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 perhaps the sutta of the Buddha that is closest to my heart. It reminds me that my actions matter and there’s nothing else for me to do but guide my body, speech and mind as best I can in the direction of gentleness, thoughtfulness and clarity. On a good day, I can guide my body/speech/mind to let go of clinging.
It also reminds me that death and life are two sides of the same coin. Everything that is born dies sooner or later. Keeping this fact as a companion helps me see that a lot of fretting about the future is unproductive, that life is precious and time is short. There’s nowhere to go but right here.
The Buddha points out (and others do, as well) that whatever we think about a lot will be revealed in our speech and action. Whatever we talk about a lot will also be present in our thoughts and actions. Whatever actions we take will affect our words and thoughts. So it’s very important that we choose what we think about, what we talk about, and what we do. We could say, this is the place where all choices originate. What will we pay attention to? Hour by hour, are we directing our attention well?
This activity, choosing where to put our attention, is the beginning, middle and end of Buddhist practice. It should be useful even if you don’t consider yourself a Buddhist.
Next time: an answer to a reader’s question.