By Chang Ae-Soon
Department of Buddhist Studies, Professor
In Buddhism, every living thing is viewed as equal in value because every life is understood in the principle of cause and effect. Although there would not be an absolute answer for the understanding of humans, it is clear that everything follows the principles of karma and samsara(rebirth).
Everything in the universe begins its existence and ends its existence, not by accident but by a web of karma and its effect. Nonetheless, some say this is unintended and that is intended, out of their own perspective and needs. In other words, they act in pursuit of their own interests. However, nothing happens away from the rule of karma.
That everything is due to karma means there is natural consequence of one's deeds or misdeeds. Therefore, being born a human being is the outcome of his deeds in the previous life. This can be translated that the person could have been born a non-human being.
Karma would be familiar even to ordinary people who do not have a grasp of Buddhism. Then a fundamental question is arisen: what deeds in the previous life made us born as humans?
In Buddhism, the answer can be found in a parable in the Miscellaneous Agama Sutra. A blind turtle, whose life span is immeasurable kalpas, lives at the bottom of the sea. Once every one hundred years, it rises to the surface. There is only one log floating in the sea with a suitable hollow in it. Since the turtle is blind and the log is tossed about by the wind and waves, the likelihood of the turtle reaching the log is extremely remote. Likewise, it is even rarer to be born a human being. Therefore, once a person comprehends this rare opportunity, then he would be aware of what he should do in his life as a human being.
However, some people choose suicide, which is recently spreading like wildfire. This is because a trend degrading life is running rampant. People opt for suicide to delay or relinquish what they are supposed to do in their lives and consequently to end up in a worst-case scenario.
The pain - which people suffer from - plays as a mental sign for us to redirect ourselves in the right direction, such as when we wake up to a ringing alarm clock. In other words, when we encounter suffering in life, we need to check our current situations and correct wrongdoings if any.
Rather, if people opt for taking their own lives as a response to the unbearable suffering, they would face grave consequences in a later life. They would be stuck in an intermediate state indefinitely between this world and the world beyond because of their misdeeds thathave not been resolved. This means that those who killed themselves committed a crime by destroying inner Buddha and, in turn, are not subject to experience another life in the next world.
In conclusion, the rare likelihood of being born as a human is of less important than how we lead our lives.
Chang Ae-Soon Department of Buddhist Studies, Professor
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