A Very Rare Opportunity
There is a classic story recorded in an ancient text of the teachings of Buddha. While addressing a group of monks he said: “Suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole into the water. … And suppose a blind sea turtle were there. It would come to the surface only once every 100 years. Now what do you suppose the chances would be that a blind turtle, coming to the surface every 100 years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?” And the monks answered, “It would be very unusual, Sir …” And the Buddha said: “Just so, it is very, very rare that one attains the human state.”
Bearing in mind how extremely rare our human existence is, we should ask whether there is a purpose behind it or is it simply a random event. Questions like these have been asked throughout the ages, but only mystics give a logical explanation of the purpose of human life. They have called human beings the top of creation. That is because only human beings can worship the Lord. Mystics say that it is for this purpose alone that we are in this human body.
But the downside is that we have forgotten our true purpose. This is because the mind has a natural tendency to look for peace and happiness in the attractions of this world. Mystics tell us that our mind and ego have drawn a veil between us and the Supreme Being. However, they say, this veil can be lifted, and it can be done with the power of Nam; then we will find eternal bliss.
But life is short. Consider the following scenario: On a Saturday afternoon a couple is relaxing in the lounge. The wife gets up and says, “I am going to the bathroom.” The husband continues watching TV or reading the newspaper, but after a while he realizes that his wife has been gone for perhaps half an hour. He goes to the bathroom and finds her lying dead on the floor.
This can happen to any one of us. Events like these do happen, and they demonstrate that time is a priceless commodity. The sand in the hourglass of our lives started running out the moment we were born, and it keeps running with every breath we take. There are no guarantees for any of us that we will reach old age or even get another human life.
Namdev gives this reminder in one of his poems:
You won’t always get a life like this –
you’ve come as a human being now
because of your good deeds before.
Second by second you’re growing,
but moment by moment you’re going.
You’ve been given a priceless jewel,
cherish it or lose it. …
so build a boat of true Sound
and cross to the far shore
of the ocean of existence.
Many Voices, One Song
In this world peace and happiness appear to be elusive. Many people think these can be attained by amassing wealth, but when they achieve that they realize that they have been chasing a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Others indulge in wine, women and song, without any thought of an afterlife or any desire to improve themselves or raise their consciousness. True enough, there are people on whom the Lord appears to bestow worldly gifts lavishly; but even those people are, at times, overwhelmed by a sense of loneliness, of living an aimless life. Others are born in poverty, some even with physical and other handicaps, without any prospect of ever being able to live a normal life.
If we reflect on what is keeping us in this cycle of birth and death, then we begin to realize what mystics are saying, that our karmas, together with our attachments and desires, are the reason we are stuck in this seemingly endless wheel of transmigration.
Human beings have an overwhelming and enduring need to love and be loved, and it is this need which draws us to a living Master, by whose grace and mercy we eventually become able to live up to our full potential, to finally merge in God’s ocean of love. But how to attain this? In the Gospel according to St Matthew we read:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy
soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Matthew 22: 37–40
In Light on St Matthew Maharaj Charan Singh tells us that to love God fully, we need to overcome the negative tendencies of the mind. Unless the mind is cleansed it will not become fit to love the Lord – because the mind cannot love both the world and the Lord at the same time.
Those on whom the Lord wishes to shower his grace and mercy are granted the gift of the human form. And then he draws the attention of the marked ones to himself – those souls whom he, in his grace, wishes to call back home by joining them with Shabd and Nam.
Mystics, past and present, are emphatic in their assertion that devotion to Nam is the only means of redemption and no other form of worship can take us to the court of the Lord. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a twentieth-century Tibetan Buddhist, says:
Ask yourself how many of the billions of the inhabitants of the planet have any idea of how rare it is to have been born as a human being. How many of those who understand the rarity of human birth ever think of even using that chance to practise the Dharma?
How many of those who think of practice actually do practise? How many of those who start really continue? How many of those who practise, continue and attain ultimate realization?
Rinpoche (which means “precious one”) also says:
As long as you fail to recognize the true value of human existence, you will just fritter your life away in futile activity and distraction.
When life comes all too soon to its inevitable end, you will not have achieved anything worthwhile at all.
But once you really see the unique opportunity that human life can bring, you will definitely direct all your energy into reaping its true worth.
Kamala Masters, The Preciousness of Our Human Life
This should make us reflect on whether the way we live our lives is in line with such a precious opportunity. Mystics know us, they know of our tendency to procrastinate – we tend to put off doing what we don’t enjoy. Our intentions remain feeble; we don’t act, so nothing happens. We look at watches and calendars, but our lives are measured in breaths, and we must make use of every precious breath to obtain our life’s purpose while we can – while in this human body – because as Namdev reminded us: “Second by second you’re growing, but moment by moment you’re going.”
It is therefore important to create a continuous awareness of how precious this opportunity is. There will be failures, but with the grace of the Lord there will be progress, even if we are unable to see it at this stage.
Even the gods in the heavens want a human birth.
We are lucky to have been given this human body
So that we can be his devotees.
We should take advantage of this life
To reach the highest spiritual region.
We will take the ladder to the heavens
And climb it step by step.
Tukaram, The Ceaseless Song of Devotion