I was surprised to hear Buddhists believe that birth is one of the four causes of suffering, along with sickness, old age and death. Why?
The world where the fetus grows is very different from its next environment. Are we then done with birth? Not at all—our life and our birthing has just begun. We contend (over and over again) with not getting what we want, and getting what we don't want. This goes on and on until we grow old and die.
In the meantime, we experience sickness and old age. As we recover from one mode of suffering we start a new one. So why is it so special to be human?
As I sat tonight I went from spring to summer to autumn to winter in each breath. I'd watch my breath arrive and it was spring. Soon what was so pleasurable became bothersome, so I would breathe out feeling pleasure. Yet the grasping for another breath soon followed that relief, and the cycle continued … on and on.
We welcome each new breath as it is born and grieve it when it leaves us a moment later. The cycle continues. And this cycle replicates itself in every mode of life.
Relationships start and stop. What was once glorious is replaced by excruciating pain. My grandfather, after losing his last dog, said he couldn't endure the pain of losing another one. He had lost his wife (the love of his life) when he was in his twenties. “No more loss for me,” he said.
So why is it so special to be human? Because we can watch as we bounce back with each exhale and enjoy the next fresh breath that bathes our lungs, our blood, and our psyche. It is our ability to watch that separates us from other life forms.