“Hard is to be born into human life, now we are living it, difficult is it to hear the teachings of the Buddha, now we hear it. If we do not cross over to the Truth in the present life, in what life shall we cross over?”
This quote is part of what Buddhists call the Threefold Refuge or the Three Treasures. It is part of a larger quote in which one takes the vow or takes refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha*. When one makes that vow they are considered Buddhist. In our tradition, it is a simple personal vow that one makes to continually listen and practice the Buddhist path. This is read at each service we hold at the Watsonville Buddhist Temple.
The opening sentence is so very important because it speaks to the wonder of life and the gift of our birth in this world. The Buddha once shared an analogy that emphasizes the words, “Hard is it to be born into human life.” He asks us to imagine a large sea turtle swimming in the vast and deep ocean. Once a year that turtle comes up out of the water and takes a deep breath of the air above. Floating on the ocean surface is a ring about 3 inches in diameter. This turtle raises its head to take a breath and miraculously pokes his head through the ring. What are the odds of this occurring? This the Buddha said is the miracle of birth into human life.
The Buddha was pointing out to us how fortunate we are to be born in this world and the rarity and wonder of birth. Beyond that, he was also exclaiming how rare and wonderful to encounter the Truths that he taught during his lifetime. The Buddha emphasized the rarity of birth and its fragile nature as well. As we all know with birth comes eventual death. The stark reality has come to us in the form of Covid and its several mutated forms, killing millions across the planet. In truth, death comes to us from a myriad of sources, not just Covid.
Life itself is a virus that will cause our eventual death. Knowing this all the more we must look at our birth with wonder, and spend the time we have on this earth wisely and compassionately. Embracing the truth of impermanence and interrelationships, truths the Buddha taught throughout his life. If we can see clearly the transient form of human life and understand that we cannot control the passing of young and old alike, we should look to our future life in what the Buddha called birth in the Pure Land. Taking in the Three Treasures into our life is the first step toward the Pure Land and Enlightenment.
[*Buddha: Historical Buddha Shakyamuni who showed human beings can reach Enlightenment: Dharma: Teachings of the Buddha; Sangha: Followers of Buddhism. — Author]
Rev. Hosei Shinseki leads the Watsonville Buddhist Temple. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent those of The Pajaronian.