The 9th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia Illustrations
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The Preciousness of Life
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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?
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.
"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 vast ocean, there was once a blind turtle. Once every 100 years, this blind turtle poked its head out of the water. Floating on the surface of the 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.
"Annan, what are the chances that when that blind turtle came up, its head would go into the hole in the log?"
"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!"
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!"