple, Penang, Malaysia on January 4, 2004.

  • Qualities of a precious human life
  • Causes for a precious human life
    • Abandoning the 10 destructive actions
    • Practicing the six perfections
  • Appreciating our precious human life
  • Practicing thought transformation daily
    • Setting, maintaining, and evaluating our motivations

This evening we’re going to talk about precious human life, and I think the more we understand the dharma and the four noble truths, the more we appreciate our life. We grow to appreciate its potential and the rarity of getting the kind of rebirth that we have because not every human life is a precious human life according to Buddhists standards.

A precious human life is a life in which we have the opportunity to practice the Buddha´s teachings and to progress on the path towards liberation and enlightenment. There are many sentient beings on this planet, but those who actually have the opportunity to deeply investigate the Buddha’s teachings and practice them are very few in number. We’re extraordinarily fortunate to have this opportunity.

What is a precious human life?

First of all, what are the good qualities of our life? We have a human body and mind, which means we have human intelligence that can be used to develop the path to liberation. Clearly human intelligence can also be abused, and sometimes human beings act worse than animals.

People always ask, “How come you Buddhists believe that human beings can be born as animals?” I reply, “Well, look at the way some people live when they’re in human bodies: they act worse than animals. Animals only kill if they’re hungry or they’re threatened, but human beings kill for sport, for politics, for honor—for all sorts of stupid reasons.” So, if a human being acts worse than an animal while they’re in this body then in future lives it makes sense that they might have a lower rebirth. It matches their mental state.

So, right now we have now a human body and not an animal body, a hungry ghost body or a god body. We have a body that supports human intelligence, and human intelligence can be used to learn, contemplate and meditate on the Buddha’s teachings. Not only do we have the special human intelligence, but all our senses are intact: we’re not blind, deaf or mentally disabled.

I remember being asked to teach in Denmark, and one of the people at the Dharma Center worked in a home for mentally and physically disabled children. She took me to visit the children, and we walked into this beautiful room just covered with toys. Denmark is a very wealthy country, and there were brightly colored toys from one end to the other. All I saw was toys.

Then I began to hear these very strange sounds—these groans and moans—and I noticed that there were children in this room among all these toys, but these children were disabled and couldn’t think or move properly. So, they were human beings born in a wealthy country with far greater pleasure and wealth than some other children have. But they couldn’t make use of their human body and mind because of karma that ripened in that lifetime making them disabled.

It’s important for us to appreciate that we don’t have that hindrance right now. We so often take our life for granted, and I think it’s important to realize that we’re really free of many obstacles such as that one. Not only that, but we’re also born in a country and a time when the Buddhist teachings exist, and when the pure lineage of teachings exists from the time of the Buddha down to our own teachers.

We live in a place where there’s a sangha community and support for religious practice. We so easily could have been born in a communist country, or in a country with a totalitarian government where you might have had incredible spiritual longing but absolutely no opportunity to meet the Buddha´s teachings—or where you could have been thrown in jail if you even try to practice them.

One of my good friends went to teach the Dharma in communist countries before the fall of the Soviet Union, and he told me how he had to give the teachings. It would be in somebody’s house because there’s was no way you could rent a public place and of course there were no temples. The people would have to arrive one by one at different times because they weren’t allowed to have a gathering of many people.

When everybody arrived they went into the bedroom in the back, but out in the living room—the first room that you enter from the front door—they put out playing cards and drinks. So, they would have the Dharma teaching in the back room, but if the police came they could quickly run to the front room, sit around the table and pretend they were playing cards and having a good time.

Imagine being in a situation where it’s so difficult to hear the Buddha’s teachings that you have to do that. In China and Tibet, after the communist takeover, people were thrown in prison, beaten and tortured for only saying Namo Amituofo or Om Mani Padme Hum. How fortunate we are that we’re not born in that kind of situation. We’re in a free country with religious freedom. There are temples, Dharma books, talks—it’s incredible to think of the opportunity that we have.

In addition, we have interest in the Dharma, and this is also very precious. There are many people who have access to the Dharma and a healthy human body, but they have absolutely no interest in it. Think about Bodhgaya, for example—the place of the Buddha’s enlightenment—or Sravasti. Our Abbey is named after the place where the Buddha spent 25 rainy seasons and taught a number of sutras. There are people there who were born in one of the holiest places on the planet with teachers, monasteries, books and everything around, but all they want to do is make money by selling souvenirs to tourists or by running a tea shop. They have access to the Buddha’s teachings but no karma to be interested in them.

So, the fact that we have this interest and appreciation in the Buddha’s teachings is really something very precious. We should respect the spiritual part of ourselves. We shouldn’t take that for granted and just think, “Oh yeah, of course I believe like this. It’s not a big deal.” We should respect that part of ourselves and really nourish and take care of it, because it’s hard to have this opportunity.

Keeping good ethical discipline

Why is it hard? Well, it’s hard to create the cause for a precious human life. First of all, just to get an upper rebirth we need to keep good ethical discipline. How many people on this planet keep good ethical discipline? How many people abandon the 10 destructive actions: killing, stealing, unwise sexual behavior, lying, creating disharmony with our speech, harsh talk, gossip, coveting, ill will, wrong views?

How many people abandon these? You look at famous people in our world, like the former American President George Bush—did he abandoned these 10? No way! He was dropping bombs here, and he was shooting people there. It’s very difficult to get a precious human life when you think that killing other people is the way to happiness. You might be rich, famous and powerful, but if you don’t keep good ethical discipline then after you die the rebirth is really unfortunate.

It’s actually quite hard to abandon negative actions. For example, how many of us can truthfully say that we have never lied in our whole life? [laughter] How about using our speech to create disharmony: anybody who’s never done that? Who has never talked behind somebody else’s back? How about harsh speech: anybody here who has never lost their temper and blamed other people? Who here has never gossiped?

It’s not easy to keep good ethical disciple, is it? It’s not easy. And if we don’t find it easy, the people on this planet don’t find it easy either. So, the fact that we have this life right now, which indicates that in the past we had good ethical discipline, is almost a miracle seeing how difficult it is to create good karma.

It’s hard to create good karma, but negative karma—boy! Just sit down and relax, and you create it right away. We sit down, and what do we do? Oh, we covet somebody else’s stuff, lie, talk badly about this person, or we flirt with somebody who’s not our husband or wife. It’s really easy for people to create negative karma, but to create positive karma is difficult. So, the fact that we have a human life right now that is the result of good karma we created in the past is a very rare and precious opportunity.

Practicing the six perfections

Another cause for the precious human rebirth is practicing the six perfections or the six far reaching attitudes. For example, being generous is one of the six. We might think that we’re very generous people, but I don’t about you, often I give away what I don’t need. [laughter]  I keep to myself what I want, or I give away things that are poor quality and keep the good quality for myself. I have the impulse to be generous and then my mind says, “Oh no, if you give it away you won’t have it, so it’s better to keep it for yourself.”

It’s actually hard to really be generous. I don’t know about you, but for me it can be difficult. Yet, the fact that we live in a country where we have enough to eat and where we have shelter, medicine, clothing, computers, and an air conditioned hall is a result of having been generous in previous lives. So again, somehow we have a lot of good karma ripening in this lifetime to have the opportunity that we have.

Another one of the six perfections we need to practice for a precious human life is being patient. In other words, this means not getting angry when we’re suffering or when other people harm us. Is that easy or difficult? What do you think? Somebody blames you for something you didn’t do: are you patient and calm, or do you get angry? Come on, be honest. [laughter] We get angry right away. We don’t waste one second. We don’t even think, “Should I become angry or shouldn’t I?”

Boom, we get angry right away, and we tell that person off because they criticized us. Being calm and not retaliating when we’re harmed is difficult. Working with our anger isn’t easy. But again, having our precious human life—having human bodies that work well, being attractive people so others don’t shun us—is because we practiced patience. We can get along well with other people. We can function in society. We haven’t been thrown in prison because we’re disagreeable. All of this is a result of having practiced patience. We need all these different conditions to have a precious human life, and these come through having practiced very diligently in previous life times.

Another of the six perfections is joyous effort, and this is what gives us the ability in this life to complete the things we set out to do. Is joyous effort easy or difficult? Is it easy to complete the things you want to do? Is it easy to take delight in being virtuous? Is it easier to sit and watch TV or to read a Dharma book? [laughter] What do you choose? Where does your joyous effort go? Does it go to watching TV or to reading a dharma book? If you have the choice between a vacation to Australia or a meditation retreat, what do you choose? So, we can see that taking delight in virtue and having joyous effort in the dharma is not easy, but somehow in previous lives we did it. As a result, in this life we have the opportunity to meet the dharma.

The “poor me” syndrome

We should really appreciate how rare and difficult it is to attain the conditions we have right now. It’s really precious, and I say this because so often we focus on what’s wrong in our lives, don’t we? It’s like there’s this whole beautiful wall and one speck over there. We concentrate on that speck, and say, “That’s wrong. That’s bad.” We miss the whole beautiful wall because we’re looking at one thing.

Well, it’s the same in our lives. We have so many things going for us, and what do we do? We feel sorry for ourselves because of some small problem that we have. “Oh, my friend didn’t call me today; I’m depressed. Oh, my boss doesn’t appreciate my work—poor me. Oh, my husband or wife didn’t smile at me today.” We so easily get angry and feel sorry for ourselves, don’t we?

I call it the “poor me” syndrome because our favorite mantra is “poor me, poor me.” We don’t chant, “Namo Amitofu, Namo Amitofo,” we chant, “Poor me, poor me, poor me, poor me, poor me.” And we feel sorry for ourselves. How many of you say the “poor me” mantra? Come on, be honest. [laughter] One person is honest. Come on, there are many of you—how many people get into feeling sorry for themselves? [laughter] One more honest person. Okay, there are two honest people in this room. The rest of you don’t feel sorry for yourselves, really? Very good, we’ll give you lots of work to do. [laughter]

For the three of us that feel sorry for ourselves, what happens is there are so many good things going for us in our life, but we feel sorry for ourselves for these few problems. We don’t appreciate that we have enough food to eat. Do you think every day, “How fortunate I am that I’m not hungry?” We could have easily been born in Afghanistan or Somalia and be very hungry. We could have been born in Iran where they had the earthquake. We haven’t been born there. We have enough to eat. We have shelter. How fortunate we are! We could have been born in a country where there’s absolutely no access to the Buddha’s teachings, but do we appreciate that we’re born in a place where we can contact Buddhist teachings and teachers?

Do we wake up in the morning and say, “Wow, I am so fortunate. I’m alive, and I can meditate this morning. I can read some prayers and some dharma books. I can develop my inner potential, my inner human beauty.” Do we wake up in the morning excited about the day and thinking about how fortunate we are to practice the dharma?

Or do we wake up in the morning when the alarm goes off and think, “Aaahhh! I don’t want to get up; turn off the alarm. Okay, I’ll get up. I have to go to work even though I hate my job. Poor me, I have to go to this job that I don’t like,and the only good thing is that I get paid a lot of money.  Mmm, money, money—yeah! [laughter] I’ll get up., I’m up; I’m up. I’m going to work because this is fun—money, money, money!”

But then we get to work and again think, “Poor me, I work so hard, and my boss doesn’t praise me. He praises my colleague. Poor me, I work overtime, and my colleague gets the promotion; I don’t. Poor me, I get blamed for everything that goes wrong. My parents don’t appreciate me; they want me to make more money and be more famous. My children don’t appreciate me; they all want to go out with their friends. Even my dog doesn’t like me enough. And my little toe hurts—poor me, my little toe hurts.”

We really get into feeling sorry for ourselves, and meanwhile this incredible opportunity we have to practice the Buddha’s teachings and to attain liberation and enlightenment just goes right by. We don’t even appreciate our life, and we don’t appreciate the value of each moment of living this life. As a result, we always feel dissatisfied. I think if we were to really appreciate our human life, we would greet each day with so much enthusiasm and joy, because we really would see the value of the opportunity that we have.

When we greet the day with joy, we live the day with joy. When we wake up always focused on ourselves then the day becomes a disaster. When we wake up in the morning and feel glad to be alive and recognize our potential to develop love and compassion for others, then the day becomes very enjoyable and pleasant. We’re really happy. Some little problem occurs, but it´s okay; we can handle it.

So, the point here is that we create our experience in life. We’re not living a life where we are innocent little victims, and there’s objective reality out there impinging upon us. Our mood creates what we experience and how we experience things. If we appreciate our possibility to practice the dharma, our mind is joyful and everything we encounter in the day becomes an opportunity for practice. Then our life feels very rich and meaningful. When we don’t appreciate our opportunity and we’re very sensitive about “me and all my problems,” then everything we see in our life becomes a problem. It becomes a difficulty, and life doesn’t have to be like that. Are you getting what I’m saying?

If we want to be happy and to create the good karma for future rebirths and for liberation and enlightenment, we have to keep a happy mind right now. When I was a beginner, one of my teachers used to say, “Make your mind happy.”  I’d think, “What is he talking about? make your life happy? I want to be happy, but I can’t make myself be happy.” Then, as I practiced the dharma longer, I realized that we can make our mind be happy. All we have to do is switch what we think about. All we have to do is change what we think about. So, for example, if we think about our precious human life, our mind automatically becomes joyful.

Transforming our thoughts

Another quality of our precious human life is that we can learn many techniques for how to change how we think so that our mind is joyful. In the Tibetan tradition there’s something called “Thought Transformation,” and I think in Chan—in Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhism—you have this as well. This is where you say little phrases when you’re doing things to transform your thought, to transform your mind. So, for example, when we walk upstairs, instead of thinking, “Oh God, this is so wearisome; I’m so tired walking up the stairs,” we think, “I’m walking towards liberation and enlightenment, and I’m leading all sentient beings up towards those noble goals.” When you think like that walking upstairs then you don’t get tired because you’re thinking, “Wow, I’m leading all sentient being to enlightenment.”

 Or when you walk downstairs, you think, “I’m going into the unfortunate realms in order to help the beings there be happy and to help them learn the dharma.” Then walking down the stairs has a lot of meaning. When you do the dishes, it’s not just: “Oh, I have to do the dishes. Why can’t somebody else do my dishes?” Instead, you look at the water and the soap as the dharma, and the dirt and food on the dishes as defilements on sentient beings minds.

The cloth represents concentration and wisdom, the soap represents the dharma, and the crud on the dishes represents the defilements of sentient beings minds. So, when you clean you think, “With concentration and wisdom, I’m using the dharma to help purify sentient beings minds.” Then washing the dishes becomes fun because you can think, “Okay, now I’m purifying Osama Bin Laden’s mind—great! I’m purifying George Bush’s mind—that’s even better!” [laughter] Or you can think about a person who harms you, who you don’t like: “I’m purifying their mind of their misery and their anger.”

When you think like this then washing dishes is fun, and it’s the same thing when you mop or vacuum the floor: you’re removing the dirt from sentient beings’ minds, leaving their radiant Buddha potential there. Then when you’re cleaning the floor or waxing furniture or whatever, those chores become very delightful because our way of thinking has been transformed. Instead of our mind being negative or being neutral, our mind now becomes very joyful and happy, and we create a lot of good karma through the way that we’re thinking.

There are all sort of things like this that we can do during our day to transform our thinking. For example, when we get dressed in the morning, we usually look in the mirror and think, “How do I look? How does this look on me?” Instead, when you put your clothes on you can think that you’re offering garments to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Think of your clothes as celestial silks, and you’re offering all these beautiful silks to Kuan Yin. And then getting dressed is very nice.

Or in the evening, you’re cleansing all the anger from sentient being’s minds when you stand under the shower. You think the water is all the nectar coming from Kuan Yin’s vase. All the purifying nectar from Kuan Yin is pouring all over you. It’s purifying you and cleansing all the defilements and negative karma. It’s washing all that away and filling you up with Kuan Yin’s love and compassion. If you think like that when taking a bath, then taking a bath is very nice. Taking a bath becomes part of your dharma practice, part of the path to enlightenment, because of the way that you’re thinking.

There are many things that we can do in the course of a day just to transform our mind and to make our mind go into the dharma. One thing that I strongly recommend is when you first get up in the morning to set your motivation. You can do this when you first wake up. You don’t even have to get up out of bed, so there’s no excuse for not doing the practice I’m going to teach you right now. You can’t say, “Oh sorry, I couldn’t get out of bed,” because you can do this while in bed. Okay? And you might write this down and put a little post-it by your bed so you remember it.

Setting a morning motivation

When you wake up in the morning, first of all think, “I’m alive. I have a precious human life with the ability to practice the dharma. The day has started off marvelously already.” Then think, “What’s the most important thing I have to do today?” Now, our worldly mind might think, “Oh, the most important thing is I have to drive my children here, and I have to do this project at work, or I have to do this errand.” But that’s not the most important thing you have to do today. Actually, the most important thing we have to do today is not harm anybody, wouldn’t you agree?

Whether you get errands done, whether you eat or go to work or whatever, the most important thing is: “As much as possible today, I’m not going to harm anybody. I’m not going harm them physically. I’m not going to harm them by saying nasty things about them. And I’m not going harm them by dwelling on negative thoughts about them either.” So, first thing in the morning you make that resolution. Then, another most important thing to do—there’s more than one most important thing. The second important thing is: “As much as possible today, I’m going to benefit others. In whatever big or small way I can, I’m going to help.”

Now, sometimes we feel, “I’m not Mother Theresa, and I’m not the Dalai Lama. I’m not these great sages and saints who can help so many sentient beings, so how can I help anybody?” You can help a lot of people because let’s face it, the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa don’t live in our family. They can’t help our family the way we can. They don’t go to our workplace or our school. They can’t help our classmates or our colleagues at work the way we can.

Just by doing small things, we can really contribute to the benefit of others. For example, when you go into work, smile. Smile at your colleagues, greet them, say good morning—see if that doesn’t change the way you relate to people in your workplace. Try giving some of your colleagues good feedback: compliment them on the work that they do well. Instead of competing with them, notice what they do well and say that—praise them. We don’t lose anything by praising others.

I was teaching one time in America, and I gave the people in the class a homework assignment. Their homework was for the next week they had to say something nice to somebody every day—preferably someone they had a hard time getting along with. That was their homework: every day they have to say something nice and praise somebody, point out something they had done well. One man came up to me afterwards and said, “I have this colleague at work that I really can’t stand,” and I said, “Do your homework with this colleague. Find something nice to comment about him every day.”

So, a week later at the next class, that man came up to me and said, “You know, I tried it and the first day was really hard. I couldn’t think of anything nice to compliment him on, so I made something up.” And then he said, “But then my colleague started acting differently towards me, so the second day it was easier to say something nice to him. By the third day I began to notice that he actually had some good qualities so then I could compliment him in an earnest way.” It’s quite interesting because just through this practice of trying to be of benefit and trying to be pleasant, the whole work relationship was transformed. You might want to try something like that and see if it changes things.

We can also benefit the people in our family, and I think this is very important because so often we take our family for granted. We think they’re so much a part of us that we don’t need to be careful about how we treat them. How many of you are grumpy in the morning? Come on! [laughter] There’s one honest person—the same one that was honest before. Who’s grumpy in the morning? Come on, come on—another honest person, good! When we’re grumpy in the morning, who’s the victim of our grumpiness: our family.

We go down to breakfast and the kids say, “Hi, mum and dad.” Your kids are so loving, and you’re just sitting there: “Oh, shut up and eat your breakfast.” If you’re grumpy you don’t talk to your kids, or you’re grumpy and you become a drill sergeant in the army with your kids. Have you ever noticed that some parents actually act like drill sergeants? They don’t know how to talk to their kids. All they know is how to give orders: “Get up. Brush your teeth. Go to the bathroom. You’re late for school, hurry up. Get in the car. You didn’t comb your hair. What’s wrong with you? I told you 5 times to comb your hair. Do your homework. Turn off the TV. Turn of the computer. Take a bath. Go to bed.”

Some parents really sound like army sergeants, don’t they? How can you benefit your kids if you treat them like that? So, when we’re talking about benefitting sentient beings, in the morning go down and try looking in your childrens’ eyes. Look at them and see that there’s this beautiful sentient being here, this lovely fresh little being, who is so excited about life and is growing up. And look at your child and smile at them. Look at your husband or your wife and smile at them.

This is really a very profound Dharma practice because who do we take for granted most? It’s our husband and wife, isn’t it? “Come on, take out the garbage. Do the laundry. Why don’t you make more money? Why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that?” I’ve had so many people come and tell me, “All my parents do is bicker,” and then when these people get married, all of the sudden they find themselves acting just like their parents. And they’re horrified because they had always said, “I would never talk to my spouse the way my mother and father talk to each other,” but then there they are talking to their spouse like that.

So, when I talk about “benefitting sentient beings,” try being nice to your husband and wife. Really try respecting them and speaking kindly. Try helping them out. If you don’t take out the garbage, try taking out the garbage. It could improve your whole marriage, believe me. [laughter] Or try cleaning up after yourself—really! Can you imagine you’re a slob, leaving everything all over and expecting your husband or wife to pick up for you. And then you wonder why they’re not friendly to you. Try picking up after yourself and see if your spouse doesn’t act nicer towards you.

Audience: [inaudible]

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): A pampered husband? [laughter] A henpecked husband?

Audience: Henpecked husband. [laughter]

VTC: Well, the way to get out of being a henpecked husband is to do what your wife says. Then she won’t bark at you anymore. [laughter] Aren’t you glad it’s a woman giving the dharma talk? A man would never say that, huh? [laughter] But really, you know what your spouse likes and some of what they don’t like. So, try being kind, and try doing some of those things. They’ll stop pestering you if you do it.

There are so many ways you could benefit people and our family that we see every day. When you get off of work and go home, before you go in the door, just stop for a minute and breathe. Stop and think, “I’m going into my home to spend time with the people I care the most about, and I really want to connect and be loving to them.” Then open the door and go into your home. If you set your motivation to be loving and kind and connect with your family, there’s a much better chance that you’re going to do that than if you just get off of work, go home, open the door—“I’m exhausted”—sit down on the sofa and zone out in front of the TV. And you call that relaxing.

And then you wonder why your family is a mess. It’s because you don’t talk to the people in your family. Try coming home and doing a little bit of breathing meditation. Let the stress from the day go, and then look at your family members and say, “How was your day, dear?” Talk to your children: “What happened to you in school today? How are your friends? What did you learn?” Show an interest in them. Life is made of so many small events, and all of these small events are an opportunity to practice the dharma by bringing love and compassion and kindness into them. Life isn’t just big events; it’s just all these small things.

Like I said before, His Holiness the Dalai Lama can’t come into your family and do that; you can. And before you go to work, set your motivation and think, “I’m going to work not just to make money but to be kind to my colleagues, to create a good working environment. And I’m going to work so that whatever product comes out or whatever service comes out, other people will benefit.”

Even if you’re making cups: “May all the people who get the cups that my factory makes be well and happy. May everybody who drinks out of these cups always be happy.” Put your love into your work. If you’re on the telephone all day with different clients: “May I benefit the people that I speak with all day.” Okay? It really transforms things. So, that’s the second thing.

So, when setting our motivation in the morning, the first important thing is to say to ourselves, “I’m not going to harm others as much as possible,” and the second is: “I’m going to be of benefit and service as much as possible.” Then the third thing is: “I’m going to generate the bodhicitta.” The bodhicitta is the enlightened attitude or awakening mind or altruistic intention. It’s the aspiration to become a fully enlightened Buddha, so we’ll have the wisdom, compassion and skillful means to be of the greatest service to everybody.

Before you even get out of bed in the morning, you generate that motivation: “The real meaning and purpose in my life, the real important thing in my life, is that I’m going towards full enlightenment for the benefit of all beings.” And if you generate that motivation every morning and remember it during the day, it becomes so much easier to handle the ups and downs of life. Because with the bodhicitta, with that altruistic intention, our mind is focused longterm on this noble goal of enlightenment. So then if we have some little problem during the day, it’s not a big deal because we know our life is meaningful, and we know we’re going towards enlightenment.

Somebody’s mad at us: that’s just a problem of today; it’s not a big problem. I have a little thing that I say to myself sometimes when unpleasant things happen in the day. I just tell myself, “Oh, that’s just a problem of this life; it’s not so important.” Or I say, “That’s just a problem of today; it’s not so important. I don’t need to get upset about it because I know where I’m going. My life is directed towards enlightenment, so those little problems—I don’t get the thing I want, people don’t treat me the way I think I should be treated—let them go. It’s not a big deal.” Setting our motivation like this in the morning can be a very strong influence on how we live the rest of the day.

Then during the rest of the day we try and remember this motivation as much as possible, and in the evening we sit a down and do a little reflection. We evaluate how well we did. So, we ask ourselves, “Did I harm anybody today?” And we might say, “Well, I started to get mad at my neighbor and previously I probably would say something mean to them, but today I kept my mouth closed. I didn’t say anything mean. That’s progress—good me!”

Pat yourself on the back and rejoice in your merit. But I still was angry at them, and that’s not so positive. Then you do a little bit of meditation on patience to clear out the anger, and when you go to bed your mind is calm. You’re not taking that anger with you when you sleep. So, at the end of the day, you just review and evaluate how your day went, purify what needs to be purified and then dedicate all the merit you created.

That’s a little bit about precious human life: how difficult and rare it is to attain it, how to make it meaningful, and how to construct a good daily practice by generating our motivation not to harm, to benefit and to aim for enlightenment. During the day we remember it, and in the evening we review and evaluate it. Okay?

Now there’s a little bit of time for questions and comments, so please ask whatever you’d like. I should tell you that this is your chance to ask questions, because lots of times people think, “I won’t ask my question now. I’ll go up and ask her after the talk.”  Then what happens is that nobody asks questions and everybody lines up after the talk. And there’s probably about five questions, because everybody has the same question. So, please ask your questions now and be assured that probably other people in the audience also have the same doubts. If there are no questions then we’ll just do a short meditation and we’ll close.

Meditation and dedication

In this meditation, review what you heard tonight. Take some point—something that was discussed—and think about it in terms of your own life. Think about how you can put what you heard tonight into practice in your life, and make some sort of resolution. Let’s spend two or three minutes doing this.

And then let’s dedicate all the positive potential we’ve accumulated through sharing the Dharma this evening. Let’s dedicate so that as much as possible in our lives, we don’t harm others or ourselves. Let’s dedicate so that as much as possible in our lives, we can be beneficial to the people around us. Let’s dedicate so that this bodhicitta, this altruistic intention, always grows in our heart and that we’re never separated from this aspiration for enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. Let’s dedicate so that the Dharma exists purely in our mind and in our world forever.

Let’s dedicate so that we always have a precious human rebirth with all the conditions to practice the dharma, and that we and everybody else can make use of this precious human life so that we can attain liberation and enlightenment. Let’s dedicate so that people can live peacefully with each other, and also so that each living being can be peaceful in his or her own heart. And finally, let’s dedicate so that all sentient beings may quickly attain full enlightenment and be forever free of all problems and suffering and abide in the state of bliss and wisdom and compassion.

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.