Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Preciousness of Life

               The life we live can sure be hell sometimes. We go through family problems, money problems, health problems, relationship problems... the list seems to go on and on when we're facing tough times.

                 Yet even when things are going really great, we hear about natural disasters, mass killings, and international conflicts. We are never immune from worry it seems. Life can be so intense that at times it may seem just too much to handle, especially after a long day of struggling for your family or even just getting by yourself.

                 Then the creeping question of doubt arises... So why even go on? 

Original Photo by Beachcomber1954 available on

                 These are strong, yet stealthy words that too often end in tragedy.

                 When we get to this point, friends all chime in with the same old phrases that we should keep fighting the good fight, not give up, etc. But amidst so many personal hardships and global catastrophes, how can we really justify that life is always precious?

                   This can't be something we just blindly believe in, because if a tragedy strikes us at our very core and we lose what's dearest to us... we'll be the next ones wondering why we're alive. In a moment like that, "You can do it!" and "Hang in there!" will suddenly appear as blanket, empty expressions of naive reassurance.

                To be born a human being is a rare and wondrous experience we should feel extremely grateful for with every fabric of our being. 

                 But how can we truly know for sure?

                 Sakyamuni Buddha used a parable to put the value of human life into perspective for one of his followers in the Connected Agama Sutra.


                 One day Buddha asked his disciple Annan a question.

                  "What do you think about having been born human?"

                  "I feel extremely fortunate," said Annan.

                  "But how fortunate exactly?" asked the Buddha.

                   Annan was unable to answer, so the Buddha shared a story with him.

                   "At the bottom of a very vast ocean, there was once a blind turtle."

Original Photo by nsyll available on

                   "Once every 100 years, this blind turtle poked its head out of the water."

Original Photo by NOAA National Ocean Service available on

                   "Floating on the surface of the vast ocean was a log. In the middle of this log was a hole, just the size of the turtle's head. The log drifted with the wind in all directions.

Original Photo by Daniel P. Davis available on
                    "Annan, what are the chances that when that blind turtle came up, its head would go into the hole in the log?"

Original Photo by J. Michael Tracy available on

                    "Master, such a thing could hardly take place!"

                     "Would you say it was impossible?"

                      "Well, no..." replied Annan. "Perhaps that could happen once in uncountable trillions of years. It must be so rare it is next to impossible!"

                      "True," said the Buddha. "But Annan, for us to be born human is still more difficult than for that turtle to poke its head through the hole in the log!"

Original Photo by Jeffpro57 available on


                      Sakyamuni Buddha taught with this example that human life is rare and precious, but we can also look at biological examples right here on our own planet to get an idea.

                       Think about it, just how many different kind of life forms live on this earth?

                       In just the oceans and rivers, how many fish swim? Picture that just one sunfish can lay 300 million eggs at one time. And scientists have yet to count how many species of insects there are, making the actually number of them to be astronomical! We haven't even gotten to all the birds, reptiles, mammals...

                      So being born as a human is already very special for this planet, a unique experience unlike any other. And of all the billions of people, no two are exactly alike, not even twins. There's something mysterious about this, and it's something to be really thankful for!

                       When something is rare or valuable, we go to great lengths to protect it. That's why doctors, nurses, and ambulatory workers give up their holidays and work relentlessly around the clock to preserve human life. It's also why medical researchers develop technologies to help add years, days, and even minutes to people's lives.

                       Yet there are times when patients must endure excruciating treatments at this chance for more life, or family members must make critical decisions for their loved ones on life-assisting machines. If life is precious, one may begin to wonder what the meaning of living longer could be under such excruciating circumstances.

                        Others can have difficulty believing in the value of life at all and commit suicide, sometimes even taking others along with them. It is an extremely sad and painful reality for these people and the ones affected by such tragedies.

                         Only hearing how precious life is doesn't work when you're in such agony. When life becomes so miserable, one may wish to have never been born. Knowing how hard life is and to just carry on doesn't make it any easier. There must be some kind of solid reassurance that yields purpose or some hope that adds meaning to one's painful existence in order to move forward.

                        We cannot live in in doubt of finding true happiness. We need an answer now while we're alive. This is the life we find the answer, as human beings.

                         Some mistakenly believe that because of transmigration, this life is just part of the journey. They feel like they will get do-overs in their next lives, and as if death is just like a reset button on a video game. This is simply not the case. Death is not something to be taken so lightly.

                           If we don't discover the preciousness of life now, when can we?
                           Really think about this.

                           Sakyamuni Buddha taught that being human may be tough, but without having been born in this unique form we would not have had the chance to seek for a joy that never fades even in the face of death.

Human form is difficult to obtain;
Now I have already obtained it.
Buddhism is difficult to hear;
Now I have already heard it.

                        By encountering and listening to Buddhism, we learn the way to attain absolute happiness and thus accomplish our true purpose of life.

                         We are all born to achieve true happiness in this lifetime. This is why we must live on and endure whatever trials come along the way. It is the meaning of life that propels all of us to live on, even if we don't know or choose not to believe it.  

                         This incredible mission to discover ultimate happiness is what makes all our lives infinitely precious and every moment a shining opportunity of inestimable value. Each and everyone of us shares in this singular life purpose to obtain absolute happiness. 

                          That's why a single life outweighs the earth! 

                         Listen to the teachings with an open heart until you discover this form of abundant joy, this happiness that makes you always want to shout from deep within your spirit, "I'm so happy I'm a human being! I'm the happiest person alive in the universe!"

Monday, June 3, 2013

Impermenance & the Four Horses

               In ancient Japan, a thin, wispy trail of smoke rising up from the mountains and leading up into the sky meant one thing -- the dead were being cremated. People would cast their eyes down, remember their deceased loved ones, and hope their families were not amongst the ones burned that day.

               We see this same sight today perhaps from the chimney of a mortuary, but how often do these scenes make us reflect upon our own mortality or even affect us on a deep level?

                Sensitivities to death vary from person to person. So in Pure Land Buddhism there is "The Metaphor of Four Horses" in order to describe the differences. This analogy uses a horses' attitude toward the whip, which represents the animal's greatest fear.

Original Art by LisaGenius available on

The Metaphor of the Four Horses

1.) A Horse that Sees the Whip's Shadow 
People surprised by the idea of their own death 
when they see falling blossoms or smoke from a crematory.

2.) A Horse that Feels the Whip Brush Over Its Mane
People stunned by the idea they too will die one day
when they see a funeral or hearse

3.) A Horse Cut to the Flesh by the Whip
People who are shocked to think they could be next
when they attend the funeral of relatives and neighbors

4.) A Horse Pierced to the Bone by the Whip -
People who are moved by their own impermanence
 when they lose their family

                    Modern society goes to great lengths to shield us from seeing death or even thinking about it, because this unsettled issue of where we go when we die troubles us so deeply. Some people go to extremes and even whisper the word death or get squeamish at just the mention of a terminal illness. Seeing death near us invokes a dreaded realization that one day... even as soon as today or tomorrow... we must leave all we have come to know and love in this life.

                  The starting point of Buddhism is having this sensitivity toward impermanence. We must direct our thinking about the deaths of others and reflect seriously about our own imminent demise. Without this crucial awareness, we can't advance even one step forward in Buddhism. We listen to reach the all-important, end goal of solving the crucial matter of our afterlife.
                 Sakyamuni Buddha had great compassion for human beings, even while knowing that we were all falling into the world of suffering without knowing it because of our evil deeds. Every second nearly two people die. Those that pass away from this world are like raindrops in the downpour of a tropical storm.  People we know may leave us, but for some reason we feel we won't be the next to go. We still vainly think that impermanence is something that can be put off until a more convenient time for us while we simply enjoy the moment.
                 "Buddha taught, 'The outgoing breath awaits not the incoming breath, and so life ends.' Death may be but a single breath away. Fail to take in the next breath, and immediately your afterlife begins. Each breath you exhale and inhale brushes shoulders with death. On December 31, one second after [11:59:59 P.M.] it is [12:00:00 A.M.]. At the same instant, the [31st] changes to the [1st], December gives way to January, and one year yields to the next. In the same way, this life transforms into the next life in the space of an instant.
                   If you do not achieve the purpose of life now, when will you? When can you? Now is your only chance, for untold ages to come. Gaze steadily at the shadow of impermanence drawing closer every moment, and have no regrets."
--You Were Born for a Reason
                    Each morning we start fresh. We may go for a jog to get our blood flowing, wash our face to feel fresh, and treat ourselves to a warm cup of invigorating coffee. Every evening after we brush our teeth tiredly, we must finally at long last fall over into bed completely exhausted from the day's activities. At 7:00 A.M. we may have a radiant face, but by 11:00 P.M. we can be as white as bones. This is the way we carry on our lives, day in and day out, with the mentality that we will live in this body forever.

                     Say you put Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC) Cain Velasquez in the ring against a little kid. And during the match no matter how many kicks or punches Velasquez throws, the kid still wins with one knockout punch. "How's that possible you ask?" It's because this kid's fighter name is "Wind of Impermanence." He holds an undefeated title, and one day it'll be a match between you and him.

                     Young and old should face their impermanence equally, since it can occur at any time. We discuss how important planning for retirement is, but not everyone will be alive for retirement. Everyone will face death, and yet in spite of this no emphasis is placed on resolving it anytime soon.

                      "We have squandered our days. We have sought the wrong objectives. Talent, property, and power have earned us the respect of others without affording us either joy or satisfaction. Why have we not rather sought happiness to satisfy the soul? We are left with nothing but sighs of regret. ... This lament can only be the regret of someone taken aback by the blackness of his [or her] prospects after death (darkness of mind)."
--You Were Born for a Reason, p. 69

                      We are simply unable to see through this darkness to know our True Self; we don't even know for sure who we really are or why we're alive. Yet somehow we still feel that we have all the answers even though we're really in the dark. 

                      Any concept or impression of death we might have is merely an emotional reaction or creative speculation. It is nothing like facing death when it actually arrives.
                      "Anxiety about what may lie beyond death is inseparable from anxiety in the here and now. It stands to reason, therefore, that efforts to make the present bright without resolving this darkness of mind can only come to nothing."
--You Were Born for a Reason, p. 67

                      This uncertainty toward our death and the afterlife is the very real question that must be faced, and we must listen to Buddhism in order to find the answer clearly. Let's reflect on our own impermanence and obtain true clarity on this issue as quickly as possible.