Only With this Human Body Can We Practice Dharma

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #398)

Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche gave this teaching at the 19th Kopan Course, held at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 1986.

This excerpt from Lecture 7 of the course is lightly edited by Gordon McDougall and Sandra Smith. Click here to read more.     

(02404_ng.JPG) Portrait of Lama Zopa Rinpoche, Geneva, Switzerland, 1983. Photos by Ueli Minder.

In this hour, this minute, we are not born as an animal, as a pig, and we have the freedom to practice Dharma. Even if we explain to a pig the meaning of the mantra TADYATHA OM MUNÉ MUNÉ MAHAMUNAYÉ SOHA or OM MANI PADME HUM, the Chenrezig mantra, or about Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, or karma—action and result—or virtue and nonvirtue, or what is the cause of suffering and what is the cause of happiness, for billions of eons, there is no way the pig can understand. If we tie the pig to our meditation cushion or to the table, and then explain for billions of eons about the cause of suffering, nonvirtue, or the cause of happiness, virtue, there is no way to make it understand.

But for a human being—a sentient being who has a human body and is able to understand the words and the meaning—within a minute or within one hour, we can make that person understand what is the cause of happiness (virtue) and what is the cause of suffering (nonvirtue) by giving the definitions for each one. So immediately, within that minute, that human being has the opportunity to abandon nonvirtue and to practice virtue, the cause of happiness. He can transform his actions into virtue and ensure that his actions do not become nonvirtue, so immediately, within that minute, there is unbelievable freedom.

We can see from this how our human body is so unbelievably precious, just by thinking about this example and comparing our life to that of the pig. So there is no question in relation to the rest of the Dharma subjects, to achieve liberation, enlightenment. We are not born as an animal such as a pig, and we have the freedom to practice Dharma; we have the opportunity to achieve any happiness that we wish for in the next life—wealth, perfect surroundings, being a king. We have the body of a happy transmigratory being, and with this human life, with this body, within this second or this minute, we can create the cause of happiness. So, this human body is much more precious than mountains of dollars or diamonds. Within this minute, this second, we are not born as an animal, as a pig, and we have the freedom to practice Dharma. If we wish to achieve liberation, we can create the cause by training the mind in moral conduct and living in the vows within this minute, this second.

Therefore, this human body is much more precious than diamonds the size of this earth, or dollars equaling the number of atoms of this earth. Within such a short time—a minute or a second—even if we wish to achieve enlightenment, we can create the cause, by thinking, “May I achieve enlightenment. I’m going to practice bodhicitta in order to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings.” Generating bodhicitta, the motivation of bodhicitta creates infinite merit and is the cause of happiness, to do extensive work for all sentient beings. Even putting the palms together and prostrating to the Buddha—even if we can’t see Buddha and we are prostrating to the thangkas, statues and holy objects—we can create the cause of enlightenment, just in this second.

If we light one stick of incense and think about the Buddha, or if we see a beautiful flower and offer it to the Buddha, that offering creates the cause of enlightenment. If we simply think of the Buddha, then offer a flower to the Buddha, or if we visualize offerings of gold or grain, in that second we create the cause of enlightenment immediately in that second. By prostrating to the Buddha, who has finished all the stains and completed all the realizations, in that second we create the unimaginable cause of happiness; we create merit, the cause of enlightenment.

From our side, as long as we don’t know how to practice Dharma, how to create the cause of happiness, not having listened to the teachings, we don’t know that there’s this incredible, unbelievable opportunity in the life to create the cause of happiness for the sake of other sentient beings. Or we do know the teachings, but don’t practice. That obstacle we create from our own side, otherwise there’s nobody stopping us from creating the cause of happiness. There is so much that we can do. It is incredible how we can enjoy life.

Within a minute, a second, this human body is much more precious than the dollars or the diamonds filling all of space. If we don’t have these freedoms; if we are born as an animal, as a pig, we don’t have the freedom of having a human body to practice Dharma. Even if we own so many dollars or diamonds filling the whole sky, there is no way to achieve the happiness of future lives, leaving aside liberation and enlightenment. There is no way, no opportunity. There are many beings, such as the great yogi Milarepa, who completed the path and achieved enlightenment within a few years, within one short lifetime. He lived on nettles, he had one shawl and he didn’t have even one dollar or even one small piece, an atom of a diamond, but he became enlightened.

Visualize our precious human body on one side, and on the other side, visualize all the diamonds, all the dollars—mountains of them, filling the whole earth, the whole of space. Without having this precious human body, even if we own that much, we cannot close the door of the lower realms, and we cannot achieve the happiness of future lives, liberation or enlightenment. But with this precious human body, even if we don’t own one dollar, we can close the door of the lower realms and we can achieve the happiness of future lives, liberation and enlightenment. So, having a human body for even one minute or one second is unbelievably precious. How precious it is. It is inexpressible. All those materials are nothing.