Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Four Reminders, Part One: Precious Human Birth

First, contemplate the preciousness of being free and well-favored.
This is difficult to gain, easy to lose: now I must do something meaningful.

-- The first of the Four Reminders: Precious Human Birth

One of our most deeply rooted habitual patterns is self-criticism. Even when our situation is good, our minds always circle back to focus on what we lack, the areas where we perceive ourselves to be deficient. This is especially true here in the West, where our culture is steeped in the notion of Original Sin -- the idea that we are fundamentally bad, primordially corrupted, and we cannot be fixed without the intervention of a Higher Power to rescue us from ourselves. This is a far cry from the Eastern notion of Buddha Nature -- the idea that all beings are fundamentally good, primordially pure, and that each being has the potential to awaken to its own true nature through its own actions and awareness.

Our compulsive self-criticism and discontent often blinds us to our own positive qualities and fortunate circumstances, making it difficult for us to relax with ourselves as we are, or to rest with what is happening in the moment. For example, we may become speedy and impatient -- always restless and eager to be somewhere other than where we are. We can observe this sometimes in meditation practice. When we're sitting on the cushion with a group of meditators, we can't wait for the bell to ring so we can stand up and do walking meditation -- and then when we're walking, we can't wait for the bell to ring so we can sit back down again. Ridiculous!

If we have habitual feelings of shame or fear of deficiency or self-pity, this can become a veil that prevents us from clearly seeing -- much less utilizing -- the precious opportunity for awakening that we have in this life. Yet, we can also recognize that these negative feelings have no inherent reality of their own. We're the ones who keep them turning. We give them energy and soil in which to grow. Yielding to these ancient patterns frustrates our emotional well-being and stifles our spiritual growth.

The antidote is to contemplate the First Reminder, to realize that we are blessed with the extraordinary freedoms and endowments of a precious human birth. All the favorable conditions that make it possible for us to progress along the path to enlightenment have come together in this lifetime.

Of all the infinite variety of situations into which we could have been born, we find ourselves now in this one. In contrast to our habit of focusing on the negative, always feeling discontent over what our lives are lacking, we could, instead, learn to appreciate the precious qualities of this life, and thereby make good use of it -- for our own benefit and for everyone else's benefit too -- before it is gone. For it is important to realize that the precious opportunity that exists for us right now is fleeting, and could disintegrate at any time. We should not take it for granted that our circumstances will always be this favorable. We should practice diligently while we can.

At this moment, all the freedoms and favorable conditions have come together for you to be able to progress along the path toward buddhahood. Yet none of these blessings that you presently enjoy are guaranteed to you. Any of them could easily be lost, at any time, through your own death or through changing life circumstances. If you do not recognize the precious opportunity you have now, and do not take advantage of it, when will you have the chance to do so again?

1 comment:

Anouk Brack said...

Thank you Dennis, for this series. Very clear and recognizable for my western mind.