Why This Human Body is Most Precious

By Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Kopan Monastery, Nepal (Archive #1441)

Lama Zopa Rinpoche discusses the perfect human rebirth in this teaching from the 36th Kopan Course, Kopan Monastery, Nepal, in 2003. Rinpoche advises us not to waste this precious opportunity, as we have this human body for just a short time. Lightly edited by Gordon McDougall.

This excerpt from Lecture 13 of the course. Click here to read more.

Monks wishing Lama Zopa Rinpoche a happy birthday at Kopan Monastery, Nepal, December 2016. Photo: Ven. Lobsang Sherab.

What this human body offers, the opportunity it gives us is much more than skies filled with billions of dollars or limitless skies filled with gold, diamonds or even wish-fulfilling jewels. Even if we own that much, limitless skies filled with wish-fulfilling jewels cannot stop our rebirth in the lower realms.

Therefore, this human body that we have now is more precious than all the wealth in the world, more precious than all the wealth in the deva realm. It is said that in the deva realm even one earring is worth more than all the wealth in this world. I don’t remember exactly where I heard that. All the money in this world is not even the value of just one earring of the deva realm. But all the wealth in the deva realm is nothing if we compare it to the value of this human body. It is so precious, even more precious than whole skies filled with wish-granting jewels, with numberless wish-granting jewels.

Wish-granting means that in the past, bodhisattvas or wheel-turning kings or those who have a lot of merit find wish-granting jewels from the ocean and then they clean them in three ways, in three stages, first getting the mud off, then the smell or something else, very subtle. They clean them in three different ways. Then they put the wish-fulfilling jewels on top of a banner, which is on top of the roof of the house. Then, whatever people pray for, all the material things, all the sense objects, the material enjoyments, whatever they wish for, they get. That’s why it’s called “wish-fulfilling” but of course to have that power, you also have to have merit. It is similar to the person who has a billion dollars. With a billion dollars you can buy many things, but to get a billion dollars you first have to have the merit. Therefore, it can’t stop a lower rebirth; it cannot save us from the lower realms.

Therefore, this precious human body we have now is unbelievable; it is more precious than anything. Having this precious human body, we can achieve any happiness, the four levels of happiness: the happiness of this life, of future lives, of liberation, and enlightenment, as well as bringing happiness to all sentient beings. We can do that by developing the mind in the path, from life to life, and we can cause others, all sentient beings, to create the causes of happiness, so this can even cover all sentient beings.

We can’t be sure how long we will have this human body. We won’t have this forever and there are only a certain number of breaths from now on. With every breath that finishes, that’s one less. Every time it becomes less. There is only a certain number and they are finishing continuously, becoming less and less. So the duration we have this precious human body for is continuously getting shorter and shorter. There are only a certain number of seconds, from now on, from this moment, there are only a certain number of seconds. Constantly, so quickly, it is finishing. How long we will have this precious human body, there are only a certain number of seconds and they are running out, finishing so fast.

And there is so much negative karma—not only from one day, not only from birth, but from beginningless rebirths—that we haven’t purified and we haven’t finished experiencing. There are so many negative karmas; they’re uncountable.

Generally speaking, we don’t get really strong purification or really pure practice done. Then if death happens suddenly, there is no way to purify all that karma, not only from today. It is not easy to purify even one karma, and there are so many, from this one day, from birth and then from beginningless rebirths. Therefore, if death happens we must be thrown back into the lower realms, where we came from. We came from there before and we will go back to the same place, to the lower realms again. Once we are born there, it’s not sure when we can come back.

The great bodhisattva Shantideva mentions in a verse of the Bodhicaryavatara,

If when I have the chance to live a wholesome life
My actions are not wholesome,
Then what should I be able to do
When confused by the misery of the lower realms?1

Using this perfect human rebirth, all the different levels of happiness can be obtained, but if we fail to take advantage of this, when we die and are thrown into the lower realms, what can we do? If we are born as a worm or a turtle, as an alligator or a crocodile or as those worms given to the fish, put on the hook to catch fish—if we are born like that, if the result of our negative karma has ripened already—there is nothing we can do.

Shantideva continues,

So if, when I have leisure such as this,
I do not attune myself to what is wholesome,
There could be no greater deception,
And there could be no greater folly.2

By opportunity, by luck, having found this perfect human body, without training the mind in virtue, if we get reborn in the lower realms there is nothing more ignorant than this. There is no greater way to cheat ourselves than this.

The conclusion is that death can happen any time, on any day. At any moment it can happen. Therefore, without wasting even one second we must dedicate our life to living in the lamrim, to practicing the lamrim. Since I brought this issue up of how we should practice, we need to know this—how human life is so precious and how the time we have is very short, very short, like the duration of lightning. It comes, it happens, it’s gone. It’s like last night’s dream.

Therefore, we must make a decision about our life. Making a decision about our own life, we need to be most careful. By using our wisdom, by analyzing, our decision should be the most beneficial one. Whatever decision we make in our own life, it should first of all be to only create good karma, to become the cause of happiness.

Even that is not enough. Even for ourselves, the happiness we want is the highest, peerless happiness. The profit we want in life is the highest profit, Normally, when we are in business, in our normal life, we want the best, the highest happiness or profit. This is no different than what animals want to achieve. Even the tiniest insect that we can only see through a microscope wants to achieve happiness in this life, so that is nothing special. That doesn’t qualify us, that doesn’t become the special purpose for having a human body or being human. It doesn’t fulfill the purpose of being human, because any other animal, even the insects can do that. Even chickens or pigs, they can do that.

A perfect human rebirth transcends the meaning of life. The activities that we do with this human body, if it is working to achieve long-run happiness, the happiness of all the coming future lives, then it is special. We can only achieve that through good karma, not through bad karma, negative karma. So, all our actions, whatever we do, have to be good karma, Dharma, in order to achieve all this.


1 Ch. 4, v. 18. [Return to text]

2 Ch. 4, v. 23. [Return to text]