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Humans in Buddhism

By Devik Balami at
Humans in Buddhism

Almost in every religion, humans are considered as the greatest being since they can rationally think the situations. Therefore, humans have a very special status and also in Buddhism, humans are considered only beings that can attain enlightenment as a fully enlightened Buddha. Enlightenment as an arhat can be attained from the realms of the Sudhavasa deities.

Qualities of human life

The status as a human is special and is placed at the greatest level but in the hierarchy of Buddhist cosmology, there are others as well as the humans. This doesn't mean that the humans are the lowest being in the Buddhist cosmology. But it's the fact that almost every experience- from hellish suffering to divine joy to serene tranquility- can be experienced within the human world.

Since humans have the mindstream, they have an immediate reason to seek out the Dharma and yet also have the means to listen to it and follow it. But other beings from the lower realms like pretas, and dwellers in the Narakas are more surrounded by the pain and fear. They merely don't have the time to follow and practice the Dharma but if they wished then they can even in those circumstances but the practice will be very hard in comparison to humans. Even animals are intellectually unable to understand the Dharma while Asuras are dominated by violence and more captured their thoughts by negative energy. Therefore they are not cautious to undertake the teachings of the Dharma. Regarding the Brahmas and Devas, they simply enjoy the reaping the fruits of their past actions. They believe that they are immortal and will be happy forever without doing anything. But they are misinterpreting the conditions as these will only achieve only after practicing the Dharma. When the devas' result of past karma has finished then they will again be born in the lower realms and suffer again.

Hence, the humans have a special position in the Buddhist cosmology, since they are the ones which can practice and follow the teachings of the dharma fully and can lead their ways to reach enlightenment.

But it should be considered that among humans there are also better and worse conditions for attaining enlightenment. These favorable conditions for obtaining enlightenment are as follows:

  • Being born as a human at the time when the Buddha had arisen, taught the Dharma, and established the Sangha with the objective to spread the teachings.

  • Being born as a human in countries where the Dharma has already been spread.

  • Being born as a human who has the physical and intellectual capacity to grasp the basic message of the Dharma.

  • The humans that believe good actions will lead to a happier life and a better rebirth or to enlightenment.

  • The humans who are confident in the moral teachings conveyed in the Vinaya.

  • The humans who avoid crimes against people and against the Dharma.

  • The humans who have sincere compassion for other people.

Myth of human origins in Buddhism

As mentioned in the Agganna Sutta, humans have originated from the beginning of the current Kalpa as deva-like beings. They were reborn from the Abhasvara deva-realm. At first, they were shining in their own light and were capable of moving through the air without mechanical aids. They lived for the very long time. As time passed by, they acquired a taste for physical nutriment. They consume it and they experienced their body heavier than before. They slowly lost their ability to shine and then began to acquire differences in their appearance. Gradually, their length of life decreased and was also differentiated into two sexes. As these changes occurred, the negative energy and deeds were also seen as greed, theft, and violence. They then formed a community and the government and elected a king to rule them.

Nature of the human realm

As presented in the Buddhist cosmology, humans live on four continents- Jambudvipa, Purvavideha, Aparagodaniya, and Uttarakuru- which are small islands in a vast ocean. These continents surround the axial world-mountain of Sumeru and fill most of the Earth's surface. The ocean, on the other hand, is surrounded by a circular mountain wall called Cakravada. The mountain wall marks the horizontal limit of the earth.

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