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
Continuing a response to the question of how we can prepare to face our own death with dignity, if not fearlessness:
It has been my experience that a sincere attitude of investigation can cut through the worrying energy of fear. My saying this will not help you unless you test this idea for yourself. What is something that you fear – today? Rather than enjoying the adrenaline rush of the feeling in your body, let’s have a look into your mind.
Is the fear of something real or projected (unconfirmed)?
Is the thing you fear something most people fear, or is it particular to you?
What is the worst possible outcome if your fear becomes reality?
Let’s say your worst fear becomes reality – what next? Often the story line stops right there, but in life, the story line never stops. What are the possibilities for what comes after your worst fear is realized?
I used to dread unpleasant family events. I still don’t like them, but now I see that they are part of the fabric of this life, so each moment of unpleasantness is just a moment. My worst fears had to do with the suffering of my children, and sadly, many of the things I least wanted to have happen, have come to pass. So now I’m faced with the choice to accept reality or not. I could deny reality and simply not deal with anything I don’t want to deal with, but this is not my path. It is sad and painful to see people we love suffer; it can seem unbearable. But when it goes on week after week, month after month, we find ways to bear it. We stay hopeful for smaller victories, for days of calm, for the sweetness of mutual care, even through pain. We have to change our idea of who we are to be authentically present and (we hope) useful in a situation we never planned for or asked for.
Still, there is peace in simply accepting things as they are, and this peace has a subtle, pleasant aspect. There is an unbeatable strength to it. See what you can see.
Next time: How do some people do it?