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Our Precious Human Birth

by Fleda BrownAugust 01, 2011

Yesterday our meditation group began Chapter 3 of Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma. It seems fitting, having just finished a retreat, to think about the four “reminders,” or “reflections,” as Goldstein calls them, that we can use to turn our minds toward the practice and the teachings. We talked at length about the first of those: “Precious human birth.”

I’d say we’ve had quite enough of that old idea that humans were “put on the earth” to “subdue” it. The idea here isn’t that we as humans are more “precious” than any other being. It’s that in the entire interdependent web of existence, we have the possibility of waking up.

So, turtles know what’s real! They aren’t confused or lost in their mind-constructed world. You might say they’re perfectly enlightened. But we humans have the possibility of anawareness of our awareness (which itself actually fades after a while, but that’s another note, another time). This ability is precious. We have only a short lifetime to break free of our fixations, our confusions, and our illusions and see what is really real.

If you’re reading this note, you’re sane enough and you have enough money and leisure and health to be able to meditate. You have somewhere in your history and your genes the desire to meditate. Your world is safe enough to allow you to meditate.  Think of this: we’re meditating for all those who can’t. We’re waking up for those who don’t even know they need to. No problem on earth can be truly solved by people who are sleep-walking. We have work to do here, and the more time we spend on the cushion the better. Oh dear, sorry! This sounds like a bit pulpit-pounding. But these are things we talked about yesterday in our sangha.

Goldstein says, “We are the heirs. . . of our own past wholesome actions.” We talked about that a bit, how our right intentions move us toward the right condtitions for waking up. We can’t wake ourselves  up, but we can get ourselves in the right place for it.

Then we turned to the second “reflection,” “Impermanence.” We meditate because we see, sadly,  that all things will leave us. As one member of our group said, we can look in the mirror and see that! We suffer as long as we try to stop change. As Goldstein’s teacher Ajahn Chaa said, “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace.”


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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