5 contemplations

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There are five things that have been well taught by the Blessed One, the one who knows and sees, the worthy one, perfectly enlightened by himself, that are to be contemplated daily by women and men, by householders and monks.

What are the five?

“I am of the nature to grow old, I have not gone beyond old age” is to be contemplated daily.

“I am of the nature to become ill, I have not gone beyond sickness” is to be contemplated daily.

“I am of the nature to die, I have not gone beyond death” is to be contemplated daily.

“All that is dear and delightful to me will change and vanish” is to be contemplated daily.

“I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related to my actions, and abide supported by my actions. Whatever action I do, whether good or evil, of that I will become heir” is to be contemplated daily.
Anguttara Nikaya 5.57, translated by John Kelly

This is a short version of a wonderful sutta we’ll be spending some time with. I offer it as a way to think about ourselves in the world and in relation to other people. I’ve attached Bhikkhu Bodhi’s full translation as a link called AN5.57 at the top of this page. Please have a look at it. Also, here is a link for Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation of the same sutta:

We started out thinking about how to relate to people who are suddenly faced with the prospect of death, their own or a loved one’s. The world is short of listeners, so the better we can provide a safe and welcoming space for others to work out their thoughts, the more benefit we bring to the situation. An important way to become a better listener is to pay attention to our own assumptions about life, death, ourselves and others.

The Buddha proposes five specific reflections to be undertaken, frequently or daily, by everyone – young and old, well or infirm, deeply into a life of the spirit or not.

To start with, consider the fact that we ourselves are unable to stop the process of aging. Like it or not, each of us will get older until we die. If we live past 35 or so, we can witness up-close the process of decay, our own and others’. It’s interesting to note that the more often we see others, the less they seem to change. There are quite a few people I now see only once a year. It can be eerie – everyone (including me) is the same, yet not the same, like time-stop photography. People display their acceptance or non-acceptance of the aging process in their general attitudes, words, and actions.

In the sutta, the Buddha goes on to point out that when we are young, we are intoxicated with youth, we feel invulnerable and ageless. It’s this arrogance that gets us into trouble with others. It can make us dismissive of, or even disgusted with, people who are older. The Buddha invites us to remember that it is not only we who age, but everyone on earth is in the same predicament. No one ever asked to get older, and yet we all do. In this we are perfectly alike and deserve each others’ understanding.

So when you are reflecting on the aging process, check for intoxication or arrogance in your own attitudes. Check for intolerance or revulsion towards those who are aged and frail. Changes can happen in our own attitudes if we pay attention.

About lynnjkelly

Australian/American. Practicing Buddhist.
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