Precious Human Life Sutta?

Hi all,

Does anyone know which Sutta is about the blind tortoise coming the surface? I can’t remember what it’s called. For some reason I thought it was called Precious.

There are two suttas back to back, I think SN 56.48 is the more commonly known one but you can click back one sutta to see the other one. On sutta central the title is Yoke with a Hole, Ven Thanissaro has it on his site as titled simply The Hole.


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When Tibetan teachers are delivering homilies on their favourite theme of the “precious human state (or rebirth)” they will often cite the turtle simile. If I remember right, they use ‘precious’ to translate the Sanskrit cognate of the Pali dullabha, lit. “hard to obtain”. In the Pali the full phrase is used in the Pabbatūpama Sutta:

Evarūpe me, bhante, mahati mahabbhaye samuppanne dāruṇe manussakkhaye dullabhe manussatte kimassa karaṇīyaṃ aññatra dhammacariyāya aññatra samacariyāya aññatra kusalakiriyāya aññatra puññakiriyāyā ti?

“If, venerable sir, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life, the human state being so difficult to obtain, what else should be done but to live by the Dhamma, to live righteously, and to do wholesome and meritorious deeds?”

and the Mahānāradakassapa Jātaka:

Nev’itthī na pumā āsiṃ, manussatte sudullabhe.

“I was [reborn] as neither a male nor a female
In the very hard to obtain human state.”


MN 129:

Mendicants, suppose a person was to throw a yoke with a single hole into the ocean. The east wind wafts it west; the west wind wafts it east; the north wind wafts it south; and the south wind wafts it north. And there was a one-eyed turtle who popped up once every hundred years. What do you think, mendicants? Would that one-eyed turtle still poke its neck through the hole in that yoke?” “No, sir. Only after a very long time, sir, if ever.” “That one-eyed turtle would poke its neck through the hole in that yoke sooner than a fool who has fallen to the underworld would be reborn as a human being, I say. Why is that? Because there there’s no principled or moral conduct, and no doing what is good and skillful. There they just prey on each other, preying on the weak.

Thanks for that Polarbear.

Rare human life?

With metta

I think ‘rare’ would be an acceptable rendering of dullabha in the present context. In certain other contexts, however, it does need to be translated literally as ‘difficult to obtain’. For example:

Dullabho hi buddhuppādo, tato dullabhatarā pabbajjā ca upasampadā ca.
(Vin-a. i. 237)

If we translated this: “Rare is the appearance of Buddhas, but rarer still is the going forth and full acceptance [in a Buddha’s Dhammavinaya],” then the statement would be false, for it’s actually the appearance of Buddhas that is the rarer of the two, since each Buddha gives pabbajjā and upasampadā to a plurality of persons.


I was thinking of this: valuable (not rare) – precious (rare and valuable) – rare (not valuable) continuum. Precious seems to work in this context. Dullaba is pali loan word used in the Sinhala language meaning precious, come to think about it!

with metta