One of the ways monks address groups of people in Thailand is by saying, ‘Brothers and sisters in old age, sickness, and death’. It is interesting to think we are all brothers and sisters simply because we all share the same old age, sickness, and death. Suffering, loss of the loved, being irritated by being with the unloved, and wanting what we don’t have – everybody shares these things whether African, South American, Australian or anything else. Now, that is a reflection. You are not being asked to grasp a grand view of humankind as some great fellowship; that could be an inspiring perception, admittedly, but it is not a reflection on the way it is. ‘Brothers and sisters in old age, sickness, and death’ is a realization that we all suffer from the same things. My suffering and your suffering are really the same. Queen Elizabeth’s suffering is the same as my suffering. It is different in quality or particular circumstances, but old age, sickness, death, loss of the loved, having to be with the unloved, wanting something one doesn’t have – we all experience these things. It is the same with the homeless, or whatever social position one is in, or whatever race or religion. The bond is in the common human experience. We are all in the same boat!
-From a published talk of Ajahn Sumedho’s, “Brothers and Sisters in Old Age, Sickness and Death”
We often fixate on the differences between ourselves and others, through the lens of our likes and dislikes, our views and opinions of how things and people ought to be. But we can re-focus our awareness and remember that we are all in the same boat — the person who is actively dying, and the young, vibrant child; the intelligent and the slow; those with and without mental stability; the healthy and the weak; those who agree with us and those who don’t. If we start from this vantage point, that we all share a common fate, then our differences may disturb us less.
We can step back from trying to make people and situations fit our ideals of how things should be and simply see and accept things as they are, with an understanding that no matter what is happening at the moment, we are all headed in the same direction. At this basic level, we are all brothers and sisters.
Ajahn Sumedho often recommends that in our interactions with others, we maintain an attitude of kindness and patience. He also says we should have the same patience and kindness towards ourselves and towards our own flaws. In this way, we can create peace in our hearts and in the world.