Precious Human Life

Precious Human Life May 17, 2024

We are lucky to be here. We don’t always think that way because our lives are a struggle. But we are. We have a special kind of freedom because we were born into these conditions. We were born in a time and place where we’re able to practice and study. If we had been born in some other context we may not have had that opportunity. We wouldn’t be able to understand suffering and the causes of suffering. We can reflect on the freedoms and advantages that we have as human beings.

Buddhism teaches that being born as a human being is incredibly rare.

The Bhagavan taught gaining

A human body is as hard

As for a turtle to stick its neck

Through a yoke tossed on the vast seas.”

Shantideva (8th century)

Don’t get caught up on the word ‘bhagavan’. It means ‘lord’ and is one of the many alternative names sometimes used for the Buddha. I don’t know what a yoke is, really, but that’s okay. Take a moment to imagine a turtle in the ocean. Then imagine it’s head coming up. There’s a whole big ocean and the turtle has to come up in the perfect spot to hit that yoke. Shantideva is telling us that that is how rare human life is. It’s so unlikely that we’re here. It’s said that there are more flies in a pond than there are human beings in the world. I’m not sure if that’s true but it sounds true. I don’t think flies can do these practices we’re doing. Some would say that you’re born as a human being and not as a fly because you’ve had good karma in a past life.

So, we’re lucky to not be flies. We’re lucky in some other ways too. I think about human history. A person born 200 years ago would be fascinated that we all have flushable toilets in our houses, among probably many other things. It’s good that we’re in the modern world and not the distant past, for a number of reasons. Of course one is comfort. But another one is this: we have access to teachings like these. We can study and practice and grow in ways that would not have been possible in the past. A few centuries ago it would be really hard to encounter any spiritual teacher or own any spiritual books…or any books for most people. And, of course I have to mention there are plenty of places in this world today where horrific poverty persists.

In ‘The Power of Mind’ Khentrul Lodro Thaye says that our lives are full of advantages. He says:

To have advantages means that we have circumstances in our lives that enable us to search for an authentic path and then to accomplish it. These advantages include where we are born, our mental faculties, and the general conditions of our lives. If we don’t appreciate the freedoms and advantages we have, we won’t use them fully. It is important to think carefully about the choices we make.”

Khentrul Lodro Thaye

So, if we come to that understanding that human life is rare and special, how should we spend our lives? We shouldn’t waste our time if we’re lucky to be here. I like to say that with this path we may not be able to add years to our life, but we can add life to our years. How can we make our lives meaningful?

Is it chasing after pleasure all the time? Accumulating as much wealth as we can? I don’t think so. I’m reminded of a t-shirt I saw when I was a kid. Gen X-ers like me may remember the ‘No Fear’ brand. There was a shirt that said on the back, “He who dies with the most toys…still dies.” and I think about that when I’m reflecting on these teachings. Those t-shirts that were popular had lots of silly slogans, but I think that one may actually be good.

We are missing our potential right now. We are chasing things that don’t bring lasting happiness. We are, at times, making enemies out of the world around us, we are getting pulled around and made miserable by our disturbing emotions, and we are sleepwalking through life. I don’t know if this is obvious, but when you’re doing these things, it’s really easy for people to sell you stuff.

We can look at ourselves and see if we’re fulfilling our potential or if we have work to do. Seeking riches, power, or fame will not be what we think it will. The richest man in the world still got divorced and builds rockets because he’s bored.

Khentrul Lodro Thaye says:

“Temporary happiness means finding true joy in this life by working on our mind so that happiness is not dependent upon external circumstances. Ultimate happiness is achieved by fully entering a path that leads to freedom, a path based on purifying ourselves of obscurations and flaws. While realizing our true nature, replete with all positive qualities.”

Happiness is found by reaching your potential. Lasting happiness comes from putting down your emotional baggage and not letting our disturbing emotions control us. Those things get in our way. It’s because of these disturbances that we get torn up by trivial things and we freak out about the vagaries of life. In that way we sometimes make things worse for ourselves.

Shantideva says:

“I’ve gained what is most difficult to get-

The leisures and resources to benefit beings.

If I do not accomplish good while here,

How will I ever come to them again.”

That’s some pretty heavy stuff, right? Shantideva is saying we really need to not waste our lives. That’s why we’re training our minds. We want to unleash our potential. We want to figure out how to live in a way that’s more meaningful and positive. We can build better connections with others and cultivate more wisdom and compassion.

We just have to really want it.


Here’s a Dharma talk I gave at the Rime Center on this subject:

The Power of Being Human

Here’s a video teaching:

This Precious Human Life

and here’s a talk I recorded a while ago:

What if Human Life is Good?

Click on the bowl for a guided meditation on our precious human life:



I highly recommend getting ‘The Power of Mind’. You can find it here:

The Power of Mind by Khentrul Lodro Thaye

I believe Khentrul Lodro Thaye is a wise teacher and I am going to be writing about insights from this book for a while. I’ve had the good fortune to meet quite a few Buddhist teachers and he’s one of my favorites.

I also quoted from ‘Way of the Bodhisattva’ in this writing. There are lots of versions of this classic text. I am not exaggerating when I say that to me this book has been truly life-changing. You can find my favorite version here:

Entering the Way of the Bodhisattva by Shantideva

I recorded a series of talks on ‘Way of the Bodhisattva’. I’m probably going to be revisiting that text soon. You can find those recordings here:

Way of the Bodhisattva Series


About Daniel Scharpenburg
Daniel Scharpenburg (Gegan Kelsang Dakpa) is a Buddhist Meditation Teacher. Daniel completed Meditation Instructor Training under Lama Chuck Stanford at the Rime Buddhist Center in 2011. He volunteers at the Rime Buddhist Center as a Class Facilitator and Meditation Lead. He was given the title “Gegan” or teacher and he has taken Bodhisattva Vows. Daniel also ordained as a Zen Priest in the Five Mountain Zen Order with Ven. Wonji Dharma in the Korean Zen Tradition You can read more about the author here.

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