Mindfulness Of Death Series : Part 2 : The Five Remembrances: Subjects for Contemplation

 

 

With introductions done, let us jump into the practice. As promised today I’d like to speak about what I first heard called “The 5 Remembrances”, but are more often translated as “5 subjects for Contemplation” or “Themes” as translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi:

AN 5.57 Upajjhatthana Sutta: Themes

“Bhikkhus, there are these five themes that should often be reflected upon by a woman or a man, by a householder or one gone forth. What five?

(1) A woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect thus: ‘I am subject to old age; I am not exempt from old age.’

(2) A woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect thus: ‘I am subject to illness; I am not exempt from illness.’

(3) A woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect thus: ‘I am subject to death; I am not exempt from death.’

(4) A woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect [72] thus: ‘I must be parted and separated from everyone and everything dear and agreeable to me.’

(5) A woman or a man, a householder or one gone forth, should often reflect thus: ‘I am the owner of my kamma, the heir of my kamma; I have kamma as my origin, kamma as my relative, kamma as my resort; I will be the heir of whatever kamma, good or bad, that I do.

Notice how three of these five facts correlate to three of the four “divine messengers” the Buddha had (old age, sickness, death) which spurred on his quest for freedom. Because we have this body, we cannot escape old age, sickness, and death. Because we cannot escape old age, sickness, and death, we cannot escape being separated from everyone and everything we hold dear, this is an inevitable fact of life. Finally we are the heirs of our actions, both in this very life and in future lives, whatever we do we will be subject to the results of those actions.

As I stated in the previous section we do everything we can in our power to try to hide from these, but there is no place to hide. I believe this wonderful simile from the suttas explains this well. When mountains come rolling in on you from all four sides.. what can you do?:

SN 3.25 Pabbatopama Sutta: The Simile of the Mountains

“What do you think, great king? Suppose a man, trustworthy and reliable, were to come to you from the east and on arrival would say: ‘If it please your majesty, you should know that I come from the east. There I saw a great mountain, as high as the clouds, coming this way, crushing all living beings [in its path]. Do whatever you think should be done.’ Then a second man were to come to you from the west… Then a third man were to come to you from the north… Then a fourth man were to come to you from the south and on arrival would say: ‘If it please your majesty, you should know that I come from the south. There I saw a great mountain, as high as the clouds, coming this way, crushing all living beings. Do whatever you think should be done.’ If, great king, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life — the human state being so hard to obtain — what should be done?”

“If, lord, such a great peril should arise, such a terrible destruction of human life — the human state being so hard to obtain — what else should be done but Dhamma-conduct, right conduct, skillful deeds, meritorious deeds?”

“I inform you, great king, I announce to you, great king: aging and death are rolling in on you. When aging and death are rolling in on you, great king, what should be done?”

“As aging and death are rolling in on me, lord, what else should be done but Dhamma-conduct, right conduct, skillful deeds, meritorious deeds?

I wanted to start with the five remembrances as it is a bit simpler and appropriate for those who are new to the practice or whom have severe anxiety with death. Jumping into the other methods right off may be too much for some. These five facts might also bring about lots of anxiety and fear let alone contemplation of a corpse. Notice how the Buddha states that these facts are to be reflected upon by both lay persons and ordained persons. This practice is not just for monastics but is beneficial for everyone.

You can begin by simply reciting these five facts and using them as a subject of contemplation at least once daily. Don’t just let this become rote, contemplate and be mindful of the words and their meaning. Explore what it means to age, to become ill, to die, look at the signs of these in your own body and remember times when you were separated from loved ones. Contemplate how your actions here and now affect both yourself and others.

This may bring up anxiety and fear at first, but that just means it is working and as time goes by you will slowly begin to grow accustomed and accepting to the fact that you will grow old, get sick, die, and be separated from everything you hold dear. This will bring freedom, peace, and happiness to your life, as well as a strong sense of gratitude. These are five undisputable facts will happen whether we accept them or not and it’s in our best interest to embrace them.

This is not just for beginners either. Until the day we die or become awakened, all practitioners should keep these facts always in mind. This helps keep up the desire to practice and reminds us not to delude ourselves that we are exempt from these facts. Even an awakened being like the Buddha still grew old and sick and experienced bodily pain.

Next week we will go deeper into Mindfulness of Death with further contemplations from the suttas. Begin this practice and make it a part of your life, stand your ground friends and do not run away, your courage will lead to freedom.


This is the Second in a five part series. Here are the links to all parts:

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