The Five Remembrances: Birth. Aging. Sickness. Death. Karma.

 

The body and mind are of the nature to grow old.

The body and mind are of the nature to get sick.

The body and mind are of the nature to die.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change.

My actions are my closest companions.

I am the beneficiary of my actions.

_____

 

My dear friends,

All over the world the Five Remembrances in some form or another are chanted on a daily basis. The daily chant is to remind us of the changing nature of all things. This teaching is not the highest teaching but it is a teaching that is available to all of us. It is an ever present condition of the form of existence.

Forms come into existence, appear for awhile and then vanish. That, my friends, is nothing new under the Sun. It is self-evident for those who will glance at what is going on for even just a moment.

We may fight against it, but it is a universal truth which concerns the body and mind. We share the same inevitable truth of it. No matter where we live, what gender, what species, what race…all the what’s of diversity. All of us face these Truths on some level.

In the Art Pieces 1: On Death…we were given a glance at the third remembrance, Death, from three different artists: a painter, a poet and a writer. We will now take a step backward in order to understand that one of Zen Buddhism’s charters is to help us remember our conditions in form, that is the body and mind.

It reminds us that the body and the mind are things and like all things, they suffer birth, time and death. This remembering is to help sober us to our condition and to know the body and mind suffer birth, time and death; to know all things suffer birth, time and death. That nothing stays still, nothing settles for good, for all time because the nature of things suffers birth, time and death.

For those of us hard-wired with the tendency for perfection, we may feel the heft and weight of this fact since we tend to fight to settle, to fix and perfect things continuously. With this tendency our suffering can and does reach monumental proportions.

To some extent we all suffer from the nature of things. To remember the condition of the body and mind is subject to birth, time and death and will disappear, makes this truth skin-deep personal. But we need to be reminded of our nature.

This Truth, my friends, is an initial step which we must understand in such a way that we see the suffering that comes from clinging to body and mind. The aspiration is that the reminder will help us see this truth and realize the consequences of not paying attention to it. This reminder is priceless.

Because, my friends, we are hard-headed and ignorant of Reality, we ignore this Truth and are taken by surprise by it again and again.

It is understandable.

Our body and mind look real. In fact, most forms look real. And what I mean by real is that which is immutable, without beginning or end, and is the ground of being. A new thing often fools us into thinking THIS NEW THING is IT. It isn’t.

The enlightened sages saw something beyond name and form and were not taken in by the look of name and form. No one is saying that forms do not look beautiful, or appealing, or alluring…certainly they do. And no one is saying that forms do not look ugly, or disquieting and repulsive…certainly they do. But as we all know “looks can be deceiving.” (Dividing the world of form is yet another spiritual milestone which needs to be seen through – but that is another Truth we must take up at another time.)

The five remembrances are remarkable recollections that remind us that all names and forms age, fall apart, and vanish. Forms return to the elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

Now this may sound disheartening especially to those who cling to forms for solace and certainty. Those, however, who are sincere in their pursuit of spiritual Truth study these five remembrances within themselves.

When we are sincere in our spiritual practice we begin to see for ourselves the nature of form as unreliable. When we reckon with the nature of form we begin to stop taking disappointments and loss personally and study our disappointments and losses as a factor of our conditions and not as an assault.

When we are spiritually anchored we begin to see disappointments and losses and all things as things that come to remind us that relinquishment of attachment is the better part of valor.

We may stumble and sometimes even fall down in the vagaries of our embodied life but we do not give up. We get up. We face the tiger. We continue towards the summit.

Humming Bird

Author: FaShi Lao Yue

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