Monday, April 16, 2018

Rereading the Buddha's 5 Recollections

These 5 statements from the Upajjhatthana Sutta ("Subjects for Contemplation") have helped me for a little while now, in ways that I would not have expected:
"I am of the nature to age.”  That may seem like a depressing thing to remember at first, and like it’s already so widely known and condemned that there’s no reason to carry it further—why not focus on being youthful, on the immortal soul, or on other things like that?  But the value in realizing this can come from seeing what there is to appreciate about the older people around us, the elders in our lives—maybe they have a peace that we’d love to have, a loss of that drive to prove oneself that we’d also benefit from, and lots of stories to share, to be carried away by.  If I’m of that nature, maybe I can tap into it now—maybe I already do, and can appreciate that more.
 "I am of the nature to have ill health.”  This one, too, can seem like a pure downer at first—why not focus on having good health, or on a heaven or something else like that where all sickness might end?  Again, the benefit can come from looking at sick people, and how some of them come out of the sickness better than they went in.  How did they get built up through the experience, instead of torn down?  Did they use that as a chance to slow down?  Maybe even better, did they openly accept help, letting others care for them, giving others a chance to show love?  Did they breathe easier seeing that the world will turn without them?  Can’t that be done right now, if that nature is already here?
 "I am of the nature to die.”  There might be no better incentive, no greater reason, no more powerful thing to inspire appreciation of the moment, the day, the things that seem ordinary, the everyday that suddenly won’t be here forever.  Suddenly, it’s worth breaking routine, taking a look around, or appreciating that even the routine things are new in this moment.  And realizing that the physical form, not only of this body but of everything, can lead to the reflection that, wow, it’s all made of particles, mysterious forces, things that can’t be understood completely by us after thousands of years or more of wondering.  So, I am of the nature to inspire wonder.  Even sending a text can be wonderful, then.
 "I am of the nature to grow apart from what I love.”  This one might seem like the most painful, right off the bat.  But it doesn’t have to be.  It doesn’t have to mean growing cold toward a loved one; maybe it’s the opposite of that.  Couples or others in loving relationships who age together—don’t they come to see new things about each other?  Don’t they discard the old picture of the other and try to accept the living person in front of them?  Doesn’t that mean some growing apart, in order to grow toward this love, in this moment?  And can’t that be an adventure?  
"I own only my actions.”  How can this be?  Don’t I own things?  Yes, they’ll go away, but whose are they if they’re not mine?  Well, maybe they’re not really mine to begin with—maybe they’re passing through, like whatever I used to pay or trade for them, and whoever was on the other end of that.  Suddenly, I don’t have to sit and obsess about them and what might happen to them—I get to get out and do, take risks, help out, and see that those things really do matter.  It’s maybe easy to try and measure that by the other person’s response, and get attached to that outcome, but what if I accept that I do have an impact, and then watch what it is?  Can I see after a little while how it impacts, how my life touches, more than one other life?  Can I see or hear how it’s reached many other lives after a little while longer?  Can I imagine that it makes a mark in the universe—a beautiful one, because its owner is beautiful?  Yes.