The time to act is now. From the conventional point of view, we should begin practicing the teaching of the Buddha now because life is short and its end is unpredictable. The Buddha set forth three more reasons why we should act now:

(1)Rare is birth as a human being
(2)Scarce is the probability of hearing the Dharma
(3)Serious is the delusion of our mind

Rare is Birth as a Human Being

Six Realms of Rebirth

According to the Buddha, the forces of craving, clinging and afflicted emotions will not stop after death. They will continue to manifest themselves in another realm of existence. There are six realms in which we may be reborn. They are the realms of gods, demigods, human beings, animals, hungry ghosts and denizens of hells. The realm of our rebirth is determined by our volitional actions known as karma committed during our present and past lives. Generally, good karma leads to the rebirth in the realm of gods, demigods and human beings, and bad karma causes the rebirth as animals, hungry ghosts and denizens of hells.

Human Realm

Out of the six realms of existence, the human realm provides the most advantageous foundation to attain Buddhahood. This is because it is only in the human realm one can find balance between happiness and suffering. The beings in the heavens experience happiness so great that they easily lose the motivation to practice the teachings of the Buddha. On the other hand, in the realms of animals, hungry ghosts and the hells, the suffering is so intense that these beings cannot afford a timeout for practicing.

Basics for Moral Conduct

The principal determinant of rebirth as a human being is moral conduct. According to Confucius and Mencius, the nature of moral conduct consists of four ethical principles and eight cardinal virtues. Propriety, righteousness, incorruptible integrity and sense of shame are the four ethical principles. The eight cardinal virtues include filial piety, brotherly love, truthfulness, good faith, propriety, righteousness, incorruptible integrity and sense of shame. The Buddha established the Five Moral Precepts as the basics for moral conduct, namely, no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no false speech and no intoxicants. It is rare to be reborn in the realm of human beings because this requires great determination and persistent effort.

Soil on the Buddha's Fingernail

In the Darukkhandha Sutra, the Buddha once scooped up some soil with his fingernail and asked his disciples which was greater, the soil on his fingernail or that on the whole earth. His disciples answered that the soil on his fingernail was so small that it was incomparable to that on the earth. The Buddha then said that in the same sense only a few beings were able to secure human form whereas far too many beings retrogress into the hells, hungry ghosts and animals.

Scarce is the Probability of Hearing the Dharma

To be able to hear the Buddha's teachings, one has to be born in the realm of human beings at the time when and in the place where the access to the Dharma is available.

A Blind Turtle in Search of a Floating Wood

In the Mahaparinirvana Sutra, the Buddha used the metaphor of a blind turtle in a vast ocean to explain how difficult it is to be reborn as a human being and at the same time to have the chance of hearing the Dharma.

Suppose there is a small piece of wood floating on a vast ocean. The wood has a small hole the size of which is just enough for the head of a turtle to pop into. There is a long-lived sea turtle in the ocean. Once every one hundred years, this turtle comes out from the bottom of the ocean and pops his head into the hole of the wood.

To be able to hear the Dharma is just as hard as for the blind turtle to encounter the small piece of wood on a vast ocean and let its head go through the hole in the wood piece.

Serious is the Delusion of Our Mind

Lost in the Desert

We are so deluded that we are just like a group of nomads wondering in the desert for years without asking for directions. When we suffer, we spend much effort not in ending the suffering, but in blaming it on people, ones surroundings, or ones luck. When we search for truth, we waste most of our life on the theories and philosophies of the universe.

A Man with an Arrow-inflicted Wound

In the Madhyamagama Sutra, the Buddha used the parable of a man wounded by an arrow to explain why we should practice the Dharma now. In the story, a man was pierced by an arrow, and a doctor was immediately summoned to have the arrow pulled and the wound treated. However, the wounded man insisted to find out who shot the arrow before he would let the doctor treat him. Was it a man or a woman? Was the attacker young or old? Which direction did it come from? What was the arrowhead made of? How big was the bow that shot the arrow? What kind of feathers was used? The wounded man would definitely die of poisoning before his desire for knowing all the information was satisfied.

The Buddha told us that our minds are so seriously wounded that we are in need of immediate treatment.

Don't Let Time Run Out

The time to see things as they really are is now. Further delay of realizing our enlightenment will result in a deluded mind creating more karma and subsequently more sufferings. If we practice the teachings of the Buddha with diligence and patience, we can realize the ultimate truth even in our present life. On the other hand, if we let go the precious opportunity to practice the Dharma, we are running a risk of losing forever the chance of realizing enlightenment. It is just impossible to find out whether we will be reborn as human beings again.