Value of Human Existence
The first step for someone who aspires to follow the spiritual path is to understand how precious this human life is. Used wisely, it offers a unique opportunity to actualize the potential for enlightenment that is within us all, yet it is very easy to neglect or squander.
According to Buddhism, of all possible life forms that we may take in the round of existences, being born as a human is highly unusual. It is compared to enjoying a banquet after centuries of famine.
One reason why this life is so precious is that all beings have within them what is called “tathagatagarbha” in Sanskrit, the essence of, or potential for, buddhahood, which is the fundamental nature of all conscious beings.
That nature, temporarily obscured by confusion and disturbing emotions, is like a treasure buried within us. The purpose of practicing the Buddhist path, or “Dharma,” is to remove those obscurations.
We are not trying to “manufacture” the state of buddhahood but simply to reveal what is already there since we cannot add to or subtract from that nature, which is the very basis of our mind.
The qualities acquired on the way to enlightenment are not fabricated. They reflect the gradual reactivation of our nature, like the brilliance of a jewel covered in mud that is revealed gradually as the dirt is removed.
Note: Some scholars of Buddhism have a slightly different view and consider that the tathagatagarbha, or essence of buddhahood, is not fully present in every being but develops through the practice of the path, like a seed that matures and eventually gives fruit, in this case buddhahood.
Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.