According to tradition, humans suffer from hunger, thirst, heat, cold, separation from friends, being attacked by enemies, not getting what they want, and getting what they don't want. They also suffer from the general sufferings of birth, old age, sickness and death. Yet the human realm is considered to be the most suitable realm for practicing the dharma, because humans are not completely distracted by pleasure (like the gods or demi-gods) or by pain and suffering (like the beings in the lower realms).
In Buddhist cosmology, humans dwell on either of the four continents that surround Mount Meru, such as our world of Jambudvipa, and on their respective two subcontinents. Beings on each of these four continents remain unseen from each other and have slightly different physical characteristics and life-spans.
Benefits of the manuṣya (human) realm
Among the six realms, the human realm is considered to offer the best opportunity to practice the dharma, thereby offering the best chance to attain liberation from samsara. Dzongsar Khyentse explains:
- If we need to judge the value of these six realms, the Buddhists would say the best realm is the human realm. Why is this the best realm? Because you have a choice... The gods don't have a choice. Why? They're too happy. When you are too happy you have no choice. You become arrogant. The hell realm: no choice, too painful. The human realm: not too happy and also not too painful. When you are not so happy and not in so much pain, what does that mean? A step closer to the normality of mind, remember? When you are really, really excited and in ecstasy, there is no normality of mind. And when you are totally in pain, you don't experience normality of mind either. So someone in the human realm has the best chance of acquiring that normality of mind. And this is why in Buddhist prayers you will always read: ideally may we get out of this place, but if we can't do it within this life, may we be reborn in the human realm, not the others.
- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2004), Gentle Voice. #22 (PDF), Siddhartha's Intent
- Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse (2005), Gentle Voice. #23 (PDF), Siddhartha's Intent
- Bhikkhu, Thanissaro. "Chiggala Sutta: The Hole." Access to Insight, n.d. Web.
- Bodhi, Ven. Bhikkhu. "A Buddhist Response to Contemporary Dilemmas of Human Existence." Access to Insight, n.d. Web.
- sGam.po.pa, The Jewel Ornament of Liberation, Chapter 2, translated by H.V. Guenther. JOL
- Ngorchen Konchog Lhundrub, The Beautiful Ornament of the Three Visions, translated by Lobsang Dagpa and Jay Goldberg, Section A2. BOTV
- G.P. Malalasekara, Dictionary of Pāli Proper Names
- Thus Have I Heard: The Long Discourse of the Buddha, translated by Maurice Walshe. DN