The Five Remembrances
1. I am of the nature to grow old, there is no way to escape growing old.
2. I am of the nature to have ill health, there is no way to escape having ill health.
3. I am of the nature to die, there is no way to escape death.
4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.
It’s easy to get caught in thinking that certain things aren’t supposed to happen. Especially tragic events. But when I practice with the Five Remembrances it helps me cultivate oneness, instead of twoness, with life. We often separate life into two main parts: 1. What we think should happen (part of life) and 2. What we think shouldn’t happen (not part of life). Dividing life into these parts causes us to suffer. Life includes everything that happens and it is not comprised of only the parts we approve of.
It is very important to understand that cultivating oneness with life does not mean we become indifferent. It doesn’t mean we stop feeling sorrow or anger or fear. It doesn’t mean we throw up our hands and give up. To see all events and situations, whether we judge them as good or bad, as a part of life’s unfolding is to transform the struggle we embark on when we separate life into the categories of should and should not. There are no should’s and should not’s that truly exist – there is only what is.
The Buddha encourages us to read the Five Remembrances everyday. I think this is a beneficial idea to our practice of mindfulness. While the Five Remembrances are simple, and on some level intrinsically known intellectually, they are very difficult to fully embrace and embody in our everyday life. It is easy to think, “Yeah yeah, old age, illness, death, and change are part of life, I KNOW that.” But do we really understand? Do we practice with embracing these parts of life AS parts of life? Or do we tend to put them more into our life category of should not happen? These are important questions that I ask myself.
I shared at sangha last week, after our group read through the Mindfulness Trainings and the Five Remembrances, about how I really enjoy reading the remembrances in part because they make me a little uncomfortable. Over the years of my practice I have learned that growth and transformation go hand in hand with feelings of discomfort. If I’m not uncomfortable, to some degree, chances are I’m stuck in my comfort zone trying not to change.