Liberation from Samsara

Session 1: Fortunate Human Birth

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It is exceedingly difficult to obtain human life with (the eight) freedoms and (ten) endowments.

When I have the chance to fulfill the aim of humanity,

if I do not take advantage of it,

how can I get this opportunity afterward?


AFTER THE PRAYERS to buddhas and the lineage and root lamas, one does the four common preliminary practices. This involves mind training, a mind-reversing practice. It is necessary to turn the mind away from attachment to this world, which can be summed up in four practices. The reason we cannot practice Dharma is because we are so attached to this world that we don’t have the appetite to practice Dharma. If one is attached to something, then one is not free to practice Dharma. If one does not have a busy life, then one is free. There are many ways of practicing; all serve this purpose of turning away from attachment. So we devote ourselves to these four common preliminary practices to turn away from this attachment.

The first common preliminary practice is to realize the difficulty of obtaining a human life. The first four lines of the above verse 22mention the difficulty of obtaining a human life. Recite these lines and meditate on the difficulty of obtaining a human life. To meditate means to think in one-pointed concentration. You should know what the eight freedoms (tal) and the ten endowments (jor) are. The first freedom is that we have a human life and are not born in hell. If we were born in hell, we would have no time to practice Dharma because we would always be suffering. The second freedom is that we are not born as a hungry ghost. If we were in the hungry-ghost realm, we would be suffering from hunger and thirst. We wouldn’t have time to practice Dharma. At present, we are not born as a hungry ghost, so we are free from that state. The third freedom is that we have not taken birth as an animal. If we were in the animal realm, we would have no time to practice. Animals do not know what to practice and they are always busy trying to harm one another. They are chased by people. Fortunately we are free from that state. The fourth freedom is that we are not born as long-life gods. These are gods who have no thoughts and have no suffering, so they have no will to practice Dharma and no desire to do anything. We are free from that state. The fifth freedom is not being in a barbarous country where there is no Buddha or Dharma, and so no way to practice Dharma. But we are in a place where there is Dharma, so we are free from that state. The sixth freedom is being free from a wrong religion. Some religions practice human and animal sacrifice. Buddhism’s basic teaching is nonviolence, to not harm any sentient beings. If one becomes the follower of a religion that preaches the sacrifice of living beings, one would not be free to practice Dharma. But we are followers of Dharma and free from that kind of wrong religion.

The Buddhadharma was preached in many eras, but in many others eras it did not exist at all. If you are born where Dharma does not exist, there is no way of practicing Dharma. The seventh freedom is not being born in a place or time where Buddha and Dharma don’t exist. At this time we are free from such conditions. 23The eighth and last freedom is that we are free from being physically helpless or mentally dumb or foolish. If one is dumb, one cannot understand the meaning of the teaching. We are neither physically nor mentally helpless. So we are free from that kind of state.

It is so easy for us to have a wrong view, like not having faith in Dharma, not having faith in a teacher, and not having a pure perception of phenomena. As humans, we have obtained all eight freedoms, yet it is still not easy for us to be free from wrong views. We must make an effort to keep away from wrong views. Having wrong views is one of the reasons or causes to take rebirth in hell. At the time of Buddha there was a monk named Legpe Karma. He became an attendant of Buddha for twenty-six years but he never had faith in Buddha. He told Buddha, “You can teach twelve aspects of Dharma by memory without looking at a text. So can I. The only difference between us is you have a light around your body.” If Buddha can have someone close by who lacks faith, it can easily happen to others.

Along with eight kinds of freedoms we have ten kinds of endowments: five personal and five external endowments. I will talk about personal endowments first.

We have a human life, and that is the first personal endowment. If we don’t have a human life, there is no way we can practice. The second personal endowment is to take birth in a country where Buddhadharma exists. In the beginning, India was the center of Buddhism. Originally Tibet was not a Buddhist country, but later it became one of the centers of Buddhism. Then the Buddhadharma became almost nonexistent in India. So the existence of Buddha and Dharma is not permanent in space and time, and you should not take this second personal endowment for granted. The third is having the proper faculties. If one does not have the faculty of sight or hearing or speech, it would be difficult to practice Dharma. We have all our faculties, so we have the third endowment. The fourth personal endowment is not having a reverse life, not leaving the Dharma. 24If one practices accordingly and learns the Dharma, and does not get attached to worldly life, one has reversed one’s life of being attached to worldly affairs. Fortunately, we have the personal endowment to practice Dharma and continuously practice Dharma. And the fifth personal endowment is having faith. If one has no faith in Dharma, there is no reason to practice. You all have faith in Dharma. These five personal endowments should be completely integrated within ourselves. Practicing Dharma is one of the most important and necessary requirements for liberation.

Now for the five external endowments. The sixth endowment is having Buddha, meaning Buddha came to this age. If Buddha had not come, there would be no possibility for his teaching to exist and we could not practice. But Buddha came in this age. The seventh endowment is the giving of teaching by the Buddha. If Buddha had come but not given teachings, we could not practice. Fortunately, not only did Buddha come but he also gave three levels of teachings. The eighth endowment is the existence of the Buddhadharma, meaning Buddha came, gave teachings, and those teachings remained. The Dharma of Buddha still exists. The ninth endowment is entering into the Dharma. If one does not practice Dharma, then even if it exists, there is no way of getting the benefits of Dharma. For example, even if the sun is shining, if one is blind, one cannot see. Even if there is a stream, if you do not drink the water, you cannot quench your thirst. Likewise, even if the Dharma exists but you do not try to enter into the Dharma by practicing it, there is no way of getting the benefit. But we entered into the Dharma and have this endowment. The tenth and last external endowment is having a teacher. Even if one enters into the Dharma, if one has no teacher, it would be difficult to know how to practice.

In ancient times, Atisha, the eleventh-century Buddhist teacher from India, went to Tibet. His disciples asked him, “Which is more important, studying the text or having instruction from a lama?” 25Atisha answered, “Instruction from a lama.” He also said, “If one understands and even preaches the meaning of the three teachings of Buddha (the pratyeka), if one has no instruction on how to practice them, it would be difficult for one’s mind to benefit from the teachings.” Another person asked, “To perceive the precepts of the three levels of teachings without instruction from a lama, or observing these precepts with instruction from a lama, are they the same?” Atisha replied, “It is not the same. If someone observes the precepts of three levels of worlds, but does not repent samsara, there will be no benefit for him by just observing the precepts.” He also said, “After doing practices, you should dedicate the merit to all sentient beings. Otherwise if you experience defilements, such as anger, it will destroy your past merit. And you should feel repentance for getting lost in worldly affairs, or pretending to do Dharma practice, or just doing Dharma practice for a show.” So one must have a teacher and get instructions from them on how to practice, not just read and pretend you know how to practice.


To begin with, you should know how to practice. You should know the eighteen different qualities—the eight freedoms and the ten endowments—of a precious human life well. Stop for a while and think about the qualities. This is the first of the mind trainings of the four common preliminary practices. Examine whether you have all those qualities. If you don’t, you should try to have them because you must have them to practice Dharma. If one has these eighteen qualities, then one has a precious human life. If one doesn’t recognize and realize the importance of all eighteen qualities, then one has an ordinary human life that is wasted. Most of us have the eighteen qualities inherently, so we are all capable of practicing Dharma.

You should also know how rare human life is; how difficult it is to have this life. 26Go to a place where there are other human beings. You can see each individual person has the quality of a precious human life but does not realize it. So realize how fortunate we are that we have this kind of precious human life. Do the prayers and recite the first lines of the common preliminary practices: “It is exceedingly difficult to obtain human life with (the eight) freedoms and (ten) endowments. When I have the chance to fulfill the aim of humanity, if I do not take advantage of it, how can I get this opportunity afterward?”

This is the first of the mind trainings of the fourfold common preliminary practices. When you feel the need for entertainment, or when you feel you cannot practice, think about your precious human life. When one realizes the difficulty of obtaining a human life, one will realize the value of human life and will not waste time and get lost in entertainment. So it is very important to think about the difficulty of obtaining a precious human life. It is said that when you have a precious human life, that is the threshold that determines if you will be happy or unhappy in the future. That is the border crossing for us. Decide whether to be happy in the future by practicing Dharma or to be unhappy by wasting your precious human life. We are at the border and have to decide which way to go. It is like riding a horse and coming to a point where one has to turn left or right. It is time to decide whether to go on the right path or the wrong path. It is time for you to decide.

This is the mind-training practice. This is the basic foundation practice. It is very important. You should not think about only the higher practice. Try to do this main practice and build a solid base. I will explain the practice step by step so you can proceed according to my instructions. At the end of each practice, dedicate the merit to all sentient beings for their happiness and for attaining buddhahood. If one dedicates the merit to sentient beings, the merit accumulated shall not be destroyed by defilement. Consider this analogy: if a drop of water falls into a large body of water, until that large body of water dries, 27the drop of water will not dry. It’s like that. So it is necessary to dedicate the merit to all sentient beings.


We will now say some prayers, dedicating the merit of what we have taught and what we have learned to all sentient beings. Even if you do not know the verses or the meaning of the verses, you should think: “The merit accumulated by receiving the teachings, and the merit accumulated in the past, present, and future, I am distributing to all sentient beings for their happiness and for the attainment of buddhahood.”

Questions and Answers

Q: In the “Seven-Line Prayer to Guru Rinpoché,” should we visualize Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoché)?

A: It is good to visualize Padmasambhava and do the seven-line prayer with confidence in him. If you can do that, that is good.

Q: The “Prayer to Longchen Rabjam”—is he the same as Longchenpa?

A: Yes.

Q: Do we do the “Prayer to Tsawai Lamas” (root lamas), to lamas in general, or to to just one specific teacher like Dodrupchen?

A: To all the tsawai lamas, all the root teachers of spiritual teachings.

Q: What is the esoteric meaning of Dharmadhatu?

A: The Palace of Unexcelled Dharmadhatu is given as an example of a palace. It is not an actual palace. It is the state of nature of all existence—the final goal that we should attain.


Q: What is the essence of Buddha in the three times?

A: The three times are the past, present, and future.

Q: In the “Prayer to Kunkhyen Jikmé Lingpa,” are So, Zur, Nub, and Nyak among the twenty-five disciples of Guru Rinpoché?

A: Only Nub and Nyak are among the twenty-five disciples. Sur is not.

Q: And are tertons among the twenty-five disciples?

A: Most of the tertons are incarnations of the twenty-five disciples.

Q: What are the six ornaments of Dzambuling?

A: They are the most distinguished scholars of ancient India, like Nagarjuna, Asanga, and so on.

Q: Who are the two supreme ones?

A: There are many ways to count superiority, but according to one way, Guna Parba and Shakya Parba are the two most excellent ones.

Q: What are the special effects of the Om muni muni mantra?

A: That is the name of Shakyamuni Buddha. By praying to him through his name, you will invoke him to give you blessing, just as if one calls your name and asks for help.

Q: Is there an esoteric or special symbolic meaning about the Uddiyana, the northern realms of the northwest?

A: Yes. Here it is just a common way of explanation. It has an esoteric meaning, but here we practice the common way.

Q: Did the teacher say anything about the esoteric meaning?

A: Just to practice according to the common way.


Q: Are there many other teachers, like Longchenpa, who left lots of books?

A: Yes, there are many lamas in the lineage who have left many books: Patrul Rinpoché, Jikmé Garyung Luku, Mipham Rinpoché, and many others.

Q: Are most of the books kept by Rinpoché?

A: No, I do not have all those books, just a few.

Q: In the very first verse, Shakyamuni Buddha’s body is golden. Is that just an ornamental way of speaking, or does it mean his body was really golden?

A: Not real gold. The Buddha’s color is yellow, yellow like Manjushri.

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