The Venerable Ledi Sayadaw explains in the Manuals of Dhamma:
"The simile of the blind turtle should be remembered by everyone.
The Simile of the Blind Turtle
The Buddha: "O monks, I will give you an example. A man makes a hole in a log and sets it adrift in the ocean. When the wind comes from the east the log drifts westwards. When the wind blows from the west, it drifts eastward. Similarly, north winds push it to the south, and south winds push it to the north. In the ocean is a blind turtle who surfaces only once every hundred years. Is it possible that the blind turtle would put his head up through the hole in the log?”
The monks replied that normally it would be impossible, but in the infinite duration of samsāra a chance might occur. Yet it would be very difficult for the blind turtle to meet up with the drifting log. Then the Buddha explained.
“Monks this rare chance, this freak occurrence is possible, but for a bad man who is reborn as an animal or in hell to become a human being again is rarer and more difficult.”
Rarest is the human status. Once this rare status is gone one finds greatest difficulty to be reborn again as a human being. Why? In the lower realms such as hell, no opportunities exist for the performance of wholesome deeds. So, lacking good conduct, a person in hell has to suffer for countless aeons. Those who are reborn in the animal kingdom have to struggle for existence, preying upon each other. Animals do mostly harmful deeds with their low intelligence, and the strong persecute the weak. So there is little chance for them to be reborn in the human world. The lowest probability exists for them to upgrade themselves.
For a blind turtle wandering in the ocean to encounter the hole in the log is possible only if the log never rots, and only if he lives for millions of years. Yet a much smaller chance exists for a sufferer in hell to achieve human status again, for very few wholesome kammas are possible in the lower abodes. This is explained in the commentary.
Indeed, this is true. When close to death, a human being urgently needs good thoughts to achieve a good status in the next existence. During one’s last thought moments, previous wholesome kammas produce good mental objects, enabling one to be reborn in the fortunate realms of existence. Otherwise bad kammas will predominate at this crucial moment, and bad mental objects will send one to hell. In the four lower realms of existence a sentient being knows nothing of the value of almsgiving, keeping moral precepts, or practising meditation. Lower beings who find themselves lacking wholesome kamma are further hampered by the lack of opportunities to do good."
What happens in the last moment of this life? What happens at death?
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