This material is copyrighted by M. Kirby Moore. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. Thank you for visiting!
I am presently studying Anatomy and Physiology in preparation for nursing school in the fall. And as a practicing Buddhist, one of the introductory practices I have been taught is called the Four Thoughts (that Turn the Mind Toward Enlightenment). The Four Thoughts can be summarized as such: 1) Contemplating the Preciousness of being born in a fully functioning human body (having a precious human rebirth); 2) Recognizing and Analyzing the Impermanence of Samsaric Existence – everything composite that comes together will eventually dissolve. The sooner we have an embodied understanding of impermanence, the less we will avoid and the more fearless we will become once we are ready for death. 3) Understanding Karma and that for every Result, there must be a Cause – analyzing the causes and conditions which lead to happiness, sadness, suffering, joy; and finally, 4) looking at the suffering of the Six Realms of Samsara – the pain and suffering of the hell realms, the greed and lust of the hungry ghosts, the ignorance of the animal realms, the wide spectrum of suffering that we humans are capable of, especially if we are more of a barbaric (immoral) inclination, the jealousy of the demigods and the slothfulness of the god realms.
I realize that paragraph above can be unpacked for weeks by a qualified teacher. And that is why I am just focusing on one little tiny piece of the first of the Four Thoughts – looking at what it means to be born in a Precious Human rebirth. And I intend to connect this to the A & P class I am taking at school.
There are many methods for doing this. And I want to add another from my experience in taking the science classes which are prerequisites for nursing. As I learn more and more about the human body, it is incredible how many processes just go into breathing, or how we can digest a simple sandwich. There are many systems in the human body, and they are all interconnected. For instance, the cardiovascular system pumps a lot of blood to the gut when we are digesting food, and then if we go for a long bike ride, the skeletal muscles are then receiving the lion’s share of blood. When the Dharma texts talk about being born in a Precious Human Rebirth, it means that we have fully functioning five senses, and we are able to walk and talk and process complex information. Have you ever contemplated how many neurons must grow and change and re-orient in order for a newborn baby to become a fully functioning adult? A trillion processes have to go “right.” Maybe more. Of course there are some mistakes and there are redundant cells… but still 99.99 % of all those processes have to form “correctly” for a healthy baby to become a healthy adult (in a precious human rebirth)!
It is mind boggling! Take the neurological learning which must take place just to cognize how to grip a water glass. Too much grasping and we crush it, too little and it falls to the floor and shatters. It took years for researchers to create a robot hand capable of doing this. Do we know how many processes and neurons and cells are involved in learning this tiny little skill? Millions. At least a dozen processes have to happen in the central nervous system, and then the neural impulse travels down the spinal cord to the appropriate level, branches out the spinal nerves, down the brachial plexus and finally innervates the appropriate muscles in the forearm and hand, all which give and receive feedback and make constant adjustments. Just sit and ponder this for 5 minutes. And you might be impressed with your own accomplishments. We can celebrate these neurological milestones – in our kids (and in ourselves). Just learning to talk is huge – every little task we have learned is a miracle when looked at through the lens of how many cells and bodily processes are involved in it!
What is the purpose of analyzing the Four Thoughts? What is the end result we are looking for? Honestly I am not the best person to be answering these questions – I am not a Buddhist monk or a realized spiritual teacher. But here is what I think, from my ignorant mind (subtext, if you are seriously wondering about this, go find an authentic Lama and ask them!): I think that by contemplating the Four Thoughts, we can dissolve many misunderstandings we might have from previous predispositions – for instance, the thought that I can put off practicing Dharma until I retire, because I am too busy now. If we really look at impermanence, whether we look at it from the point of view of the body constantly changing, or the fact that many of our close friends and relatives have died, we will start to realize that there actually is very little time to waste. The Four Thoughts are very basic in Buddhist practice, however they are so vital, that by skipping them, we run the risk of building a house on sand – no foundation and it could come tumbling down at any moment.
I just wanted to point out that there are many ways to practice contemplating the rarity of being born in a precious human rebirth, and through the lens of science, it is even more amazing and rare!
I hope I have explained these topics in a decent fashion. I realize that due to my limited and afflicted intellect, confusion might arise from my words. It is my hope that confusion might dawn as clarity and that all beings know happiness and its causes.
Thank you for reading!