the awareness and intelligence that are the raw materials for

enlightenment, and because the very suffering that pervades

this human realm is itself the spur to spiritual transformation.

Pain, grief, loss, and ceaseless frustration of every kind are

there for a real and dramatic purpose: to wake us up, to

enable and almost to force us to break out of the cycle of

samsara and so release our imprisoned splendor.

Every spiritual tradition has stressed that this human life is

unique, and has a potential that ordinarily we hardly even

begin to imagine. If we miss the opportunity this life offers us

for transforming ourselves, they say, it may well be an

extremely long time before we have another. Imagine a blind

turtle, roaming the depths of an ocean the size of the universe.

Up above floats a wooden ring, tossed to and fro on the

waves. Every hundred years the turtle comes, once, to the surface.

To be born a human being is said by Buddhists to be

more difficult than for that turtle to surface accidentally with its

head poking through the wooden ring. And even among those

who have a human birth, it is said, those who have the great

good fortune to make a connection with the teachings are

rare; and those who really take them to heart and embody

them in their actions even rarer, as rare, in fact, "as stars in

broad daylight."


As I have said, how we perceive the world depends

entirely on our karmic vision. The masters use a traditional

example: six different kinds of being meet by the banks of a

river. The human being in the group sees the river as water, a

substance to wash in or to quench his thirst; for an animal

such as a fish, the river is its home; the god sees it as nectar

that brings bliss; the demigod as a weapon; the hungry ghost

as pus and putrid blood; and the being from the hell realm as

molten lava. The water is the same, but it is perceived in

totally different, even contradictory, ways.

This profusion of perceptions shows us that all karmic

visions are illusions; for if one substance can be perceived in

so many different ways, how can anything have any one true,

inherent reality? It also shows us how it is possible that some

people feel this world as heaven, and others as hell.

The teachings tell us that there are essentially three kinds of

vision: the "impure, karmic vision" of ordinary beings; the

"vision of experience," which opens to practitioners in medita-

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