Thursday, June 29, 2006

Five Facts to Contemplate Frequently

In the Upajjhatthana Sutra, the Buddha taught there there are five facts that one should reflect on frequently:
  1. I am subject to aging, have not gone beyond aging.
  2. I am subject to illness, have not gone beyond illness.
  3. I am subject to death, have not gone beyond death.
  4. I will grow different, separate from all that is dear and appealing to me.
  5. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions, related through my actions, and have my actions as my arbitrator. Whatever I do, for good or for evil, to that will I fall heir.
Even just spending 2 or 3 minutes a day to contemplate these 5 factors will be immensely beneficial.

I am subject to aging and I am subject to illness; while I should strive to remain healthy, I will eventually get old and sick. There is no escaping these two facts, and contemplating them teaches me that I am changing, it is pointless to grasp for the past or for health because I have changed, and will continue to change. This illness I have now is impermanent and will end, just as the health that follows is impermanent and will end.

I am subject to death; this teaches me that I don't have forever. What is important to me? I better do that now because, who knows, I could die one minute from now!

I will grow different; just as I change, and will grow differently from others, others change and will grow differently from me. It's unavoidable. That also, of course, means that I can grow closer to others, as well as apart from them.

I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions, born of my actions; everything I think, everything I do, everything I say, will have an effect. Every effect that is a product of my thoughts, speech, and actions, will become a cause for future thoughts, speech, and actions, which will produce another effect, and so on.

1-Minute Contemplation: Contemplate these 5 factors for just 1 minute. That's 12 seconds each.

Homework: Next time you're standing in line, just waiting patiently, contemplate 1 or more of these factors, as many as you have time for. Even 1 second of focused contemplation will benefit your mind.


WH said...

Nice reminder, Mike -- thanks. I'm just starting to try more "reflective" meditations like this after mostly doing mindfulness, tonglen, and mantra work. This feels like a nice one to start with.


Cecilia said...

Indeed, you've been giving us so much great reminders. Thank you for this.

What I am just bothered with is the last " am the owner of my actions...." statement. I think that too often someone gets away from his own actions by provoking someone *and then* saying that you are responsible for your own (re)actions to what had just transpired. The energy was drained away from you to fill out his own needs. When you react to this, you still get blamed.

How can one (who's been drained) go about this? You can't go on forever gritting your teeth and not giving your piece of mind. Or can you?

Any advice? Thanks in advance.

Mike said...

Bill: thanks for the comment. That's one of the nice things about contemplation. You don't need to devote entire meditation sessions to them (although of course you could!). Even just a short contemplation can affect your mindset, and repetition of the contemplation over time has lasting effects.

Cecilia: Thanks for the comment. I'm glad you find my posts worthwhile. To answer your question, "I am the owner of my actions..." says simply that every action (that includes thoughts & speech as well) that you perform will have an effect. You cannot think something and have it NOT have some kind of effect. Perhaps its difficult to measure or observe, but it's there. It's like playing pool - when you hit the 9-ball with the cue ball, the 9-ball moves. Without fail. Even if you just ultra-super-gently tap the 9-ball with the cue ball, if you had a powerful enough microscope, you could observe movement.

Now, you noted that person A will often provoke person B and then blame person B for his response. Regardless of provocation, person B is responsible for his response. Why? Because person B's response will have an effect on him. It is not in person B's best interests to respond with anger to person A because it WILL negatively affect person B - the thought WILL have an effect on person B's psyche.

But you are correct, Cecilia, you cannot go around gritting your teeth and not giving your piece of mind. First, compassion does NOT equal weakness/submission. In Japanese Zen, teachers will walk around the meditation hall with a big stick and *WHACK* meditators on the back if they're falling asleep. This might appear violent, but it's not. They're doing it out of pure compassion, to do their part to help the meditator. So in your example, when your response is based solely on compassion, it will be the correct response to the provocator. Ever try to argue with somebody who refuses to argue back? Kind of annoying and difficult, isn't it? :) This is a similar concept. You simply ensure that you maintain compassion in your interaction, and you will be fine. Sometimes that entails saying no to requests, or disagreeing with another's opinion.

A great example, look at the Dalai Lama. China has taken over his country, and chased him out of it when he was a child. And yet he has NEVER advocated a violent response. He 100% disagrees with their occupation, but he has maintained throughout his entire life that compassionate non-violence is the way to regain Tibet. That's commendable. Some people would say it's foolhardy and stupid. I will respectfully disagree. :)

Basically, Cecilia, what I'm trying to say is that you ARE the owner and heir of your actions, and they will affect you whether you like it or not. If somebody provokes you, and you respond out of anger, in the moment it may feel right, but look back on past examples of this. Was that the most wise response? I know for me, I often get this powerful feeling of "I Told Them!" But stepping back, that's just my ego saying, "I was better than them, so there!" If somebody provokes you, and you respond out of compassion (again, even if disagreeing or saying "no" to a request), you will have no regrets.

Compassion does not equal weakness. But it takes practice to learn how that works. I'm still practicing it constantly.

Don Iannone said...

Thanks Mike. NICE!!! I can always count on learning something from you.

Cecilia said...

Mike, a heartfelt thank you to this detailed response. I can't tell you how much practical points I've learned now to apply. It IS difficult to say "no", or to "defend" your views when someone challenges it or simply just refuses to listen because they think they're right. I guess it shouldn't matter if in your heart you know you have your own viewpoints. Taking out the energy from the other IS the real weakness.

How did the Dalai Lama get so wise?

Thank you once again, Mike.

Mike said...

Don: Thanks!

Cecilia: My pleasure. :)