Q: “Rejoice at having been born human,” we are taught, but often I am filled with resentment against my parents for giving birth to me. I know this is wrong, but I cannot feel any joy in being alive. Why was Shinran so thankful to have been born human?
A: Lack of joy in life leads some people to commit suicide. Yet if we are honest, most of us have felt the same way you do.
As you say, Buddhism teaches that we are to rejoice at having been born human. The Miscellaneous Agama Sutra contains the following famous parable of a blind turtle and a floating log. One day Sakyamuni Buddha asked his followers this question: “Suppose there was a blind turtle at the bottom of a vast sea, and once every hundred years it rose to the surface. Then suppose that drifting on that sea was a log with a hole in the middle. What are the chances that when the blind turtle rose to the surface it would poke its head in the hole in the log?”
His follower Anan said, “That could never happen.” “Youʼd think not,” Buddha replied. “But neither can you rule out the possibility that it might happen once in many trillions of years or more. To be born human is still more difficult and wonderful than this story suggests.”
The Japanese word arigato, “thank you,” is derived from arigatai, meaning “rare and precious” literally, “difficult to have being.” The Nirvana Sutra says this:
Those born human are like sands on a fingernail. Those who fall into the three realms of suffering are like sands in the ten directions.
Those born human are as few as the grains of sand on a fingernail, and those who fall into the three evil paths (hell, the realm of hungry ghosts, and the realm of animals) are as many as the grains of sand in the universe.
Our being born human means we have an important purpose in life. We were born human for the purpose of achieving that great mission. This is what Sakyamuni Buddha taught:
Human form is difficult to obtain; Now I have already obtained it. Buddhism is difficult to hear; Now I have already heard it. If I do not achieve salvation in this lifetime, when will I ever do so?
To be born human is a rare blessing -- a blessing that is mine. Hearing Buddhism is a rare blessing -- a blessing that is mine. I must be saved in this life by all means. If not, in what life will I be saved? This is my one chance in eternity.
What does it mean to be saved now, in this life? Shinran teaches that it means to hear and believe1 the Vow of Amida and so achieve absolute happiness in the present. He also tells us that it is our one chance in trillions upon trillions of years.
As Shinran says, once we “hear” the Vow of Amida and attain absolute happiness, we realize for the first time what a blessing it is to be born human. The true jubilation of having been born human is known only to those who hear the message of Buddhism. Keep on listening to Buddhism until you know the joy of having been born into life as a human being.
By Kentetsu Takamori
1 Hear and believe (monshin): to encounter the Vow of Amida and have its truth revealed.
(Petals of Shinran, The Cherry volume Chapter 3)
Source: The Buddhist Village Times #13 | 2012, Why Shinran Taught Us to Rejoice That We Were Born Human
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