‘Jantunam Narajanma Durlabatha:’


Human Birth is difficult to obtain
by london swaminathan

Human birth is difficult to obtain is a famous saying from northern Himalayas to Southern Kanyakumari. It is in ancient Tamil and Sanskrit literature. The above quote is from Viveka Cudamani of Adi Shankara. Let us look at the full sloka:

“ For all beings a human birth is difficult to obtain, more so is a male body; rarer than that is Brahmnahood; rarer still is the attachment to the path of Vedic religion; higher than is erudition in the scriptures; discrimination between the Self and not-Self, Realization, Identity with Brahman—these come next in order. Mukti/liberation is not to be attained except through the well earned merits of a hundred crores of births (1000 million births!)”.

In the next sloka he says three things are rare:Human birth, the longing for liberation and protective care of a greatman (mahapurusha).
Tamil literature explains the same thing in a beautiful way. One of the five Tamil epics is Jeevaka Chintamani which gives the story of Udayana and Vasavadatta. The author Thiruththakka devar says human birth is rare. It is like one yoke floating in southern sea coming next to another yoke floating in northern sea and a pole is inserted into it. Human birth is rarer than this.

Avvai answers Lord Skanda’s question
Another famous episode in Tamil is about the grand old lady of Tamil literature Avvaiyar meeting Lord Skanda. Skanda asked her several thought provoking questions just to enjoy her beautiful Tamil. He asked her what is bigger, sweeter, crueler and rarer. When she answered his question about rarer things in the world she says human birth is rarer. Let us look at the beautiful Tamil poem in full:

“ Rare is human birth, Vadivel (Skanda/Subramanya)! Rarer is birth as a male with perfect limbs and with full use of all the senses. Rarer still is attainment of knowledge and wisdom. Rarer than this is the tendency to give and serve; and rarest of all is a life dedicated to spiritual enlightenment, for when one reaches the end the heavens will open to welcome that person—the perfect of all human beings”.

I consider this as an echo of Adi Shankara’s three slokas 2, 3 and 4 of Viveka Cudamani. It is not uncommon to see the same thoughts in all saints of India whether they speak Tamil or Sanskrit. Great men think alike. We see the same thought in all the hymns of Thevaram, Thiruvasagam and Divya Prabandham.
Seven types and Four Types of living beings

Even before Darwin gave the world the Theory of Evolution, even before the Linnaean classification of botanical species came in to practice, even before Aristotle gave his theory, Hindus divided the living beings in to four types and seven types in two different classifications:

Type 1
1.Andajam: that which came from the eggs
2.Jarayutham: mammals
3.Udbhijam: that which comes out of seeds, roots
4.Swethajam: that which grows from sweat like liquids, i.e. germs etc

Type 2 Classification
1.Devas: supermen
2.Human beings
6.Fishes and other marine animals
7.Plant kingdom


Great Tamil saint Manikkavasagar gives a list of all the births one can get before realising God:

“Grass was I, shrub was I, worm, tree,
Full many a kind of beast, bird, snake,
Stone, man and demon. ’Midst Thy hosts I served.
The form of mighty Asuras, ascetics, Gods I bore.
Within this immobile and mobile forms of life,
In every species born, weary I have grown, great Lord!

புல்லாகிப் பூடாய்ப் புழுவாய் மரமாகிப்
பல்விருகமாகிப் பறவையாய்ப் பாம்பாகிக்
கல்லாய் மனிதராய்ப் பேயாய்க் கணங்களாய்
வல்லரசுராகி முனிவராய்த் தேவராய்ச்
செல்லா அ நின்ற தாவர சங்கமத்துள்
எல்லாப் பிறப்பும் பிறந்திளைத்தேன் எம்பெருமான்
–சிவ புராணம், திருவாசகம் (மாணிக்கவாசகர்)

tree of life colour
Avvaiyar’s poem in Tamil

அரியது கேட்கின் வரிவடி வேலோய்!
அரிதரிது மானிடர் ஆதல் அரிது
மானிடராயினும் கூன் குருடு செவிடு
பேடு நீக்கிப் பிறத்தல் அரிது
பேடு நீக்கிப் பிறந்த காலையும்
ஞானமும் கல்வியும் நயத்தல் அரிது
ஞானமும் கல்வியும் நயந்த காலையும்
தானமும் தவமும் தான்செயல் அரிது
தானமும் தவமும் தான்செய்வராயின்
வானவர் நாடு வழிதிறந் திடுமே.
Pictures are taken from various sites;thanks.
contact london swaminathan: swami_48@yahoo.com

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